Big names, small gains for Leafs

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:12 PM ET

Phil Housley. Doug Gilmour. Owen Nolan. Glen Wesley. Brian Leetch.

Take one look at that prestigious list, and even the most cynical of Maple Leafs bashers would have to admit that the organization has brought in some quality talent at the trade deadline over the past decade.

Unfortunately, more often than not, those new names stitched on the back of the Leafs jerseys ended up being far more impressive than the results their respective additions would bring to the franchise.

Indeed, in recent times, the Leafs have not fared all that well with their trade deadline moves.

Never was that more evident than in 2003, when the optimisim surrounding Toronto’s flurry of deals was quickly shredded into heartbreak, injuries and a first-round exit at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Having advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference final in 2002, before bowing out to Paul Maurice’s upstart Carolina Hurricanes, general manager/coach Pat Quinn and his staff vowed to be active at the trade deadline in order to take the next step.

They were busy, all right, bringing in Gilmour, Housley, Wesley and Nolan. But, in the end, all of those moves could not push the Leafs over the top or net the success the team was thirsting for.

Having come over from the Montreal Canadiens, Gilmour lasted just five shifts during his much-ballyhooed return to the Leafs when his career came to an end on the Saddledome ice, his knee turned to mush during an innocent collision with the Calgary Flames’ Dave Lowry.

Housley’s broken foot was wrapped in a cast when the Leafs acquired him, with management banking on medical reports that he would be available by the end of the season. He did come back for the regular-season finale and three post-season appearances, but quickly showed that all the rust accrued during his time on the shelf made him relatively ineffective.

The Leafs gave up forwards Alyn McCauley, Brad Boyes and a first-round draft pick to the San Jose Sharks, a significant cache to surrender for Nolan, a prototype power forward with suspected back issues. Nolan’s tenure with the Leafs was sprinkled with injuries, with Nolan at one point claiming his back might explode at any time.

As for Wesley, picked up from Carolina, he wasted little time in returning to the Hurricanes during the off-season once the Flyers had quickly disposed of the Leafs in the playoffs.

In the end, whether it be because of bad decisions or simple bad luck, it could be argued the Leafs went 0-for-4 with those deals.

In 2004, Quinn, who to this day still considers that particular edition of the Leafs to be the most talented he ever had in Toronto, brought in Leetch as a rent-a-player from the New York Rangers. This time, the Leafs were punted to the golf course in the second round by those same Flyers, leaving Leetch heading to Boston the following season.

The Leafs have never been to the playoffs since that time.

Upon further review, perhaps the best deadline-time trade the Leafs were poised to make in the past 10 years was scuttled by one of their own players.

In 2008, interim GM Cliff Fletcher appeared to have pulled off a swap with the Flyers with Tomas Kaberle heading to the City of Brotherly Shove for Jeff Carter and a first-round pick, a potential deal that probably would have been a coup for Toronto. But Kaberle, like fellow Muskoka Five members Pavel Kubina, Mats Sundin, Bryan McCabe and Darcy Tucker, refused to waive his no-movement clause, blowing up what might have been one of the most lucrative swaps the organization has made in years.

After scouring over all that discouraging info at his disposal, it’s easy to see why Brian Burke isn’t a huge fan of deals at or near the deadline, feeling available players often become overvalued as the clock ticks down. During his time in Toronto, his most significant in-season trades have come at least a couple of weeks before the deadline, transactions involving Dion Phaneuf and Jean-Senastien Giguere coming in and Kaberle, Kris Versteeg and Francois Beauchemin being shipped out.

In the days leading up to Monday’s 3 p.m., deadline, Burke, in his quest to add defensive help, stressed that he would only make a deal or deals for a “sensible price,” adding that too many teams give in to the tempation to do “silly things” this time of year.

In the past week, names such as Colorado’s John Michael Liles, Atlanta’s Zach Bogosian, Nashville’s Ryan Ellis and Florida forward Stephen Weiss were all linked to the Leafs through various Twitter, internet and broadcast reports.

If the price is right, Burke would be encouraged to pull off a deal with any of those aforementioned players. By the time you read this, maybe he already has.

If so, he can only hope that the move or moves will prove more beneficial, especially in the long run, than the ones that went down before.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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