By Will Salvarinas
Just hours before the commencement of the highly anticipated NHL Free Agency period, Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs consummated a blockbuster deal with the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks.
The deal sees 24-year-old Kris Versteeg, and highly regarded prospect Bill Sweatt, join the Buds, in exchange for speedy winger Viktor Stalberg, Phillippe Paradis, and Chris DiDomenico.
Upon instant analysis, the deal fits extremely well for both sides. For the Leafs, it provides them with a much-needed top-6 forward in Versteeg. Still just 24, the Lethbridge, Alberta native has yet to scratch the surface on his potential, and put up decent numbers last season largely playing on the Blackhawks’ third line. Look for his statistics to increase in Hogtown, as his playing time should skyrocket, and coach Ron Wilson will likely use Versteeg in all special teams situations.
Bill Sweatt remains a relatively unknown commodity in this deal. The 21-year-old has starred for Colorado College of the NCAA the past four seasons, and will have to be signed by the Leafs by August 15th for his rights to be retained. He was drafted in the 2nd round, 38th overall, in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Sweatt possess unbelievable speed and is aware of his responsibilities in his own end. In 2009-2010, Sweatt managed 33 points in 39 games in collegiate action, and look for him to be a prominent forward for the Toronto Marlies next season.
For the Chicago Blackhawks, it further alleviates them of their burdening salary cap impediments. Just hours before the opening of free agency, Chicago and their management must have been worried about the potential of offer-sheets to their prominent Restricted Free Agents in Andrew Ladd, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and promising goaltender Antii Niemi. Not to mention, General Manager Stan Bowman picks up three nice young players in Stalberg, Paradis, and DiDomenico.
Viktor Stalberg emerges as the most intriguing of the three players the Leafs relinquished, and will likely be the ‘x-factor’ in this trade. The 24-year-old from Sweden possess mind-boggling speed, and a wicked release on his shot. He displayed promise at both the AHL and NHL levels in his first professional season in Toronto, and should blossom into a top-6 forward in Chicago. Pairing Stalberg with the likes of Toews, Kane, Hossa, and Sharp, will only help in accelerating the development of the Swedish winger.
DiDomenico is relatively unknown. He has produced monstrous numbers in the Quebec Major Junior League, however is just recovering from a brutal injury which saw the youngster miss over a year due to a broken femur. The former sixth rounder has a long way to go to get his game back on track, but is known for his devotion and dedication.
Finally, with Phillipe Paradis the Hawks will receive a big physical centreman, albeit one who possesses little offensive talent. Originally drafted by Jim Rutherford in Carolina, he was dealt this past season to the Maple Leafs for the much-maligned Jiri Tlusty. The fact that Paradis has now been dealt twice in his career, just over a year removed from getting drafted, certainly raises some red flags about the Quebec native.
Although the full ramifications of this deal won’t be felt until years down the road, it addresses the immediate needs of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is no secret that Burke is adamant about getting better as quickly as possible, and obtaining Kris Versteeg certainly does that. He is a fine offensive player, a proven winner, and will be counted upon to net at least 60 points in a top-6 role for the Buds this coming season. Additionally, Burke netted a player like Versteeg without sacrificing his top trade asset in Tomas Kaberle, and/or top prospects, Nazem Kadri, Luke Schenn, and Jesse Blacker.
Stay tuned to the ongoing Leafs coverage throughout the next few weeks at TheHockeyWriters.com, as with Brian Burke at the helm, it’s customary to expect the unexpected.