Brian Burke's work in the past year has closely resembled the work of a janitor's: he has become awfully good at cleaning up garbage.
His ability to clear the trash out of the Maple Leafs organization, that gathered thanks to the work of Cliff Fletcher and mostly John Ferguson Jr., has been truly remarkable and is worth noting.
With Nikolai Kulemin remaining as the most 'veteran' Maple Leaf next to Tomas Kaberle, it is obvious that the Maple Leafs are quickly becoming 'Burke's team'. Gone are the likes of Jamal Mayers, Lee Stempniak, Matt Stajan, Jason Blake, and Vesa Toskala, to name a few (emphasis on the 'few'). Here is a quick run down of Brian Burke's handy-work via the trade:
Nik Antropov & Dominic Moore: traded for draft picks:
After contract negotiations with Dominic Moore stalled, and with Nik And-Drop-Off never living up to the expectations that come along with being selected in the top 10 of a draft, the Maple Leafs traded away two of their major scoring threats, surprisingly receiving a second round draft pick for each player.
Pavel Kubina: traded for Garnet Exelby and Colin Stuart
Admittedly, Pavel Kubina was a respectable Maple Leaf. But with a pricey $4.5 million left on his contract for the 09-10 season, and with Burke looking to get younger and tougher, Kubina was sent away for a relatively inexpensive Garnet Exelby along with youngster Colin Stuart (who?).
Unfortunately for Exelby, he has not been the key component of this trade, as Burke then turned around and shipped off Stuart and Anton Stralman to the Calgary Flames for veteran Wayne Primeau and a second-round draft pick. Granted, Stralman was a solid prospect at the time, but with a log-jam quickly forming at defence for the 09-10 season, there was really no place for the slick skating Swede. So, out of all of this the Leafs essentially acquired Exelby, Primeau, and a 2nd round draft pick, in exchange for Pavel Kubina, Colin Stuart, Anton Stralman, and a 7th round draft pick. Seems like a winner of a deal to me, especially considering the Leafs financial and defensive situation at the time.
Jamal Mayers, Ian White, Matt Stajan and Nik Hagman: 'Gone With the Wind'. Cue Dion Phaneuf.
It is often argued that the team that acquires the best player is the winner of any deal. If one believes this to be true, then the Maple Leafs are laughing. Not only did the Buds acquire one of the leagues top defenceman, but in Phaneuf they added youth, size, grit, and a winning attitude. To sweeten the pot, they acquired penalty killing wizard Freddy Sjostrom (any average penalty killer would be a saint on the Leafs) and former World Junior champion Keith Aulie.
Four weeks after the trade and surely no Leafs fans are missing the departed players. Considering Matt Stajan's absurd recent signing of $3.5 million a year, and with White likely to demand a similar paycheck in the coming months, this deal is an absolute steal for Burke. Let's be honest, the Leafs weren't going anywhere quickly with Stajan as their top-line centre, and with Hagman being the quietest 20 goal scorer in the NHL, Burke emptied out four locker room stalls in one fell swoop.
Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake: traded for more than a bag of pucks? Really?
"Blake, 33, could just be the sniper the Leafs have lacked since they parted ways with Alex Mogilny," was a quote taken from a Toronto Star article breaking the news of the Leafs big off-season signing in 2007. Need more be said? As a member of the Maple Leafs, Jason Blake was an absolute flop.
Ditto for Vesa Toskala who, with a shockingly bad .874 save percentage for the Maple Leafs this season, seemed blind to the fact that he was atrociously bad when it came to stopping pucks from hitting the back of the net.
So, gone were Jason Blake and the two years remaining on his contract at a ridiculous price of $4 million a season, along with 'goaltender' Vesa Toskala. In return the Leafs received Stanley Cup winner and proven goaltender J.S. Gigeure. Although he has been struggling of late, it truly is impressive that Burke managed to pull off this deal, receiving a player of his calibre for two players who would be hard-pressed to crack a spot in the Marlies line-up (and with the way they have been playing, that's saying a lot).
As the final days wind down to another post-season spent playing golf for the Maple Leafs players, the Leafs faithful can take solace in the fact that Brian Burke really knows how to swing a good deal. Before we know it, the Leafs will be back in the playoffs again, allowing for a slumbering Leafs Nation to awaken from its' 6 year snooze.
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