Editor’s Note: This is an entry in our search for Fresh Blood at TLN. Every possible contributor will get three posts to strut their stuff and then we’ll ask you readers to help us choose who is going to join.
By: Matt Beauvais
It was 46 years ago to the day, February 9th, 1966, that then Eagles executive Ed Snider (who is also a movie producer now…no, really) and his group were awarded one of six expansion NHL franchises that were to begin play in the 1967-68 season. The Philadelphia bid came and pulled the rug from under what appeared to be a lock in a bid from Baltimore. In retrospect, one can only help but wonder how hockey in Maryland’s largest city might have affected the life plans of one Omar Little.
Coincidentally, February 9th is also an important date in recent Leafs history.
A year ago today, Brian Burke sent defenceman Francois Beauchemin, a good soldier, but obviously not the fit he was intended to be here in Toronto, back to the Anaheim Ducks for the 17th-overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, Wisconsin defenceman Jake Gardiner. As a throw-in to the deal, Ducks GM Bob Murray also dealt to Toronto, the oft-injured Joffrey Lupul. In his return to Anaheim from Philadelphia in the Chris Pronger trade, Lupul had managed to see action in only 51 games due to complications from back surgery. His cap hit of $4.25 mill. for the next two-and-a-half seasons would offset the $3.8 mill. annual hit for Beauchemin with another year-and-a-half left on his deal. The Leafs would also receive a conditional 4th-rounder in 2013 if Lupul were able to play 40+ games in the ’12-13 season.
On the surface, the deal was straightforward as they come: Randy Carlisle and the Ducks re-acquired a trusted hand on defence in the midst of a playoff push, while Burke, as he is apt to do, picked up a prospect he originally drafted with an eye to the future. Lupul, though a three-time 20-goal man, was nothing more than a necessary evil to acquire a player of Gardiner’s potential.
At the time, TSN fantasy guru had this to say about Lupul:
If he can score 20-25 goals and 50 points, then he’s meeting expectations; maybe not providing good value for the money, but at this point, it’s unreasonable to expect a guy coming off back surgery to suddenly turn into a 30-goal scorer for the first time.
Cullen’s TSN colleague, Bob McKenzie detailed a consensus among scouts about how Gardiner would move forward:
NHL scouts believe it’s probably in Gardiner’s best interests to turn pro at the end of this college season because he needs to be challenged to play at the next level and he’s not going to get those challenges in college hockey. The scouts do not think, generally speaking, he’s ready to step into the NHL as a fulltime player and will need a year of apprenticeship in the American Hockey League to get used to the more physical, pro game against bigger, stronger players.
Flash forward one year and this Toronto/Anaheim deal is looking like one of the more lopsided trades in recent memory. That’s not to say that Beauchemin has underperformed for the Ducks, as he has not in the slightest. He has posted six goals and 12 assists, but, more importantly, is averaging 26:01 minutes of ice-time a game, which is good enough for seventh in the NHL amongst blueliners. As a reward for his strong play, Murray re-upped Beauchemin to a three-year extension worth $10.5 mill. late last month.
A weak return for the Ducks is not the issue with this deal, as they got exactly what they were expecting. The team made the playoffs last year and received the workmanlike effort they expected out of Beauchemin.
Where this deal becomes uneven is when you look at the impact of the pieces received by the Leafs. I don’t think many foresaw Gardiner’s stunning training camp and certainly not his rise into a top-six d-man and second power play unit mainstay less than 12 months after his arrival. The acquisition and play of Gardiner, along with those of Cody Franson, have made Mike Komisarek even more so expendable and have further illustrated how much of an albatross the former Hab’s contract has become (or maybe was from Day One.)
While the quick emergence of Gardiner has been unexpected, the play of Lupul is nothing short of a revelation. Lupul has now played 82 games for the Leafs, the exact equivalent of one full season. In those games, Lupul has 30 goals and 44 assists, good for 74 points. His career best for a full season was his 28-goal, 53-point rookie year in Anaheim.
A lot of ink has been spilled about Lupul in the past few weeks and we all know the impact that he’s had on the club’s fortunes this season, but one year ago today, would anybody have guessed that Francois Beauchemin would have a direct hand in the Leafs being on their way to breaking a seven-year playoff drought?