Imagine for a minute you're Brian Burke and you are in charge of keeping a tiny rowboat full of holes afloat in Toronto Harbour. Granted, you inherited this rowboat filled with holes and none of those holes we necessarily your own doing, but the fact remains, this is now your hole-filled rowboat.
Leaf fans can debate all they want about which method is best, but from where I sit there are two options to solve the problem. One option involves removing the water from inside the boat as fast as it comes in, and the second option is to plug to holes in the boat so that water stops coming in all together.
Someone like JP Riccardi would be more inclined to bail the water because he doesn't have the long-term security to fix the holes. The much-heralded Brian Burke promised us, with much fanfare I might add, that he was going to do the right thing. He was going to plug the holes and make the good ship Maple Leaf seaworthy again.
So imagine my surprise when I see that the Toronto Maple Leafs swung a deal to bring Dion Phaneuf to the Air Canada Center. Initially I thought it was pretty cool that Toronto had swung a deal for a player of Dion's stature, although, once I really looked at the deal, my opinion quickly changed.
Effectively, this move reeks of adding more people to bail water, rather than plugging the hole. The Leafs don't need a big bruising defenseman, they need top six skilled forwards to play with Phil Kessel. You might remember him, the same Phil Kessel the Leafs traded two first round picks to bring over from Boston.
By trading away Matt Stajan, Nik Hagman, and, in a separate deal, Jason Blake, the Leafs have basically emptied the cupboard that was awfully bare to begin with.
Don't get me wrong, none of those three guys are bona fide top six talent, but the Leafs don't have anyone to replace those guys, and if you had one or two more top six forwards on the team, Stajan, Hagman, and Blake move to a role much better suited to them: third line players capable of pushing the top two lines at any given time, and well suited to match up against the other team's third line.
In Phaneuf, the Leafs get a bruising, physical defenseman with a big shot who is just 24 years old and under contract for four more years. Of course they already have a roster stocked with defensemen that more or less fit that description. Komisarek, Finger, and Exelby each bring those same traits to the table as Dion Phaneuf. Does Phaneuf have more upside than any of those players? ABSOLUTELY.
Do I want to pay $6.5 million/season just because he is an improved version of what I already have? HELL NO.
The Leafs under Brian Burke have seemingly no direction. The Phil Kessel trade is almost certain to blow up in their face at the draft this year. It is a trade that looks even more foolish when you consider this latest move just emptied the roster of any and all talent left to play with Kessel.
Brian Burke jettisoned Pavel Kubina for Exelby in the offseason, Kubina is playing meaningful minutes in Atlanta, and Exelby is buried behind a glut of Leaf defenders that play the same role he does.
Tomas Kaberle, the last player on the Toronto blue line capable of making an outlet pass from his own zone, is almost certain to be traded now as well. In any other year a typical fan would at least be able to relish the fact that his team will draft high in the offseason. Now what is a Leafs fan to do knowing that the worse this team does, the higher Boston will pick as a result?
Some people will read this article and assume that I am bashing Dion Phaneuf. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. If the Pittsburgh Penguins made a deal tomorrow to bring Pavel Datsuyk in exchange for Ruslan Fedyetenko, Chris Kunitz, and Tyler Kennedy, I would question the wisdom of adding another centerman to a roster that includes Crosby, Malkin, and Staal. Who's going to play wing?
This article is a pointed thumbs down to the rudderless Brian Burke. He was given the keys to a Maple Leafs team that wasn't very good and, in a year-and-a-half, has done nothing to plug the holes. The Farm System is a mess, the goaltending situation is a mess, the talent at forward is now in shambles, and there is no first round draft pick this year or next, but hey, at least that have lots of truculence. Isn't that Burke's thing?
It worked for him in Anaheim. Of course, it didn't hurt they had Scott Neidermeyer, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Dustin Penner, Teemu Selanne, and a lights out Giguere.