When the Toronto Maple Leafs make a trade, especially one involving seven players, those of us in the media feel compelled to address it. Add me to that list, with some reluctance.
The swap between the Leafs and Flames last weekend, while sizable in quantity, is of questionable quality. As a result, I find it difficult to muster an energetic opinion on its merit.
Don't get me wrong, it was a deal both teams felt compelled to make and their reasoning is understandable. The Leafs have proven themselves to be so completely inept that Brian Burke could have concocted almost any combination of players and been met with acceptance from his fan base. Burke saw what everyone else saw: a team that had become proficient only in finding new ways to lose and whose tangible assets numbered no more than three. Phil Kessel, Tomas Kaberle and Luke Schenn are commodities Burke would deem untradeable or would demand a significant return for. The rest are no more than loose pieces, which no longer fit the puzzle.
Calgary's perspective was different. A team of which much was expected, the Flames had been in free-fall for weeks and required a jolt in order to get their hearts restarted. As often happens in sports, this appears to be "a deal for the sake of a deal."
In Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman, Calgary acquired two of the Leafs’ top-four scorers and maybe that will prove helpful. Then again, Leaf fans have seen enough of these players to be dubious. Jamal Mayers was and is irrelevant. But in Ian White the Flames are getting a player who is at least useful and perhaps an emerging talent.
As for Toronto, the gem in the deal was obviously Dion Phaneuf. As recently as two years ago, acquiring him would have been impossible. In 2008, he was a finalist for the Norris Trophy and generally viewed as the best young defenseman in the game. Nineteen months later, he is dispatched to the Siberia of the NHL (OK, Edmonton may have a claim to that title) for a pack of middle-of-the-road workers. Phaneuf has talent – plenty of talent – but he also has flaws, in his play and perhaps his character. Were it not so, he would still be a Flame today.
What Burke is betting is that moving to Toronto will bring out Phaneuf’s ‘A’ game. What Leaf fans, who have watched their team for longer than Burke, can attest is that it rarely works out that way. The list of players who have regressed after landing in The Big Smoke is very, very, very long.
If Phaneuf finds his game in Toronto, he will join a list of players who have achieved this distinction and that one is very, very, very short.
Bob McCown, author of the book McCown's Law: The 100 Greatest Hockey Arguments, hosts PrimeTime Sports, the most listened to sports talk radio show in Canada. Reaching more than a million listeners each week McCown is known for his argumentative nature and acerbic demeanor. You can read more of McCown's work at fadoo.ca.