Editor’s Note: Throughout the month of August, we’re resurfacing some of our most interesting, entertaining, and popular stories from 2015-16 as part of our NHL Summer Reads collection.
This article, originally published on Feb. 12, 2016, tells the whirlwind, behind-the-scenes story of how the Senators got former Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf out of Blue and White and into Sens colours so quickly after being traded.
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If you looked closely at Dion Phaneuf’s gloves in his first few games with the Ottawa Senators, you’d see they weren’t quite black like his teammates’—more a mottled, navy blue.
The cuffs were bright Sens red, but attached to the gloves with small squares of black nylon hastily sewed on. Loose threads sprouted from the patches like stitches on a busted-open lip that had been repaired on the bench. The weird gloves offered a hint at what had been going on behind the scenes.
When the Senators announced the trade involving Phaneuf and eight other players on Tuesday, they pulled off the equivalent of a mic-drop in the social media age: a true out-of-nowhere trade involving a marquee player and a division rival. But as hockey’s chattering classes were losing their minds over the deal with the Maple Leafs, a polished but rapidly improvised series of moves had already slipped into motion in Ottawa.
Brian Morris, senior director of communications for the Senators, likens it to a new iPhone launch: you want to be the one to announce your big news, rather than someone else leaking a blurry photo and half-baked details (the comparison works another way too: efforts at secrecy nearly always fail in both of those cases).
So a day like Tuesday is a fun day at the office for everyone.
“The ability to drop news into the market like that and really cause front-page news on a moment’s notice, that’s the coolest thing to do,” he says.
According to Senators general manager Bryan Murray, talks got serious over the weekend on the deal that would eventually bring Phaneuf to Ottawa along with forwards Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey and Ryan Rupert and defence prospect Cody Donaghey, while Toronto picked up defenceman Jared Cowen and forwards Colin Greening, Milan Michalek and Tobias Lindberg.
But it wasn’t until Tuesday morning that the agreement was reached between Murray and Toronto GM Lou Lamoriello. Morris had sensed something was in the works, but shortly before 11, he got a heads-up that it was a go. There would be no time later to carefully compose statements, so he created a text document containing a series of tweets and the news release he’d issue with the full details.
All he would have to do was cut and paste when he got the go-ahead.
The trade call to make things official with the league happened around 11 a.m. Ottawa was the team acquiring the marquee player, so the splash would be theirs to make, but the two teams agreed to make the announcement at 11:10 a.m. (as it happened, the Leafs sent out their tweet 15 minutes after that; by then, Ottawa had lit Twitter on fire).
Once the trade was official, Jordan Silmser, Ottawa’s director of team services, started working out how to get Phaneuf from Calgary—where he was with his now-former team—to Detroit, where the Senators would arrive late in the day, in preparation for a game against the Red Wings the following night.
Silmser is the guy who makes the practical things happen—he’s especially adept at handling immigration paperwork—and now he made door-to-door travel arrangements, so Phaneuf just had to step into a waiting car at his hotel. The goal was to get him and his equipment out of Calgary with as little hoopla as possible; within hours, photos made the rounds of Phaneuf at the Calgary airport hauling an equipment bag, a couple of suitcases and a big bundle of hockey sticks.