The Toronto Maple Leafs closed out January with two blockbuster trades. They traded forwards Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers and defenseman Ian White to the Calgary Flames in exchange for defenseman Dion Phaneuf, forward Fredrik Sjostrom and prospect Keith Aulie. GM Brian Burke also moved veteran forward Jason Blake and goalie Vesa Toskala to the Anaheim Ducks for goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
The Anaheim Trade
Last season Anaheim and Toronto were both among the five teams that spent the highest percentage of their salary cap on goaltending, yet didn't get very good value from the position. In 2008-09 Vesa Toskala was the league's worst value and Jean-Sebastien Giguere was the league's 5th worst, while Toskala had the league's 5th worst quality start percentage to Giguere's 3rd worst.
With Jonas Hiller emerging as Anaheim's top goalie, the Ducks were in a position to dump Giguere's hefty salary ($6.0 million this year and $7.0 million in 2010-11) and take on the UFA Toskala provided that they got a useful veteran like Jason Blake in exchange. Blake, whose natural decline is progressing faster than we projected, is in a long-term deal worth $4.5 million this season, $3.0 million for the next two, no doubt followed by his retirement.
The Toronto Maple Leafs hope that by reuniting him with his old goalie coach, Giguere can provide them with a couple of good seasons until Gustavsson can emerge into the legitimate #1 netminder they'll need to compete long-term. The mutual appeal of this team was perhaps best stated by my Puck Prospectus colleague Timo Seppa on an ESPN Insider Rumor December 9th:
“The Maple Leafs and Ducks would actually make intriguing trade partners, as a swap centered around Jean-Sebastien Giguere for Vesa Toskala would make sense for both teams. How so? While Toskala (-9.7 GVT in 12 GP) is again in the running for the worst player in the NHL, he's signed for this season only at $4 million, while Giguere (3.5 GVT in 13 GP) is owed $6 million this season and $7 million next season. While Jonas Hiller can man the Anaheim nets as well as Giguere--as proven by his performance throughout the 2008-09 playoffs--the Ducks could make good use of the cap room both this year and next, to better optimize their squad. Other pieces could round out the trade, but I'm not sure that a straight up deal wouldn't be beneficial to both teams.”
OGVT: Offensive component of GVT
DGVT: Defensive component of GVT
GVT: Goals Versus Threshold; Please see here for an explanation of GVT
This Season VUKOTA Projection Last Season
To The Flames OGVT DGVT GVT OGVT DGVT GVT OGVT DGVT GVT
Matt Stajan 4.4 1.9 6.3 4.5 2.2 6.7 5.1 2.4 7.5
Ian White 4.3 3.4 7.8 2.9 3.6 6.5 3.0 5.6 8.6
Niklas Hagman 4.1 1.8 6.4 4.8 2.0 6.8 5.9 1.3 7.2
Jamal Mayers -0.3 0.1 -0.2 0.4 1.1 1.5 -0.3 0.2 -0.1
To The Ducks
Jason Blake 2.0 1.4 3.5 5.8 1.9 7.7 9.1 2.7 11.8
Vesa Toskala -16.1 -0.5 -16.5 -3.2 -0.9 -4.1 -18.1 0.1 -18.0
From the Flames
Dion Phaneuf 1.6 3.4 5.0 7.9 5.5 13.4 3.9 2.2 6.1
Fredrik Sjostrom -0.9 1.1 0.1 -0.9 2.0 1.1 -2.9 1.3 -1.6
From the Ducks
J-S Giguere -2.3 -1.1 -3.7 5.0 0.0 5.0 -3.4 -0.6 -4.0
The Calgary Trade
Ignoring Jamal Mayers and Fredrik Sjostrom as relative non-factors, in exchange for Dion Phaneuf the Flames stand to gain players that have a combined 20.5 GVT this season, already ahead of their projected value of 20.0 and almost at last season's total of 23.3. It stands to reason that Calgary GM Darryl Sutter intended to use this trade to stimulate his offense enough for the Flames to snap out of their scoring funk, regain the Northwest division lead, and advance past the 1st round of the postseason for only the 2nd time since their 1989 Stanley Cup championship.
As for the Leafs, it looks like Burke took some advice from our December 4th Roundtable, and is looking forward to 2013-14, when the Leafs may next be competitive. Phaneuf will be in his prime, possibly as one of the league's finest blue-liners, Keith Aulie will play behind him, and all of the players they just gave up would have either been retired or UFAs that signed elsewhere by then.
While Burke may have taken our advice on that point, he didn't take our recent advice on improving the Leafs historically ineffective penalty-killing. In Matt Stajan and Ian White they traded away two of their only effective penalty-killers, as we discussed on two occasions last month. Though the Flames haven't used Fredrik Sjostrom while short-handed this season, he was very impressive in that role with the Rangers in 2008-09, so he has the potential to ease the Leafs' pain.
The Flames are no doubt excited to receive a gifted two-way forward like Matt Stajan, who for two seasons has been scoring at an even-strength rate higher than any Flame forward except Jarome Iginla. The downside is that he is currently an unrestricted free agent, and if he re-signs he'll be expecting a hefty pay increase from his current $1.75 million contract.
On the Blue Line
Greatly cushioning the blow of losing Dion Phaneuf is Ian White, who is only one year older and is outscoring him 26 to 22 this season. Phaneuf may be the better long-term prospect, but this is the 2nd season in a row that White has had a better GVT. Even when this RFA receives the hefty pay increase to which he is due, he'll still be paid substantially less than Phaneuf's sky-high salary of $7 million, but with equivalent returns (for the time being). Iain Fyffe saw this one coming when he wrote Toronto's preseason piece:
“Hopefully management knows well enough to stick with White, who at 5-10 is very small by NHL standards for a defenseman. White projects to be the team's best defensive skater (3.6 defensive GVT), and second-best defenseman overall (6.5 GVT) behind only Kaberle. We can only hope his skill and performance don't get lost in the forest of redwoods.”
Of course, the Maple Leafs aren't exactly walking away empty-handed. Keith Aulie could develop into a very capable NHL blueliner, and while Dion Phaneuf's development had stalled in Calgary, he may yet fulfill his promise of a Norris trophy contender. As Timo Seppa explained on a recent edition of Driving to the Net:
“In an ideal world, Big Dion would improve his puzzlingly poor defensive skills and turn into the next Chris Pronger, but for now, he’s a vastly overpaid one-way offensive defenseman worth -6.8 Goals Versus Salary; his GVT would call for a salary in the range of $2.5-$3.0 million.”
Potentially overlooked in all of the post-trade discussion is 30-year-old Finn Niklas Hagman, who is signed for the next two seasons at $3.0 million. Hagman has consistently generated 2.0 even-strength points per 60 minutes over the past three seasons in Dallas and Toronto, which quite safely qualifies him as a legitimate top-6 forward and 30-goal threat.
Alan Ryder consistently ranks Hagman as one of the league's better defensive forwards and he showed up 1st overall in my quest for the league's most disciplined player. Iain Fyffe offered up the following praise in his season preview:
“Hagman might be their best goal-getter, scoring 27 for Dallas two years ago and 22 in 65 games for the Leafs last year, but without a real playmaking center his output can only go so far.”
The bottom line is that Brian Burke addressed the gaping hole he had in net, and in the acquisition of Dion Phaneuf he took a major step toward building a competitive Toronto team, which could be a serious Stanley Cup contender by either the 2012-13 or 2013-14 season. In exchange he gave up considerable offensive talent to the Calgary Flames, who are doubtlessly looking for a deep playoff run to justify their sacrifice.
Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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