Keith Aulie Heading To Tampa Bay For Carter Ashton

February 27th, 2012 9 Comments

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke has traded stay-at-home defenseman Keith Aulie to the Tampa Bay Lightning for power forward prospect Carter Ashton.

Originally acquired in the Dion Phaneuf deal from the Calgary Flames, Aulie had two assists in 17 games this season for the Maple Leafs. After a good rookie season in 2010-11 with Toronto Aulie had fallen out of favor at times this season finding himself in the press box or with Toronto’s AHL affiliate more times than not this season.

At just 22-years of age Aulie has a ton of upside. His 6’6”, 217 pound frame will be a welcome addition to the Lightning lineup as they are in dire need of a young, tough defenseman.

In Ashton, the Toronto Maple Leafs get a former 2009 first round draft pick (29th overall) that plays a tough North—South game. At 6’3”, 215 pounds, Ashton is known as a power forward who skates well and has a measure of offensive upside.

Through 56 games with the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals Ashton has amassed 19 goals and 16 assists for a total of 35 points. Like many young players Ashton struggles defensively at times, but there is every indication that he will be a solid NHL player very soon.

Carter has good NHL pedigree as his father Brent Ashton played 998 career NHL games between Vancouver, Colorado, New Jersey, Minnesota, Quebec, Detroit, Winnipeg, Boston and Calgary from 1979 through 1993, respectively.

Clearly, this is the type of deal Burke was looking to make, a deal which sees Burke deal from a position of depth (defense) while bringing in a power forward in return— a skill set Toronto currently lacks.

While many Toronto fans were hoping for a big name forward like Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash coming to the Blue and White the acquisition of Ashton is yet another strong  addition to the ever-growing long list of young prospects Toronto has assembled since Burke has been the GM.

With defensive prospects Korbinian Holzer and Jesse Blacker being close to NHL ready, Burke obviously felt he had enough in the stable to deal Aulie, and while Aulie will be missed, you cannot ignore the talent Burke brought back in Ashton.

Clearly, today’s moves signal that Burke has his eye on the future. Let’s face it, with the Maple Leafs currently in a downward spiral and out of a playoff position it is hard to argue with Burke’s move or lack thereof.

Despite his teams recent 1-7-1 slide, Burke believes his team is still capable of turning things around, and with the trade deadline now over, there is hope that his troops can get focused, rather than being distracted by rumors, which they so obviously have been of late.

Burke did hang onto pending unrestricted free agent Mikhail Grabovski, and he didn’t make any other rumored deals which included the likes of Clarke MacArthur, Colby Armstrong and Luke Schenn possibly being moved.

In this case I cannot dispute what Burke has done. Wholesale changes were not going to be in the teams’ best interest and selling out all of the youth Burke has acquired for the likes of Rick Nash could have been disastrous.

Toronto Maple Leafs management has long been criticized for their unwillingness to build through the draft. Burke has shown to be different in that regard. Despite giving up three picks to land Phil Kessel, Burke has held on to most of his picks since becoming the Maple Leafs GM, while enhancing the Buds stable of prospects acquiring additional picks through trades and the signing of several young free agent forwards, many of which represent a good portion of the Maple Leafs future.

So why didn’t Burke go out and land the big fish?

Clearly, while Burke is believed to have made an offer for Rick Nash the price tag (which is believed to be a roster player such as  Jake Gardiner, two draft choices and a top prospect) was deemed to be far too high. It should be noted, with Columbus asking for the sun and the moon in return for Nash, every NHL general manager took a pass, it’s not as if Burke was the only one to see value in keeping his assets over making a move for Nash.

Burke has never been a fan of making a big deal at the deadline wire, so it really is no surprise that he chose to pass on making a huge splash today. Good on him for not succumbing to the pressure of making a deal just to appease the media and fans. It takes guts to make a big deal, and it takes an equal amount of confidence to pass when the deal doesn’t make sense for your team.

