Anaheim calling to the hockey world...
At today's Leafs press conference Brian Burke made specific mention of the way that the salary cap affects trades and the point in a season, or particularly in a player's contract, that a trade becomes ripe. That seems particularly relevant in the Anaheim trade, where the Ducks added an extra 2.5M in annual salary this year by taking Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake from the Leafs in exchange for Giguere. Toskala's contract expires at the end of the season, while Blake's descends from a 4.5M salary perch this year to 3M next year, making him a particularly acceptable long-term player to take in exchange for Giguere, whose salary ascends by 1M next year.
However, lost in the shuffle of the actual deal is the fact that Bob Murray had his choice of TWO bad contracts to absorb from the Maple Leafs: Jason Blake or Jeff Finger. The Maple Leafs defender signed a much maligned four-year 14M deal in July of 2008, and will make 3.5M (salary and cap hit) per year into the 2011-2012 season. Daniel, was Murray right to choose Blake instead of Finger?
First, I have to say how angry I am that we picked up Jason Blake. As I alluded to in the comments section of the original Rumor Mill post (and as you later interpreted for me), I wanted a defender to shake loose from the Toronto tree. The money they are spending on D right now is ridiculous. Yes, I wanted Beauchemin more than anything, but other members of the corps would have been just as acceptable, maybe even Jeff Finger. Murray should be fired, and not just for blowing this trade but also for choosing to send down Big Sexy over Troy Bodie.
This boils down to need, and the Ducks need help on the blue line. Wisniewski is starting to play better (offensively), but Whitney continues to struggle. Brookbank is a very solid, but a very ordinary defender, and Boynton, well Boynton might as well pack his bags before the summer. Eminger has become a very good stay at home guy with a nasty streak, and that's hard not to like. I just don't see how we couldn't benefit from a little extra competition, and a little help. I don't know a lot about Finger's game, but even a guy who is seriously overpaid at 3.5M could have brought some solid options to the club. Not to mention that he seems to be struggling equal to the team in Toronto, and not in spite of it. Finger did have a very solid season his last year in Colorado with 19 points and a +12. His 23 points and -7 his first year in Toronto was less impressive. Still, I can't help but feel we are too crowded up front.
Look at the forwards right now. With Sexton going down to the Moose, we might see Bobby Ryan return to the top line and a second line of Blake-Koivu-Selanne. That will push Lupul and Beleskey (or Blake and Beleskey) to the Bottom 6. Although, if things get really crazy the Ducks could be featuring a third line with Lupul and Blake on the wings. Is that awesome? Or just a waste of 8.25 million dollars? We have too many expensive forwards, and I think that the blueline option of Finger would have at least given us a little more flexibility on the back end. A change of scenery can be good for players; I wish there was a defenseman finding that kind of change in Anaheim right now.
Sleek asked me in the comments of the last post why I would acquire Jeff Finger at 3.5M but wouldn't pay Wisniewski 3M. The simple answer is that Anaheim didn't sign Jeff Finger, and it can't value its players based on the blunders of other GM's. Compared to Joffrey Lupul's contract, Bobby Ryan might deserve 6M, but compared to Getzlaf's and Perry's, he's a 4.5M guy. Acquiring players that don't fit in with our economy shouldn't force us to increase the salary of our own players.
And make no mistake, we were going to acquire a player that didn't fit in with our economy in this trade. Both of these contracts are poisonous. Blake hasn't returned to the player he was when he signed this contract, and as was mentioned in Mark Whicker's article (linked above and here), he disclosed bouts of depression and self-pity along with his cancer when he joined up with Toronto. Finger, meanwhile, is a massively overpaid stay-at-home defenseman and has missed time both to minor injuries and the scratch list. Neither player is a guaranteed improvement over the other, and frankly, neither player is a guaranteed improvement over buying out Giguere and storing the money in the debit column for the next two years.
But I, too, think this boils down to need. Blake's got heart and some scoring potential, but if we take him at his current production, he's only outscoring Sexton by 8 points in twice as many games. Did we need another forward when we have cost-effective forwards in place?
It's the D-corps that needs direction, that needs stabilization. And while I doubt that Finger can provide that all by himself, I know that the Eminger/Boynton experiment has failed. Murray isn't getting a discount on 4M defensemen there. You can throw the GP stat out the window, because we're paying them ~1.5M, and they look like ~1.5M players. I also know that Whitney is underperforming his contract, which graduates 500K for each of its three remaining years. We can get more out of our forwards, but we're getting what we paid for, and sometimes less, out of our defensemen.
I wasn't expecting a serviceable player in this deal, not in exchange for Jiggy's contract. But if we're just getting un-trade-able dead weight, if we're just getting something better than putting Giguere on the bench, something better than a pack of Marlboro Lights with a 4M cap hit, it would be good to acquire something we actually need.