It's almost impossible to make a trade, any trade, in this modern cap-cramped NHL.
Darryl Sutter, after his Flames team had suffered though six regulation losses in a row, has managed to participate in a huge swap of personnel with the equally desperate Brian Burke.
Sutter is frantic to make the playoffs and keep his job. Burke is desperate not to finish in the bottom five in the league and give up a chance for the first pick overall to division rivals, the Boston Bruins.
Apparently, that's all you need to make a deal in the NHL. Well, that and an MBA in accounting to run the numbers for both teams that have already spent up to their CAP.
The Toronto Maple Leafs picked up:
1. Dion Phaneuf D-6'3" 210 lbs $6,500,000-2014
The Edmonton Alberta native had starred in Alberta with the Red Deer Rebels as a junior. In his last season there, he had 24 goals and a point a game.
He was a junior star and then a world junior star for Canada. He's a player with a big shot, a strong skater and he can hit like a tank. He broke in as a rookie and played for the current GM Darryl Sutter who was then the coach. He played 82 games and a ton of minutes a game.
He played on the power play and penalty kill and in crucial situations through-out games. He scored 20 goals as a rookie NHL defenseman. His next year was just as good. Under Keenan, he doubled his penalty minutes but also managed 60 points in 82 games.
Last year, was seen as a step backwards for the young defender. He was a minus player for the first time in his career. This year, he has 22 points in 55 games for a mediocre four points per game.
The Flames have managed to derail their talented defenseman in very short order. Phaneuf though is a great player who will be great again. The Leafs have picked up a strong skating defenseman who can play a lot of minutes, hits like a truck and has a laser for a shot from the point.
If he can't excel as an NHL defenseman with that package of talents there's something seriously wrong.
2. Fredrick Sjostrom RW-6' 218 lbs $750,000-2011
Sjostrom was a great junior scorer who has evolved into a talented checker.
Despite his puck handling skills he's never managed to put points up at the NHL level. He's a useful skater and a good checker.
He’s certainly an upgrade from Mayers in any third-line checking role. He's in his prime as he turns 27 this May. Every now and then he'll surprise you with a nice offensive play. Unfortunately he almost never finishes it off.
3. Keith Aulie D-6' 5" 208 lbs $758,000-2011
Aulie is a big physical kid who was likely to be the Flames next call up on defense. Unfortunately, he's a punishing hitter with almost no offensive upside.
He could be a useful stand around NHL defenseman. He was the best of what generally is seen as a mediocre crop of Flames defensive prospects.
The Calgary Flames acquired:
1. Niklas Hagman LW-6' 205 lbs $3,000,000-2012
Hagman has proven himself to be, at 30, a very useful NHL checker with an eye for the net. He and Antti Mietinen managed to parlay an excellent shut-down effort in the 2008 playoffs for the Dallas Stars into big free agent contracts in Toronto and Minnesota.
Hagman is a great skater and relentless checker. His half to two thirds of a point a game are probably enough to win him a spot as the defensively responsible forward on one of the Flames top two lines.
He's got a good nose for the net and is probably the most talented player the Flames have picked up in this deal.
He's got 20 goals and 33 points with the Leafs so far and could have career years in both (27 g, 42 pts).
2. Ian White D-5'10" 195 lbs $850,000-2010
White is a useful young player who after starring for Canada at the world juniors has taken a longer path to the NHL then some. He's smallish but another good skater and puck mover. He's confident with the puck, sometimes too confident.
He can play the point on the power play but he lacks a big shot. He's still approaching his prime and along with Giordano, is the only useful defensemen the Flames will have that doesn’t make at least 3.6 million a year.
White is probably the player with the greatest upside left to show in this deal. He's a useful NHL defenseman and still might be cost effective for the Flames to resign.
3. Matthew Stajan C-6' 200 lbs $1,750,000-2010
Stajan broke in with the Leafs as a reasonable checker and somehow forfeited his way to the No. 1 center slot. He is easily and by a long shot, the worst first line center in the league.
He could be useful as a third line checking center for the Flames. His face off numbers mediocre as they are (51.6 percent, 33rd overall) are still better then the best face-off man in Calgary.
Defensively, this might help the team out a bit. He has some offensive skills but the 15 goals he managed last year while playing first line and garnering power play time with the Leafs have to make Hagman’s twenty seven goals as a pure checker with the Dallas Stars in 2007-08 look pretty good.
4. Jamal Mayers RW-6'1 214 lbs $1,333,000-2010
Mayers was disgruntled in Toronto.
The aging checker has less offensive talent then anyone else in this deal except, perhaps, Keith Aulie.
Mayers is reasonably physical and will fight every now and then, but really may not be better then anyone the Flames currently have in their weak scoring roster.
He'll probably be cut and or retire at the end of the year. The Flames historically love this kind of player.
Maybe they'll resign him.
The Leafs win this deal easily.
Dion Phaneuf is a top-rank defensive star in the NHL. As long as they provide a consistent direction for him, he'll be happy playing a ton of minutes, unleashing bombs from the point and making it unpleasant to come in to Toronto's end of the ice.
Calgary managed to retard the development of a player who came in to the NHL looking like he was already fully developed. The disparate coaching styles of D. Sutter, Larry Playfair, Mike Keenan, and B. Sutter may have confused and ultimately frustrated Phaneuf in his five seasons in Calgary.
Phaneuf is signed for years to come and he could easily help lead a rejuvenated Leaf line-up back into the playoffs in a couple years.
Sjostrom should be a useful checker for the Leafs and probably represents an upgrade in that department. He's certainly helping the Leafs get younger.
