Dave Nonis says the Toronto Maple Leafs intend to sign Dion Phaneuf to a contract extension.
Phaneuf, 28, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2013-14 season but the Leafs want to keep the team’s No. 1 defenceman and captain in Toronto.
“I think at the end of the day we’re going to try and get Dion signed,” Nonis said Thursday on the Jeff Blair Show on Sportsnet 590 the Fan. “Whether that comes to fruition or not, you never know but it’s our intention to get him signed.”
The Leafs have relied heavily on their captain this season. Phaneuf is the team leader in ice time and has logged significant minutes on the penalty kill and power play.
In 21 games, Phaneuf has two goals, nine assists with a plus-11 rating and the Leafs’ front office has been pleased with his performance.
“He sets the tone for our group,” said Nonis. “He’s improved dramatically. His play has been good. You look at how many minutes he plays every night. He plays against the other teams’ top players. He doesn’t complain about how he’s used.”
The biggest change with Phaneuf, according to Nonis, has been his dramatically improved leadership skills and how much he’s grown into the captain’s role since coming to Toronto.
“Dion had a lot to learn about being a captain and he’s done a very good job to improve in that area. Being the captain of the Leafs is different than being the captain of most teams. He was a young guy that took over a team that was struggling and he’s really improved in that area. You can ask our players. They’re all following him.”
The tough part now for Nonis is finding a number and term for Phaneuf, who currently has a cap hit of $6.5 million, that fits into the Leafs’ salary structure.
“It has to be the right number and has to fit for us so we can continue to build our team,” said Nonis. “Whether it’s next week or March 1, it doesn’t make a difference to me.”
The Leafs have approximately $22.9 million in cap space (according to Capgeek.com) for the 2014-15 season but have a large list of impending free agents this summer including Phaneuf, Dave Bolland, Nikolai Kulemin, Jay McClement, Mason Raymond, Mark Fraser, Paul Ranger, and James Reimer.