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The Dion Phaneuf Trade: One Year Later

How has the blockbuster affected the Sens and Leafs after one year?

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Toronto Maple Leafs
Dion Phaneuf has a goal and an assist in five games against his former team.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

On February 9th 2016, exactly one year ago from today, the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs completed a nine-player blockbuster trade, with the main piece being Dion Phaneuf coming to Canada’s capital. It was the first trade the two teams had made together since 1998, and it altered the course of both franchises.

The full trade was the following:

Dion Phaneuf trade

Ottawa Senators acquire... Toronto Maple Leafs acquire...
Ottawa Senators acquire... Toronto Maple Leafs acquire...
Dion Phaneuf Jared Cowen
Matt Frattin Colin Greening
Casey Bailey Milan Michalek
Ryan Rupert Tobias Lindberg
Cody Donaghey 2017 2nd round pick

It was a unique trade, as it was primarily an exchange of negative assets. Overpaid players were swapped for other overpaid players, with many minor pieces thrown in to balance out the value.

Now that a full year has passed, how has each piece in the trade fared, and can a winner be declared?

The Ottawa Senators acquire...

The big name at the top of the list is Dion Phaneuf, who still remains in the Sens’ top four while being paired with Cody Ceci. With the Sens at the time in dire need of a top four defenseman, Phaneuf was brought in to stabilize the second defensive unit.

Although the second pairing may not be stable like we were hoping, that doesn’t mean Phaneuf hasn’t been an effective blueliner. He’s been Ottawa’s second highest scoring defenseman since his arrival, with 21 points in 56 games. And although his possession stats are sub-par (-1.25 Rel. 5v5 CF%), a lot of that has to do with being stapled to Cody Ceci. Over 70% of his TOI has been spent next to Ceci, in which he’s posted a -2.54 Rel. 5v5 CF%. That number improves to +1.97 when he’s without Ceci, showing that Phaneuf hasn’t been the problem.

What makes Phaneuf a negative asset, however, is his ludicrous 7-year $49 million contract that Dave Nonis gifted him with in 2013. At 31 years of age and already showing signs of slowing down, he’s now on Ottawa’s paycheque for the next four years after this season at a $7 million cap hit. He also has a no-movement clause, which not only makes him almost untradeable, but it could potentially cause complications at the expansion draft (although reports surfaced yesterday that the Sens will probably ask him to waive his NMC). His high cap hit could also make matters worse in the coming off-seasons when Turris, Stone and Karlsson will need new contracts. However, his salary diminishes over time, steadily going down to $5.5 million in 2020-21.

Contract aside, Phaneuf has helped fill a hole on the Sens’ blue line, and has also taken on a leadership role by being named an alternate captain and also becoming the Senators’ ambassador for the You Can Play project for LGBTQ+ inclusion. He’s quickly gone from Sens fans’ most hated player to a key component of the organization.

The rest of the pieces the Sens acquired are all minor by comparison, but still deserve to be looked at. Matt Frattin didn’t even end up playing for the Senators’ organization, being loaned to the Marlies for their playoff push. He signed an AHL deal with the Stockton Heat in the offseason and currently has 11 goals and 11 assists in 38 games. This was the Leafs’ second time trading away Frattin, after dealing him off in the Jonathan Bernier trade in 2013 and reacquiring him from Columbus in 2014.

Working our way down the list, Casey Bailey has arguably been one of the Binghamton Senators’ best forwards of the season. Still only 23 years old, he leads the team in shots on goal by a wide margin, and has put up 11 goals and 8 assists. He also earned a 5-game stint with the big club earlier in the season, and could potentially turn into a scoring bottom six winger in the coming years.

Ryan Rupert has been less successful in the minor leagues, splitting his time evenly between the AHL and ECHL. He’s even younger than Bailey at 22, and could potentially become a solid player for Belleville should Pierre Dorion opt to qualify him in the offseason.

