What exactly made today so special?
Why wasn't it yesterday? Or tomorrow? Or a week from now?
It was none of them. It was today, Jan. 31st, that changed the Toronto Maple Leafs, hopefully for the better.
We'll say hopefully because, in sports, you take nothing for granted because nothing is guaranteed.
In a pair of moves that turned Leafs Nation on its head, Brian Burke was able to go out and acquire a cornerstone defenseman in Dion Phaneuf, a fast defense-first forward in Fredrik Sjostrom, a burly defensive building block in Keith Aullie, and a goalie who brings legitimate starting experience to the team in Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
Phone networks in Southwestern Ontario probably crashed this morning. Hungover 20-year-olds woke up and thought they were still "celebrating" from the night before.
The buzz on the streets was about the Leafs, but it was finally something positive after months of negativity.
Like everything, though, questions remain. So let's get some answers.
Who is Dion Phaneuf going to play alongside in Toronto?
The great thing about this is that Phaneuf gives the Leafs options.
For one, he gives the power play that huge shot that was missing since Bryan McCabe was traded to Florida. Francois Beauchemin was supposed to provide that, but his shots haven't finding the back of the net.
Case in point: Tomas Kaberle, the man who would be setting up Phaneuf's mammoth shot, has more goals this season (five) than Beauchemin (four).
Phaneuf also has 10 goals already on the season. The outgoing Ian White had nine to lead Leafs defensemen, and before Phaneuf's acquisition, the Leafs had just five double-digit goal scorers (outgoing Matt Stajan had 16). While only the New York Islanders (four) and New York Rangers (three) have fewer double-digiters, the goal scoring from the back end will be welcome.
Along with that, Phaneuf can line up alongside Luke Schenn and not only teach him the nuances of playing an physically imposing game but also provide the Leafs with (potentially) one of the most dangerous pairings in the NHL over the next few years.
Between Schenn, Phaneuf, and Mike Komisarek (whenever he gets back), the Leafs have muscle. Effective muscle.
What will Jean-Sebastien Giguere's role be?
In Ron Wilson's press conference this afternoon, he threw around the word "mentor" a lot, which is a good thing.
Now, instead of relying on a goalie who had never been a solo starter in another market and a goaltender spending his first year in a new league, Brian Burke went out and nabbed a starter who has a track record of excellence and helping along young netminders.
Wilson mentioned the fact that Giguere was the starting goalie when Ilya Bryzgalov and Jonas Hiller hit their peaks, and to a lesser extent he helped Martin Gerber along as well.
Now the Leafs are trying the combination of Giguere and Francois Allaire together to help get Jonas Gustavsson to that same level.
Who starts between the two of them?
That'll be an interesting question to have answered. Remember, it was just Jan. 22nd when the Leafs announced that they'd be giving the bulk of the remaining games to Gustavsson , but that was before they brought in the Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner.
Now? The likelihood is that, if time isn't split, it'll be eschewed a little heavier to Giggy, who has one more season at $7 million left on his contract after this one.
It also lowers the likelihood that Gustavsson's re-signing will "break the bank" this season as so many people have assumed it would because:
A) Giguere's deal eats up that extra $7 million in cap room (Remember Toskala was a free agent after this season) and;
B) Gustavsson has done little to earn anything that could help him afford the stars and moon.
What about the other guys that the Leafs are getting back?
From Calgary, the Leafs get one of the premier defensive forwards, penalty killers, and fastest skaters in Fredrik Sjostrom. In Ron Wilson's own words: "He could probably come in today and be the fastest guy on our team."
Although many are complaining about the fact that the Leafs' lost four forwards in trades today and only got one back, Sjostrom won't really impact the offense.
A bit of expanded ice time could see him broach the 20-25 point plateau once again, but overall he'll be expected to help the league's worst penalty kill and keep the puck out of the net.
Sidenote: For the second-straight season the Leafs will become the first team to allow 200 goals on the season. The next closest team this year? Edmonton at 180 allowed.
Keith Aulie will give the Leafs organizational depth at defense, a talented prospect, and even more size.
The 6'6", 217-pound defenseman won't offer much in the scoring department, but he's got great size and character (he was a two-time Scholastic Player of the Year in the WHL and captained the Brandon Wheat Kings last season).
While most will be excited about the acquisition of Phaneuf, Aulie is the name in this deal that could turn heads down the road. At just 20 years old, Aulie has a ton of opportunity and won't be rushed through Toronto's system thanks to a wealth of NHL defenders.
Toronto had to have fleeced both the Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames in these deals, right?
While that's probably the popular thought amongst many Leaf fans right now, it may not be necessarily true.
Consider the fact that Matt Stajan was miscast in Toronto as a first line centre thanks to necessity. In fact, Stajan goes to the Flames as their second-leading scorer behind Jarome Iginla, and his 51.6 percent success on faceoffs is tops on the team, overlooking rookie Michael Backlund's limited sample (three games).
The Leafs also lost a very underrated scorer in Nik Hagman. The Flames pick up a guy who will strengthen their offensive attack and could hit the 30-goal mark this year. Hagman is also 10 points away from re-establishing his career-high in points for a third straight season, and at 30, he can still be a key piece for the Flames for a few seasons.
A few weeks ago we talked about Ian White being the most affordable 30-point defenseman in the league, as he immediately becomes the Flames' top-scoring defenseman.
Jamal Mayers wanted out, so the fact that he goes to a potential playoff team could light a fire under his game, while that would give him a shot at a Stanley Cup later in his career.
As far as the Anaheim deal goes, the Leafs were able to get something for Vesa Toskala, who'll get a new lease on his career and try to re-invent himself as the backup to Jonas Hiller. He also returns to the Pacific Division, where he had the most successful run of his career with the San Jose Sharks.
For Jason Blake, he gets his release from—what has to be—one of the most stressful situations of his career. Since he signed with Toronto, the expectations were always high because of the fact he was coming off of a 40-goal season and coming in with a $4 million cap hit.
Unfortunately for Blake, if he was in Toronto under, say, a $2.5 million contract, things may have been different for him.
Who are the winners and who are the losers?
In a way, each team wins.
Calgary frees themselves from Dion Phaneuf's contract while offsetting the offensive loss on the blueline (slightly) and providing depth up front.
Anaheim ensures that they're not trapped with two highly paid goalies after signing Jonas Hiller to an extension on Saturday while getting some lower-line, veteran help in Jason Blake.
And Toronto? Well they get another defenseman to build around, setting up a formidable top four, a goalie who could rediscover his mojo to become dynamic, and shaken up a roster that could use something to light their fire.
They also get the chance to integrate a few more guys in the lineup up front (the names of Rickard Wallin and Jonh Mitchell have been thrown about) and call up a few players to get them some NHL minutes.
What's the best thing to come out of this deal?
The fact that Leaf fans can now use jokes featuring the words "Finger" and "Giggy" and have them reference hockey.
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader. If you want to get in contact with Bryan you can do so through his profile or email him at email@example.com. Also, be sure to check out all of his previous work in his archives and on Hockey54.com—The Face of the Game!
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