Aulie was a prime Flames defensive prospect. Unfortunately this is a little like being the world’s best Icelandic shortstop. Still, the young Aulie is big and sure to get heavier. He could play a role on the Leaf defense after they unload some of the $30 million in salary they have tied up in eight veteran defensemen.
The Flames were desperate to acquire some scoring forwards.
They were also equally anxious to get rid of some of the big salaries they've been carrying. Their big free-agent off-season acquisition was a defenseman.
Unfortunately, this addressed an area where they already had considerable depth and had invested significant amounts of money.
As the Leafs learned there are diminishing marginal returns involved in continuously adding talent to one area of your club. The Flames currently have Bouwmeester, Regehr, Sarich, and Giordano all willing and capable of playing big minutes on defense.
Throw in Ian White as another skating puck mover who can quarterback the power play and sophomore Adam Pardy and the Flames still have a glut of defenseman.
They don't have that big shot from the point any more and they will miss that so perhaps though the Flames will benefit from the addition of Stajan and Hagman. I believe Hagman can be a first rate contributor as first or second line left winger.
Stajan, unfortunately, will probably get slotted for a while at least as first line center. He'll make the biggest contribution on the checking line and in the defensive face-off circle.
He's better offensively then Conroy, if not as good a skater and a marginally better face off man. He could provide some offense from the third line.
Sutter followed up this debacle with a dumping of Olli Jokinen to the Rangers for recent New York acquisitions Chris Higgins and Alex Kotalik.
The New York Rangers got:
1. Olli Jokinen C-6'3" 210lbs $5,250,000-2010
Jokinen still looks like a good player. He's skating well, has a big body that he's not afraid to take into danger, and still seems to have that good shot.
That said, he's been traded three times since the start of last season and he hasn't approached his career highs of 39 goals and 91 points, in three years.
He is again the best player in the deal who seems to be foundering in Calgary.
At some point do you have to stop blaming the players and start blaming the organization?
It's funny that a team as weak as Calgary at center is rushing to trade the player who should be their best center.
2.Brandon Prust LW-6' 195 lbs $585,000-2010
Prust is a middleweight fighter for the Flames. I thought the Rangers already had that with Avery, but perhaps they felt the need for a guy who really only can fight.
The Calgary Flames picked up:
1. Chris Higgins LW-6' 199 lbs $2,250,000-2010
Higgins was a pick-up for New York when they managed to dump Scott Gomez's contract on Montreal. He's a quick skater with some puck moving skills, but he if he's not on your first two lines he really isn't making much of a contribution.
Playing with fast skating talented players he managed 27 goals and 52 points one year with Montreal. He needs talented team-mates and a free wheeling offensive system to excel. He may have trouble finding either in Calgary.
2. Alex Kotalik RW-6'1" 227 lbs $3,000,000-2012
Kotalik is another quick skating player with a big shot. The Flames may try him out on the point of the power play to try to replace Phaneuf’s shot back there. His best season was 2005-06 when he had 25 goals and 62 points. He's been a half point a game player the rest of his career.
The Flames have again given up the best player in this deal with New York. In the Rangers they found another team having trouble scoring and desperate to make the playoffs. Look for Jokinen to be the Rangers first line center. Playing with Gaborik his numbers will have to improve.
The Flames were in danger of falling out of the playoff race. They'd made a huge offseason free agent acquisition in Jay Bouwmeester and expectations were that this team would be better then last year's team that was dismantled by the Blackhawks in the first round.
The Flames throughout the '90s were on a steady campaign to dump expensive players and cut costs.
They so alienated their fan base that they were forced to sign Jarome Iginla to a series of high cost contracts. He currently has another three seasons at seven million a year left on his contract.
Similar deals were struck with goalie Miikka Kiprusof and defenseman Dion Phaneuf. The Flames then signed Jay Bouwmeester to a five year, $6.68 million a year free agent deal. This policy that was driven by fear of a season ticket holder revolt if Iginla wasn't resigned back in 2002-03, took on a life of its own.
Suddenly, Darryl Sutter has decided in the middle of this season that the old policy of a few high priced stars was a mistaken one. He's traded the high quality, very expensive Jokinen and Phaneuf for a group of lesser lights.
Now Iginla, Langkow, Hagman, Borque, Stajan, Higgins, Kotalik, Moss, Boyd, Glencross, and Dawes will be fighting for top six and power play ice time. Mikael Backlund and Jamie Lundmark might also end up in the mix. It's not exactly murderer’s row.
The defense should still be deep enough.
Phaneuf's point shot will be missed but perhaps Kotalik will help replace it. At the very least, the complete dearth of secondary scoring the Flames were suffering from should be relieved.
I'd start to worry about their primary scoring now. They've freed up a little cap room ($2.3 million?) so maybe there's a deal for a real first line center in the offing, or maybe the Flames are ready to go Mickael Backlund all the way. That would be another sign of panic.
They better sort that problem out quickly.
The Leafs have added yet another defenseman to a glut they have at the position. They're also in desperate need of a talented NHL center to play with Phil Kessel. They've freed up a little cap room with the Blake and Toskala for Gigeure deal. Hopefully they can find someone to play with Kessel soon.
Even without a first line center the Leafs have taken a big leap forward by acquiring Phaneuf who can help lead that defense for years to come. If the leafs are able to unload some of their extra defenseman for a couple of scorers they may be able to move out of those bottom five spots in the standings.
The Rangers have added a perhaps declining, strong skating, big bodied center with a good shot to the first line and the power play. I think he's got to help their offense, certainly more then Higgins and Kotalik were. The trade is basically a wash salary wise.
I'm amazed that these teams managed to pull off all these trades in this cap-strapped universe. It's staggering what panic will produce.