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Two Days in Leaf Land: a Trade and a Free Agent Signing

Posted By Ben Fisher On Jul 2 2010 @ 1:18 am In Toronto Maple Leafs | 4 Comments

Perhaps the past 48 hours haven’t gone down exactly as Brian Burke envisioned them. He did, after all, pursue free agent defenceman Dan Hamhuis and Paul Martin before they signed with the Canucks and Penguins, respectively. But he certainly has made an impact, acquiring a pair of tough, young forwards while still holding onto his biggest trade chip.

How did Burke fare in the early-goings? Let’s do a little breakdown.

The Trade

-          Toronto gets RW Kris Versteeg and the rights to Bill Sweatt

-          Chicago gets RW Viktor Stalberg and forward prospects Phillipe Paradis and Chris DiDomenico

My Thoughts

It’s possible that Versteeg, fresh off his Stanley Cup win, will win me over as a two-way player who will fight for the puck and thrive with additional minutes on a team with less talent up front. But for now, I remain sceptical of any trade during a rebuilding effort that surrenders three young assets for a player who may or may not be a top six forward on a good team.

Granted, at 24, Versteeg is hardly over the hill, himself. He’s scored 20 goals in consecutive campaigns for a team with plenty of scoring punch and should improve with growth and more offensive opportunities. Sweatt, meanwhile, is a speedy playmaker currently plying his trade with Colorado College in the NCAA. The 21-year old Illinois native could be a valuable piece for Toronto down the line, but the Leafs’ end of the trade will hinge on the contributions of Versteeg.

On the return, the price was certainly steep at least in quantity if not also in quality. Stalberg showed flashes of what he was capable of during last year’s training camp, but proved during the regular season that he had a ways to go to become a consistent pro. Paradis, who came over from Carolina in exchange for Jiri Tlusty last season, is a big, physical 19-year old winger who still needs to add polish to his game.  DiDomenico is the wild card, a hot prospect who was coming off an appearance at the 2009 World Junior Championships when he broke his femur in the QMJHL play-offs. If he can return to pre-injury form, the Blackhawks may have found a diamond in the rough.

All in all, this trade holds far greater risk for the Leafs than Blackhawks. Even if none of the three former Buds pan out, Chicago will have shed Versteeg’s $3 million cap hit for each of the next two years. Plus they continue to re-stock their farm system with guys like Jack Skille and Bryan Bickell likely getting a shot with the big club. For Toronto, Versteeg could be a key element in setting a tone of defensive responsibility and tough play while adding some scoring.

The Signing

-          Toronto signs Colby Armstrong to a three-year, $9 million deal

My Thoughts

By the end of last season, Armstrong looked like a guy who could use a change of scenery following three years in Atlanta. Despite being relatively healthy and playing 79 games, his goals and assists were down. At 27 years of age, it isn’t likely that his skills are fading, and Burke’s banking on the influence of playing in the fishbowl that is Toronto.

Armstrong, for his part, is precisely that type of physical power forward that Burke covets. His penchant for crashing the net and surprisingly soft hands should match him up well with team sniper Phil Kessel. However, as with Versteeg, the concern lies in Armstrong’s capacity to be a top six forward on a winning team, or if he will simply occupy space on the third line while making $3 million next season.

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