I am having a tough time figuring out why so many people think Brian Burke got the better of Darryl Sutter in the Dion Phaneuf trade. Just because Phaneuf is far and away the most-talented player in the deal doesn’t make it an automatic win for the Leafs.
Here’s why — and I’m only going to look at if from Sutter’s point of view, for now.
1. Something was clearly wrong with the mix in Calgary. Everyone knows that Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr did not get along very well off the ice, and weren’t a great pair on it. Sure teammates don’t have to be best friends to perform well but it helps if they communicate. And from what we’re hearing Phaneuf and Regehr hardly spoke at all. As for why the pairing never seemed to pan out when put together? My guess is that Regehr is at his best when he has a predictable partner, and no one ever accused Phaneuf of being that.
2. Phaneuf has far more trade value than Regehr. He’s more of a “sexy” player. Say what you want about the returns for Phaneuf, Sutter couldn’t have gotten that much for Regehr.
3. Everyone talks about Phaneuf’s upside. And why not? What he did in his first two seasons was remarkable for a young defenceman. But what good is one player’s potential if the friction he causes with teammates doesn’t allow them to come close to their potential? At what cost do you hang on to an elite player if he doesn’t get on well with the other guys in the room? Chemistry among all the players is far more valuable than the potential upside of one.
4. And then there is the issue of salary. Not many players (especially defencemen) in the league are worthy of a $6.5-million cap hit. Those who get up to that level better be game changers — for better far more often than for worse. Even if Sutter decides not to sign Stajan, Mayers and White after the season, he has cleared up a tremendous amount of cap space to try and get a player who fits in well with his team. And yes, I too believe he will re-sign White. I was just trying to make a point.
Let’s face it folks. It wasn’t working in Calgary with the group Sutter had. And whether you or I think he got enough for Phaneuf is irrelevant to the GM in Calgary because he knows that his club wasn’t going anywhere with what he had. It doesn’t matter if Phaneuf turns out to be the next Scott Stevens in Toronto because that clearly wasn’t going to happen in Calgary. Just like it won’t matter to Sutter if Phaneuf turns out to be more like Bryan McCabe than Stevens. Sutter needed to do what was best for his team, and I believe he did that yesterday.