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Instant Analysis: Dion Phaneuf Becomes an Ottawa Senator

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I'm still processing what happened this morning, but here are some thoughts.

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In case you somehow missed it, Dion Phaneuf was traded as part of a nine-player deal to the Ottawa Senators. The Sens traded Jared Cowen, Colin Greening, Milan Michalek, Tobias Lindberg, and a 2017 2nd-round pick for Phaneuf, Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey, Ryan Rupert, and Cody Donaghey from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Now there are a couple things I want to get clear here. First: Phaneuf becomes Ottawa's second-best defenceman. Despite never living up to his billing in Toronto, Phaneuf is still better than most of what Ottawa's offered up as a D-crew all season. In the short-term, that's a huge win. Second: Ottawa shed some short-term deadweight here. Cowen, Greening, and Michalek combined for $9.65M in cap hit -- more in actual salary, since Greening and Cowen had rising salaries. Ottawa wanted to get rid of poisonous contracts, and they shed their two worst ones in this deal.

In my opinion, this deal was Lindberg and a 2nd for Phaneuf. That seems like a reasonable trade to me. Ottawa's trading some futures for a current NHL defenceman. Lindberg may turn out to be great, but I think most fans were overvaluing him in the hopes that he ended up justifying the Ben Bishop/Cory Conacher deal. (Lindberg was the 3rd-rounder Ottawa acquired in that trade.) The problem was that the Leafs didn't want to retain salary, and Ottawa was cheap. So the Sens tried to get rid of their worst contracts, in Cowen and Greening. (Some would argue Bobby Ryan here, but he's been producing like a top-line player all season. That one won't hurt for at least a couple more years.) And for some reason, the Leafs bit. Since they're in tank-now mode anyway, taking on some overpaid players whose salaries expire in 2017 is fine. Getting a young player with upside and a pick made the trade palatable.

Now Ottawa has to deal with Phaneuf's big salary until 2021. That may cause future headaches, especially when Karlsson needs a new deal in 2019. But next season, Ottawa's saving $4.2M in actual cash and that may just be enough for a Mike Hoffman extension. That's another big win for the team, and a sign that they're committed to winning the shorter term. Many of us have been saying for a while that Ottawa's core is great and Karlsson's prime is being wasted due to a lacklustre D, and this makes everything a lot better.

Of course, there's a real question mark about Ottawa's defence now. Ceci, Wiercioch, Wideman, and Claesson are all up for new contracts. With Phaneuf, Karlsson, Methot, and Borowiecki (one of these things is not like the others) on long deals, Ottawa probably can't afford to re-sign all four of those guys. I wouldn't be surprised to see Wiercioch traded in light of this, and possibly for Claesson to head back to Sweden, seeing no NHL future for himself. That may not be the best future plan for this franchise.

There's also the question of the other throw-ins from the Leafs deal. Bailey played some decent hockey over three years at Penn State before deciding to turn pro last year. With 18 points in 38 games in the AHL as a 24-year-old forward, it's unlikely he'll ever be an NHL player. Plus he's a UFA at the end of the year. Rupert didn't look good in junior until his 19-year-old season, and based on the fact that he's spent a good portion of two seasons in the ECHL, he's another long-shot to be an NHL player. Donaghey is the most intriguing of the lot. He signed with the Leafs in the summer of 2014 as an undrafted prospect, and as a 19-year-old defenceman currently has 22 points in 37 games in the QMJHL. He's still a long-shot, but his youth means he has time to grow in the organization. Importantly, Frattin's deal is up at the end of the year, meaning the team can cut bait with him or sign him to an AHL contract.

So overall: Ottawa got the best player in the deal by far; Ottawa shed some overpaid players we thought would never be traded, hopefully shedding enough salary to extend Hoffman; Toronto got the best prospect in the deal, but he was hardly a blue-chipper. I'd say for those of us saying Ottawa's core is great and the team was ready to compete now, this trade is a big win. Ottawa becomes way more competitive in the next 2-3 seasons, without really mortgaging the future either. The only issue is that Phaneuf's salary may be a problem in a couple seasons. It remains to be seen if Murray is done trading, or if this is just the start of building up for a Stanley Cup run in an admittedly weak division.

Ross's trade rating: A-