Opinion: Toronto’s Deal Matters To Sabres

The Toronto Maple Leafs may be ranked near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, but burkedon’t tell that to Leafs GM Brian Burke.

He decided to swing for the fences, both for the future and for the present.

On Sunday, the two biggest trades to date were made in the NHL, as the Leafs made two separate deals. First the Leafs pulled off a blockbuster with the Calgary Flames, acquiring defenseman Dion Phaneuf, winger Fredrik Sjostrom and prospect Keith Aulie in exchange for forwards Jamal Mayers, Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan and defenseman Ian White. Then, Toronto dealt winger Jason Blake and goaltender Vesa Toskala to Anaheim in exchange for goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

The trade for Giguere was expected by many within league circles. With goaltender Jonas Hiller signing a four-year extension with the Ducks, the man known as “Jiggy” had effectively lost his starting job to his younger teammate. Thus, this opened the door for Giguere to be reunited with his former goaltending coach Francois Allaire and his former general manager in Burke.

The trade for Phaneuf, however, was a surprise to many, and sent shockwaves throughout the league. Phaneuf, considered by many to be one of the best defensemen in the NHL and one of the Flames’ cornerstones, allegedly wasn’t seeing eye-to-eye with his long time coach, Brent Sutter. Phaneuf also wasn’t playing up to his lofty standards, having gone through some slumps.

So what does this mean for the Buffalo Sabres? This means that Toronto is going to be much tougher to compete against in the future and in the present.

The acquisition of Phaneuf reminds some of when Burke brought Chris Pronger to Anaheim, and for good reason. With the addition of Phaneuf, the Leafs’ defense should be tougher. With studs like Mike Komisarek, Luke Schenn and Francois Beauchemin already on Toronto’s roster, the acquisition of Phaneuf should make their defense even more physical. Plus, much like Pronger does, Phaneuf brings some additional offensive skill to the table as well. This collection of toughness on the blueline is what helped Anaheim win the Stanley Cup in 2007, and Phaneuf should be a staple on Toronto’s back end for years to come.

The acquisition of Giguere  also helps to solve a problem that the Leafs have had for quite some time: Goaltending. The last goaltender to don a Leafs sweater that posed problems for teams was Ed Belfour back in 2005-06. Since Belfour was let go, Toronto has attempted to soldier on with the likes of Andrew Raycroft, Vesa Toskala, Curtis Joseph and Jonas Gustavsson. Raycroft, Toskala and Gustavsson all showed some flashes of brilliance, but not consistently. Curtis Joseph was past his prime.

But with good goaltending, any team can steal a few wins here and there. Just ask Buffalo. That is what the Leafs are counting on Giguere to do, and he should be able to provide them with that element for a few years.

However, even though these transactions do upgrade Toronto, they need to find more offense. Outside of Alexei Ponikarovsky, Phil Kessel and Lee Stempniak, they have no scoring threats at forward. Until the Leafs upgrade their scoring depth, don’t expect the Leafs to be a powerhouse any time soon. But we can expect the Leafs to be a much grittier team to play against, and that’s not what anyone, including Buffalo, wants to hear.

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