Brian Burke is Rocky: NHL Trade Deadline 2009

The 2009 NHL trade deadline came and went at 3 p.m. today.  You can find a complete recap and analysis here;  briefly, out the door go Nik Antropov and Dominic Moore (in return for draft choices).  In the door comes former Sens goalie Martin Gerber, who was claimed on waivers as a stopgap measure as it was revealed this morning that goaltender Vesa Toskala has been playing injured and will undergo season-ending surgery on his hip and groin tomorrow.  Judging by the general reaction (check this one out) of many of the folks in the Pension Plan Puppets discussion threads, there is a sense of disappointment out there.

I confess that I am having some difficulty understanding that sense of being so tremendously let down;  to me, it seems like people have missed the point of the Leafs’ participation in this exercise. It’s a little like being upset that Rocky didn’t knock out Apollo Creed in the first movie of that series.  The Italian Stallion was never going to actually beat the Champ in that first fight;  he wasn’t a legitimate contender, he was a tomato can whose stated goal was to simply go the distance.  When he achieved this goal, it was a victory for him in the sense that he achieved his goal.   It was a victory for us because it made possible Rocky II and its beach training scenes set to Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger.

So it was with the Leafs today; Brian Burke didn’t swing a trade to bring John Tavares straight from the OHL into Maple Leaf Blue & White.  He didn’t use some Creole voodoo spell to raise Syl Apps from the dead and bring the Leafs their first zombie captain since Rob Ramage.  He didn’t knock out Apollo Creed today.

“A couple of second rounders and a fourth?” some say, peering at the results like Charlie Brown into his Hallowe’en trick-or-treat bag, “We [Leaf fans] got screwed.”  Burke didn’t revitalize the franchise with a single trade today, but if you expected that result, you were deluding yourself all along.  Prepare yourself for a lifetime of disappointment, because Doug Risebrough is probably not going to be allowed to trade Doug Gilmour again anytime soon.

This is just step one of the process.  Rocky wanted to make it to the end of the fight;  Brian Burke’s goal today was simply to re-stock the draft pick cupboard as capably as he could.  Judging by the trade of Ales Kotalik to Edmonton, (for which Buffalo received a second-round pick) the return Burke got was market value or better;  the Rangers gave up a 2nd rounder and a conditional pick for Antropov, a player of more or less comparable value. The same yardstick suggests that Buffalo may well have overpaid for Dominic Moore, a useful player, but not a standout.  Burke also got creative and found a way to essentially turn cash into some additional hockey assets;  in one other trade, the Leafs acquired a 4th round pick from Tampa and took on the expiring contracts of Olaf Kolzig and Jamie Heward (both of whom are out indefinitely with injuries) as well as an injured prospect and former first-round pick by the name of Andy Rogers;   the transaction was accomplished essentially by the Leafs agreeing to take on the salaries of the injured players (and giving up a minor league prospect, I suspect to make the trade “legal” under the NHL’s rules) in exchange for the pick and prospect.  In this way, Tampa (it appears) will qualify to receive revenue-sharing money and the Leafs turn an asset they have lots of (cash) in to assets they find themselves needing (picks and prospects).   Overall, Burke managed to get a fair price for the assets he had to sell, and managed to creatively manufacture a little something else that might just turn out to mean something down the road and cost us nothing in terms of hockey assets.

Step two of the process comes after the Cup is awarded to someone else.  The plan will unfold a little more at the draft and during the upcoming free agent season.  Burke has given himself plenty of salary cap flexibility to build the team he wants to have over the next couple of years.  Like many others, I strongly suspect he has his sights set on Rick Nash the year after next.  In the meantime, he can choose to deal Kaberle and/or Kubina if he feels the need to do so and gets the right offer or offers.

Brian Burke stuck to the plan today.  He did what he needed to do to begin the rebuilding of the team in earnest.  He managed to avoid losing Antropov and Moore for nothing; perhaps more importantly, he managed to avoid failing to move Antropov and getting himself into an uncomfortable negotiation as a result, with Antropov holding all of the cards in that little poker game (if Antropov isn’t traded, with his contract expiring at the end of the year, the pressure on Burke to re-sign him rather than letting him walk for nothing would have been immense.  Antropov would have been in the driver’s seat in that negotiation.)

So Burke did what the plan asked of him.  He didn’t lose sight of any of the objectives.  He achieved his goal.  He should now feel free to stand in the middle of the ring and shout, “Adrienne!”