CaptaincYouLater? Phaneuf in Trade Rumours


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?


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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….

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  • STAN

    All due respect Jeffler, but I say you’re wrong.

    Since the day Burke acquired Phaneuf I’ve been trying to convince people that he is a mistake-prone, over-hyped dunderhead who folds when the going gets tough. Check the video – the evidence is there. Sure, there are moments of excellence, but they are few and far between.

    Phaneuf has instilled just the opposite of leadership in Toronto. I still say that it’s his false reputation that got him that stupid first contract from Sutter and Brian Burke willingly took it. Now Burke’s lifetime right-hand man Nonis has given him and even worse contract. Makes no sense.

    I contend when the rest of the Leafs see the lack of skating, lack of crisp passes, lack of a hockey brain in their ‘Captain’, it drives them crazy.. and their play suffers for it.

    The only thing to do is convince Burke to take him back. For anything. A couple of high picks would be great.

    Put the Phaneuf era behind them and move on. I think Rielly could be another Jonathan Toews (in the leadership department).

    Meantime, let the players vote on a Captain. I bet Kadri would get lots of support.

    • TGT23

      Saying it doesn’t actually make you correct.

      Dion isn’t more mistake-prone than the vast majority of d-man, the difference is that he doesn’t have anyone with him on his pairing to take any pressure off him. He’s expected to be the big-shooting blue line offensive catalyst AND a shutdown d-man at the same time in the same shift.

      You’re assuming things and making ridiculous, baseless assumptions on what the team thinks and feels about Phaneuf. Blaming Dion for their mistakes and his own is the reason you think he is mistake prone.

      Does he make mistakes? Sure?. Most players who play 25 minutes nightly will make a mistake here and there. Take Dion off the team and they don’t get better. They actually get a lot worse.

      Dion is young, he is talented, he is a solid piece on a blue line if they get him a proper D partner. If you think Gunner is a top pairing 1B d-men and that Phaneuf isn’t carrying him, you show your ridiculous bias.

  • TGT23

    What I love most is that two of the rumoured teams interested in Dion Phaneuf are St. Louis and Anaheim. Two teams that made the playoffs.

    So, a guy you say sucks and shouldn’t be on this team and blah, blah, blah, might end up traded to teams that are significantly better, with better d-men to surround Dion with, and have Cup aspirations.

    Oh, but no, YOU must be right about how bad Phaneuf is because of your years of experience not being an NHL GM. You must be right because you’ve been saying something for years and no one has or currently agrees with you.

    Because when no one agrees except other non-GM’s or scouts or even journalists, then you must be right.

  • STAN

    Are you serious? Kypreos reports a new person on the block every week, he’s the one who starts Kessel trade rumours if he doesn’t score in two games. I know it’s not exactly busy season but don’t re-spew this crap out like it’s actually relevant…. Come on, Jeffler.

    Also Stan, Kadri for captain? Please go insert your head in the oven, thanks.

    • FlareKnight

      Actually dreger is way worse for having the entire leafs team on the trade block. The guys a dunce. Bob McKenzie is the only good thing to happen to TSN. That and the lack of hockey they will show cus Duffy annoys me.

  • Evan

    Even if it is just a rumour, this does still make for interesting speculation. Regardless of whether or not he’s a true “Number 1”, it seems pretty clear that Dion is — for the time being at least — the best defenceman on the Leafs. He’s certainly valuable to them. If Dion were traded to, say, Edmonton, then he would be the best defenceman on that team. In fact, I’d argue that the Oilers would be a credible playoff team if they added Dion. What is that worth?

    Before lambasting any potential trade of Phaneuf as a disaster, it does seem important to ask what assets might be coming back the other way. If Edmonton were willing to trade Yakupov and their first round pick for Dion, would you make the deal?

  • Evan


    Your first comment is spot on in my opinion, systematically unpacking and exposing some pretty faulty reasoning, but I think your second comment is out of line.

    Don’t lambast someone simply for having an opinion outside the status quo. If everyone held the ‘you’re not a GM, scout or sports journalist so your automatically wrong’ stance, sites like this wouldn’t exist.

    • TGT23

      You misunderstand the point of my second post. And while it may have come off as overly harsh or an anti-unconventional wisdom post, that isn’t what I meant.

      While it is fine to have a contrary opinion, you shouldn’t parade around claiming it to be fact when the consensus says you’re wrong.

      Don’t hang your bias from a banner and tell everyone how wrong they are because they aren’t you. Especially when the majority of people paid to know things don’t agree.

      People who say the Leafs can’t win with Dion or that he is awful are ignoring the overwhelming number of analysts, scouts, GM’s, and reporters who say different.

      If two teams that are Cup contending teams believe bringing in a guy increases their chance of winning a cup, it is ridiculous to then state that the team that he is presently on is hurt by having him on the roster.

      An opinion based on bias and ignorance of evidence and consensus is not a good opinion.

      Conventional wisdom isn’t always right, it can be wrong, but a lot of these people are in the positions they are because they are right more often than not. So, if the majority say Dion Phaneuf is a good to great d-man and cup contending teams say he can help them, then I see no reason not to have that player on my team.

