Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Deadline deals that will pay off later
By Scott Burnside
For oomph factor, Trade Deadline Day 2012 was far too much sizzle and far too little steak.
But if you take out your trade magnifying glass, there were some interesting under-the-radar deals on a day that was in itself pretty much under the radar. Here’s a look at a handful of trades that folks will look back on as being moments of great import.
Toronto trades Keith Aulie to Tampa Bay Lightning for Carter Ashton
On a day that saw an unusually small number of hockey deals done, this is an intriguing one that both teams hope will correct some long-standing problems for the long term. The Lightning are top-heavy offensively, both in terms of how their salaries are committed and the number of their top-end prospects, and it has been GM Steve Yzerman’s desire to correct that imbalance. Thus, he was willing to trade Ashton, a big-bodied, talented winger, for the 22-year-old Aulie.
“As far as Keith Aulie goes, he’s a player we’ve been talking about for some time now," GM Steve Yzerman told reporters in Tampa on Monday night. "We weren’t sure if there was going to be anything to that. I got a call from Toronto this morning indicating that they wanted to pursue it, and we got that one done."
Although there were visa issues, Yzerman’s plan is to get Aulie into the Lightning lineup as soon as possible.
“He’s a young guy, and he’s been up and down a bit in the American League. We would like to get him into our lineup and give him more NHL games and experience. From watching him, we think he’s close to being an NHL regular,” Yzerman said.
The Leafs, conversely, have accumulated significant defensive depth, and there's the emergence of Jake Gardiner as an eye-catching defensive prospect. GM Brian Burke was able to move another impressive prospect in Aulie to add a 20-year-old with a big upside to shore up a position of historic weakness for the Leafs.
Ashton is expected to join the Leafs’ AHL team. “I like that he is a prototypical power forward -- size, good feet, good hands,” Toronto GM Brian Burke told ESPN.com.
Tampa trades Matt Gilroy to Ottawa for Brian Lee
This interesting, late deal involved two young defensemen who haven’t exactly lived up to significant expectations. Both teams hope that a change of scenery alters that course. Gilroy, 27, is a former Hobey Baker Award winner as the top U.S. collegiate player who was signed by the New York Rangers as a free agent. He couldn’t stick with the Rangers and signed as a free agent last summer with Tampa, for whom he played 53 games this season, scoring twice.
He was in a shopping mall when he heard about the trade but is looking forward to joining a team that is modeling itself after the Detroit Red Wings in trying to ice three sets of defensemen, in which each set possesses a strong puck-mover alongside a more defensive partner.
Head coach Paul MacLean is hoping Gilroy, who will play Tuesday night against Boston with veteran defenseman Chris Phillips, will use his skill set not just to help with the breakout but to jump up into the play as well.
Teams that don’t attack with four players have difficulty scoring, MacLean said Tuesday.
“That’s the type of player we like on the back end,” the coach said.
Lee, conversely, was the ninth overall pick in the 2005 draft but has struggled to find his game, bouncing regularly between the Senators and their AHL affiliate in Binghamton since being drafted. The 24-year-old is 6-foot-3 and appeared in 34 games for the Sens this season, scoring once. Looking at a significant rebuilding of the blue line, the Lightning are hoping Lee will be able to find a greater comfort zone and maybe face less pressure given his status as a top draft pick.
“We think he’s still a prospect," Yzerman said. "He’s a young guy with some potential. I think the trade was a good fit for both clubs."
Minnesota Wild trade Nick Schultz to the Edmonton Oilers for Tom Gilbert
The Edmonton Oilers are chock-a-block with young offensive talent, but not so much on the blue line. Schultz is a rock-solid competitor who played his entire career in Minnesota and will be a boon to the young Edmonton locker room. But it is Gilbert who looks to have the greatest move to turn this trade into a significant boost for the Wild, who got younger along the blue line during the trade period, trading veterans Marek Zidlicky, 35, and Greg Zanon, 31, and acquiring Kurtis Foster, 30, and Gilbert, 29. GM Chuck Fletcher was familiar with Gilbert, an invitee to the U.S. orientation camp before the 2010 Olympics, from Fletcher’s days as the GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ AHL farm team in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Although Gilbert is considered an offensive defenseman, Fletcher told reporters Monday he felt his game was much more well-rounded.
“I think Tom is a strong puck-mover and certainly has the ability to contribute offensively, but I feel he has a solid two-way game,” Fletcher said. "I don’t know that I’d characterize him purely as an offensive defenseman. I don’t think it’s fair to his talents.”
With the Wild struggling again to define their identity, Gilbert has the opportunity to emerge as an important part of the Wild’s next generation of defenders.