Another Step Forward in the Plan

Another Step Forward in the Plan

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Trades are never won or lost when initially made, and tonight’s multi-player deal with Chicago is the very embodiment of that fact. Analyzing a deal that sent Kris Versteeg and Bill Sweatt to Toronto for Viktor Stalberg, Phillippe Paradis and Chris Didomenico involves a lot of subjective potential measurement.  Making the task more difficult is that two teams often come together to execute a trade for very different reasons in a salary cap era.


Chicago, for their part, gain further cap flexibility by dropping Versteeg’s $3 million salary and picking up a package of cheap potential involving an entry-level contract (Stalberg), a prospect set to graduate from junior (Didomenico) and a project prospect (Paradis) as they look to sustain their success of the past two seasons.

Burke’s Leafs – continuing to push forward in their agenda to compete now and later by acquiring young, established NHL talent – help address a glaring need in their top six while making a few calculated sacrifices to do so. Kessel (23), Phaneuf (25) and Versteeg (24) all added via trade in the last year combine with Jonas Gustavsson (26), Luke Schenn (20), Tyler Bozak (24) and soon Nazem Kadri (19) to provide the Leafs with a nucleus of young talent that didn’t exist outside of Schenn 13 months ago. Supplementing that group is supporting cast members Carl Gunnarsson (23), Luca Caputi (21), Nikolai Kulemin (24) and Christian Hanson (24). You may not like everything Burke has done in his tenure so far, but to look at the overall picture and see a core come together as effectively and quickly as it has is nothing but thoroughly impressive. This deal stacks up as milder version of the Phaneuf deal for me as Burke seems to have again converted noncore assets into a key building block.

The above names are the ones that will lead the Blue and White for the foreseeable future – and hopefully to the playoffs this season. An additional key piece up front remains imperative to the playoff goal this season and on that note it’s important to remember Tomas Kaberle, advertised as the Leafs‘ lone avenue to acquire top six firepower, is still Leaf property after this deal.

It may be slightly presumptuous of me to already be deeming Versteeg a part of the solution to the Leafs‘ top six needs because Versteeg in fact played third line minutes for Chicago last season. More than anything it speaks to Chicago’s depth up front, which can be best illustrated by NBC announcers reference to Marian Hossa at one point in the playoffs as “more of a penalty killing contributor” than a goal scorer for the Hawks. Versteeg’s quality of teammates last season ranks below the likes of Colin Fraser and Troy Brouwer, his time on ice per game is eighth among regular Chicago forwards and he still managed 20 goals and 44 points. This is a player ready for top six minutes and very much poised for a 25-30 goal season. Not to mention his playmaking ability, responsible two-way play and penalty killing aptitude which netted him three short-handed goals last season, a figure one short of how many shorties the Leafs scored in total last season (4 SHG, tied for 28th in the league).

Bill Sweatt, an early second round pick, helps to ease the sting on the loss of Viktor Stalberg. Stalberg proved in his first season that for all his speed, he has a distance to go in on-ice awareness, often times opting to rush the puck and neglect teammates in better positions. Sweatt is further away than Stalberg and must add some bulk to his 180-pound frame but appears to supplement equally impressive speed with a more complete game. That’s not to say Stalberg’s awareness won’t develop to the point where he becomes a more complete package himself. Time will only tell who has the bigger impact at the NHL level, but Hockey Future‘s scouting profile depicts a player who with a little patience has the potential to be everything Stalberg is and more:

“Sweatt has unbelievable speed, but what sets him apart is his ability to make plays at high speeds. He also has great acceleration. Sweatt possesses great hands and is smart in his decisions with the puck. Rarely can he be found turning the puck over. Sweatt’s superb defensive play and awareness is one area that has progressed quite nicely this season, and has made him an effective penalty killer. Sweatt also possesses excellent on-ice vision and has a keen sense of being able to find open spaces and knowing where the play is going to end up. While Sweatt has all of the necessary tools for future success, adding size and strength to his 6’0″ frame will be essential to his pursuit of achieving that success. Sweatt possesses all of the skills and intangibles needed to be a top-six forward at the next level.”

The loss of Chris Didomenico is not an easy one to swallow by any means. More impressive than anything about DiDo is his strength of character: he fought his way onto an OHL team after going undrafted, was immediately the leading points scorer on a terrible Saint John expansion team, and recently battled back successfully from a devastating leg injury. Nothing appears able to stop this kid from realizing his NHL dream. Nonetheless, he is a player whose limited skating ability likely has him destined for a bottom six role at the NHL level. The Leafs may still have lost out on a potential fan-favourite of a checking liner, but hopes will be that recently-drafted Bradley Ross, similar to Didomenico as an agitator with some offensive upside, will be able to fill that niche down the road. It’d be nice to have both, no doubt, but one must give to get. I don’t think it’s a role that is irreplaceable or one the Leafs can’t fill through alternative means.

Phillippe Paradis meanwhile seems far more of a hit or miss prospect. He possesses an intriguing package of size and skill, but has yet to put up the numbers in junior expected of a first rounder. Carolina’s selection at 27th overall in 2009, it was a pick made for potential after a 23 point season for Shawinigan, and thus far it hasn’t exactly shown signs of being realized. His 50 points of 2008-09 regressed to 44 this season. The possibility remains that Paradis puts it together and becomes a power forward at the NHL level, but the lack of certainty surrounding Paradis made his inclusion in the trade far from a deal breaker in my opinion.

Huge things aren’t expected of Brian Burke tomorrow in the unrestricted free agency market outside of maybe some role-filling in the bottom six, and there is work yet to be done on the Kaberle front. But it’s all starting to come together now, isn’t it?

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