Brian Burke Dealing Ahead of Trade Deadline
In the space of a week, Brian Burke has set about remodeling his team again, trying to straddle the line between buyer and seller. His stated goal will be to divest himself of players to contending teams, maintain and even bolster his stockpile of draft picks and prospects, while at the same time strengthening his own team in the hopes they can still climb into a playoff spot. Even the most optimistic Leaf fan would think that is a tall order indeed.
On February 9, Burke sent defenseman Francois Beauchemin to the Anaheim Ducks in return for forward Joffrey Lupul, defense prospect Jake Gardiner, and a conditional pick in 2013.
Beauchemin was signed as a free agent, one Burke was familiar with from the Cup-winning Ducks team in 2007. The 30-year-old was brought in to be a steadying presence for Burke’s solid defense. While he ate up big minutes on the back end, Beauch seemed uncomfortable and mistake-prone, nothing like the player he had been in Anaheim. At $3.8M in cap hit, the defenseman was attractive to a few teams, and he ends up back in the city where he enjoyed his best success.
The Leafs get back a 27-year-old winger who has had 3 20+ goal seasons, but is coming off back surgery and a blood infection. Lupul was shuffled down to third line duty in Anaheim, but Burke must feel he can regain his form. Lupul is another player Burke is familiar with, having had him in Anaheim and trading him in the Chris Pronger deal. In Jake Gardiner, the Leafs get a player who was drafted late in the first round, but has dropped some in the evaluation of some scouts. He’s tall, needs to bulk up a bit, but projects to be a top-4 blueliner, who already possesses speed and a decent vision of the ice. He’s currently scoring a point per game at the US College level. The draft pick could be as high as the 4th round in 2013. In his first 2 games with the Leafs, Lupul is still scoreless, having played on a line with Bozak and MacArthur. Coach Wilson looked to shuffle Lupul onto a line with Phil Kessel to see if anything is sparked.
On Valentine’s Day, Burke swung a second deal. Gone to Philadelphia is forward Kris Versteeg, in return the Leafs receive Philadelphia’s first round draft pick in 2011, as well as their 3rd round pick also in 2011.
Burke acquired Versteeg last off-season at the cost of Viktor Stalberg, Chris DiDomenico and Phillippe Paradis. In Vertseeg, Burke felt he was getting a 24 year old Cup-winner, who would blossom as a compliment to Kessel once freed from being stuck on Chicago’s third line due to the depth in front of him. It did not take long to figure out that simply was not the case. A gritty winger with some decent offensive punch, Versteeg simply was unable to spark Kessel, or handle the additional ice and attention from top defense pairs that the first line designation brought him. He was shuffled down to the third line, though still received powerplay point duty. As such, Kris contributed 14 goals and 35 points, and had found some chemistry with Colby Armstrong. The addition of Lupul meant Versteeg was no longer thought to be a potential first liner, and at $3M per season, his production on the third line (potentially 50 points) was replaceable. Some are now saying that Versteeg just never fit right, and his post-trade interviews seem a little like he’s happy to not be a Maple Leaf any longer.
Burke does get back a first-round draft pick, but it will most certainly be a late pick (no higher than 25th to be sure, most likely 28-30). Still, it’s a pick he didn’t have the day before. Burke claims he will keep the first rounder, unless something is offered he cannot refuse. The third round pick is supposedly in play as part of a deal to land a roster player (or nearly developed prospect).
In another minor move, Burke sent a 7th round pick to one of his favourite trading partners, the Ducks, for Aaron Voros. Voros is a tough winger, over 6′ and weighing in at 215. He was assigned directly to the Marlies, though some speculate that Coloton Orr may be done for the year and Voros is a possible replacement.
Well ahead of the NHL trade deadline, Burke has to be given some credit for his willingness to try to right some of the things that have gone wrong for him in his initial plans. He has managed to turn 2 roster players on the 26th place team into a roster player, a mid-level prospect, a first round pick, and a couple lower picks. Depending on what else he may be able to acquire, he’s also found about $2.5M in cap space, which will be valuable when trying to re-sign some of his own RFAs in the off season.