Puck Moving `D` Part 3: Trade Options Cont`d


Photo Credit: avalance.nhl.com

(Part 1) (Part 2)

Now for the (not-so) thrilling conclusion to my blog series on the Leafs trade targets on the back end.  The following are (in my opinion), the top two options Burke will pursue over the coming months if indeed he does go the trade route:

2.) Brent Burns – Dion Phaneuf’s stalwart partner at the World Championship has played with the captain before.  That’s the same kind of sentiment we heard from free agents Clarke MacArthur and Colby Armstrong shortly after they were acquired.  It seems there is a spot reserved on the bench for ‘friends of Dion’.   So far, that hasn’t been a bad thing.  MacArthur had a career year in the blue and white, while Colby Armstrong had an injury-laden year.  Still, Armstrong became a key part of the club – a heart and soul player whose absences were blatantly obvious.  Of course, Burns also brings huge offensive potential to the back end.  He is a big man, who would make the Leafs top four one of the largest and most intimidating in the league.  His versatility alone is a huge asset that makes him very reminiscent of Dustin Byfuglien in that regard.

The big question with Brent Burns, is why on Earth would the Minnesota Wild move him?  By all accounts, he is a young stud of a defender who is also capable of playing forward.  Most anyone would want him locked up and patrolling the blue line long term.  Well, the answer is quite simple: it may not be their decision to make.  Burns is an unrestricted free agent a year from now, and will almost certainly command a hefty raise.  The money  is not as much an issue as the team itself is.  Burns has witnessed the Wild lose their only star in Gaborik and continue down a road of mediocrity in the aftermath.  Though they managed to retain Mikko Koivu, the Wild have not made any forward progression in years.  Prospects haven’t panned out, trades haven’t worked, and free agents have underwhelmed while being overpaid. Minnesota may not be the first choice of Mr.Burns.

In any potential deal that brings Burns to Toronto, the Wild are going to want to shore up multiple areas of weakness on their team.  As a starter, they’d need a young replacement defender.  Perhaps someone like Carl Gunnarsson, who will be cheap for the next couple years and can step right into the roster would fit the bill.   Gunnarsson may be a nice fit, but the Wild may prefer a younger, but a higher potential prospect like Jake Gardiner or Jesse Blacker.  On top of that, the Wild would likely be looking at a forward prospect (ie. Bozak and/or Caputi), and a high pick (at least one 2nd round pick but likely a 1st round pick).  That said, it is important to remember that the Wild are in no rush to move Burns, even if does not intend to resign with their club next year.  After seeing the king’s ransom that Burke collected on Kaberle at the deadline this year, Chuck Fletcher may be comfortable waiting until February to move Burns.

Estimated Price: Gunnarsson, Bozak, Caputi, 2nd round pick

1.) John-Michael Liles
– The attraction to Liles is most notably in his contract.  With one year remaining at a cap hit of 4.2 million and a salary of 4.55 million, Liles is a tad expensive for the budget-concerned Avalanche.  This is a player who has long been on the block and there were rumors he was available yet again at the most recent trade deadline.  Nothing came to pass and he remained an Av.  Part of that might have been because of the extremely low market value for defenders at the time.  After the Kaberle and Beauchemin swaps seemingly no one was willing to ante up any serious offers for defenders in trades.  Still, Liles is a quality powerplay quarter-back.  The short term of his contract makes him a perfect fit on the Leafs – filling in a gap left by Kaberle while Jake Gardiner and Jesse Blacker spend a year in the AHL honing their skills.  He is also an American which of course leads most to believe that Brian Burke would have a particular interest in him.  At the end of the day, there appears to be a desire to move what will be an impending free agent, and the Leafs just happen to be the kind of team who could really use a Liles-type at present.

With Erik Johnson in the fold now the Avalanche have presumably solved their need for a long-term option on defence.  At a reasonable cap hit of 2.6 million dollars, Johnson may have made Liles expendable.  As well, the Avs spent most of last season without the services of Kyle Quincey.  Quincey is expected to rebound after a series of injuries and other setbacks in his game.  The Avs own his rights  for several more seasons and are currently paying him 3.125 million annually.  Just from a salary perspective, the Avs may need to move someone like Liles in order to keep their club balanced.  Expected to be a cap floor team as is, they likely cannot afford a luxury player like John-Michael.  More than that though, Liles is an inconsistent player.  He’s shown the coaching staff in Denver flashes of brilliance but always followed it up with stretches of uninspiring play.  On the Leafs, and several other clubs, Liles would be simply a role player – manning the powerplay to the best of his ability.  That is probably the role he belongs in and the Av could look to put him in that role.

Liles should come at a fairly affordable price tag.  With several marquee free agent defenders available this summer, the market for defence-men has never been worse.  If the Avs are going to take the hit and move Liles on for the best possible offer, they may have to come to terms with taking a fairly minimal return.  Given the recent movement of Wideman, who is arguably a better defender than Liles, one has has to assume a mid/low tier prospect and pick would get the deal done.  Liles can also further inhibit his own value by enforcing his no trade clause.  He can select 18 teams he will not accept a trade to.  As a result, any acquiring club will have a lot of leverage in negotiations.  At the end of the day, if Liles is not going to be had on the cheap then he won’t be at all.

Estimated Price: mid/low tier prospect (ie. Juraj Mikus) + 2nd/3rd round pick

While Burke may or may not even step foot in the trade pool for this kind of player in the summer, a player of this skill set is still clearly a need for the Maple Leafs moving forward.  Eventually players like these examples will find themselves on Burke’s radar.  At some point the team will have to go out and find someone more adequate than Brett Lebda.  The youth is on the way in the form of Gardiner and Blacker, but Burke’s entire premise for running a team relies on creating hurdles and challenges for his players.  Ultimately, Gardiner and Blacker will be better NHL players if Burke is able to add a competent puck moving defender this summer.

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