The Maple Leafs sent shock waves through the NHL Tuesday when they announced a multi-player deal with the Senators that sent defenceman Dion Phaneuf, blueliner Cody Donaghey, and forwards Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey and Ryan Rupert to Ottawa in exchange for forwards Milan Michalek, Colin Greening and Tobias Lindberg, d-man Jared Cowen and a second-round draft pick in 2017. For Toronto, the deal gives the organization more salary cap flexibility with which to manoeuvre in the seasons to come, and for their now-former captain, the move represents a fresh start in a passionate hockey market.
“The length of Dion’s contract, and the amount of cap space that is there, where that would put us at a given time…this gives us the opportunity to do things,” said Lamoriello, referring to the five years and $35 million remaining on Phaneuf’s contract after this season. “But it also gives us the opportunity, when some of our younger players are coming at the end of their entry level contracts who we have expectations for, to sign them. So this was a transaction that certainly wasn’t for today. And Dion is going to leave a hole in our lineup, there’s no question.”
In some respects, it was difficult for the Leafs to part ways with Phaneuf, who was acquired from Calgary Jan. 31, 2010 and quickly became one of the team’s go-to leaders on the ice and in the dressing room. But the opportunity to continue Toronto’s rebuild meant saying goodbye to the 30-year-old, who handled the news with his trademark professionalism.
“I spoke to Dion as soon as the trade call was finished…and explained to him what transpired,” Lamoriello said. “He was as classy as anyone could possibly be. At a time like that, you put yourself in that person’s position and you know that they’re listening and you question what they’re hearing, but he responded in an extremely positive way. He understands what we’re doing here, he’s been a part of that throughout the year, and I just expressed to him how much I appreciate what he’s brought to the things we’ve tried to change and how supportive he’s been. I just can’t say enough about him.”
Phaneuf is the lone member of the current Leafs roster to move to the Sens in this transaction, but in return, the Buds receive two players (Michalek and Cowen) who can step into the lineup when healthy, and a prospect in the 20-year-old Lindberg whom Toronto targeted early in trade talks with Ottawa GM Bryan Murray. Combined with the second-round draft pick, the Leafs’ haul in the trade – and the fact the team isn’t assuming any portion of Phaneuf’s contract – is one that’s impressed fans, media and everyone with the organization.
Lindberg, drafted by Ottawa in the fourth round (102nd overall) in 2013, has five goals and 22 points in 34 American Hockey League games with Binghamton this year. And the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder – who will join the AHL’s Marlies and add to a group of prospects that is the envy of many NHL teams – was rated by Leafs director of player personnel Mark Hunter to be a prospect very much worth acquiring.
“We have an outstanding scouting staff with Mark Hunter and his group, and Mark had him very high on his list,” Lamoriello said. “We felt very comfortable that, when we had to select players (to) put this type of a transaction together, that he was the one individual prospect that we targeted. And he became part of the deal. He’s a size-and-strength forward, and he’ll be given every opportunity.”
In the 31-year-old Michalek and the 25-year-old Cowen, the Leafs now respectively have a top-six forward and a rugged blueliner who both are under contract through next season. And while the work now continues to retool the team under head coach Mike Babcock, Phaneuf’s level-headedness, work ethic and service to the city’s community and charities don’t go unappreciated by those who know him best.
“I’ve been extremely impressed with Dion from Day One,” Lamoriello said. “He’s been a great leader, he’s handled every situation that’s been asked of him, and he’s going to be missed.”