For his part, Burke stated that he was not disappointed with his lack of activity, rather he chose to point to his organizational depth as the key to the teams future fortunes, which he feels justifies today’s results, or lack thereof.

When it comes to Burke’s inability to address the goaltending, Burke said that from his perspective James Reimer “is the real deal” and that without a strong performance from Jonas Gustavsson earlier in the season his team would not be in the playoff race.

Burke acknowledged that he received a number of offers on players, but decided to pass. In order to make those moves Burke would have had to give up roster players with picks and prospects coming the other way. In Burke’s mind that would mean his team would have to wait, which is not the direction he is attempting to take his team in.

Patience is a word that Toronto Maple Leaf fans are tired of hearing, but it appears as if they will be asked to exercise just that, patience.

So, for now, Burke is sticking to the blueprint, which means developing their own talent, acquiring draft choices and looking to make deals that improve this team both in the short and long term. There is no room for panic, no possibility of wholesale changes, it’s all about the big picture, and that’s that.

Let’s not forget, the Toronto Marlies (a team largely built by Brian Burke) are one of the AHL’s best teams. Clearly, while there are more than a few fans out there that do not believe it to be true, Burke is building for the future, not simply looking for the quick fix.

Burke and his team of scouts have worked far too hard to blow this team up. They now have about 20 games to go out there and prove to Burke and Company that they want to remain a part of this team. Failing that, Burke will surely make moves this summer, one of which may be the firing of Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson.

Burke believes his team was/is good enough to make the playoffs, if this team fails to make it, some heads are gonna roll.

On a positive note, Burke did not move Jake Gardiner. A number of rumors had the Columbus Blue Jackets asking for Gardiner in any deal for Rick Nash. With Gardiner likely rounding into an All-Star caliber defenseman for many years to come it is refreshing to see a Toronto Maple Leafs GM hold onto our young talent.

All-in-all it was a rather uneventful day for Brian Burke and Company. We speculated this a few weeks ago

For the fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs the trade deadline was, outside of the Ashton acquisition just that, “dead”…and we are “ok” with that!

That said, if Ashton is able to evolve into a solid top-six forward we may look back at today as yet another turning point in the Maple Leafs long overdue voyage to the playoffs and continual playoff contention.

Until next time,




  1. peterj says:

    Great article and I agree with your opinion.This is a very young team that should only get better.

  2. Hudson says:

    Yep, as much as I have been frustrated and wanted changes, this is probably the best thing for the team. Thanks for the write-up Mark.

  3. MarkRitter says:

    To me, the focus for Burke will be getting this team ready to contend in 2013-14. Let’s face it boyz, this team is not even close to contending. They need an upgrade in the leadership department, a number of prospects have to evolve into NHL players and perhaps a coaching change is in order. We are close, and the future is bright, but Burke still has a ton of work to do. I like the move for Carter and, while I may have considered moving Grabbo (just because his asking price is said to be over $5 million per) I am happy Burke kept his team together, Lets see what we have and adjust this summer when asking prices are more level headed and GM’s make moves based on long term needs rather than the game of chance that are often the case with trade deadline deals…

  4. Dave says:

    Agreed boys. I also think the Ashton move will prove to be a pretty good one – it makes good sense considering the needs of the Leafs and what the talent pool currently has in it.

