Unpacking the Dion Phaneuf Trade

USATSI_9018576_154158418_lowresOn Tuesday morning, the Toronto Maple Leafs traded Dion Phaneuf along with Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey, Ryan Rupert, and Cody Donaghey to the Ottawa Senators for Jared Cowen, Milan Michalek, Colin Greening, Tobias Lindberg, and a second round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

Neither team will retain salary.

There are, of course, a number of angles to this trade.

For starters, general manager Lou Lamoriello’s plan with the Maple Leafs really received a boost. It’s been no secret that he’s been looking to reinvent the wheel in Toronto and this trade helps with the future.

“This gives us the opportunity to do things,” Lamoriello said. “But it also gives us the opportunity when some of our younger players that are coming at the end of their entry-level contracts, who we have high expectations for, to be able to sign them. This was a transaction that certainly wasn’t for today.”

Over the last calendar year, the Leafs have done away with the contracts of Phil Kessel and David Clarkson – along with Dion Phaneuf. There are five remaining years on the Phaneuf deal to the tune of $7 million a year. Add that to the Clarkson and Kessel contracts and Lamoriello has cleared out over $19 million annually through to 2019-2020 while accepting minimal fiscal risk in return. That’s pretty good.

Some have pointed to Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan as the catalyst for these huge moves and that’s a fair assessment. He’s been piling up the big changes, after all. He shoved Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle out of town, for starters, and he’s been methodically making moves ever since.

Many now believe that the Maple Leafs are in position to target Steven Stamkos if he becomes an unrestricted free agent come summer. But no matter how hard Toronto could push for that move, Stamkos would have to overcome his stated desire not to go to a “rebuilding team.”

As far as the Senators are concerned, they can give Phaneuf another shot. He’ll find himself in the second pairing in Ottawa with Cody Ceci and he’ll log fewer minutes, which could rejuvenate his career to some extent. Erik Karlsson and Marc Methot run the show from the back end, which means the nation’s capital will get a one-two punch on defence if Phaneuf finds his game.

“It’ll give us more security on the back end,” Senators GM Bryan Murray said. “It’s about getting an experienced leader, a hardworking, competitive guy to add to our top four.”

With the trade, Ottawa has at least proven its intentions to make a run for the post-season. They made one of those old-fashioned hockey trades and they used their ample cap space to do it.

Phaneuf now becomes the highest-paid Senators defenceman on the roster.

So yes, there are variables and angles to the deal. But there’s also something interesting at the heart of it: this was a straightforward, massive blockbuster trade. And it was a trade between provincial rivals, two teams who assessed needs and pulled the trigger on something big. That rarely happens these days and Toronto and Ottawa seemed a little closer. For a moment.

But on March 5 when Phaneuf makes his return to the Air Canada Centre, be ready. It’s going to be wild.


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