Thoughts on the Phaneuf Trade

Today was supposed to be a day of pigging out and enjoying some fluffy pancakes. Instead, it was a day of shocking revelations. The Maple Leafs traded former captain Dion Phaneuf to their arch-rival Ottawa Senators in a nine-player blockbuster deal.

Trade Breakdown

The full details of the trade are as follows, according to James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail: The Senators receive Phaneuf, forward Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey, Ryan Rupert, and defenceman Cody Donaghey in exchange for forward Milan Michalek, Colin Greening, defenceman Jared Cowen, prospect Tobias Lindberg, and a 2017 second round draft pick. No salary was retained from either team.

Thoughts on the Trade

That is a massive trade, one that the Leafs needed to make not just for short term, but for the long term plan.

While Phaneuf has had a bounce-back season statistically speaking, it seemed that he did not really have a place on the team towards the end of the rebuild. His age, decreasing role, and the emergence of promising defenceman in the system could also play a part in the reasoning of his departure.

Some of you on Twitter today reminded me of this, but Phaneuf has also not been a great player in the advanced stats category. When paired with his usual partner this season, Gardiner, Phaneuf has been a positive possession player. However, with anyone else, his numbers drop significantly, meaning that Phaneuf has the puck less when Gardiner was on the bench.

Essentially, this means that Phaneuf was intentionally kept up to this point so that his value could increase significantly so that another team could be suckered into seeking his service. Sort of like a pump and dump approach, as Jonathan Willis of the Bleacher Report described it.

As for the other assets that the Leafs gave up, they are nothing too spectacular and, if anything, their departure is more of a positive than a negative.

Casey Bailey, while still young enough to be part of the rebuild, never really impressed and has accumulated underwhelming stats for the best team in the AHL so far. His only highlight has to be this goal on Carey Price at the end of last season.

Matt Frattin, in his second stint with the Leafs, has also underachieved during his time in the NHL and is likely going to be a career AHLer.

Ryan Rupert did show some promise in junior but is currently playing in the ECHL. Like Frattin, he too appears to be a career AHLer.

The only real loss in this trade may be Cody Donaghey as he still has some promise and potential. However, since he was undrafted for two years and has put up ok stats in junior, it is likely not going to be anything special in the NHL. Only time will tell, though.

With that being said, the assets that are coming to Toronto are an interesting bunch, to say the least. 

Starting off with Jared Cowen, the big defenceman taken two picks after Nazem Kadri in the 2009 draft, he is a player who has failed to meet the high expectations placed upon him since he signed his $3.1 million contract two seasons ago. While not expected to be a high-scoring player on the backend, he did put up 17 points in his rookie season and has failed to reach that mark since. 

Lately, Cowen has been a healthy scratch for the Senators which, at this point in the season, means you will likely be traded. This deal brings forth a fresh start for the 25-year-old and an opportunity to bring life back to his career, which seemed to be on a steep decline.

Colin Greening, a former 7th round draft pick, is also a player who hasn't reached the ridiculous expectations given to him. Following two straight successful seasons, one of which he posted a career-high 37 points as a depth forward, he too has been in a steep decline in production, ice-time, and performance. He is currently in his prime at the ripe age of 29, so he likely to be more of a trading asset than anything.

Milan Michalek has been a serviceable player throughout his entire career and has played well everywhere he has been. Formally a consistent 50 point man, his production has been in decline due to his inability to stay in the lineup long term due to injuries. (sound familiar?) When healthy, Michalek can be a serviceable player and could provide a much-needed offensive spark to a goal-starved team.

The most interesting acquisition of this trade has to be Tobias Lindberg and the second round pick for next year. Lindberg is currently in his first pro hockey season and has performed well on one of the poorest teams in the AHL. A Memorial Cup win with the Oshawa Generals just last year, the former fourth-rounder will slot well into the Marlies lineup and make an already dangerous roster scarier. He could find himself in the NHL within a few years. The second round pick could result in a useful player down the road, so good on the Leafs for picking one up.

My Take on the Trade

It was a trade that had to be made and a smart one done by the trade master himself: Lou Lamoriello. The key for this trade was that the Leafs remove themselves from the long-term contract that Phaneuf carries and focus on spending money on assets needed down the road. While the current cap situation has worsened with the arrival of Cowen, Greening, and Michalek, it is only for the short term. The three combine to take up $9.75 million against the cap up until the end of next season, while Phaneuf will be under the Senators books for the next five seasons at $7 million. Phaneuf could have been a useful player once the rebuild ended, but his departure helps speed things up and gives the Leafs more trading assets to work with.

The other key to this trade was the acquisition of Lindberg and the draft pick. Clearly, Lamoriello recognizes that the likes of Bailey, Frattin, Rupert, and Donaghey do not have a place on the team and will not turn out to be anything spectacular. One of Lamoriello's skills as a GM is his assessment of talent, which is usually bang on. It is also worth noting that there were reports that the Leafs had their eye on Lindberg for quite some time. This indicates that Lamoriello and the Leafs management recognize that Lindberg has high potential and has a place on the roster long term. 

We won't be able to fully grade the trade until a few years from now once the dust settles and we see how each side fares out. For now, though, while it helps the Senators for right now, it seems clear to me that the Leafs win this trade.

Questions that come because of the Trade

- Do the Leafs stick with Cowen or buy him out in the offseason? While he still has some potential to improve his game significantly and stick in the NHL long term, he could be a buyout candidate. This is because of the unique situation he would be in as should he be bought out, his cap will be under a million dollars, which is very low. You can read more about the idea here.

- How long will Greening and Michalek stick with the Leafs? Both players clearly don't have a place on the team past the rebuild, so it is clear that they will likely be traded at some point. The question, however, is when? The two veterans will be under contract until the end of next season and have not had much playing time this season. The safe bet is that they will likely be moved next year unless they both take off offensively for the next few weeks. For the time being, get to know these players before they are moved at next year's deadline.

- Who is the next player to be moved? Lamoriello made it clear that the trade opens up a bunch of cap space "to do things." To put it in simpler terms, there will be more trades made before the deadline. As for who will be moved next, that idea is still up in the air. I already wrote about players to keep an eye on last week, and nearly everyone on that list (besides Phaneuf, of course) are prime candidates to be moved. Regardless, the days leading up to February 29th should be exciting.

- What does Phaneuf's absence mean for the defensive core? Phaneuf's departure obviously leaves a big hole to fill in the immediate future. Cowen joins a defensive core that includes Rielly, Gardiner, Hunwick, Polak, Marincin, and Corrado. Not exactly a strong core right now, isn't it? However, this does benefit Rielly, Gardiner, and Corrado, as all three will most likely see an increase in ice-time down the stretch, which could lead to more offense. Cowen will also see a slightly increased role as well, but will be evaluated the rest of the way. As previously stated, he could be out the door as early as this offseason, so good play could extend his tenure in Toronto by more than a few months.

- Is #TankNation in full flight now? The copout answer is yes with a capital Y. Having said that, this was the expectations going into this season regardless. What Phaneuf's departure means is that the Leafs have improved their chances at acquiring the prized prospect of the upcoming draft, Auston Matthews, not assure it.

- Who becomes the next captain? This is a question that won't be answered until months down the road but is nonetheless intriguing to ponder. There are a number of potential candidates for this role, including Rielly, Kadri, van Riemsdyk, or even someone not in the organization. It is not known at this point who is or will emerge as the leader of the roster, but the question of who will become the 19th captain of the Maple Leafs will be talked about for the next few months.



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