Tuesday, January 29, 2019

A brief history of the Maple Leafs trading for defensemen

The Maple Leafs pulled off a major trade on Monday, acquiring Jake Muzzin from the Kings for a first-round pick and two prospects. For the most part, early reactions were positive for Toronto and the deal undeniably makes them better in the short term.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the move will work out in the long run. That’s the funny thing about trades; you can never be quite sure how they’ll be viewed in hindsight. That can be especially true when you’re dealing for help on the blueline, where finding the right fit for the right player can be tricky even if the price tag makes sense.

Luckily, the Leafs have plenty of experience in this area. Today, let’s crack open the history books and look back on the last 30 years of the Toronto Maple Leafs trading for blueline help. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list of each and every defenceman the team has acquired during that span (as much as I’m looking forward to all the comments along the lines of “Ummm, no Gord Kruppke?”), but we’ll cover off most of the bigger names.

Some of these moves worked. Some of them didn’t. Some of them were just confusing. And someday down the road, we’ll be able to look back and know which category the Muzzin deal belongs in.

The blockbusters

“Blockbuster” is admittedly subjective, and there may be other deals on this list that you’d argue belong in this category. But in the modern history of Leafs’ blueline deals, these three stand out. And maybe somewhat surprisingly, from a Leafs’ perspective, they mostly hold up well in hindsight.

The trade: On January 31, 2010, the Leafs sent Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Ian White and Jamal Mayers to Calgary for Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom and Keith Aulie.

The situation: This was the first full season of the Brian Burke era and it was not going well. With the Leafs near the bottom of the league and without their own first-round pick, Burke pulled off a seven-player swap with the Flames that was built around Phaneuf, a 24-year-old who was less than two years removed from being the Norris Trophy runner-up.

The verdict: At the time, the consensus was that the Leafs had pulled off a robbery. In hindsight, not so much, as Phaneuf never lived up to the franchise-savior hype that greeted him in Toronto. Still, he was the Leafs’ captain and top defenceman for most of the next seven years and none of the players they gave up for him amounted to major losses. This trade still looks like a win on balance, even if it never came close to matching expectations.

The trade: On March 3, 2004, the Leafs acquired Brian Leetch and a fourth-round pick from the Rangers for prospects Maxim Kondratiev and Jarkko Immonen, plus a first and a second.

The situation: This was John Ferguson Jr.’s first major trade as Leafs GM and it was an all-in move at the deadline. The 2003-04 Leafs were very good and very old and with the lockout looming they represented what looked like the last chance to win a Cup during the Pat Quinn era. With his window open for a big move, Ferguson went out and landed the biggest name available in the 36-year-old Leetch.

The verdict: Leetch debuted with a three-assist night and instantly looked like the team’s best blueliner. But the Leafs didn’t win the Cup that year, falling in the second round to the Flyers. And while Leetch had a year left on his contract, it was wiped out by the lockout, so this became an expensive short-term rental. Still, none of the picks or prospects amounted to much of anything, so it’s best viewed as a smart gamble that just didn’t pay off.

The trade: On November 10, 1990, the Leafs sent forwards Ed Olczyk and Mark Osborne to the Jets for Paul Fenton and Dave Ellett.

The situation: This was the Leafs hitting the detonate button on a disastrous start to the season. A year after generating some optimism with a .500 finish, the Leafs were a 2-15-1 laughingstock when they pulled the trigger on a four-player blockbuster.

The verdict: Ellett didn’t come cheap, as Olczyk had been the Leafs best forward during his three seasons in Toronto and had only just turned 24. But while he’d play well in Winnipeg and for another decade around the NHL, the deal still worked out well enough for the Leafs as Ellett became their top blueliner for most of the next seven years and was a key piece of the Fletcher/Burns/Gilmour-era resurgence.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free seven-day trial.)

No comments:

Post a Comment