Brian Burke 1, Darryl Sutter 0
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Brian Burke 1, Darryl Sutter 0

Photo by davidgsteadman.

Spare a thought for any Calgary Flames fans in your life: no sooner had their team snapped a nine-game losing streak then it dealt a marquee player to a team the majority of Flames fans detest.

Dion Phaneuf is now a Maple Leaf, traded to Toronto for a package that included Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan, and Ian White. On paper, Phaneuf makes the Leafs instantly better: he’s still only twenty-four years old, the type of player the Leafs can build around for years to come, and despite the occasional mental lapse (a problem that can conceivably be rectified with proper coaching) he’s an imposing physical presence and possesses a cannon of a shot. This much we know. (After getting Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom, and Keith Allie from Calgary, Brian Burke acquired Jean-Sébastien Giguère from the Anaheim Ducks.)
Yet while it’ll take years to know for certain who “won” the Phaneuf trade, Flames fans are already suffering from a bad case of déjà vu. They feel as though they’ve read this script before, right down to the teams involved. On January 2, 1992, Calgary dealt Doug Gilmour, Jamie Macoun, Ric Nattress, Rick Wamsley, and Kent Manderville to Toronto for what amounted, in retrospect, to little more than a bucket of pucks. The trade resuscitated a moribund Leaf franchise and turned them into contenders; it practically destroyed the Flames, who wouldn’t win a single playoff series for the next twelve years.
Given that history, you can’t really blame Flames fans for being a little bit gun-shy when it comes to trading with Toronto. (Incredibly, the Leafs are still reaping the benefits of that trade in the form of Alexei Ponikarovsky.) That sense of “uh oh, have we done it again?” was prevalent throughout southern Alberta yesterday morning: as details of the trade began filtering out, Calgary’s sports radio station was overwhelmed with callers who were terrified, absolutely terrified, that the Flames had given up on Phaneuf way too quickly. They certainly might have: two years ago Phaneuf was a First Team All-Star and a Norris Trophy finalist. Again, he’s only twenty-four. He’s far from being the finished article.
As Leaf fans, we should sympathize with any fan base that’s dealing with a general manager apparently flying by the seat of his pants. We aren’t nearly far enough removed from John Ferguson Jr.’s reign of terror to forget what that’s like. (Also yesterday, Flames GM Darryl Sutter reportedly dealt Olli Jokinen to the New York Rangers, a move that’s almost as puzzling as the Phaneuf trade.) For now, it’s just nice having a general manager with an actual semblance of a plan. A big part of Burke’s plan—a 6’3”, 215-pound part of it—will presumably be on display Tuesday night when the Leafs host the New Jersey Devils. And if you should happen to know any Flames fans, you can console them with the knowledge that Jamal Mayers now plays for their favourite team.

CORRECTION: FEBRUARY 1, 2010 This article originally mistakenly called the Calgary Flames’ General Manager “Darryl Sittler”; his name is Darryl Sutter. (Sittler, of course, is someone altogether different for Leafs fans.)