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Monday, January 10, 2011

Brian Burke's Next Trade - Part 1

Brian Burke likes to trade for
"big fish" such as Kessel & Phaneuf
It has been fascinating to follow Toronto trade rumours the past two weeks.  Toronto passed on one trade offer for Kris Versteeg while two separate deals for Ryan Parent and Jack Skille fell apart.  Shortly afterwards, Ryan Parent cleared waivers and was assigned to the AHL.  Reports had the deals falling apart because Brian Burke was trying to make them into bigger deals.

In all of this, it was clear; Toronto Maple Leafs fans want to know about the next trade Brian Burke will do.  In short, they want somebody to predict the future for them.

A good way to predict what someone will do in the future is to look at what he did in the past.  In the case of Brian Burke, you can characterize his past trades while managing Toronto in six ways:

  1. Catching the Big Fish
  2. Upgrading the Asset
  3. Cleaning Out the Cap
  4. Making Room for Prospects
  5. Time Machine
  6. Cashing In a Diminishing Asset
Catching the Big Fish

We know these deals as the Phaneuf and Kessel trades.  They come at us completely unexpected.  Suggesting there possibility invites ridicule.  Only Eklund from Hockey Buzz is bold enough to alert us of their possibility.

These deals involve top prospects who delivered elite performances before reaching their prime.  In the case of Phil Kessel, at age 21, he was Boston's leading goal scorer.  For Dion Phaneuf, at the age of 22, he received 1st team all-star honours.  Seeing these type players traded is unthinkable to most people.  Targeting and acquiring them are long shots.  Yet, Brian Burke has done two of these transactions in his first two years as Toronto's manager.

Expect this to be Brian Burke's top trade priority over the next seven weeks.  He has more than enough cap space to do this type of deal.  He is ready to part with quality players such as Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, and Kris Versteeg in order to catch that "big fish".

Upgrading the Asset

Turning 24-year-old winger Viktor Stalberg into 24-year-old winger Kris Versteeg by adding two prospects (Chris DiDominico and Philippe Paradis) typifies Brian Burke's asset upgrade trade.  Some people lament the loss of the two prospects.  The fact is, an NHL team can only keep so many prospects under contract with the 50 Active Player roster limit.  It makes it impossible to horde prospects.  Converting 32-year-old Vesa Toskala into 32-year-old J.S. Giguerre last year is another example.

Perhaps Tyler Bozak can be in play in an "Upgrading the Asset" trade.  Toronto can package quality prospects such as Jerry D'Amigo, Matt Frattin, and Kenny Ryan into such a trade.

Cleaning Out the Cap

The packaging of Jason Blake with Vesa Toskala for J.S. Giguerre is Brian Burke's famous "Cleaning out the Cap" trade.  He did it in conjunction with the Dion Phaneuf "Catching the Big Fish" trade to make cap room for Phaneuf and clean out the cap three years out.  Similarly, trading Pavel Kubina for Garnet Exelby created cap space to sign Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin.

Toronto has tremendous cap space.  According to capgeek, there is room to acquire a contract just over $7.538 mil.  This number goes up for Toronto by just over $83k each day.  It will be up to $9.942 mil by the end of January and $16.333 mil by trade deadline.  Toronto has no need for a "Cleaning Out the Cap" trade for this trade deadline period.  But, such a trade can signal an intention to do something "big" during the summer.

Making Room for Prospects

Toronto acquired Matt Lashoff (Boston's 2005 1st round pick) for Stefano Giliati and Alex Berry last August.  Two players least likely to ever make the NHL.  Why?  What happened?

Matt Lashoff is on a one-way contract of $550k and was unlikely to make Tampa's NHL roster.  Tampa's budget is so tight they can't afford to pay $550k to an AHLer.  For Toronto to help Tampa with its budget, Tampa had to help Toronto.  Toronto had 47 spots in its 50 player active roster filled while expecting to add Christian Hanson and Jerry D'Amigo.  Moving both Giliati and Berry allowed Toronto to resign Hanson and add D'Amigo while leaving two spots open for either the trade deadline, college free agent signings, or signing Matt Frattin.

In all likelihood, the deal with Vancouver for Ryan Parent (Nashville's 2005 1st round pick) probably fell apart because Brian Burke would take Ryan Parent's one-way $900k contract only if Vancouver took two low-level prospects such as Dale Mitchell and Robert Slaney in return.

You can characterize trading Jiri Tlusty for junior draft choice Philippe Paradis in the same manner.  It opened up a spot on the the 50 Active Player roster which was used when signing college free agents Brayden Irwin and Ben Scrivens.  In addition, Jiri Tlusty was going to lose his waiver exempt status at the end of that season.  Similarly, Luca Caputi will lose his waiver exempt status at the end of this season.

Time Machine

Trading 21-year-old Jiri Tlusty for 19-year-old Philippe Paradis is an example of a "Time Machine" trade where you convert an asset into a younger asset.  Brian Burke has been trying to do this type of trade with Tomas Kaberle without success.

Coincidently, I have been informed Tomas Kaberle has approved two teams for trade and rejected another two.  It will be interesting to see if Brian Burke can finally pull off a "Time Machine" trade with Tomas Kaberle.

Cashing In a Diminishing Asset

Trading an imminent UFA (Unrestricted Free Agent) for a draft pick or perhaps a prospect can salvage a difficult situation with the player.  The team does not want to extend the player's contract and tries to make the best of it.  Nik Antropov, Dominic Moore, Alexei Ponikoravsky, and Lee Stempniak are Brian Burke examples of such trades.  

Perhaps, Tomas Kaberle and J.S. Giguerre will fall into this category if they waive their no-trade-clause.  However, in a recent radio interview, Brian Burke made it clear he is looking for players.  Not more 2nd round draft picks.

The Stanley Cup Ring Effect

This year, Brian Burke has three assets who have been on a Stanley Cup winning team: Kris Versteeg, Francois Beauchemin, and J.S. Giguerre.  J.S. Giguerre is also a Conn Smythe trophy award winner in 2002-03 for being most valuable player in the playoffs.  These are players coveted by Cup Contenders.  Expect them to be in play at trade deadline.

Don't be surprised if Brian Burke uses these players to target top prospects such as Brayden Schenn and James Van Riemsdyk.  Philadelphia has a most peculiar cap problem.  They have $3.364 mil cap space left on next year's cap.  They can not acquire a player whose contract causes them to exceed next year's cap.  This might be a major reason for Philadelphia trying to outbid everyone on Jamie Langenbrunner.

The Cap/Budget Effect

One characteristic you will find in each major deal done by Brian Burke is a trading partner with salary cap or budget problems.  You should not be surprised to see the same result over the next seven weeks.  


Brian Burke and Toronto Maple Leafs fans may not be on the same page.  You are probably looking for change.  Brian Burke is looking for improvement.  He specifically wants to improve the first line.  He may surprise you by not doing any deals at all if no improvements are made available.  After all, why should he give another team cap or budget relief without receiving anything of significance in return?

Post Script 18-Jan-2011

Brian Burke's Next Trade - Part 2 - Making Room for Prospects

Post Script 2-Feb-2011

Brian Burke's Next Trade - Part 3 - Catching The Big Fish

Post Script 14-Feb-2011

Brian Burke's Next Trade - Part 4 - Tomas Kaberle and the "Time Machine" Trade

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