2014 NHL Offseason: Toronto Maple Leafs Defenseman Dion Phaneuf On The Market?

Claus Andersen

Dion Phaneuf is reportedly on the market or not on the market. Should the Stars be interested in him or not interested in him?

Edit: fumbled the signing bonus. It's part of the eight million salary he is owed each of the next two years. He is owed 16 million over that time instead of 21.5, but the 3.5 million dollar payment up front will still be problematic.

On New Years Eve Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Dave Nonis made the following comment after awarding captain Dion Phaneuf a seven year extension for a total of $49 million:

"We signed Dion to this deal because he deserved it," Nonis said. "He's going to play at this level or beyond, I feel, for seven years, again, maybe beyond that. It's not that you don't have anyone to replace Dion, it's that he's done enough to prove to us that he is a player that is near the top of the league in terms of how he stacks up against the top defencemen. ...

"It's not that we don't have anyone to replace him. I think if that's why we were signing him, we'd be making a mistake."

This was only five months ago.

Now there are rumors that the Leafs are looking to move Phaneuf to both free up salary space, and inject talented depth into the roster. The Leafs have squashed those rumors, but why wouldn't they? They may actually not want to deal Phaneuf, but either way there is no reason for the Leafs to let anyone know their position.

Why would the Leafs want to move him though? Well, there are 49 million reasons that come to mind. The contract the Leafs handed out to him is absurd, and most of the absurdity is in the first two years.

In each of the first two years Phaneuf will earn a salary of $8,000,000. He is going to also due a signing bonus of $3,500,000 when the contract kicks in. Any team acquiring Phaneuf is going to absorb $16,000,000 in real money over the next two seasons. The contract, at face value, is almost untradeable.

Compounding the problem is the No Movement Clause he received which kicks in July 1st. The Leafs are in a situation where they have very little leverage if they want to move Phaneuf as is because they either have to trade him to a handful of teams Phaneuf selects after July 1, or pay a significant amount of the money due to him for 2015 just to move him prior to July one to a slightly larger group of teams willing to accept both a large contract and give up something of value.

Further complicating matters is that some people just plain don't like Phaneuf. James Mirtle points out a few reasons why:

Some don’t like his attitude or the way he comes off in interviews on TV, where his ponderous on-camera persona doesn’t do him any favours.

Some don’t like the flashy clothes and starlet wife, a lifestyle which had a brief close-up on HBO’s 24/7 in December, including a long pan of a remarkable closet.

You know, things that don't matter.

And none of that even speaks to the type of player he is on the ice. Mirtle sheds more light with thoughts after the Leafs lost 5-3 against the Blues:

And some, frankly, just don’t like his game, particularly when it includes the kind of brain-dead miscues that were glaring in Tuesday’s loss – the Leafs’ sixth in a row – to the St. Louis Blues.

Phaneuf has been known to make crazy looking mistakes. Justin Bourne of The Score adds some more context:

Phaneuf-haters give him a lot of flack because he occasionally over-pursues, which leads to the odd situation where he’s noticeably out of position. The thing is, it’s pointed to so much because he shaped that reputation for himself in his early years when he used to go body-hunting in the neutral zone.

People have a tendency to focus on the flaws of others instead of the strengths. This happens quite often with Phaneuf, but his contract and the type of minutes he is asked to play make that type of judgement inevitable. The Leafs use Phaneuf in very difficult minutes in a system that encourages teams to take shots. He's going to look bad.

Tyler Dellow analyzed Phaneuf's situation further in several articles. First, he showed how his role has changed since his time in Calgary:

For the years in Calgary where we have data, he had a ZoneStart of 56.6%, meaning that 56% of his offensive or defensive zone faceoffs were in the offensive zone. From the time of this trade to Toronto through the end of 2011-12, this was 50%. In 2012-13, it was 41%. This year, it’s 39.3%. The road keeps getting steeper.

The minutes got tougher, which unquestionably impacted his underlying numbers. Dellow has broken down his play even further in several ways. One of the techniques he used was to look at the Leafs team Corsi% after defensive zone faceoff losses with Phaneuf on the ice under Carlyle compared to his time under Ron Wilson and in Calgary.

Screen-shot-2014-03-27-at-12.29.04-am_medium

via www.mc79hockey.com

The results have steadily collapsed at the team level with Phaneuf on the ice, particularly under the failure that is the Maple Leafs "system". Dellow was also able to show how this system has hurt his offensive production. In the name of not making this post 2000 words half copied from Dellow work you should really go check out that post.

The main problem for Phaneuf at this stage appears to be playing for the Leafs.

Phaneuf with no strings attached would be a welcome addition to the Stars. Some of the "strings" are probably overblown too. Later in the previous Mirtle article he explained how Phaneuf is thought of off the ice:

On the personality side, those that know him well will tell you he’s an entirely different person at the rink (and with the media) than away from it. His charity work is extensive, his reputation among his teammates and coaches is high, and his work ethic is, too.

In the same Justin Bourne article, Bourne makes a very salient point about perspective when it comes to Phaneuf:

There seems to be this expectation that Dion Phaneuf is supposed to be the league’s best d-man or he’s not a valuable asset, which is garbage. Fans need to accept that it costs money to pay top guys, there’s only so many of them in the league, so when you’ve got the chance to lock one up you simply have to get off your wallet.

Phaneuf is a big hitter with a big shot who plays mean and plays great players. That’s not an easy hole to fill. Just because he’s not Zdeno Chara doesn’t mean he’s not one of the league’s better defensemen.

We tend to focus on what people can't do instead of what they can do. Every player in the league has warts, but when building a team the idea is to construct a roster in such a way that the downside is minimized while the upside is maximized. Phaneuf would be a solid member of every team in the league.

Phaneuf would unquestionably improve the Stars defense. David Shoalts had a note about Phaneuf that stood out to me:

A scout who watched the Detroit game said Phaneuf looked like a player who wanted to not make a mistake, rather than to make a difference.

This stood out to me because it sounds like the early season adventures of Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley. Both players steadied under Lindy Ruff as they got more comfortable with what they were being asked to contribute. Might the Stars be able to do something similar with Phaneuf?

It isn't out of the realm of possibility. They could fit him into the lineup in several ways. The Stars were already using Daley and Goligoski predominately against top competition. Dallas could slide Phaneuf into an easier role than he currently has in Toronto to lighten his load and potentially see increased offensive production. Alternatively they could put together a pairing of Phaneuf and Brenden Dillon which would lighten the load for the rest of the group. Either option would be beneficial.

The only real concern is how much of the contract the team would be willing to accept and how much they would pay for the privilege of accepting it. I can't imagine a scenario where any team is going to take the contract in full. The Leafs are likely going to need to retain some of the cap hit and fork over some cash to cover the signing bonus heading his way first year.  How much of both they offer is going to make a significant impact on the return they get for Phaneuf.

If the Stars can get Toronto to pay some of the signing bonus money due to Phaneuf next year ($3.5 million), and get them to pick up one to two million of the cap hit they should be in business.

Given the crazy contract and the way he gets dumped on almost constantly I really couldn't even make a guess as to what the deal could look like. I don't think it would be a straight salary dump (though I could see the Stars trying to dump Sergei Gonchar on the Leafs), but I don't think we're talking about anything close to the Tyler Seguin deal either.

The Leafs will want young cheap talent. The Stars have plenty. If they can make a deal work for a couple of young pieces not named Valeri Nichushkin, Cody Eakin, Patrick Nemeth, or Brenden Dillon then Dion Phaneuf in a Dallas Stars jersey wouldn't be the most outlandish thing anyone has ever suggested.


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