The final player Ottawa received in the trade was defensive prospect Cody Donaghey, who has had an up and down season in the QMJHL. He’s an overager at 20 years of age, and started off the season on a high note by posting 35 points in 37 games. He was playing for the contending Charlottetown Islanders with fellow Sens prospect Filip Chlapik, but was recently traded to the Val D’Or Foreurs in exchange for Francois Beauchemin (different one) and other pieces.

After refusing to report to Val D’Or for unknown reasons, he was reassigned to the bottom-feeding Sherbrooke Phoenix where he has yet to find the scoresheet in his first eight games. Keep in mind this is now Donaghey’s seventh QMJHL team including Val D’Or, so the moving seems to have taken its toll. The lower quality of teammates has probably also made a difference, so his future in hockey is a big question mark. He has yet to use the first of his three years on his entry-level contract, so he’ll most likely be playing for the Binghamton Senators or Wichita Thunder in 2017-18.

The Toronto Maple Leafs acquire...

The first two pieces Ottawa sent back were Jared Cowen and (former All-Star) Colin Greening. These were pure salary dumps going back from Ottawa’s perspective, and have provided zero value to the Leafs. Jared Cowen was bought out (we think), and Colin Greening has served as a depth veteran for the Toronto Marlies. With Cowen now bought out, the Leafs will be paying him $750,000 this season and next, while barely affecting their cap hit (the Leafs strangely get a $650,000 cap credit this year). As for Greening, he’s at the tail end of what’s likely to be his final contract, making $3.2 million in salary this season.

Milan Michalek cleared waivers earlier in the year after playing five games for the Leafs, and has been putting up non-substantial numbers in the AHL. Michalek was also a cash dump with his $4 million cap hit, but was expected to still provide a bit of offensive value. After all, had injuries not slowed him down in 2015-16, he would’ve been on pace for 30+ points. He’s also slated for free agency this offseason, and could potentially make a comeback as a depth scorer on another team (Senators, anyone?).

The final pieces the Senators gave up were two future assets in Tobias Lindberg and a 2nd round pick in the 2017 draft. The pick being in 2017 means the trade hasn’t even been fully completed yet, although you can bet Toronto will get a decent prospect with the 60th 62nd ~50th overall selection. As for Tobias Lindberg, who had reached as high as 11th on Silver Seven’s annual ‘Top 25 under 25’ rankings, he’s been a tad underwhelming in his sophomore AHL season. After putting up a total 34 points in 56 games last season, he’s currently on pace 22 points should he play the same number of games. He’s also been shooting less, averaging 1.60 shots per game compared to 2.27 in 2015-16. Consider it a minor victory for Ottawa.

But who won?

Obviously it’s too early to officially declare a winner, as so much could change in the coming years. However, there are certain advantages and disadvantages for both teams that can be discussed.

Looking at the trade from a pure skill perspective, Ottawa definitely comes out on top. Casey Bailey has been performing similar to Tobias Lindberg, Cody Donaghey and the 2nd round pick are both unknowns at this point, Matt Frattin and Jared Cowen have both done literally nothing, Ryan Rupert and Colin Greening have both been depth AHLers, which leaves Dion Phaneuf who has provided much more value than Milan Michalek. Give Ottawa the point there.

However, the whole purpose of this blockbuster was to move contracts, which puts Toronto in the better position. The burden of Phaneuf’s cap hit will no longer loom over the Leafs when they’ll eventually need to re-sign Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Jake Gardiner and James van Riemsdyk. Instead, that weight is now place on the Senators, who now may have trouble in the future re-signing Turris, Stone and Karlsson (Bobby Ryan’s contract plays a large role in this, too).

From Toronto’s perspective, they took the short term pain of taking on Ottawa’s dumpster deals for the long term gain. The only cash remaining for them next season (excluding prospects) will be Jared Cowen’s $750,000 buyout, which is microscopic compared to Dion’s $7 million. Toronto gets the point there.

Was the deal smart for Ottawa? Maybe, maybe not. A winner cannot be declared just yet, so what do you think? Leave a comment with your opinion below.