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Phaneuf and the Leafs: a future together?

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?


  1. Percolating in my mind has been a comparison with a vintage leaf captain... namely, Rick Vaive. If I recall correctly, he was only here for about 3 seasons and never really captured the role of Captain (on the heels of Keon and Sittler, he just didn't have the same 'aura'). Rick was a capable goal scorer, but I never got the feeling his compatriots would 'go through a wall with him' and I'm wondering if that's not what I'm sensing with Phaneuf at the present time.

    I agree that he logged some of the hardest assignment minutes amongst NHL defensemen, but I wonder if 'the mix' is just 'not right'... Is there more to leadership than what our captain has to give? Are the followers just not connected enough to be inspired to follow, or are their personalities only motivated by another kind of leadership that is more attuned to their mindset?

    I think there would be more suitors for his services than many detractors would think possible, but he may well find a better situation elsewhere. But... that leaves us with a major hole to fill. I wonder if more defensive-minded players could be deployed against the top lines, leaving the offensive-minded for more offensive zone starts. Could a veteran defensive addition (at a lower salary) stabilize a young Granberg or McWilliam (along with Gleason), in a time-sharing situation rather than having everything put upon Phaneuf and Gunnar?

    Is Gunnar going to be here next year? Franson?

    Seems like the culture change impositions could well be felt in the lineup with a new plan of attack (or defend, if you will).

    I wonder if others will 'step up' into the void that Dion would leave behind... because the impact will be felt - it's just a matter of degree!

    1. There's not much doubt Phaneuf would be missed, InTimeFor62. Solid player. I do wonder if Nonis is considering it, though, given Phaneuf's salary. If the return would help the roster in other ways, I can see Nonis making a move.

  2. I think its mostly speculation. Here is the word from Darren Dreger, cousin of Nonis, who seems to frequently act as Nonis' public mouthpiece:

    "Leafs have had no discussions with teams re: Phaneuf since deadline. Would they move him? Yes. Is he being shopped? No. Willing to listen."

    So if a team is willing to grossly overpay, the Leafs would listen and move Phaneuf, but that can be said with about every player with a no-trade clause.

    I think they are unlikely to do it because they have a weakness at defense.

    However, it does make you wonder about Carlyle and Phaneuf's relationship. They extend Carlyle. Kadri says good things and yet no public positive words from the captain, Phaneuf. Then a few days later we get words that Phaneuf is available? It makes you wonder if they dislike each other and if Leafs management have picked Carlyle over Phaneuf.

    1. I had not thought about a possible issue between Phaneuf and Carlyle, DP. And I agree, any GM will listen to offers if they can help their team.

  3. "are the Leafs wise to at least explore moving Phaneuf?"

    Yes they are. No one should be untouchable. If the Islanders went stupid and offered John Taveres for Phil Kessel the Leafs would be crazy not to take the deal within 5 seconds. We have discussed whether or not Phaneuf is a true leader or not before but he has done a pretty good job on the ice as a shut down guy on a team that doesn't exactly play great defensively. He has been over played just as much as the first line which as worn him down late in the season both of the last 2 years badly. Can't blame him for that part.

    If you can get the right offer for him absolutely he can be traded. But getting the right fit of a team that can take the cap hit, has the right fit of player(s) coming back in the deal AND is a team Phaneuf would waive his NTM for won't be easy. So it is always easy for some MSM to spout off in twitter how the Leafs are "shopping" certain players to get hits and feed their ego.

    1. It's true, Pep, there is so much competition in the mainstream media, there seems to be way too much in the way of putting stuff out there with little basis in fact.

  4. I think Phaneuf is another scapegoat and another story to take our attention away from the organization. He has not been used properly just like several other players on the team. He is an offensive D-man yet Randy has him taking hard D-zone starts and playing on the left during the power-play when he has always scored from the right. Some western coaches have interest in him and have questioned his usage. His scoring ability has been stifled, too much defensive responsibility has been piled on. He played the last month with a shoulder injury and was rode hard by Randy.

    He has not been in a position to succeed--his over-use, the unrealistic expectations, the pairing and his position on the PP, his constant use on the PK, the contract, the "C" on his shoulder are all choices someone else made. Leadership-we can only guess at that--I think he's too exhausted to add it to everything else. I've watched him too tired to get to the bench and be sent out again 30 seconds later.

    Phaneuf could be moved, I think, easily. He may not be great but, used properly, he's a very good, and effective offensive Dman. They are testing the waters and if a move takes some heat off them, they'll do it and their workhorse will be gone. It would involve some salary take-back by The Leafs which is par for the course with this management group. That will be Dion's "fault" too and fans will complain about it for years to come. For Dion It may be a relief.

