Don’t have much time before work, but here’s my take on the Versteeg deal that went down late last night, giving Chicago some wiggle room with their salary cap and giving the Leafs one of those top-six forwards they’ve needed so badly for the past two seasons. It’s been less than 24 hours since the trade went down but I’ve already heard the phrase “best player in the deal” thrown out at least 3 or 4 times. Yes, the Leafs gave up a prospect with promise in Viktor Stalberg and a great story in Chris DiDomenico, but there’s no question that they emerged with the most talented player in the transaction. Versteeg is actually 4 months younger than Stalberg, and the young Alberta native has already racked up over 100 points in just over 2 full seasons of NHL play. He played 13 games for the Blackhawks in 2007-08, but exploded the following year, scoring 22 goals and 53 points in 78 games. His 44 points this year would have ranked him 2nd among Toronto forwards in scoring, not saying much, considering Kessel was the only Leaf with more than 20 goals.
What makes Versteeg even more appealing to the Leafs is the fact that he’s pretty solid at just about every aspect of the game. He can play on the powerplay and penalty kill, and scored 10 of his 20 goals on special teams last season, including 3 shorthanded. The fact that Burke was able to pick him up without dealing Kaberle is another factor that made this deal a no-brainer, since he will now be able to acquire at least one more established scoring forward if and when he decides to deal the blueliner.
As for what the Leafs gave up, it’s tough to see DiDo go, especially after all the kid’s been through in the past two seasons, but when it comes down to it, a last place team that can’t score goals doesn’t really have the luxury of hoping that a 165-lb. 21 year old coming off a potentially career-ending injury will be able to rebound and develop into a solid NHL player. Nothing against the kid, I wish him the best of luck, and truly hope he does make it to the NHL one day, but the Leafs don’t have much room for error with their prospects, especially considering the lack of a first round draft pick next year.
Stalberg is the most likely to crack the Hawks’ lineup next season, but his inconsistency throughout last season doesn’t make me too nervous about letting him go. He’s definitely got upside, as a 24 year old winger with great speed, good size and a bit of a scoring touch. Still, with just 14 points in 40 games, despite playing top-six minutes for about half his time with the Leafs, he didn’t show he was ready to be a reliable NHL scorer just yet.
Philippe Paradis, Carolina’s first round pick from 2007, was acquired from the Canes for Jiri Tlusty last year, and despite the promise he’s shown at the junior level has some off-ice issues that have kept him from being considered a surefire prospect. He’ll probably end up as a grinder if he does get his act together, but the Leafs have no shortage of 3rd and 4th liners, so again, this is another piece that Burke was able to move without really losing anything in the here and now.
Finally, the forgotten piece in the deal that no one has mentioned really is winger Bill Sweatt, a senior who just finished his 4th season in the NCAA at Colorado College. Hockey’s Future had this to say about the 21 year old that most Leaf fans probably never heard of:
“Sweatt has unbelievable speed, but what sets him apart is his ability to make plays at high speeds. He also has great acceleration. Sweatt possesses great hands and is smart in his decisions with the puck. Rarely can he be found turning the puck over. Sweatt’s superb defensive play and awareness is one area that has progressed quite nicely this season, and has made him an effective penalty killer. Sweatt also possesses excellent on-ice vision and has a keen sense of being able to find open spaces and knowing where the play is going to end up. While Sweatt has all of the necessary tools for future success, adding size and strength to his 6’0″ frame will be essential to his pursuit of achieving that success.”
Of course, it’s all conjecture and speculation at this point, but Sweatt will probably get at least a shot in training camp to crack the Leafs’ lineup this year, with the most probable result being a stint in the AHL to put on some size. Definitely some solid upside there, and he should fit right in with the army of former college prospects Burke has already assembled.
With free agency just minutes away, I’ll be keeping a close eye on my phone all day, because things should get pretty crazy today. I don’t expect Kaberle to be moved just yet, as the price will almost certainly go up on him as the other available options on defense start to sign off with new clubs. Still, as he continues to prove, Burke has absolutely no problems pulling the trigger on a deal at any time, so with all kinds of player movement expected, it would be foolish to assume that Burke would be sitting still today. Should be fun to watch.