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Numbers Game: Maple Leafs Double Dealing

Scott Cullen
1/31/2010 6:44:05 PM
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Going big and bold, Brian Burke made blockbuster moves to bring Dion Phaneuf and Jean-Sebastien Giguere to Toronto.  Numbers Game looks at the three teams dealing on Sunday.

The Ducks Get: G Vesa Toskala and LW Jason Blake.

Toskala, 32, has struggled this season, posting an .874 save percentage, the worst among goaltenders with at least ten appearances in the NHL this season.  Coming off a disappointing 2008-2009 season, which was blamed on injury, it appears that Toskala has not been able to recapture the form that he had shown earlier in his career.

With the Ducks signing Jonas Hiller to a contract extension this week, Hiller will continue to see the bulk of the starts for the rest of the season, with Toskala playing the backup role, ready to step in on rare occasions when Hiller needs a break.

Making $4-million this season, Toskala will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer.

Blake, 36, has been a victim of high expectations created by his 40-goal season for the Islanders in 2006-2007, which has only been compounded since he signed a five-year, $20-million with the Maple Leafs in the summer of 2007. 

Not surprisingly, Blake has not lived up to that production and this year has just 10 goals and 26 points in 56 games, leaving him on pace for his lowest point total since 2001-2002.

While Blake is a hard worker, he's prone to shoot first and ask questions later, which doesn't always maximize the production of his linemates. 

In Anaheim, Blake could get a shot in a top six role, maybe even playing with Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne on the second line since his left shot will provide a much-needed complement on the wing and it might give Blake a shot at 20 goals this season.  Of course, he could also slide further down the depth chart.

Due for a cap hit of $8-million over the next two seasons, Blake is clearly overpaid for his production, so the Ducks may consider a buyout in the summer, but if Blake finishes this season well, perhaps he'll remain in Anaheim's plans for 2010-2011.

With Blake arriving in Anaheim, it will be more challenging for rookies Matt Beleskey and Dan Sexton to fit in the top six forwards once the Ducks get Koivu and Selanne back from injury, but that is a decent boost to forward depth as Anaheim makes a push for the postseason.

The Flames Get: C Matt Stajan, LW Niklas Hagman, C Jamal Mayers and D Ian White.

Though perhaps miscast in Toronto as a number one centre, 26-year-old Matt Stajan is having a career year with 16 goals and 41 points in 55 games.  Stajan plays a reliable two-way game and a move to a contender would figure to allow him to fit in as a complementary pivot.

However, Calgary's troubles down the middle could result in Stajan seeing prime ice time in a setup role with Jarome Iginla.  Even if Stajan isn't paired with Iginla, he'll have decent wingers at his disposal, so he can remain a productive scoring centre.

Stajan makes an economical $1.75-million this season and will be an unrestricted free agent at season's end.  A strong finish to the campaign will only enhance his value on the open market.

30-year-old Niklas Hagman is a quietly productive winger, who is in the midst of his third straight season with at least 20 goals.  The Finn has good speed and a nose for the net, so he should help add scoring to a Flames team that has had some trouble in that regard.

Set to make $6-million over the next two seasons, Hagman figures to find a top-nine role in Calgary -- especially if he has some chemistry with underperforming countryman Olli Jokinen -- but the Flames have a lot of depth on the wings, so once they get to full health, there will be some extra bodies battling for playing time.

Mayers, 35, is a tough checking centre who is willing to scrap and add toughness but, even with three points in the last two games, Mayers has a total of eight points in 44 games this season, so he's not going to be a factor offensively.  In the final year of a three-year, $4-million contract, Mayers will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer.

Undersized and often underrated, 25-year-old Ian White is an effective puck-moving defenceman who has tied his career-high with 26 points in 56 games this season and has a plus rating despite logging nearly 24 minutes per game for a team with the league's 27th-ranked plus-minus.

Though he's not a physical presence on the blueline, White will move into a similarly prominent role in Calgary and his ability to move the puck ought to help limit the exposure created by the loss of Dion Phaneuf.

A veritable bargain at $850,000 this season, White will be a restricted free agent in the summer and due a sizeable raise, but with Phaneuf's contract gone, the Flames will have some financial room to include White in their future plans.

