How the Dion Phaneuf Deal Can Go Wrong
Ottawa took the bigger risk in this trade; here's how it can blow up in Ottawa's face
By now, everyone and their grandmother has given their opinion on the nine-player deal that saw the Toronto Maple Leafs trade Dion Phaneuf to the Ottawa Senators. I was unabashedly positive in my review, but Nichols was very negative over on The 6th Sens, and Ary was similarly unsure how Phaneuf would look with Ceci. The WTYKY roundtable featured a lot of uncertainty (and hilarity), while Down Goes Brown was cautiously optimistic from Ottawa's point of view. (For more on the trade, check out Ian Mendes' cool piece on how the trade got done, Luke Peristy's hilarious look back on all the tweets he put out about Jared Cowen, or Steve On Sens' "touching" tribute to Cowen.)
So anyway, I'm still optimistic about the trade, but Nichols' fears aren't unfounded. There are ways this trade can go downhill. Here are some of the big issues I can see.
Gambling on Phaneuf - Ceci: Is Dion a good fit for the young blueliner?
Both defensemen have been drags on possession lately. Will they be able to remedy that when paired together?
The obvious issue is if Phaneuf isn't a capable top-four defenceman anymore. As people have been pointing out, he's been relegated to the second pairing in Toronto and was mostly being carried by Jake Gardiner. Cody Ceci isn't a possession beast like Gardiner, so it's possible they won't complement each other well. Personally, I'd like to see Patrick Wiercioch with Phaneuf, but we all know the organization sees Ceci as miles ahead of Wiercioch. I think Phaneuf will benefit from not being the captain in Ottawa, from not carrying the weight of the organization on his back, and from playing with a higher quality of teammates than the last couple years in T.O. That being said, it's possible his age has caught up to him and Ottawa will be stuck with a $7M Cowen equivalent for the next five years.
There's also the payroll issue Phaneuf could cause in a few years. The only player who won't need an extension before Phaneuf is Bobby Ryan, and there are concerns about his contract becoming an albatross. Mike Hoffman needs an extension this year, Mika Zibanejad will next year, Mark Stone and Kyle Turris will the year after that, and by 2020 Erik Karlsson will need an extension. That's pretty much Ottawa's entire core needing an extension before Phaneuf's deal is up. And for a budget team like Ottawa, Phaneuf's average salary of $6.5M per year over the next five years isn't small change. If having Phaneuf leads to Ottawa losing someone like Turris in two years, that's a pretty big loss.
In my opinion, the biggest fear I have here is Ottawa's personnel decisions. The team is enamoured with Mark Borowiecki, and we know he won't be going anywhere. Ceci is sometimes called the team's second-best defenceman. Marc Methot and Erik Karlsson are clearly part of the long-term plan. That means the team will have to choose between Patrick Wiercioch and Chris Wideman (and I guess Fredrik Claesson). Ottawa's always been down on Wiercioch outside of 20 games last year, and I expect the team trades him. The Phaneuf trade isn't great if it gets Wiercioch shipped out. And the more I think about it, the more I think the team sees him as the odd guy out. It'll be such a tease if Ottawa acquires a second-pairing defenceman to ship out the closest thing they had to one a couple weeks later.
I'm still big on this trade, but there's no denying that there are risks. The trade could blow up in the Sens' face. In the short-term, it was good. As people keep pointing out, we wanted an upgrade to the Sens' D, and this was really the only top-four upgrade available that didn't cost Ottawa a top prospect or a 1st-round pick or Hoffman. It also saves the Sens money entering next season. We won't be able to truly evaluate the impact until the offseason though, and probably not until a couple years from now. That's when we'll see what the Sens' new core looks like.