The Toronto Maple Leafs would be dealing to a rival in their own division, but trading Dion Phaneuf to the Detroit Red Wings could make a lot of sense for both teams. There is a fit and the two sides have talked, but could Phaneuf be wearing a winged wheel by Monday afternoon?
The last time the Toronto Maple Leafs traded a maligned defenseman to the Detroit Red Wings it was Larry Murphy, who went on to win two more Stanley Cups in Detroit and cement his credentials as a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. After all, four Stanley Cups looks a lot better than two on the career resume.
That was 1996-97 and Murphy was being booed every time he stepped on the ice in Toronto. The Leafs were so desperate to part with Murphy, they gave up the ubiquitous “future considerations” which turned out to be Detroit picking up part of his salary and allegedly sending then-GM a bottle of wine to then-GM Cliff Fletcher that summer.
A year later, the Maple Leafs made out a little better when they gifted another defenseman to the Red Wings in the form of Jamie Macoun. They at least got a fourth-round pick that turned out to be the useful Alexei Ponikarovsky in that deal. Macoun, meanwhile, went on to be a top-four defenseman for the Red Wings and helped them to their second consecutive Stanley Cup in 1998.
Which brings us to Dion Phaneuf and the rumblings that a deal to Detroit could be in the works before Monday’s trade deadline. This much we know: the Leafs are exploring the possibilities of trading Phaneuf and the Red Wings are looking for a defenseman. Detroit GM Ken Holland and Toronto GM David Nonis have spoken leading up to the trade deadline and the Red Wings will almost certainly be adding a defenseman tomorrow. With Keith Yandle just about off the market, that leaves one fewer defensemen for Detroit to pursue.
One person close to the situation called the chance Phaneuf becomes a Red Wing by Monday afternoon remote. The more likely situation is the deal gets done in the summer, but with a limited no-trade clause, it’s almost certain that Phaneuf’s days in Toronto are coming to an end, either by tomorrow or after this season. But the Wings are looking and the Leafs have a defenseman, so you never know what can happen between now and Monday afternoon.
If the Red Wings are going to add a body on their blueline by tomorrow, why not Phaneuf? As maligned as he is, Phaneuf in the right situation with the right team could be a useful addition. The biggest impediment in acquiring Phaneuf is that he has a salary cap hit of $7 million per year for each of the next six seasons. That means either the Leafs are going to have to eat some of that salary or take a less-than-stellar contract back. Stephen Weiss - who just happens to be the nephew of Leafs assistant coach Steve Spott - and his $4.9 million for the next three seasons comes to mind, and the Leafs might be able to get a player such as Jakub Kindl in the deal.
By the time Weiss’s deal expires in three years, perhaps Phaneuf at $7 million won’t be as painful-looking as it is now. And who knows? Perhaps Spott, if he's still part of the coaching staff after this season, can help bring out the best in his nephew. Three years from now the Canadian dollar might have sorted itself out and revenues, and as a result, the salary cap could grow to the point where that kind of salary won’t seem as onerous as it does in 2015.
Phaneuf, meanwhile, would be in a position where he wouldn’t have to bear the burden of the captaincy or even be a top-four defenseman. The Red Wings currently have Jonathan Ericsson, Niklas Kronwall, Brendan Smith and Dan DeKeyser in those spots. Phaneuf could play the power play, contribute up to 20 minutes a game in ice time and play a much more effective game surrounded by better players.
Pretty much the same thing that happened to Larry Murphy almost 20 years ago. And we all saw how that turned out.
The Leafs, meanwhile, would probably not get much in return for Phaneuf, which should be just fine with them. Because when you deal Phaneuf and get valuable salary cap space in return, sometimes that’s every bit as good as getting a player.