Calgary has been struggling and this move certainly improves their forward depth and may give them the opportunity to score more often but, while solid, none of the players coming from Toronto is an elite player, so their impact is going to depend a lot on the kind of chemistry they can form with their new teammates.  

The Maple Leafs Get: D Dion Phaneuf, G Jean-Sebastien Giguere, LW Fredrik Sjostrom and D Keith Aulie.

Phaneuf is the prize of these deals, a 24-year-old rock 'em-sock'em blueliner who gets time on the highlight reels thanks to his devastating hits and booming shots from the point.

At the same time, Phaneuf can get caught out of position defensively as he seeks out his next crushing bodycheck and his shot production is down significantly this season, indicating that there is reason for him to be on pace for a career-low with 22 points in 55 games.

Signed for four years and $26-million after this season, Phaneuf will be a cornerstone piece for a Maple Leafs franchise that has tried to build defensively under the rule of GM Brian Burke, with admittedly unsatisfying results thus far.

Burke is showing a measure of loyalty by taking on Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the 32-year-old who led Burke's Anaheim Ducks to the Stanley Cup in 2007.  Giguere's play has slipped the last couple of seasons with a 3.11 goals against average and .900 save percentage in 66 games since the beginning of the 2008-2009 season.

While the theory of adding Giguere is fine, since the Leafs can't yet be sure that Jonas Gustavsson is going to be able to handle a true number one starter's workload, the Leafs will also be on the hook for the $6-million remaining on Giguere's contract next season. 

A buyout is conceivable, but the Leafs would still need to come up with another veteran to complement Gustavsson and there's probably more hope that Giguere can recapture his All-Star form now that he's re-united with goaltending consultant Francois Allaire, who was with the Ducks when Giguere experienced his greatest success.

Strange as it may sound, the Maple Leafs could also provide a decent defensive environment for Giguere, who has faced 31.4 shots per 60 minutes in Anaheim this season. 

Considering that the Leafs have given up 29.7 shots against per 60 minutes this year, that's not really a defensive decline in front of him. 

Now, the Leafs have been unable to score at the best of times this season and after dealing two of their top four scorers, Stajan and Hagman, the goals don't figure to come more frequently the rest of the way, but if Giguere can use the rest of this season to shake off some rust and get back into form, it's possible that he could be ready to handle the number one job next season.

While taking on Giguere's contract is hardly ideal, if it means unloading the ghastly Jason Blake contract in the same deal, it's a good financial move, to say nothing of the possibility that Giguere could become a useful contributor.

Sjostrom, 26, has good speed and, if nothing else, he will improve the Leafs' horrendous penalty killing.  Though he's played under 10 minutes a game in Calgary, and has been a healthy scratch at times, he doesn't hurt the team in that limited role.  Sjostrom is under contract for $750,000 next season.

20-year-old Keith Aulie is a towering 6-foot-6 stay-at-home defenceman who has six points and a plus-1 rating in 43 games with Abbotsford of the AHL this season.  Considering the depth that the Maple Leafs currently have on the blueline, there's no rush to get Aulie to the NHL, but it's good to add an asset who could be a factor a couple of years down the road.

Looking ahead, Toronto will have to find more players capable of putting the puck in the net.  In the short term, rookies like Tyler Bozak, Viktor Stalberg and Christian Hanson ought to have ample opportunity to prove that they can be part of the Maple Leafs' future plans.

Given Toronto's struggles this season, a dramatic shake-up in which they acquire the best player can't make things worse.  Sure, depending on cap effects, they might have to bury a salary in the minors, but the Leafs can afford to do that. 

Calgary has also struggled this year and this move looks like it could be followed by others, but at least it gives the Flames a new look.  There is greater risk from the Flames' perspective since they surrendered the player most likely to be an elite performer and, if Stajan departs, White and Hagman don't have a great deal of upside. 

Anaheim's participation in the deal seems almost like a favour to Toronto.  While moving Giguere does provide a measure of security for Jonas Hiller in the Anaheim net, taking on Jason Blake's deal in return does seem a tad generous.

The Maple Leafs sacrificed quite a bit in these deals, but getting Phaneuf could make it all worthwhile, especially if Phaneuf picks up his play and returns to star status.  It's easy to see Phaneuf, Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek as crucial components of the Maple Leafs blueline for years to come.  
 
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen

 




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