Kevin Brown

In The Crease

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Burke Bashing

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


As always, here is my bi-weekly collection of notes, observations and opinions:

Many analysts reporting on the trade consummated by the Stars and Penguins over the weekend awarded a clear victory to Pittsburgh for their supposed heist of James Neal, but I think the Stars have been unfairly criticized, especially when you consider the financial situation they were faced with. Here's how I break it down:

There's no question the Penguins did well to get their hands on a talented young sniper like Neal, who should be the complementary winger Sidney Crosby has been waiting for. We don't know when Crosby will return to the ice, but when he does, he'll have a better player lining up on his wing than he as had since the Evgeni Malkin-as-a-winger experiment, which was grounded some time ago. The addition of Matt Niskanen to the trade allows Pittsburgh to slot a defenseman into the void left by Goligoski's departure and may provide a talented young player the change of scenery he needs to get his game back on track.

To appreciate the Stars' point of view, it's important to understand the financial implications of this deal for a team needing to shed salary. James Neal and Matt Niskanen are both signed through the end of 2011-12 at salaries of $3.5 and $1.75 million, respectively. Goligoski is also signed for one more season beyond the current one and is owed only $2.75 million for next year, which translates to a net savings of $2.5 million for Dallas next season - no small amount for them. It was no secret around the NHL that the Stars were looking for an opportunity to lessen their financial commitment beyond this season, but the fact that they were able to acquire a young power play quarterback like Goligoski is quite impressive. Due to the scarcity of good puck-moving defensemen, one could argue the cost associated with finding such an asset on the open market would actually be much higher than finding a talented forward like Neal.

Although the trade deadline is still nearly a week away, we have seen a number of deals take place and many of these have involved the swapping of players that some perceive as disappointments. It's not uncommon for NHL teams to acquire talented underachievers that they believe are simply in need of a change of scenery. If this NHL season has taught us anything, it's that sometimes a new lease on life is all it takes for a player to go from unwanted to unstoppable. For example, don't you think the Panthers would take back Michael Grabner if given the opportunity? Also, both the Sabres and Thrashers disposed of Clarke MacArthur before he landed in Toronto and became their leading scorer. It happens to the best of teams. The Red Wings essentially gave up on Ville Leino last season and he's now a valuable contributor to one of the league's top teams in Philadelphia. I submit all these examples to you as a way of suggesting you take a chance on some similarly disappointing players who have already changed jerseys this year. There's no guarantee Blake Wheeler and Erik Johnson will immediately blossom into the All-Star caliber players they were expected to be when they were drafted into the league, but in both cases we know they possess the talent to fulfill that potential. I think it's worth the risk to gamble on players with their pedigrees any day.

Earlier in the season, I noted that Martin Havlat was simply not the same player with the Wild as he was in his final year with the Blackhawks, but boy, was I wrong. Anyone who has watched a Minnesota game over the past few months can tell Havlat is almost always the best player on the ice. While he once had the reputation of being a sniper, he's a much better playmaker than he's given credit for and he routinely sets up teammates, thanks to his great vision. His selection to the All-Star game was well-deserved and I would definitely endorse targeting him in a trade if the opportunity arose.

Many people have criticized Toronto General Manager Brian Burke for the way in which he has tried to rebuild the Maple Leafs and much of that criticism centers around the infamous Phil Kessel trade, which I think is valid. However, many of the Burke detractors say his failure to focus on draft picks and his insistence on rebuilding "the right way" has been his biggest mistake, but don't his recent trades of Francois Beauchemin and Tomas Kaberle address that issue? Had the Maple Leafs acquired two additional first round picks back in 2008 and selected Jake Gardiner and Joe Colborne to go along with Luke Schenn, everyone would have declared the rebuild a success. I am therefore confused by the continued criticism. Burke clearly has a plan he's trying to execute and my guess is the next puzzle piece for him to find is that elusive playmaking center to play alongside Phil Kessel. There's a good chance Burke will dangle the two late first-round picks that he's acquired this trading season to get his man, whoever that might be.

The swapping of Craig Anderson and Brian Elliott between the Avalanche and Senators last week was a peculiar one, mainly because I don't really understand either team's motivation. The Senators claim Anderson, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, is one of the goaltenders they intend to examine closely during the summer as a possible starter for next year, but to take on his salary for the remainder of this season seems unnecessary, given that the games don't matter to Ottawa and that losing might actually be preferable to winning right now. If we're looking at this strictly from a fantasy perspective, I expect Anderson to get the bulk of the starts down the stretch with the occasional Robin Lehner game mixed in.

From the perspective of the Avalanche, they have acquired a goalie who appears to be a downgrade from what they already had, but at a much cheaper cost. I have to assume their motivation was simply to enjoy the salary relief of trading away Anderson's contract for the remainder of this season and acquiring Elliott's smaller one. To put a fantasy angle on the impact to Colorado, I expect Elliott to be given an opportunity to split time once he arrives in Denver, but I'm anticipating that Peter Budaj will outplay him in short order. In my opinion, Elliott has proven over the past few years that he's simply not NHL-starter material and I don't expect to get many emails from Senators fans disputing that statement.





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