At the end of the regular season, I posted a piece that essentially suggested the Leafs have very few players on the current roster that I believe are absolutely “must keep” players going forward. Now, I recognize that the cap and contract realities impact these management decisions, but the point was: a roster that has not won a playoff round in years (though past issues can’t be blamed on this team) can’t have that many guys who are untouchable.
Now we hear, perhaps not surprisingly, that captain Dion Phaneuf is one of the Leafs whose name may be ‘out there’ in ongoing trade talks. I have no idea if this is remotely accurate, but generally speaking that kind of public speculation happens when a “source” with another organization (I don’t believe this would come from anyone at MLSE) decides to put it out there and get the rumour mill going by suggesting to a reporter—just not for attribution—that certain players on other teams are available.
Again, there is no proof this is the case when it comes to the Leafs and Phaneuf. But it did get me thinking. Phaneuf was not on my own list of must-keep Leafs, for example. This is not to suggest he has not been a solid performer here. In fact, I can find little fault with Phaneuf as I look back on his time with the Leafs. He has played a role that may be (or may not, depending on your point of view) beyond what should be expected of him as the shutdown defenseman for the blue and white. He always takes on the best line/opposing forwards on the other team. He logs huge minutes. He plays the power play and kills penalties.
We could not ask him to do much more.
All this said, Phaneuf just seems to be one of those players that always creates a discussion in this market. He’s good, maybe even really good. But people in Toronto seem to want—and to expect—more.
Then there’s the leadership question. Ever since Phaneuf arrived, it was clear he would be the team’s captain. Whether he should have been giving the “C” so soon or not, he was and he has tried to live up to the role on and off the ice. Whether he is an effective leader (I’m not even sure I know what that means), I have no clue. What I do sense, and I have written about this before here, is that this team does not seem to have good followers. That is, even good leaders need others to follow their lead, and I’m not sure this group follows the lead of say, Phaneuf, Lupul, etc.
I guess my question today is: are the Leafs wise to at least explore moving Phaneuf? Much has been made of the possibility that Nonis could consider moving emerging players like Gardiner and Kadri. While I listed neither of those talented young players on my must-keep list, it is clear they have been groomed as future impact Leafs and it would require something significant to make sense of a deal that sent them away. Twenty-three year-olds with proven NHL ability are not easy to locate.
Too, Nonis has said he will not move young guys, and understandably so. While all contending rosters need leadership and playoff experience, they also require valuable contributions from young players who bring either an abundance of skill or the same quotient of determination.
So does it make sense to consider moving a high end, experienced player- if another team will take on Phaneuf’s contract?
I guess the related questions include: who would we get in return? Who will take on Phaneuf’s current minutes? Would the team re-invest the money saved on Phaneuf’s contract wisely?
How do you see this one—must the Leafs keep and build around the captain, or is now the precise time, when he is in his prime and may bring a significant return, to make a bold move and go in another direction?