Breaking down the Dion Phaneuf trade

Breaking down the Dion Phaneuf trade
By Evan Presement

So at this point, you’re still probably wondering what the hell happened just a few hours ago. In the second biggest move so far this season (Johansen for Jones), the Toronto Maple Leafs shipped out former captain Dion Phaneuf to the Ottawa senators for some bad contracts, a decent prospect and a second round pick.

Just in case you haven’t heard the news, here’s the trade in its entirety:

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This trade has a number of moving parts to it, and has advantages for both teams. Here’s the basics.

Why it makes sense for Toronto

This trade is a fantastic deal for Toronto in a number of ways. First of all, if you haven’t been paying attention, the Leafs are trying to lose this year. Trading a guy who – despite everything that’s said about him – is a pretty good defenseman for bad players in return helps out the tank immensely. Though this definitely wasn’t the primary reason for this deal from Toronto’s perspective, it’s a great by-product.

The main reason Toronto made this deal was because they were presented with an opportunity to clear out the worst contract on the team WITHOUT retaining any salary.

Quick side-note: In the past 12 months, the leafs have traded three massive, massive contracts (Kessel, Clarkson, Phaneuf) and have only retained $1.2 million. Again, that’s over $20 million worth of contracts that the Leafs have shipped out. That’s extremely impressive.

Anyways, while Toronto is actually taking on more salary in the short term, at the end of the 2016-2017 season, all the contracts inherited in this trade come off the books. It’s impressive, really. They have found a way yet again to flex their financial muscle in the salary cap era.

Another extremely underrated part of this trade is the fact that Toronto got a very respectable prospect and a second round pick. Like, holy crap. The Leafs should have been sending that to Ottawa just for them NOT to have to retain salary on Dion’s contract. Toronto got a hell of a return for a guy many thought would be extremely hard to move given the money owed to him.

Why it makes sense for Ottawa

While on the surface it looks like a steal from Toronto’s perspective, there are some definite reasons to be happy from Ottawa’s side.

After an impressive season last year, expectations were high for the Sens. After a rough season so far, though, they find themselves four points out of a playoff spot with 28 games left to play. Adding Phaneuf to their lineup without moving out any of their main pieces definitely helps their chances at a spot in the top eight.

Also, let’s not forget, Phaneuf is still a pretty good defenseman. I know, you hear it all the time on TV, radio, etc. that he’s crap. Well, he’s not crap – just miscast as a top pairing guy.

Reports out of Ottawa say that Phaneuf is going to play on the second pairing with Cody Ceci. Ideally, that’s his role. He’s a third or fourth defender on a good team. The addition of Phaneuf actually gives ottawa a pretty solid top four.

Lastly, we all know Ottawa is a budget team. They’re not a big market – big money franchise. So, from an economical standpoint, they win in the short term as they move out some big contracts and save a few million bucks over the remainder of this season and next.

The pieces involved

Alright, so there’s a bunch of players involved in this deal, so here’s a quick profile on each one of them:

Going to Toronto:

Jared Cowan – Cowan is pretty not great, which is actually what the Leafs need right now (helps the tank!). He’s a bottom-pairing guy who, right now, is a fringe NHLer. Worst case scenario, Toronto hold on to him until his contract expires at the end of next year. However, you’ve got to think that there’s a team out there that may take a chance on the former ninth overall pick.

Milan Michalek –  Aging vet who is useful when healthy. Again, his deal is up at the end of next year so if he’s ever able to come back, he can be a solid top nine guy. He’s also another guy that you’d have to think someone would be willing to take on for a year.

Colin Greening – Greening’s an AHLer who will likely never play a game for the Leafs. He’s got a pretty hefty $2.65 million cap hit, so there’s little chance he’ll be able to get moved. Most likely situation is that he sits in the AHL until the end of next season, when he becomes a UFA.
*Quick edit: According to Sportsnet, Greening will actually start with the Leafs. I know nothing, I guess.

Tobias Lindberg – Now here’s where it gets interesting. Lindberg is actually a pretty quality prospect, and is projected to be a useful NHL player. At 6’3, 215 pounds, he’s physically mature enough to play in the NHL right now, according to some. Also, he’s good at #fancystats if you’re in to that sort of thing.


He may end up being the best player in the deal. It’s a long shot, but a definite possibility. We’ll see. Big plus for the Leafs.

Going to Ottawa:

Dion Phaneuf – Again, he’s a top four defenseman who is going to help Ottawa win now. His contract already looks bad, but we’ll see how bad it looks in a few years. Definitely a short sighted move.

Matt Frattin – Aptly dubbed ‘AHLvechkin’ by someone on twitter (I can’t remember who, sorry!) Frattin is a AHL lifer who will likely never contribute at the NHL level. He’s 28-years-old and his contract expires at the end of the season.

Casey Bailey – Honestly, I don’t know much about Bailey. Toronto signed him out of Penn State at the end of last season, and has been on the Marlies ever since. He’s still young (only 24) and may end up being a bottom six NHLer at some point, but that looks less and less likely each day.

Ryan Rupert – Another young player who has never really scored at an impressive rate. He’ll likely never play in the NHL, but then again, weirder things have happened.

Cody Donaghey – Probably the most interesting of the pieces (outside of Phaneuf) that Ottawa is getting back. At 19-years-old, he’s shown a knack for scoring in the QMJHL. Granted, it’s the QMJHL and I could probably score a point or two, but he has some decent numbers nonetheless.

Who won the deal?

This is one of those rare deals where both teams win. There are clear advantages to both sides here, but I do think Toronto comes out on top. Being able to move out that contract while not retaining any salary and getting a high pick and decent prospect is quite a feat. Ottawa definitely wins short term, but I don’t think there’s any question that Toronto comes out on top in the end.

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