Trade deadline has become an odd sort of ritual for Canadian sports fans. It’s frankly tedious, yet it’s also undeniably gripping—because trade deadline, in one way or another, symbolizes hope for almost every NHL team.
For the Toronto Maple Leafs, still mired near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, that hope might take a while to bear fruit. It’ll be years before we know how (or even if) Brian Burke’s inaugural deadline as Maple Leaf general manager panned out—but for now, we’ll give it a tentative thumbs-up. He turned Dominic Moore, a former waiver-wire acquisition, into a second-round draft pick; ditto Nik Antropov, who was the club’s second-leading scorer but who Burke wasn’t going to re-sign this offseason (the New York Rangers threw in a compensatory pick to sweeten the deal). Neither Tomas Kaberle nor Pavel Kubina were traded, but we’re guessing they’ll generate considerable interest in the build-up to June’s entry draft. As for Moore and Antropov, both players were making contract demands the Leafs simply weren’t willing to match. Consequently, three draft picks seems like pretty good business.
The two most intriguing deals, however, involved a pair of veteran goaltenders, Martin Gerber (picked up on waivers from the Ottawa Senators) and Olaf Kolzig (traded from the Tampa Bay Lightning). The Gerber acquisition seemed strange…until it was revealed that Vesa Toskala had been shut down for the remainder of the season, thus making Gerber a stop-gap measure between now and April 11. But the Kolzig deal—which saw the veteran goaltender, a pair of defencemen and a fourth-round draft pick sent to Toronto in exchange for Marlie Richard Petiot—was the Maple Leafs’ most interesting move because it was a straightforward salary dump, something we don’t often see in the NHL. On the surface, the deal doesn’t make much sense: all three Tampa players are unrestricted free agents this summer, while Kolzig is out for the remainder of the season. Thus the Leafs effectively took on a few unwanted contracts in exchange for a fourth-round pick. For Burke, the team’s cap situation might prove to be a valuable weapon in his rebuilding arsenal.
Again, we’ll see how this pans out. In the meantime, the Leafs will trudge forward with what’s left of their 2008/09 campaign minus two of their top four scorers as well as their starting goaltender. Those people who’ve started scoreboard watching on the strength of the team’s recent mini-surge can turn off their computers. The optimism generated today will have to be stored away for later.