  5. Dave says:

    Mark, we often agree and I’ll once again agree (only in part though). A coaching change is in order here and I think that will make the most immediate impact that yields the biggest result. I love Burke and have backed him throughout this process but why Eakins isnt behing our bench boggles my mind. Perhaps a Calder Cup will change his mind in June. Look for that in early 2012/2013. Our future is bright 100%. Weve got some solid talent talent that should make ist way in over next few years. Most immenent in my mind are Jesse Blacker, Joe Colbourne, Carter Ashton and Nazem Kadri. Ross, Blacker, Holzer, D’Amigo and Ross may get some time filling in for injuries next year. Someone may surprise in camp too which is nice to have after 15 plus years in no mans land. This will obviously require sending some guys by the wayside in the offseason if it comes to that. (Oh and by the way, why is Mike Zigomanis not signed one way and playing our fourth line center next year). You need to have talent in the system and you also need talent with affordibilty to win.
    One thing we dont agree on however is asking prices. Unless this new CBA drastically brings the cap ceiling down (rumoured but I disagree – I think its more likely its goes up modestly and the floor lowers) asking prices will remain the same.
    Look at the deals over the last few years. mediocore talent is being signed in the 5 mil range(i.e. Connolly, Plekanec, etc) Hell, a decent fringe 2nd liner will cost you 3.5-4.0.
    Were in a world where Gaustad gets a first and franchise types either make 8 million or have 7 years plus in term.
    Are we getting better with a bright future, yes. But I believe we’re going to add some pieces in the off season to drastically improve – ie Parise, Nash, Staal. This is going to take some doing whether its moving roster players to make long term room, or getting hooked up by a set of Smith and Wessons in terms of salary.
    Its one hell of a balancing act, which I believe Burke will do sucessfully albeit with some serious critics!


  6. Mark Ritter says:


    While there is some validity to wanting to get a new voice behind the bench Wilson is not at fault for all of the Maple Leafs troubles.

    This is a team that lacks physical toughness at best ends of the ice, has limited talent in it’s bottom six and has two question marks between the pipes. Hard to blame Wilson for everything with all those holes.

    That said, a new voice, a change in philosophy (a more balanced attack)might be in order, so wilson might just be fired this summer.

    I think Wilson is a good coach, but sometimes you expire.

    I remember when this team was on fire and in the top ten in the NHL, nobody was questioning Wilson’s talents then…

    Anyways, As far as young talent goes, I do not invision too many prospects making the lineup next season. If I had to choose one to make the lineup it would be Kadri. The uncertainty of Grabovski is looming large (although Burke says he will get a deal done) and with few options available via free agency, another centre is paramount to the teams success.

    Of course, Colborne’s size would be welcomed as well, we’ll have to see which one steps up.

    On the backend we need toughness. Kolzer, Blacker- these guys, while talented, wilol do little to improve that, so I am not so sure adding them to mix transforms this club one iota.

    What we need is Komisarek to be the player that he was three years ago in Montreal, but after two seasons of farting around in Toronto he clearly is incapable of bringing that physical edge he once had. Bottom line, he is too slow, too methodical out there, the game has passed him by.

    Schenn is another wild card. When he plays a simple game he looks decent, but he gets caught running around far too often out there, which leads to golden chances for the opposition. He must step up his skating and learn to relax. Look at the poise Gardiner has- if Luke had half of that he’d be money.

    Mediocure talent is getting huge money, agreed. It baffles the mind really. If Hemsky gets $5 Graboo can demand $5-$6…which is market value I guess.

    Where that puts Kessel and Lupul in two summers is beyond me. If Grabbo is getting $5-$6, you gotta think Kessel is Worth $7 million per, with Lupul coming in around $6 plus…that’s a ton of dough on three players, nearly $20 million of your $65 million payroll.

    The CBA may very well dictate how those salaries play out, but there is a good chance that sslaries stay the status quo. The owners feel they got hosed last time around, and with Mr. Baseball now in charge he’ll be looking to make his mark, which leads me to believe that the players and owners are going to go to war big time.

    Any way you slcie it, this is a team in need of several players, so if they make the playoffs great, if not, there is always next season….lol…

    Peace Brother!

  7. Hudson says:

    Hah, I just got done gaming. I didn’t watch the game…just like I said. I am done. So glad to be tuned out. Just checking scores at this point.

  8. Mark Ritter says:

    Hud- I cannot stop watching…it is like a trainwreck!

  9. Hudson says:

    I hear you. =) I just can’t watch it any more. I quite honestly have better things to do with my time. Nothing is worse than watching these games and knowing I will never get that time back. And that’s already DVR delaying, and FFW’ing through all the ads, and frankly much of the game when it gets out of hand…

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