      The bloggers you talk about. The ones on this site. They do a lot of research, read other blogs, read GM quotes, read articles and analytics and put it all together to come to an opinion. Those people I like.

      The people like STAN have an opinion based on whether or not they like someone and every failure thereafter compounds their bias and every success ignored so as not to detract from it.

      I cannot stand those people.

      • TGT23

        I agree with you, and with the first half of your second post. I just didn’t find the second part conducive to any reasonable discussion.

        “Oh, but no, YOU must be right about how bad Phaneuf is because of your years of experience not being an NHL GM. You must be right because you’ve been saying something for years and no one has or currently agrees with you.

        Because when no one agrees except other non-GM’s or scouts or even journalists, then you must be right.”

        While I didn’t agree at all with what STAN was saying, in this instance I didn’t feel he was parading it around as fact or anything other than his opinion. Now I hold that opinion in little regard because it seems completely unfounded, but I’m not going to attack him for having it.

        Really though its a bit unfair of me to jump in without an understanding of the history between you and STAN and, again, I agree with you. I just didn’t find that one comment constructive. That’s all.

  • jasken

    It’s like a stated before he was one of 3 I looked to get rid of. I could sit and point out endless mistakes he made but their irrelevant just like his stats are irrelevant. He is too slow and lacks the ability to play with this type of attack. Teams that want him know that he would match their style of play.

    This all happens and will continue to happen as long as the winger is not in a proper attacking position that allows him to be in a defensive position if possession is lost. This attack cant blaming a d-man or center does not justify why the winger is not in a supporting position.

    2 wingers left of center doesn’t provide any support to right d-man is costly. Blaming a d-man, changing does not fix this problem the best it will do is limit the vulnerability of it if their lucky.

  • jasken


    The comment about the teams also stated they would only pay him 5-6 mil not 7 mil meaning the Leafs would have to take some salary back. Sorry thought all the rumor should actually come out there.

    So a month in to his service Shanahan has approached Carlyle told him he can leave with his assistance or re-up and keep is job but Shanny and Nonis picks who new assistance are.

    On Carlyle’s way out the door Shanny says “dont smile to much Carlyle the little attachment to Phaneuf is going to be severed shortly”

    Overpaid players have been deemed just that and Shanny might be cleaning house. These rumors have me quite intrigued

  • FlareKnight

    At the end of Game 7 last playoffs, the Leafs had a better than average starting goalie, a glut of dangerous wingers and some scoring punch from the back end.

    Noticeable deficiencies were obviously on the back end in a shut down capacity, and through the middle with the centers.

    Naturally then, the GM bought out their most talented natural center, let possession driving MacA walk for nothing, signed two replacement level forwards (Bolland and Clarkson), one of whom to a laughable albatross of a deal, traded for a goalie, and re-upped maybe their 3rd best option at Center to a long term deal.


    Add in a coach who says “No idea” more often than most people change underwear, coupled with an alarming lack of a systemic plan on the ice and any hope that we fans may have felt this time last year has quickly evaporated into the ether.

    Why do I cheer for this team?
    Better question, why should I moving foward?

    I can’t really believe that it’s come to this, but I’m >this

  • FlareKnight

    To be fair I do feel like the compete level was pretty bad for long stretches last season. Call it a non-stats thing, but that’s what you see. Tactics and play-style played into it, but there was definitely something lacking mentally or emotionally with that group. Just because you can’t stick a number on something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    Whether that’s on Phaneuf I don’t know. Certainly not the whole thing. Will fully admit bias in never being a fan of him as the Captain of the Leafs. Personally I’d rather just taking the C and letting him continue doing what he can defensively for the team.

    Phaneuf is fine when the minutes are reasonable. Carlyle too often overplays him and he’s exhausted later on in the games and season. He has a partner that’s a decent guy, but certainly not top pairing material. He’s certainly better able to do the top pairing duties than anyone else on the roster.

    Will be a huge hit defensively if they move him out. Who knows what that brings back, but it will be a hit. Maybe it’s the right move long term depending on return, but short term it’ll be ugly.

    Oh well, with Carlyle back I already considered the Leafs to be tanking and this pretty much confirms it.

  • FlareKnight

    Fantastic article.

    Phaneuf is being traded because of his lack of leadership and so forth but also to give this terribly managed team some cap breathing room.

    I hope the return is worth it.

  • FlareKnight

    I been saying to trade him for the last couple of years. Anyone who thinks Phaneuf is worth $7mil is an idiot. I don’t think he is worth 5. He is better when he plays less than 20 minutes a game and is able to hit the net when he shoots. He makes a lot of mistakes and no leadership skills. The only reason to keep him is to keep his wife in the stands.

    • FlareKnight

      Not sure it’s a good idea to argue that people who disagree are idiots and then throw out pretty extreme positions that discredit what you are saying.

      You can’t reasonably think that Phaneuf wouldn’t be a steal at 5 million. When not overplayed and even at times when he is, the guy can still play against some of the top players in the league and hold up alright. Managing to do that with guys who are either AHLers or guys who certainly aren’t top pairing D.

      I wouldn’t say his leadership is anything to write home about though.