Maple Leafs Trade Tree: Phaneuf to Senators two years later


Ottawa Senators defenceman Dion Phaneuf. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

February 9 is the second anniversary of the second Dion Phaneuf trade.

The Phaneuf trade to Ottawa is still surreal to me. It’s one of the few trades that feels like it was 10 years ago and 10 days ago at the exact same time.

First, let’s look at the results of the Phaneuf trade tree between the Leafs and Sens, so far.

There are two kinds of Phaneuf trades: Big trades and bigger trades. The first Phaneuf trade from Calgary to Toronto involved eight players. The second Phaneuf trade between Toronto and Ottawa involved nine players and a draft pick.

A brief synopsis…

The Leafs and Senators have kept just two assets each from this trade. Casey Bailey played seven games for the Senators before going to the minors, Ryan Rupert is an NHL free agent playing in the ECHL and Matt Frattin never even made it to Ottawa in the first place, having been immediately loaned back the the Toronto Marlies.

For the Leafs, Milan Michalek played 18 games over two seasons and even scored in Toronto’s home-opener against Boston last season before being begrudgingly relegated to the minors. Then of course there’s the Jared Cowen fiasco featuring animosity, arbitration, and eventually, a buyout.

After originally being a cap dump in this deal, Colin Greening had a decent NHL stint in 2015-16 and an admirable performance in the AHL last season. The Leafs decided to sign him to a one-year $750,000 NHL contract that pays him the same amount of money to play in the AHL. There are worse ways to make a living.

The Leafs kept Ottawa’s 2017 second-round pick and used it to draft hulking Finnish defender Eemeli Rasanen. He’s 6-foot-7, 205 pounds, and still 18-years-old. He reminds me of this description of Hagrid from Harry Potter: Too big to be allowed.

Lastly, there’s Tobias Lindberg, who the Leafs dealt to Vegas in the deal that brought them Calvin Pickard. Now, to say “The Leafs got Pickard for Lindberg” isn’t accurate. I tried to say that recently and the person I was talking to corrected me pretty quick. Lindberg is a big, skilled 22-year-old forward who might make it back to the NHL one day, but in the context of this trade, and considering how deep the Marlies are, he was essentially a roster spot.

If he’s a rockstar for Vegas, which would shock nobody given how their season has gone, I’ll eat my words.

The Senators still have Cody Donaghey, a 21-year-old defender playing his first year of professional hockey in the ECHL with the Brampton Beast.

Then, of course, there’s Dion Phaneuf.

This season has gone about as badly as it could for the Ottawa Senators, on almost every front. Every time owner Eugene Melnyk opens his mouth there’s a commotion. The Matt Duchene trade has been very complicated up until Duchene’s recent resurgence and people are wondering how the Sens are going to pay Erik Karlsson when the time comes before July 2019.

Likewise, Phaneuf’s production this season (three goals, 12 assists in 51 games) has been below his usual 30 point-pace. One thing I’ve heard from some Leafs fans is that Phaneuf’s cap hit, which is $7 million, is going to make it harder for Ottawa to sign Erik Karlsson.

I thought that was true until a few days ago when someone showed me an old video of mine.

The video was from the pre-Babcock days. The Leafs stunk and were selling at the beginning of their rebuild. Dark times. I was lamenting the way Leafs fans once viewed the Flames-Leafs Phaneuf deal. The writing was on the wall. The Leafs were going to trade everybody, including Dion. I said something to the effect of, “What the Leafs got out of the first Phaneuf trade will be whatever they get out of the second one.”

The same could be true for the Senators. Yes, Phaneuf has a no movement clause, but plenty of players have been traded despite having one, including Phaneuf. Teams are seriously considering trading a second-rounder for Tomas Plekanec. I’m sure somebody out there will gladly take Phaneuf.

At the time, the deal that sent Phaneuf to Ottawa was supposed to save the Senators some money up front while also strengthening their roster. Many called the Senators lucky a year ago, but that doesn’t change the fact that they made the playoffs despite huge injuries, eliminated the Bruins in Round 1, knocked out the Rangers in Round 2 and came within a goal of the Stanley Cup Final against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Penguins.

When it comes to evaluating this deal, I’d argue both teams got what they wanted.

The Leafs traded their captain, starting a scorched earth barrage of rebuilding trades. They took on some money up front to save money long-term, and got some assets that they still have or turned into other assets.

The Senators got better right away and almost made it to the Stanley Cup Final. Did they make it all the way? No, but only one team per season does. Sometimes you’ve got to shoot your shot and Ottawa did. The final and maybe most notable thing about this trade tree: No trade tree is ever over until it’s over.

And if the Senators trade Phaneuf, this tree could grow a lot taller.

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