The Toronto Maple Leafs got in on the action early Wednesday and it's just the beginning if they have their way.
"You can expect more moves, we're not done," Leafs GM Brian Burke told a news conference at Air Canada Centre.
The Leafs unloaded veteran defenseman Francois Beauchemin to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for winger Joffrey Lupul, prospect blueliner Jake Gardiner, as well as a conditional fourth-round draft pick in 2013.
An exchange of e-mails with a Leafs source after the trade gave me the impression a second move might be coming on the same day. So blame me after my tweet saying as much got Leaf Nation overly excited for nothing. I read the tea leaves wrong there, although Burke made it clear at his news conference he hopes to make a few more moves before the Feb. 28 trade deadline.
That could be Kris Verteeg, it could be Jean-Sebastien Giguere or it could be most notably, puck-moving defenseman Tomas Kaberle if and when he waives his no-trade clause (no news on that front Wednesday).
For now, Leafs fans are left with Wednesday's trade to dissect, and digest.
What exactly does this transaction signify? In the shorter term, Toronto hopes to have improved its top-six forward group with former 28-goal scorer Lupul. In the long term, the Leafs hope the University of Wisconsin standout Gardiner is a keeper.
In other words, because Toronto doesn't have its first-round pick in the upcoming entry draft (for the second year in a row), there's no point in blowing it up and finishing last. So the goal in any move, it would appear, is to improve short-term and long-term all at the same time. Easy, right?
"We're trying to be competitive while we get younger," Burke said. "Our plan here is to try and build toward a championship. And that seems remote, some people will snicker, but that's the plan. What we're trying to do is the twin track of getting younger and getting better, long-term planning; but also at the same time remain competitive. And so far we've been able to do that with our recent play."
The Leafs are indeed 4-1-0 since the All-Star break but remain eight points out of the last playoff spot in the East with Florida, hard-charging Buffalo and Atlanta between them and that No. 8 position held by Carolina. The odds aren't good, but again, since there is no point in going backwards, you see Burke's point about trying to help the short and long term.
The goal all along this season was to try to augment the top-six forward group. Whether or not Lupul is the answer is debatable on both sides. He's got five goals in 26 games this season. Hardly reassuring for Leafs fans. On the flip side, he missed a calendar year through injury and any player would need time to get his rhythm back after that. As well, he was buried on the third line in Anaheim because of the Ducks' star-level depth up front. He'll get to play more minutes and a more meaningful role in Toronto.
Burke, in fact, said Wednesday he had tried to acquire him when Lupul was in Philadelphia a few years ago. He had him before in Anaheim and feels there's still lots of hockey left there -- and more importantly, lots more goals.
"I bet on Joffrey Lupul because of his skill and character," said Burke. "I believe in this player, I believe in this person."
While Lupul tries to answer the Leafs' short-term needs, Burke said Beauchemin's place on Toronto's top four on defense would eventually be taken by AHLer Keith Aullie, who has impressed. He was part of the Dion Phaneuf deal with Calgary last season, and Burke said once a roster spot opens on the Leafs, Aullie will get the call-up and play significant minutes.
"I watched him today and in my mind he's ready to do that," said Burke.
One foot in the present, the other foot looking at the future. It's a delicate balance and Burke has mounting pressure to pull it off in one of hockey's most demanding and increasingly impatient markets.
In Anaheim, Ducks GM Bob Murray delivered on two fronts: Since last September, he's wanted to strengthen a suspect blue-line corps. That group actually played better than most expected so far this season but the reality is that Jonas Hiller also saved its bacon on many nights. Beauchemin could be the perfect tonic in his old stomping grounds. The Ducks have played themselves into playoff contention, and the GM has rewarded them with an important add-on. There's no guarantee Beauchemin will revert back to the way he played in Anaheim the first time around, but it's worth the gamble.
But even more importantly, Murray saved some money and cap space here. Beauchemin has only one more year left on his deal at $3.65 million ($3.8 million cap hit) while Lupul has two more years left at $4.25 million per season. The Ducks could not afford to have a third-line winger making that kind of cash. It also means Lupul's salary won't be on the books when the new CBA kicks in for the 2012-13 season, the Ducks, like other budget-conscious teams around the league, being careful with how they approach that season.
On the surface, this is a trade that addressed key needs for both clubs: the Leafs needing top-six offense and the Ducks blue-line help. In the long run, both GMs are betting on players they once knew well, hoping they'll bounce back.