Never one to wait until deadline day, Brian Burke made another move to change up a Maple Leafs team that still sits out of the playoff picture.
The long rumored deal that would send Francois Beauchemin to the west coast finally materialized, with the defenseman being sent to the Anaheim Ducks in return for forward Joffrey Lupul, defense prospect Jake Gardiner, and a conditional 4th round pick in 2013.
Burke was very familiar with the 30-year-old Beauchemin, both having been in Anaheim when the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007. Brought to Toronto as a free agent in 2009, Beauchemin could never quite show the form he displayed with Anaheim. In 136 games with the Leafs, he scored 7 goals, 31 assists and was a total -17. He ranks among the leaders in the NHL for giveaways this season, and though he was a minute-muncher for the Leafs’ D, he was a lightning rod for the fans’ anger with defensive lapses that often resulted in goals (though he is not alone on the Leafs’ for that kind of thing).
Burke is also familiar with the player and prospect he is getting in return. Joffrey Lupul was a player Burke traded in his effort to acquire Chris Pronger for his Cup run. And Jake Gardiner is a kid Burke drafted in the first round (#17) in 2008. Lupul is a former 20-goal scorer who has struggled to find his game after back surgery and a serious infection. He’d played 23 games with Anaheim last season. This season, he’s played only 26 games, scoring 5 goals and 8 assists. Burke tells the media that he’d tried to pry Lupul out of Philly but could not complete the deal, that’s how much he likes him. Gardiner is listed around 6’1″, 190 lbs, still playing US College hockey, though he is on a point-per-game pace playing defense at that level.
In Beauchemin, the Ducks get a top-4 defender to join Visnovsky, Fowler and Lydman, who will eat minutes and still make an offensive contribution from time to time. Currently (though not comfortably) in a playoff spot, the Ducks team should be able to help Beauchemin regain some steadiness to his game, and reduce his penchant for turning the puck over. And, for what it might be worth, Beauch is back in a city he is comfortable in, with an organization he knows well, which should also help him settle down. For the Leafs, the trade of Beauchemin will open a spot up for Keith Aulie, who played fairly well in his first audition earlier this season. Burke has wanted to shift money from the back end anyway (and more trades may be coming), but for now it leaves the Leafs with Phaneuf, Komisarek, Kaberle, Schenn, Gunnarsson and Lebda, with Aulie, Korbinian Holzer and Jesse Blacker as potential roster players next season.
Lupul is not the centre the Leafs need. But, it’s hoped he will be able to regain his form, and at 27 he is still relatively young. The Ducks had him playing third line. He should be slotted into a top-6 forward position, with the rumor being that Wilson will start him on a line with Bozak and MacArthur, while trying to spark Kessel by playing him with Kulemin and Grabovski. Lupul will see increased ice and likely time on the PP. He is signed thru 2012-13 at $4.25M per, which is an increase in cap hit over Beauchemin’s $3.8M. Burke was likely willing to take back salary in order to gain Gardiner. TSN’s Bob McKenzie writes “In general terms, Gardiner is not considered a blue-chip or elite or can’t miss NHL prospect but he is by no means a longshot either. A “solid” or “decent” prospect, according to a number of scouts surveyed by TSN, but still with a lot to prove.” Burke drafted him once, and he must like him. Word is he needs to fill out and gain strength to play at the NHL level, and he needs to work on his play in the offensive zone, but he is already quite a good puck-mover, and by all accounts a pretty speedy skater.
This trade looks like it may work out for both teams. The Ducks fill a need by acquiring Beauchemin, both for this season and next (as Beauch has a year remaining on his contract). The potential problem is that Francois may not be able to elevate his game above his relatively poor season in Toronto. For the Leafs, they take a player who is (admittedly) overpaid for what he is producing, but is young enough he may regain his touch as he continues to recover from a pretty major surgery. With all respect to Darryl Boyce and Joey Crabb, Lupul is an immediate upgrade in the top-6 forward slot. Further, Burke is able to gain one of Anaheim’s top defense prospects, a player who admittedly has areas of his game to work on. At 20, he is perhaps still a couple AHL seasons away. And, the addition of a draft pick for Toronto does not hurt.
And truthfully, this is likely more than Leaf Nation thought Burke could get back for Beauchemin.