The $450,000 fourth-round pick


All of the "winners and losers" articles are coming out in full force, but I can't help but still think about that doozy of a deal Brian Burke made with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tyler Dellow smells something fishy as well.

As it turns out, the league took a look at the legitimacy of what has to be one of the strangest deadline trades ever made:

As for the final deal, that was the most interesting as Tampa Bay sent goaltender Olie Kolzig, defenseman Jamie Heward and minor-league defenseman Andy Rogers and a 2009 fourth-round pick to the Maple Leafs for rugged minor-league defenseman Richard Petiot, who was assigned to AHL Norfolk. The NHL actually got involved in this transaction. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league gave it a look because all the Lightning players involved are injured. The NHL, Daly said, wanted to ensure the deal included "legitimate hockey assets." The deal was approved. Apparently, Toronto so badly wanted the pick, it was willing to take what was left of those salaries.

I guess so.

Not including Rogers's deal, which is likely to be negligible given he's playing in the minors, my best guesstimate is that the Leafs are taking on close to $450,000 in salary — the equivalent of 21.5 per cent of the combination of the Kolzig and Heward contracts — and getting back a fourth-round pick.

Neither side was saying that much about the deal initially.

"You're not allowed to just buy and sell picks, let's be clear on that," Lightning GM Brian Lawton told The Fan 590. "For us, it's just we had a chance to reduce in some areas, we traded a fourth-round pick, Toronto had a chance to get a player in Jamie Heward who should be ready to play in a week to 10 days.

"What their situation is, I don't know ... For me, I put that [trade] under cap management."

No kidding.

Burke was asked about the deal on television soon after it was made and didn't offer much of an answer, but Toronto radio host Bob McCown got a little more out of him later in the night.

"If you're smelling a skunk here, Bob, you're right — there is a component here which involves the salary cap," Burke said in an interview with The Fan 590. "You cannot make a deal to acquire cap room unless there a hockey component to it that passes muster with the NHL. I think they should allow this but they do now allow trade deals that purchase or sell cap space. So you've got to put bodies in there where the league feels it adds up to a legitimate deal or they will not condone it, they will not do the trade call.

"So this is a case of us trying to experiment with Tampa, trying to come up with names — they liked the Petiot kid that we put in the deal a little bit, we liked the kid that we got back ... there is obviously more salary moved to us from Tampa, but we cleared this with the league in advance.

"The league said it passed the smell test."

Now, I know a lot of the response to this deal has been a muted "Who cares?" but you wonder what this opens the door to. In the future, could we see several low salaried teams looking to boost their revenue-sharing payout by chucking a bunch of salary cap flotsam along with a first-rounder off to a team with cash and cap space?

And if that's not considered buying and selling picks, what is?

It's a slipperly slope, and it's one that creates a strange divide between teams with cap space and those without, teams that are eligible for revenue sharing and those that aren't. I've mentioned this before, but we're looking at situations where retired players — or even deceased ones — are potentially going to be punted around for draft picks willy nilly.

And don't think Burke's not on board with that idea.

"In my mind, cap space and cap room and cash are assets, just like draft picks, and they should be freely tradable," Burke said. "I don't know why we couldn't say 'okay, we're going to take $1-million back — no players involved — for a first-round pick.' I have no idea why that wouldn't be allowed, but it's not.

"So you've got to build a hockey deal up to where the league says it meets approval and in this case we did."

Ah, so there it is. This "trading cap space" business has been Burke's hobby horse for a few years now, pre-dating his time with the Leafs, and it continues to make an appearance at all of the GM meetings before being shot down by league officials.

Why did Burke spend $450,000 on a fourth-round pick?

To prove he could.

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