May 11 2014 06:54PM
It looks like the Leafs have figured out. After allowing the most shots against by any team ever in an 82 game season, their logical plan to repair things is as follows: keep the "defensive minded" coach who oversaw things for an extra couple of years, and trade your team's most talented defenceman months after giving him a seven year contract. Wait, what?
Disagree with Kypreos' opinions as you wish, but if he's reporting this, there's likely to be some truth to it. At this point, he's one of the best in the business in terms of "insider information", and more importantly, he reported Phaneuf's extension negotiations with near-perfect term and dollars two months before it happened. As well, the Spezza speculation has been out there for a few weeks.
There are a couple of reasons this trade probably is likely to go down:
First off, the Leafs have been big on "leadership" as an excuse for what happened. Never mind the fact that their breakout is designed to encourage opposition takeaways, and that their dump and chase style gives up the puck to the other team. The team obviously just isn't courageous, mentally tough, or whatever you want to call it enough to put out proper compete level.
Naturally, if you're going to pump out an excuse that has no real means of quantification and uses a buzz word that ultimately gets associated with captaincy, that means that the large percentage of people who will listen to you will conclude that the captain is the problem. If teams see value in him, that's an easy sell to buy some time.
Secondly, the Leafs' ideas as to how exactly money works in this league haven't come to fruition. As it turns out, when you sign a third line winger to a 7-year, 35+ million dollar contract, you have to worry about more than just "Year 1". Especially when he underperforms in that year and has a value in the negatives, and double especially when the Canadian Dollar drops in a league that relies on northern money to fuel it's revenue-driven salary cap. The Leafs have $22 million to sign (or find replacements for) the following.
- David Bolland
- Nikolai Kulemin
- Jay McClement
- Mason Raymond
- Cody Franson
- Paul Ranger
- Jake Gardiner
- James Reimer
That's without looking at some of the lower profile guys, and that's without looking at upgrades. They're going to have to shed some big contracts. Phil Kessel is a lock to stay, David Clarkson and Tim Gleason are locks for the opposite reasons, James van Riemsdyk is playing for way below market value, They've hyped up Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak too much to consider trading them in space-creation measures. Though ironically, it may not be a terrible idea to sell them now while their value is higher than it'll be down the road.
Phaneuf is the perfect storm of a high cap hit, sufficient interest, and rankings in the PR chain.
Lastly, if there's a time to second guess their commitment, this is the right one. Phaneuf's value isn't at an all time high, but it's probably higher than it will be in a few years. As well, he doesn't have any no-trade or movement clauses at the moment. There's conflicting information as to whether he does on the new one (TSN says limited NTC, Capgeek has nothing), but if he does, that limits their options. It's now or never.
Does It Make The Leafs Better?
Of course, the big picture is going to rely on what the Leafs are able to get for him, if he's moved. As well, it also relies on who they bring in with the cap space (presumably) gained.
But at face value? Trading Phaneuf is likely to make the Leafs worse.
I wrote this back in November about where I felt Phaneuf's value was compared to similar UFA-age defencemen in the cap era, and it comes to more than the $7 million he's making. The Leafs will either need to develop a replacement themselves (extremely difficult) or eventually bring in a similar player for what will probably be more money.
Phaneuf's game has stayed relatively consistent over the past year. He faced the highest quality of competition amongst defencemen once again. He was on the ice for 62.5% of Toronto's PP time, and 52.4% of their penalty kill. He spent more more of his time in the defensive zone than any defenceman. His possession stats weren't particularly great, but there's a strong correlation between defensive zone starts and poor possession (it's common sense, really). The same goes for his offensive numbers; it's hard to score goals if you're only in the appropriate zone once in a blue moon.
I don't think anybody is going to jump out at you and scream to the heavens that Phaneuf is in the elite class of defencemen, but he's a very good one that lacks a truly capable partner on a team that defaults to him when they face adversity. Combine who he faces for as long as he does on the ice, what he and his teammates are told to do, and the rotation of guys who he finds on his right, and he effectively carries the load of two guys on his own.
In this respect, I feel like the best case scenario would be to get somebody to play with him. Trading him, in my opinion, doesn't seem to be the best option. But to justify, mask, and potentially mend mistakes that the staff have made of late, it's probably the one that they see as the best.
As for Spezza, I can't wait until they trade him and reunite MacArthur - Grabovski - Kulemin with the cap savings. You just know it's coming....