Brian Burke’s Best Trade as Maple Leafs General Manager

By Lukas Hardonk (@LukasHardonk)

On November 29, 2008, exactly three years ago today, the Toronto Maple Leafs introduced Brian Burke as the team’s new president and general manager. At the time, it was seen as a new era in Toronto; one that meant success would come about a year or two later and the team would be playoff contenders once again.

It was easy to see why people would buy in to such a theory. Burke’s track record prior to his arrival in Toronto was second-to-none; he had turned the Vancouver Canucks around completely and was just over one year removed from a Stanley Cup title with the Anaheim Ducks.

Burke made many ingenious moves during his time with both clubs, especially in the draft. He was the one who selected the likes of Daniel and Henrik Sedin, as well as Bobby Ryan.

While he has been successful with other teams, Burke has struggled to turn a Leaf club that has not qualified for the post-season since the lockout into a decent playoff contender. It seemed that way up until this season at least.

The Maple Leafs currently sit first in the Northeast Division, second in the Eastern Conference and third in the entire league. Many of the players on the current Leafs roster were brought in by Burke, so most of the credit can be given to him in terms of acquisitions.

(AP Photo, Chris Young)

During his time in Toronto, Burke has had his ups and downs. He has made some impressive signings and trades, but has also failed in the same categories as well. Now that the Leafs are on a bit of a roll, though, it is time to take a look at what his best trade as Leafs general manager has been thus far.

Some people would tell you it was the seven-player trade that saw Dion Phaneuf, now the team captain, come to town and Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman leave. That make sense, since Phaneuf is now Toronto’s top defeceman and Hagman and Stajan are considered good riddances.

Others would tell you it was the trade Burke made in order to acquire the current league leader in goals and points, Phil Kessel. Burke paid a steep price for the young sniper, but it appears to finally be paying off.

Then there are those who would suggest it was the trade in which the Leafs dumped Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake off on Anaheim. Both were extremely overpaid and underachieving beyond belief.

But what many people forget about is the trade that Burke made on February 9 of 2011. Yes, the one that saw Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner come to Toronto in exchange for Francois Beauchemin. This trade has worked out for both teams, but that is never a bad thing.

Beauchemin has been logging tough minutes in Anaheim. He is currently averaging 25:37 minutes of ice time per game with the Ducks and finished last season with an average of 23:04 per game between the two teams.

Take a deeper look into the trade from a Toronto perspective, though. After multiple injuries and back problems, Joffrey Lupul’s career appeared to be just about finished. He has quickly proven people wrong.

In 28 games with the Maple Leafs last season, Lupul scored nine goals and had just as many assists for 18 points. Many of those points came closer to the end of the season, as he finished the campaign off with nine points in as many games. This led many people to wonder if he would be able to continue at this pace and become a solid contributor for the Leafs.

He did just that, plus more.

Lupul began this season with seven points in his first five games and didn’t slow down one bit. He is still scoring above a point-per-game average (1.21) and is now one half of the most dynamic duo in the entire league.

Between the period of February 9, 2011 and November 20, 2011, Lupul and Kessel combined for 46 goals and 98 points in 48 games, the best numbers put up by any two players in the NHL. They have been deadly for the Leafs this season and are a huge reason why the team currently sits so high in the standings.

Now take a glance at Jake Gardiner. The 21-year-old was actually drafted 17th overall by Burke when he was with the Ducks in the summer of 2008. Two and a half years later when he was acquired by the Leafs, apparently he was no longer that of “first round pedigree” so The Hockey News would tell you.

Like Lupul, it hasn’t taken Gardiner long to shoot down his critics. After he played collegiate hockey last season, it was easy to see why he would end up with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies to begin the year.

However, Gardiner impressed enough to earn a spot with the Leafs. He even beat out third-year defenceman Cody Franson, who was believed to be a sure lock to make the team out of training camp.

Ever since the season began, Gardiner has easily been one of the best rookies in the conference. His swift skating and level of calmness with the puck in tough situations has even earned him comparisons to former NHL great and sure-fire Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer.

Now it should be obvious why this trade is the best that Brian Burke has made during his three-year tenure with the Buds. Lupul has been outstanding and Gardiner continues to get better.

Follow Lukas on Twitter @LukasHardonk for more Maple Leafs coverage.

One Response to Brian Burke’s Best Trade as Maple Leafs General Manager

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