    I think it's a shame and considering the lack of judgement we've seen from this group, and what we may end up getting for him, probably a big mistake. I am all for improving of course. I just wish if they are thinking of moving the core they would admit they are heading into a re-rebuild. CN

    1. You make some very good - and fair - point about Phaneuf and how he has been utilized here, Coleen. Thanks for chiming in.

  5. Well, I'm sure I don't think the same way a corporation does but if the Leafs have to take-back 2 million to move a player and get a player for 3 mil. in the end are they not really paying 5 mil. for the 3 mil replacement? The fact that the two amounts are in different columns doesn't mean much to me. I don't run a team, I do run a household. No wonder they have cap problems! Colleen

  6. Hi Colleen

    Sounds like my wife with her little envelopes of money. Amazingly simple and effective accounting for money versus my consolidation method.

    1. Hubby believes in consolidation too, RLMcC. I depend on envelops too -cash only, no cards, spending money in my back pocket. (And children thoughtful enough to make sure I understand simple math concepts, bless their hearts!) . C

  7. Michael, you always have ideas that begin great discussions here. May I make a request? If you ever run out I would enjoy hearing why/how your posters became Leaf fans. Maybe you've already done so in the past and, being new to your site, I've missed it. CN

    1. Yes, I have asked the question here in the past, but always enjoy hearing responses to that question!

  8. Hi Michael.
    If we're still talking about Dion, the media ( Rosie in particular-a friend of Randy's) is ripping him to shreds. They will stop at nothing to lay whatever blame they can on others. What a horrible, mean-spirited, self-seeking image they project , there for all to see. It's embarrassing. Being a Leaf fan right now just makes me sad. Colleen

    1. Not being from Ontario I am not familiar with all the MSM there. Who is Rosie??

  9. For what it's worth, Shanahan said today he has no plans to trade Phaneuf or strip him of the "C". However, he added that he thought Dion was sometimes trying to do too much, and that he got bitten by it a few times. I find that attitude reassuring. And it doesn't kow-tow to the media hordes looking to fan into flames the embers of discontent that seem to smoulder season-long around the Leafs.
    Shanahan also refused to point the finger at any player or players for lack of leadership or choking down the stretch.
    What a relief it will be if we finally have someone in charge who can be a steadying influence!

  10. Hi Pep. Rosie Dimanno is with the Toronto Star and has known Randy for many years. The Sun is much the same. James Mirtle, who has been a guest on the Hangout and who I like better, is with the Globe and Mail. I saw the head-line, but didn't read it--I've seen her stories before. I've heard Shanahan was interviewed there today but haven't had a look. Colleen

  11. Shanahan's interview with the Globe and Mail is very good.( It's on MLHS.) It helps that someone knew what questions to ask. How nice to have someone in charge that actually answers those questions with answers. The Swarm system is history. CN

  12. Hi Michael,

    the market for Dion will be huge because it is very hard to get a D-man of his quality.
    He is not the real number one guy but he is at least top 20 in the league. There is no chance to aquire a player from that list ahead of him.

    Let's Keep it simple:
    This is our curren defense:

    Phaneuf / Gunnarson
    Rielly / Gleason
    Franson / Gardiner

    I think Ranger will not return. Gunnarson is not the right Partner for Phaneuf. He is not taking pressure away from him. Franson is to slow and to weak defensively.

    Try to get help for Dion and another guy to support the young guys. Granberg should be at least the 7th defender.
    Trade away Gunnarson and Franson and you will get a decent return.

    If you trade Phaneuf away prepare for a really tough season.

    I think they should use Gardiner to get a decent return to improve our offence, but in this modell I kept him.

    1. Granberg seems to be one of the young defensemen in the system that may be close to having an impact here. As for Gardiner, he is one of those guys that you'd hate to give up, because he is awfully skilled and I never like giving up young defensemen. However, as you say, he may be the player that would bring a return.

    2. You're right on Gardiner. This is why I kept him. But I am not convinced he will grow. I was suprised by the assitants comments who said Carlyle value's Gardiner so much. bucause of the talk in the press (some "insiders" as well) was so diffrent.
      Because of this I said two month ago, trade him in any case. I don't like to give up on him that's why I would keep him and they can sign him for a reasonable price.
      The other thing is our D is imbalanced.
      Phaneuf has an offensive upside, but he can't play it out the way Carlyle uses him.
      Then Rielly and Gardiner are very similar.
      Granberg was teriffic. I hope he can Keep it up. He is the type of guy we need.