If things keep going downhill for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Dion Phaneuf, a change in scenery might not be too far around the corner.
For all the criticism Phaneuf receives, he is one of the most productive blueliners in the league and has been since he made his NHL debut 10 seasons ago. He shoulders the bulk of the blame for the Maple Leafs’ defensive woes – he hasn’t finished a game with a plus rating since Dec. 23 – even though he’s not the reason the team is struggling.
It’s not unlike the situation Bryan McCabe found himself in toward the end of his tenure in Toronto before he was shipped out of town. Though it’s not an inevitability he gets dealt, Phaneuf’s name is out there.
Phaneuf doesn’t have an easy contract to move because he’s being paid like a franchise defenceman despite the fact he isn’t playing like one. His salary cap hit is $7 million annually until 2021, which means if the Leafs were to move the 29-year-old, they might have to retain some salary to get a deal done — depending on what Dave Nonis and Co. get in return.
With that in mind, here are five potential trade destinations for the Maple Leafs captain should they look to move him.
Colorado Avalanche: Last year when Phaneuf’s name was brought up in trade rumours, Elliotte Friedman told Sportsnet 960 The Fan the Avalanche were a potential fit. With Ryan O’Reilly’s name currently out there, some variation of Phaneuf for O’Reilly is a plausible scenario. The Avalanche, a team that relies too heavily on its goaltending, has been looking to bolster its blue line for some time. Jan Hejda, a pending UFA, is having an underwhelming season, and Phanuef would be an upgrade on the top pair beside Erik Johnson. A deal with the Avs would also reunite Phaneuf with his old buddy Jarome Iginla.
Potential trade chips: Ryan O’Reilly, Joey Hishon, Nick Holden, Jamie McGinn
Anaheim Ducks: This one might seem like a long shot, but consider this: Ducks GM Bob Murray has made 13 separate trades with the Maple Leafs since 2009. Francois Beauchemin is set to become an unrestricted free agent, and the salaries of Sheldon Souray, Eric Brewer and Ilya Bryzgalov are coming off the books at season’s end. The Ducks will have room on the blue line and money to spend. Phaneuf could do great things playing beside Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen or Cam Fowler – three of Anaheim’s outstanding young defencemen. Phaneuf would also add some muscle to complement a smooth-skating defensive corps.
Potential trade chips: Matt Beleskey, Devante Smith-Pelly, Nick Ritchie, Shea Theodore, Nick Sorensen
Los Angeles Kings: On a recent episode of Hockey Night in Canada, Friedman suggested a Phaneuf for Mike Richards swap would make sense for all parties involved. Know what? Friedge ain’t wrong. Both men are on long-term deals with high cap hits attached, and it feels as though the 2004 world junior teammates could both use a change in scenery. The Leafs are always in need of a quality two-way centre who can go up against an opposing team’s top line, and with the future of Slava Voynov in question, the Kings could be in need of another talented blueliner able to chew up minutes to alleviate pressure off Drew Doughty.
Potential trade chips: Mike Richards, Valentin Zykov, Nick Ebert, Brayden McNabb
Edmonton Oilers: Both the Oilers and Maple Leafs have essentially entered overhaul mode, and the Oilers have a handful of talented, young forwards they could use as bait to land Phaneuf. If the Oilers end up with either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel at the draft, it will be easier for them to part ways with one of their previous high draft picks. The current Leafs captain would be a solid fit with the Oilers for a number of reasons. First and foremost, he would be a significant upgrade to a blue line that has been a mess for years. Last season the Oilers allowed a league-worst 3.26 goals against per game and through 47 games this season they’re actually worse, giving up 3.3 goals per game. Some of that is poor goaltending. A lot of that is poor defence, and Phaneuf would immediately become the team’s best defenceman. He has valuable leadership qualities like Oilers captain Andrew Ference, and he could act as a mentor for a young defenceman like Darnell Nurse. Phaneuf is also from Edmonton, which could endear him to the fan base.
Potential trade chips: Nail Yakupov, Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz, Bogdan Yakimov, Martin Marincin
Dallas Stars: Stars general manager Jim Nill desperately wanted to add a top-pair defenceman last off-season but wasn’t able to. Based on this season’s results, there’s no doubt Nill still aims to do that — and Phaneuf could be the player. The Stars have one of the worst power-plays in the league, operating at a mere 15 percent success rate, and a player like Phaneuf could quarterback the man-advantage. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn — obviously — plus Jason Spezza, Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley in all likelihood are off the table, so the Leafs would have to rely on getting a solid prospect coupled with a high draft pick rather than a top-six forward or top-four defenceman.
Potential trade chips: Cody Eakin, Brett Ritchie, Radek Faksa, Jason Dickinson, John Klingberg, Jamie Oleksiak