Ottawa GM: Phaneuf trade hard for Michalek to accept

Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray talks about acquiring Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf.

The best player the Toronto Maple Leafs received in Tuesday’s Dion Phaneuf blockbuster was the hardest one for Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray to deal away.

Milan Michalek had battled under Murray in Ottawa for longer than most players’ careers last. He is currently sidelined indefinitely because he blocked a shot and broke a finger in his right hand — for the second time this season. The 31-year-old is under contract through 2016-17 at $4 million per year and had to waive a no-movement clause in order to seal the deal.

So when Murray was wrestling late Saturday night with the idea of pulling the trigger, he couldn’t sleep.

“It’s as much about Milan as anybody,” the Senators GM told Hockey Central at Noon Wednesday. “It is a difficult part of the job. You get to know these guys. They’re good people. They have families [and] a community they’re connected to.”

LISTEN: Bryan Murray talks implications of Phaneuf trade

A native of small-town Czech Republic (Jindrichuv Hradec, population: 22,700), Michalek enjoys Ottawa’s low-key culture — something he won’t find in the Centre of the Hockey Universe. Murray said Michalek and agent Allan Walsh needed time to think about green-lighting the trade.

Murray granted permission to the Leafs to speak to Michalek before the deal was finalized, and both GM Lou Lamoriello and head coach Mike Babcock had brief conversations with the player before he agreed to move to Toronto.

“You know, Brian, I’ve played against Toronto for seven years now. It’s been a real rivalry,” Murray recalls Michalek saying. “It’s hard for me to accept, but at the end of the day, I understand what you’re doing in Ottawa.”

Once a 35-goal scorer, Michalek has seen his production dip this season, posting just six goals and four assists in 32 games. At $4-million a year, he’s under-delivering, no doubt, but Murray believes he can still contribute offensively while bringing the intangibles so craved by the Maple Leafs. (Blocking 2.35 shots per 60 minutes isn’t serving him well, though.)

“He’ll go there and he’ll be one of the veterans that Mike Babcock leans on going forward,” Murray said. “He’s a tremendous guy. You’ll see when he gets to Toronto that he’s a quiet man, but he’s fit. Works very hard. He’s a very good pro.”

Who knows? A bounce-back campaign in 2016-17 could see the Leafs flip Michalek for a draft pick at the 2017 trade deadline.

Michalek was critical to the deal from Ottawa’s perspective, financially. Though the Leafs benefit from  the long-term relief, the Senators save $1.4 million in salary cap space this season and $4.2 million in 2016-17.

Which means Murray could reload and go trade hunting again, for a forward, before Feb. 29.

“I am going to pursue something else,” said Murray, eyeing a winger who can contribute for the next couple of seasons. “I’m not going to take a guy at the end of a contract.

“I’m not interested in getting a guy that’s a UFA at the end of the year.”

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