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THN.com Blog: Burke makes two big splashes to breathe new life into Leafs

Dion Phaneuf has a cap hit of $6.5 million for the next four years. (Getty Images)

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Dion Phaneuf has a cap hit of $6.5 million for the next four years. (Getty Images)

Wow. A good, old-fashioned blockbuster.

Those were the first words that came to me when news broke Sunday regarding the multi-team trade that will bring Calgary star defenseman Dion Phaneuf and Anaheim Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The deal, which also makes Calgary forward Fredrik Sjostrom and defenseman Keith Aulie (playing for Abbotsford of the American League) members of the Leafs, sent forwards Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers, and defenseman Ian White to the Flames, while Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake move to the Ducks in return for Giguere.

Rarely, if ever, do you see swaps of this magnitude made during any other time but the day of the trade deadline. More rare are deals composed of players who possess the combination of youth and talent Phaneuf does.

Rarest of all, the trade involved the Leafs, the hockey gods’ gift to comedy punch lines for most of my life. When was the last time Toronto fans were this blindsided by a Buds move? Probably the 1994 Wendel Clark/Mats Sundin transaction, no? Or the Doug Gilmour/Gary Leeman, 10-player deal, right?

But as shocking as the trade is, in some respects, it fits Burke’s M.O. perfectly.

When he had his first GM job in Hartford, he traded up to draft future Hall of Fame blueliner Chris Pronger. When he moved on to Vancouver, he dealt for Ed Jovanovski and moved up in the draft to select both Sedin brothers. When he relocated to Anaheim, he acquired Pronger for a second time.

And make no mistake: this was a blockbuster featuring two blocks that cried out for major busting.

Toronto had been on a major skid for weeks – 2-6-2 in their past 10 games – and the Leafs’ third-period capitulation to Vancouver Saturday night had to make Burke’s stomach churn like a bingo-ball roller.

Calgary, meanwhile, was searching for any kind of offense GM Darryl Sutter could get his hands on. In Stajan and Hagman he will get just that: two players who haven’t shown the ability to produce on demand, but who each enjoy bursts of productivity.

(Sjostrom, I imagine, was used to even out the money aspects of the trade; and Aulie is a big (6-foot-6) prospect who likely will play for the American League Marlies before he gets a shot with the parent team.)

In Mayers, Sutter is landing a tough foot soldier to deepen Calgary’s forward unit. And to me, White may be the best long-term component of the deal from a Flames perspective; he’s an intelligent puck-mover whose best years lie ahead.

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Obviously, the same can be said for Phaneuf, whose image in Calgary has slowly, but surely been chipped away until he became the focal point for the Flames’ struggles (one win in their past 10 tries) of late. He will be the player this deal ultimately is judged on, the instant star who fits Burke’s ideal player mold so well.

That said, if Giguere can come in and provide Toronto with solid netminding the way Toskala clearly could not – while pushing Jonas Gustavsson in a platoon system – the Conn Smythe winner and Stanley Cup champion’s contributions will not go unappreciated by Leafs fans.

(That Burke was able to pawn off Blake's over-inflated contract on the Ducks speaks to (a) Anaheim GM Bob Murray's desperation to unload Giguere's salary, and (b) what a great day it was for the Leafs' boss.)

But let’s call this what it is: a thumbs down from Burke on his team’s composure and commitment. He had seen enough and he has never been shy about acting on his displeasure before, so he gambled like every GM does on every deal.

Only this time, he gambled with stakes as big as anyone imagines these days.

Remember Uma Thurman’s character from Pulp Fiction? Remember when she went “vital signs absent” after a drug overdose and Eric Stoltz had to plunge a needle deep through her breastbone to re-start her pulse?

That’s what Burke was doing with his Maple Leafs on the last Sunday in January. He’s doubling down on his defense and hoping it serves as a needle to the heart of a franchise on the verge of flat-lining.

Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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