The last trade Brian Burke signed off on as Maple Leafs GM is turning out to be the best one he ever made in Toronto because the guy he acquired in that deal is looking more and more like a franchise player.
Yes, left winger James van Riemsdyk has surged in his development while the player Burke dealt away — blue-liner Luke Schenn — is looking like a mid-tier defenceman. At best.
Some of that isn’t Schenn’s fault; he’s playing on a lousy Philadelphia Flyers team that sure could use van Riemsdyk’s offensive talents right now. But van Riemsdyk gets virtually all the credit for making the transaction look so lopsided.
In 12 games this season, the fifth-year NHLer has seven goals and 13 points and has been a perfect fit on the first line opposite Phil Kessel. If he stays close to that scoring pace, the 24-year-old will demolish his current career highs in goals (21) and points (40) by the Olympic break. It’s all about staying healthy for van Riemsdyk. So long as he can continue to crash the net while using those long arms and slick hands, he’ll continue to show why Philly picked him second overall in 2007.
Burke is now gone to Calgary, where he serves as the Flames’ director of hockey operations. But he and the management team he’d assembled in June of 2012 deserve kudos for doing what teams used to do to the Leafs in the Harold Ballard years: Pluck a talented youngster away from a team that foolishly grew impatient with him.
In fairness, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren was trying to address his franchise’s dire need on defence. But, giving up on van Riemsdyk after he’d missed half of his third professional season because of injury now smacks of myopia.
And it wasn’t as if Schenn had been playing well before the trade. In fact, he’d fallen to the point where he was seventh among Toronto defencemen in time on ice and his point totals had plateaued. Still Holmgren traded van Riemsdyk straight-up for him.
Yes, the Joffrey Lupul/Jake Gardiner-for-Francois Beauchemin deal was another beauty by Burke. But as it stands today, securing the services of the blossoming van Riemsdyk — and did I mention that he’s signed through the summer of 2018 at a reasonable $4.25 million a season? — is clearly his masterpiece.