The hockey world saw what could arguably be one of the least tradeable assets moved this morning: Dion Phaneuf and his contract that runs five more years with a cap hit of $7 million was traded in a nine player deal. (Side note: the largest trade in recent memory in the NHL that involved that many players may have been Jim Nill's move to get Tyler Seguin. Ottawa Senators, we see you.)
The Senators acquired forwards Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey, and Ryan Rupert and defenseman Cody Donaghey in addition to Phaneuf. In exchange, the Toronto Maple Leafs get back defenseman Jared Cowen and forwards Milan Michalek, Colin Greening, and Tobias Lindberg as well as a second round draft pick in 2017.
That's a fair amount of assets changing teams today. The biggest move for Toronto was freeing up that cap space long term in exchange for not having to keep any salary in the deal (which was what most pundits believed they would have to do to move his contract this past summer, and which they were already maxed out on from three other players they retained salary from in separate moves previously).
Phaneuf is not the best standard by which to evaluate the true cost of defensive help this trade deadline, however. He's signed with good term but at a high rate, which eliminated a lot of teams' ability to even be in on his services to begin with. Though he was the No. 1 defenseman in Toronto, his age both now and when his contract expires combined with his skill level would see him succeed better slotted down the pairings elsewhere. The overpayment for what he should be versus what he was is due in part to that cap hit.
So what is the cost of a defenseman in a trade scenario? It's really tough to find a comparable for what the Dallas Stars need right now. That's because what they truly need is that big, minute-eating defenseman -- think Drew Doughty or Shea Weber, guys that play a lot of minutes and are expected to get a heavy share of defensive zone minutes. That is what Dallas really needs today, and that type of player just doesn't get traded that often, if at all.
The tricky part for Dallas this trade deadline is not that they don't have assets that could obtain the right player(s) to help immediately. They actually have a pretty well stocked prospect system (outside of goaltending, which has been a confuzzling mess for years now, seemingly) and positions of strength -- namely offensive help -- that could be offered to teams struggling for offense who have extra defensemen to part with.
However, you have to give to get in this league, as the Senators and Maple Leafs illustrated this morning. The question becomes more "What would you be content with sending out today, and potentially for years in the future, to get help in the near-term?" Recognizing that it's likely a combination of current players, prospects and draft picks that would be required to get what the Stars need.
It's a position the Stars haven't been in for quite a while -- that compete now space, versus the restocking of the cupboards that Joe Nieuwendyk was faced with. If going deep in the playoffs this season is the goal, Stars fans will have to be prepared for the toll that has to be paid in order for the team to be competitive today, and be prepared to be a little shell-shocked at the pieces that we say goodbye to in order to find that elusive defensive help.