The proverbial handwriting was on the wall as soon as the news broke
Saturday: The Ducks had signed goaltender Jonas Hiller to a four-year, $18 million extension. That revelation, coupled with the fact that Jean-Sebastien Giguere is earning $7 million this season, meant that the Ducks had their two goalies signed for next season for $10 million-plus.
It also meant that the starting goalie, Hiller, was making considerably less than his competition. And make no mistake: Long before Hiller inked that extension, he was clearly the Ducks' No. 1 goalie, starting 11 of the past 12 games and leading his team to a 9-3 record during that span, vaulting it back into the thick of the playoff race in the process.
Something had to give. On Sunday it did, with the news that Giguere's old boss, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, had acquired the 32-year-old in exchange for netminder Vesa Toskala and veteran forward Jason Blake.
Burke also pulled off another blockbuster deal, picking up disgruntled Calgary Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf, forward Fredrik Sjostrom and defensive prospect Keith Aulie in exchange for forwards Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman and Jamal Mayers and defenseman Ian White.
Giguere loved the Ducks and loved the lifestyle that Southern California afforded him and his family. But late last year he made it very clear through the local media that if he wasn't going to be the starting goalie, he'd rather play elsewhere.
And going to Toronto and Burke makes perfect sense: Giguere was brilliant in the 2003 Stanley Cup playoffs, taking the Ducks all the way to the finals, where they lost in seven games to the New Jersey Devils. Giguere won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' most valuable player that year. And he carried the bulk of the load for the Ducks in the ensuing four years of postseason play, ultimately leading them to their Stanley Cup championship in 2007.
His goaltending guru during that stretch was his friend and longtime coach Francois Allaire, whom Burke lured from the Ducks before this season.
Burke, undoubtedly relying on input from Allaire, clearly believes that Giguere still has the ability to play at a top level, that a change of scenery will revive both his confidence and his career.
And there's another factor to consider in the analysis of this deal: Although Burke has given Leafs incumbent goaltender Jonas "The Monster" Gustavsson every opportunity to seize the No. 1 job, Gustavsson is working on just a one-year deal that expires at the end of this season. And he's had some scary health issues -- having to go into the hospital on several occasions, the most recent visit taking place late last year, to undergo both tests and surgical procedures to correct an accelerated heartbeat.
Giguere's arrival in Toronto is the ultimate win-win for Burke and the
Leafs: If The Monster's medical issues resolve themselves and he re-signs with the Leafs, Burke gets what could turn out to be one of the top goaltending tandems in the league.
But if Gustavsson ends up not sticking around -- for either medical reasons or because of an offer from another team -- Burke will still have the guy who won him a Stanley Cup only three years ago.
And although it's also clear with the moves he's making that Burke isn't expecting the Leafs to continue to wallow in the depths of the Eastern Conference standings -- the GM always wants to win, no matter how woeful his team may be -- the bar for the Leafs is not set at a high level for what remains of this season: Sitting in the 15th and final place in the East, they're still a long shot to make the playoffs -- 11 points from the eighth and final spot. No one is expecting them to make any significant noise.
Which may be exactly the perfect set of circumstances for the Leafs to surprise some folks with some fresh faces while their newly acquired goaltender regains the energy, confidence and skills that once, not so very long ago, made him one of the best -- if not the best -- in the business.
Tom Murray covers hockey for ESPNLosAngeles.com.