PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke has said repeatedly he wants to get bigger up front.
He took a step in that direction Saturday.
The Leafs GM pulled the trigger on a significant move after the NHL draft concluded, acquiring left-winger James van Riemsdyk from the Philadelphia Flyers for defenceman Luke Schenn.
Van Riemsdyk, who missed significant time last season with a broken left foot, had 11 goals and 13 assists in 43 games for the Flyers in 2011-12.
Burke says the six-foot-three, 200-pound van Riemsdyk will add a physical element to a lineup that was pushed around far too often last season.
“He will provide speed, size, and finesse to our top two lines and we know that he fits those needs that we have wanted to address for some time,” Burke said in a statement.
Van Riemsdyk shared the Flyers’ team lead with seven goals in 11 playoff games in 2011 after earning career highs in goals (21), points (40) and a plus-15 in 75 games during the regular season.
“To go to a place like Toronto is unbelievably exciting for me,” van Riemsdyk said on a conference call. “Just the tradition they have there, the city, the fans it’s all unbelievable and growing up a big-time Yankees fans, a good analogy for me is that it’s like playing for the New York Yankees of the NHL.”
The 23-year-old was the second overall pick in 2007 and has 47 goals and 52 assists for 99 points in 196 regular-season games.
A two-way forward who uses his size and speed to create chances, Van Riemsdyk says things just didn’t work out in Philadelphia and added that he’s looking forward to a fresh start with Toronto.
“Anytime anyone gets drafted they picture things perfectly. You imagine playing (in a city) for your whole career, winning a few Cups, but that’s not the way things always work out,” he said. “All I focus on is coming to the rink every day and working hard.”
For Schenn, meanwhile, the deal reunites him with his younger brother Brayden, who is a centre with Philadelphia.
“It’s obviously a bit of a shock to get traded but Philadelphia is obviously a great organization and they’ve got a lot of great young talent there,” Schenn said on a conference call. “With my brother being there, we’re pretty close. It’s surreal. I can’t even believe it.”
Schenn, who had an up and down career in Toronto after getting drafted fifth overall in 2008, scored twice and had 20 assists in 79 games last season.
The 22-year-old scored 14 goals and added 61 assists in 310 career games with the Maple Leafs. He said his younger brother was more excited that he was when heard about the trade.
“He couldn’t believe it,” the older Schenn said. “He said it was like a dream come true.”
Brayden Schenn couldn’t help but show his enthusiasm on Twitter: “Gunna miss playing with @JVReemer21 great guy. Now get a chance to play with the bro! Happy day in the Schenn household!”
Van Riemsdyk carries a cap it US$4.25 million over the next six seasons, while Schenn’s cap hit is $3.6 million over the next four years.
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said the deal was one that had been talked about between he and Burke for sometime.
“Obviously it was something in the wintertime that Brian and I discussed in theory, and then I think we both decided to just table it,” Holmgren said. “It came up again (Friday) and we talked about it. I believe it’s a good trade for both teams. It certainly fills a need for us and I think it fills a need for Brian’s team as well in terms of what they’re looking to do.”
Burke also made another trade on Saturday, dealing the rights of goaltender Jonas Gustavsson to Winnipeg for a conditional 2013 seventh-round pick—and added six new prospects to the organization through the draft.
Gustavsson was never able to live up to his heavy billing after the Leafs aggressively pursued the Swede and beat out three other bidders to sign him in 2009. The 27-year-old’s play was often up and down in Toronto and the Leafs felt it was time to start anew.
“(Gustavsson) saved our butts last year during the season at times, he played some real good hockey for us,” Burke said prior to the Schenn trade. “But I think it’s time for us as an organization to move on, I think it’s time for him to move on. Winnipeg approached us and said they want to sign him as a backup goaltender.”
Essentially, the Jets bought an extra week to talk with Gustavsson’s agent Joe Resnick before the player becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1. The Leafs will only receive the draft pick if Gustavsson signs in Winnipeg.
Burke maintains he’s willing to move forward with a goaltending tandem of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens, although it’s known the team has had discussions with Vancouver about Roberto Luongo. However, that’s another situation where the asking price has simply been too high for Burke to stomach.
“Rather than strip the organization to fill one positional need, we’ll go with what we have,” he said.
Reimer’s sophomore season was derailed by injuries to his head and neck. He received treatment from a specialist in Montreal in April and is feeling much better now.
“We are encouraged by the medical reports on James Reimer, he has a clean bill of health,” said Burke. “He’s working out like a madman and he’s made it very clear to us that he has no intention of giving up the net.
“And that’s changed our thinking a little bit.”
Prior to the deal with Philadelphia, the Leafs were involved in plenty of trade talk over draft weekend.
Burke acknowledged that he had discussions with the Pittsburgh Penguins about a trade for Jordan Staal before the centre was instead dealt to Carolina on Friday night. Ultimately, Burke wasn’t willing to pay the price being asked by Pittsburgh, especially since it was known that Jordan wanted to play with his brother Eric in Raleigh, N.C.
“We were in on that trade,” Burke said Saturday. “We didn’t have a brother named Staal. That was part of the problem.”
After drafting defenceman Morgan Rielly fifth overall on Friday night, the team was excited to add another blue-liner in Matthew Finn with the 35th selection on Saturday morning. Finn, a Toronto native who plays for the OHL’s Guelph Storm, dropped after being projected as a possible first-round pick.
The 18-year-old grew up as a big Leafs fan and called it a “dream come true.”
Burke was criticized by Don Cherry on “Hockey Night in Canada” this season for not having enough local players on his roster. However, the Leafs GM added two local boys during this draft after also selecting forward Connor Brown in the sixth round.
“I think it would be a thrill to play in your hometown,” said Burke. “I know when I was growing up playing hockey, I dreamed of playing for the Minnesota North Stars. … To me, there’s a bit of pressure that comes with it but there’s also a greater reward. Your friends and family can enjoy your success.
“When the day comes when this team is more competitive, these guys can run for mayor. It’s an opportunity for a hometown kid.”