February 9, 2016. The date Maple Leafs captaincy was vacated by who may have been the most scrutinized captain in the storied franchises history. This date is often celebrated as the official start of, what has been far shorter than expected, the Maple Leafs rebuild. This trade was celebrated as it removed what many fans viewed as one of the largest and immoveable contract on the team. However, much like the Phil Kessel trade (Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins), Phaneuf’s role and skill-set has been appreciated from afar and can be looked upon as a valuable piece to any contending team. With Phaneuf’s value to a contender in mind, he is still being overpaid for what he offers. Likely what pushed him out of town in the first place.
Now days away from teams submitting their protection lists to the NHL, rumours are beginning to swirl about teams who are in far more trouble than many people may have thought. It has been well documented how the Senators may have found themselves in a little bit of a bind when it comes down to their defencemen protections. Obviously, they will protect the playoff MVP, or who should’ve been, Erik Karlsson. With Karlsson, the Senators are projected to want to protect his long-time partner in Marc Methot and young rear-guard Cody Ceci.
Expansion rules make it so that any player that has a no-movement clause must waive said clause in order to be exposed. Unfortunately for our Ontario rivals, Phaneuf appears unwilling to waive his modified no-movement clause and be exposed for the draft. Although it may be hard to fathom a team willing to take on a 7 million dollar contract for the next four years. The Golden Knights are in a unique position where they are more-likely more concerned with hitting their cap-floor than staying below their ceiling. Having a presence and name like Phaneuf’s on your roster for your team’s opening game in the league is not unthinkable.
However, like many GMs, Pierre Dorion does not want to lose a valuable piece to the Golden Knights for nothing. Darren Dreger reported this earlier this week:
There is trade interest in Phaneuf. Final 4 yrs at $7-$6.5-$6.5-$6.5-$6.5. Quality shutdown guy, but Sens likely to take contract/$ back.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) June 15, 2017
The most interesting part of this tweet is not the fact that there is interest in Phaneuf, but that the Senators are willing to retain salary on his contract. Remember, one of his greatest faults as a player is the cap-hit he holds.
The question is, how much would the Sens be willing to eat? There are many factors that can effect this: the competitive market, a GM that is willing to overpay for a name (say, Jim Benning), and how much cap-space the Senators are willing to lose just to keep from losing a player like Marc Methot (how much more value does Methot have over Phaneuf?). Let’s say for arguments sake that the Senators are willing to hold 2.5 million of his cap-hit annually for the remainder of the contract. 2.5M does sound like a lot, but let’s not forget about the Senator’s hesitance to spend money and that the fact that the real dollars don’t line up with Phaneuf’s cap-hit.
At a 4.5 million dollar AAV Phaneuf suddenly sounds like a much more attractive defencemen. Based strictly on age, games played, and point similarities here is a list of contract comparable from Cap Friendly:
Compared to the most expensive contract on that list, Dustin Byfuglien, whose contract resembles Phaneuf’s the most, he is a far lesser defender based on player comparison on ownthepuck.blogspot.ca:
Compared to the least expensive contract on the list, Kris Russell, Phaneuf is an improvement or par in every category:
Phaneuf at a cap-hit of 4.5 million AAV seems like it may be a reasonably valuable player. So how does Phaneuf compare to defencemen around the league?
Even though Phaneuf’s offensive numbers flirt or are even on par with that of a number two defencemen, his shot-suppression numbers take him out of that conversation. In comparison with a second pair defender, or top-four roll, Phaneuf definitely fits the build. His top-pair offensive numbers are enough to keep his poor suppression numbers from taking him out of a top-four roll.
Does he fit with the Leafs?
When compared to versions of Dion Phaneuf of years past he would check off a lot of boxes: He is a top-four defencemen with high offensive upside, he is a high character guy that would not need to fill the same leadership role he held previously, and at 4.5 million dollar cap-hit his price tag finally fits his role.
So why shouldn’t the Leafs consider their old captain? He shoots left. Phaneuf still carries a lot of value, just not for his old team. The left side already boast two players capable of playing a top-four roll, and both are younger – Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner. Not to mention the fact that many people have Travis Dermott pencilled in as their third guy.
Phaneuf won’t end up back in the blue and white, but don’t be surprised as Leafs fans if you are watching him hoisting the cup in the coming year on a championship team, with a lower cap-hit, at the expense of our Ontario rivals.