Monday, February 14, 2011

Another Leaf Bites the Dust

As quickly and unexpectedly as it began, the Kris Versteeg era in Toronto has officially come to end.

Okay, fine, maybe 53 games doesn't exactly constitute an era, but the bottom line is, the 24-year-old's tenure in the hallowed blue and white is done.

But wait a second. Isn't this a guy, highly coveted by Brian Burke and boasting a championship pedigree, who was supposed to be an integral part of a team looking towards the future without compromising the present?

Wasn't he -- along with Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, and Luke Schenn -- supposed to be part of the intimate nucleus of a team flirting with the prospect of sustainable success somewhere in the near future? In fact, I'm pretty sure he was supposed to be one of the leaders of that group, what with his name already engraved in Lord Stanley's Cup, and all. Isn't he that guy?

I thought so. Obviously, Brian Burke didn't.

That's why Burkey -- likely compelled at least a little by the contingent of fans still disgruntled over the two tasty draft picks sent to Boston in the Kessel deal -- didn't even wait to the Feb. 28 trade deadline to ship the Versteegian One to Philadelphia for their 1st and 3rd-round picks in the 2011 NHL draft.

But considering Versteeg was under contract until the end of the 2011-2012 season, he was performing as well as one could've reasonably expected, and he was one of the scant few on the Leafs' roster with post-season experience, this trade is a bit of a head-scratcher.

Sure, draft picks are important, especially those coming in the first round, but with Philadelphia looking downwards at 28 other teams in the NHL standings, their 1st-round pick likely won't be any higher than 25th overall. And Burke has made clear his intentions to flip the 3rd-rounder for a flesh-and-blood asset that can contribute now. So, for all intents and purposes, Burke swapped Versteeg for a low first-round draft pick and, provided the Leafs' GM delivers on his promise, a player likely of lesser value.

Though Burke may protest to the contrary, the subtext to this deal is as glaring as the waffles on the ice: the Leafs have conceded the 2011 season.

Why else would the Leafs ship out one of their few players with the ability to put the puck in the net? While Versteeg, in reality, is only a borderline top-six forward, he was still a prominent part of the Leafs' offense, notching 14 goals and 21 helpers through 53 contests this year.

Maybe the recent acquisition of Joffrey Lupul from Anaheim made the winger expendable, but even so, its not like the Leafs enjoy a wealth of offensive ability.

Quite simply, it appears as though this move was a byproduct of Saturday night's sobering realization at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, that the playoffs, for the Leafs, are but a pipe dream this year. Again. For the sixth consecutive year.

In Burke's mind, this was a prudent move for an organization still mired amongst the myriad of mediocre teams in the East. He likely realized that, at this juncture, accumulating draft picks is more important than holding on to the players that could potentially contribute to a presumably fruitless run at the playoffs. And although he may not explicitly say it with the colourful diction we've all come to know and love, the optimism Brian Burke once had about this team might be fading.

So if you get a whiff of something foul wafting around the Air Canada Centre, it's not the week-old waffles smuggled into the arena, it's the putrid stench of a rebuild.

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