Leafs: Adding by subtracting

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:37 AM ET

There is no downside to saying goodbye to Francois Beauchemin.

He was what he was on a team going nowhere: Run of the mill. Not what the Maple Leafs hoped or believed he was going to be when Brian Burke signed him as a free agent. He exposed himself in Toronto as just another guy in a league of too many other guys.

Just as there may be no upside to the acquisition of Joffrey Lupul.

He could have been a contender. Once, as the seventh pick in a weak 2002 entry draft, he seemed like a man on the move. That was before he was traded from Anaheim to Edmonton to Philadelphia to Anaheim to Toronto. That was before the blood clot and the bad back threatened to end his career. That was before he ended up as the fourth right winger on the Ducks, buried behind Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne.

Three times zones and one uniform later, Lupul will get more than an opportunity here. He will get power play time. He will get a regular shift. As a Duck, he wasn’t asked to do much and that’s exactly what he delivered. As a Leaf, he will almost be over-exposed.

The Leafs get rid of one bad contract and inherit another Wednesday. They couldn’t have traded Beauchemin without eating one of the Ducks’ bad contracts. That’s the way business is done in the National Hockey League today.

Trades aren’t always about exchanging assets. The Ducks needed Beauchemin because they are thin on defence and have to make the playoffs. They had no use for Lupul, which made this deal palatable for them to make. And for a little hope — and what are the Leafs if not about hope — they get a terrific skating collegiate defenceman named Jake Gardiner, who everyone agrees is a terrific skater. No one knows if he’ll ever play an NHL game.

Win for Leafs

All that said, the deal is a win for the Leafs; possibly a small win, possibly better than that. It’s a win because they got out of Beauchemin’s contract and may have gotten something for him. Lupul is the perfect Maple Leaf for the short term. He has kind of lost his way. You’re not sure what he is. He might be something. He might be nothing. He has got a big shot and a reputation gone missing.

Burke said he was willing to gamble on Lupul because he knows the player. He has had him before, traded him before. But then, he said just about the same thing when he signed Beauchemin as a free agent. He knew him, had him before, won with him. Beauchemin never was the steady influence in Toronto he was playing alongside Scott Niedermayer in Anaheim, which may say more about Niedermayer than it does about the traded defenceman.

When asked if he knew which Lupul he was acquiring Wednesday, he was brutally honest as he always seems to be: “I don’t,” he said.

“There a human element in all of this. You bet on people every time you make a trade. If this were just buying cars or buying livestock, it would be a lot easier. We’re betting on human beings, but I’m betting on Joffrey Lupul because of his character and his skill level and I believe he has something to prove.”

Motivated

You may be able to say the same thing about Mike Komisarek. Who has more character and more to prove? How’s that worked out?

Lupul, at least, seems highly motivated to find the skills he left behind. He said he relishes being in a hockey-crazed market, but yet when he played in his hometown of Edmonton, it didn’t work out well. Maybe at this age, this time, this opportunity, it will.

“They’re getting rid of a guy who wasn’t doing anything for them and they end up getting a first round pick (Gardiner) and taking a flyer on Lupul, who may be able to turn nothing into something,” a high level NHL executive said in assessing the trade. “Lupul could always score goals. He just never got going in Anaheim and maybe having as good relationship with Burke will help him. He’s never really turned out to be what everybody thought he would be.”

That has been the history of too many of the high-profile Leafs acquisitions under Burke. All of them advertised to be more than they have become. At least this is different. Expecations are low. Lupul is a roll of the dice. And with this Leafs team, that’s not half bad.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/simmonssteve


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