Brian Burke has always preached size on his hockey teams, and there was much speculation that he would acquire a big, top 6 forward before this year's deadline. Burke did not disappoint, and acquired 6-foot-3, 215 pound right winger Carter Ashton from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Ashton is the son of former NHLer Brent Ashton, who played 998 games in the NHL, so hockey flows in his blood.
Toronto fans might remember Ashton from his play during the 2011 World Juniors, where he played on Canada's third line. While Canada ultimately lost in heartbreaking fashion to Russia in the finals, Ashton did score a goal in that game, and was a key contributor to Canada's exceptional play in all three zones during the tournament.
While Ashton is not NHL ready, he is currently enjoying a great first full season in the AHL, with 19 goals and 16 assists in 56 games. He was also named the Reebok AHL Rookie of the Month for October 2011. He will likely be given the chance to develop chemistry with Toronto prospects Joe Colbourne and Nazem Kadri, and could be NHL ready by next season.
To get Ashton, the Leafs were forced to give up a solid young defenseman in Keith Aulie. While he has made some mistakes this year, he was extraordinary late last year playing top line minutes with Phaneuf. He is a great talent, but the Leafs have a glut of defensemen in both the NHL and AHL that made Aulie expendable. This deal will allow the Leafs to give players like Korbinian Holzer and Juraj Mikus an opportunity in the NHL, as both play a similar style to Aulie.
In the end, the Leafs acquired an asset that will eventually help fill a weakness (lack of size in the top 6) while dealing from a position of strength. Ashton will be given every opportunity to succeed, something that could not not be said for Aulie due to the defensemen depth in Toronto.
Both GMs fill needs on their teams, and although I'm giving Burke and the Leafs the slight edge on this one, both parties should feel satisfied with this trade.