Former Maple Leafs GM Burke on how Dion Phaneuf trade came together

HC analyst Brian Burke joins Lead Off to look back on two massive trades he made as Maple Leafs GM 10 years ago, in both the Dion Phaneuf and J.S. Giguere acquisitions, and how each of them came together.

It was a decade ago today that the paths of two Canadian franchises took a sharp turn, a single seven-player swap altering the timelines of both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames.

A look back at the particulars of the deal — heading West: Niklas Hagman, Ian White, Jamal Mayers and Matt Stajan, the last of those names eventually becoming a nine-season fixture in Calgary.

Heading East? Fredrik Sjostrom, Keith Aulie, and a 24-year-old Dion Phaneuf.

The big-bodied blue-liner — who’d amassed 206 points through his first four seasons in the league up to that point, while also serving as a noted bruiser — was named captain soon after, before leading the team through a tumultuous seven-year stretch that brought just one post-season berth to Toronto, complete with a Game 7 heartbreak for the Maple Leafs faithful.

Looking back on the 2010 blockbuster, Brian Burke — who was at the Maple Leafs’ helm at the time — remembers the process of nudging that 2010 blockbuster from hypothetical to reality being no small feat.

“I really loved Dion as a player, I thought he was a fabulous player,” Burke said Wednesday on Sportsnet 590’s Lead Off, reflecting on how the deal came together. “… I had asked (then-Flames GM) Daryl Sutter about Dion and he had said, ‘No I’m not moving him.’ And then like four days later I was talking to Bob Murray from Anaheim and he said, ‘Are you in on Phaneuf?’ I said, ‘Well Phaneuf’s not in play.’ He said, ‘Yeah, he is — Daryl just offered him to me.’

“So I called Daryl back, I was swearing at him, I said, ‘I thought you said he wasn’t available!’ He said, ‘I was going to call you, don’t worry about it,’ and then we started working on the deal.”

Brian Burke on the anniversary of the Dion Phaneuf trade
January 29 2020

Nearly missing out on the chance to make an offer for Phaneuf was just the first obstacle. Getting through a tense weekend without any of the seven players involved succumbing to injury was the second key hill to climb.

“[Sutter] asked to do it on Sunday — he said he had to meet with his owners and explain the deal to them and he wanted to do it on Sunday. I said, ‘Daryl, Saturday is Hockey Night in Canada.’ All seven players in that deal played on Saturday night,” Burke told the Lead Off crew. “Daryl said, ‘I’ll make the deal sight unseen.’ In other words, no matter who gets hurt, we’ll make this deal on Sunday.

“So, we played that night and we watched, because Matt Stajan was in that deal, Nik Hagman, Jamal Mayers, and Ian White. All four of them played, got through healthy. And then Calgary played, Dion stayed healthy, and Sjostrom stayed healthy. And Keith Aulie stayed healthy in the late game in Abbotsford. And we did the deal on Sunday.”

That same day, Burke acquired netminder Jean-Sebastian Giguere, who he’d had previously in Anaheim, sending Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake to the Ducks in return. That both significant deals dropped at the same time was more than simply coincidence.

“I was trying to shake up the team. I did not like the team I inherited here,” Burke says of his reasoning for the busy Jan. 31. “Sometimes a GM really likes a team, and sometimes can’t stand the team, and it’s not always whether they’re in first place or not.

“… I did not like the group I inherited — moving them out a piece at a time, it took longer than I thought it would take. When I first got here I asked (then-head coach) Ron Wilson, ‘Do we need a goalie?’ He said, ‘No, Toskala’s good enough.’ He had had him in San Jose, and he really believed that. Obviously, he was wrong. That’s why we got Giguere — I couldn’t stand watching Vesa Toskala play anymore.”

While the moves didn’t bring a title — or more than a lone playoff run — to Toronto as hoped, Burke said he truly believed he’d put together a promising squad by the time he was removed from the GM role in 2013.

“We really felt we had the fastest team in the NHL, and the toughest team in the NHL,” the longtime executive said. “If you go back and look, we had (Mikhail) Grabovski, we had (Phil) Kessel, we had really good foot-speed … and then we could scare the hell out of you with the bottom six. And that team made the playoffs.”

Listen to Brian Burke’s full interview with Sportsnet 590’s Lead Off via the audio player embedded within this post.

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