Steve Dangle looks back at Leafs’ trades for Phaneuf, Giguere

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.

How do you forget a day like this?

I’ve seen people tweeting about how today marks the 10th anniversary of the Leafs acquiring Dion Phaneuf from the Calgary Flames. That’s right — 10th. Yep, you’re old.

What I haven’t seen quite as much is how on that very same day, Leafs GM Brian Burke sent both Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake to the Anaheim Ducks for Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Ironically, Toskala went to the Flames to end the season after yet another trade.

Let’s take a look back at the carnival that was January 31, 2010.

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Let’s get this out of the way right now: The Leafs sucked. “Bro, they always suck lol.” Tuck that tweet away. We’re not talking about regular run-of-the-mill sucking. We’re talking second-last in the entire league after giving up two first-rounders for a winger who’s recovering from shoulder surgery sucking. It was Taylor and Tyler-mania. Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, slam dunks to go one and two in the 2010 NHL Draft, two of junior hockey’s biggest stars, and two kids playing in Ontario…

…and one of them is going to the Bruins. Cool, cool, cool. Awesome. Good. Great.

It’s OK, though. The Leafs persevered and had a hot start to the season. Kidding! They began 0-7-1.

So yeah, “They always suck” doesn’t cut it. For a team that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2004 and hasn’t won a Cup in over half a century, this might have been their lowest point in memory.

Unfortunately, the Leafs had a calm and patient GM willing to wait out their trials and tribulations. Kidding! They had Burke and he had even less patience for losing than he had for ties.

Then the kablooey.

There’s just something about the Leafs trading with the Flames. It can never be a little one, can it?

Less than one year prior, on July 27, 2009, the Leafs sent Colin Stuart, a 2012 seventh-rounder, and some kid named Anton Stralman to the Flames for Wayne Primeau and a second-rounder. Fun fact: That second-rounder went on to become Brandon Saad, who has two Cups and zero games played as a Leaf.

Listen, you can stop reading whenever you want. I won’t blame you.

There was also — stop me if you’ve heard this before — the Doug Gilmour trade with Calgary in 1993 that saw 10 players involved, five guys per team.

Heck, supposedly the Flames and Leafs had some kind of deal involving Nazem Kadri and T.J. Brodie that got scrapped last summer.

On January 31, 2010, it was a seven-player deal between the Leafs and Flames.

The Flames got Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers, Niklas Hagman, and Ian White. The Leafs got Fredrik Sjostrom, defensive prospect Keith Aulie, and the electrifying Dion Phaneuf.

Some of you will roll your eyes at that, but young Phaneuf was must-see TV. He was part of Canada’s monstrous 2005 world junior team and levelled everybody. He was a rookie during the 2005-06 season, which was utter anarchy. You have to understand: There had just been a year-long lockout and breathing was considered a penalty. The league was packed with a logjam of unreal rookies, including the spectacle that was the Sid vs. Ovie show. But Phaneuf was in that conversation, a rookie defender with 20 goals, 49 points, and the ability to turn you into a crater.

But the Flames had a problem the Leafs simply couldn’t relate to: Having too many good defenders.

They had Jay Bouwmeester, a young Mark Giordano, Robyn Regher, and Phaneuf. Rumours of conflicting personalities and whatnot aside, they had a decision to make. The Flames had all those defenders and meanwhile, the team had just two players eclipse 40 points.

The Leafs needed… well, everything. But to add Phaneuf and Aulie to a young core with Luke Schenn? That was a big deal.

I still remember the narratives.

• “Luke Schenn could be the new Scott Stevens.”

• “Phaneuf is finally the leader they need.”

• My personal favourite: “Keith Aulie’s gonna end up being the biggest part of this deal.”

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I can’t help but feel like if this trade happened in 1990 or even 2000 all of that may have been true. But by 2010? The age of the big, bruising defender was on its way out.

Phaneuf was still only 24 when he was traded, though. He’s entering his prime! It’s only bigger and better from here, right?

Well…

The Leafs didn’t exactly have Bouwmeester, Giordano, or Regher to surround Phaneuf with. Tomas Kaberle? Sure. A young Schenn and Carl Gunnarsson? Cool. Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek… I try not to talk about it.

After 10 goals in 55 games with the Flames that season, Phaneuf had just two in 26 games with the Leafs, both of which came in the final two games of the season and neither of which was at home. Actually, his first goal of the following season didn’t come until Dec. 14, partially due to a month-long injury, and that was on the road in Edmonton. Phaneuf’s first goal in front of a home crowd as a Leaf came on Feb. 7, 2011, over a full year after the trade, against the Atlanta Thrashers. It took 44 home games to pull off.

On top of that deal, there was another blockbuster, this time with Burke’s former team, the Anaheim Ducks.

Vesa Toskala’s tenure in Toronto was… stunning.

In his first full season, he had a .904 save percentage, which is bad. The next season, he had an .891 save percentage, which is worse. In 26 games in his third Leafs season, he posted an .874. That was the worst save percentage in the NHL among goalies who played at least six games that season. Imagine how annoyed fans were when Toskala ended up in Calgary to end that season, played six games, and threw up a .918.

Jason Blake on the other hand… is complicated. He signed a nice, fat contract with the Leafs in the summer of 2007 coming off a 40-goal year with the Islanders. That was immediately followed by a leukemia diagnosis, one he played through in 2007-08 and, in fact, Blake did not miss a single solitary game. It was the type of story and the type of performance that should have been more appreciated.

Blake followed up a strong 25-goal and 63-point second season with the Leafs with just 10 goals and 26 points in 56 games as a 36-year old.

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So you’ve got a goalie who can’t stop pucks and an aging winger struggling to produce. Burke called up the Anaheim Ducks and said “Hey, do you want both of those things at the same time?” Miraculously, they said yes.

The trade-off was that J.S. Giguere was aging himself and made a lot of money. The perk was that he, you know, stopped pucks. He was good enough to kick the goaltending can down the road for young up-and-comer Jonas Gustavsson, who was enough until James Reimer showed up.

In a way, those trades were both exactly what the Leafs needed at the time and a cautionary tale in hindsight.

The Leafs needed a shakeup and they got one. They traded away six guys and acquired four in one afternoon. But, as they would go on to prove, a shakeup doesn’t necessarily lead to success. It took the team until 2013 to even qualify for the playoffs and that was in a lockout-shortened Franken-season on a PDO bender. The defence was anything but stable and the solution in net came two starting goalies later.

A big trade is fun. Two big trades on the same day are even more fun. But once the excitement of the deal dies down, you have to win some hockey games.

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