Dion Phaneuf may hesitate to re-sign in Toronto for less money and playing time. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf’s defensive gaffe in Game 4 leading to the Boston Bruins’ overtime goal prompted two Toronto pundits to cast doubt upon his future with the Leafs.
The Globe and Mail’s David Shoalts and the CBC’s Tim Wharnsby cited Phaneuf’s mistake as another in a long series the 28-year-old blueliner has consistently made dating back to his rookie season in Calgary.
Phaneuf has one season at $6.5 million remaining on his contract and lacks a no-trade clause. Wharnsby believes Leafs GM Dave Nonis must decide what to do with Phaneuf following the playoffs, while Shoalts suggested quietly shopping him by the NHL June Entry Draft weekend.
Both pundits fear uncertainty over Phaneuf’s future could become an unnecessary distraction for the Leafs next season.
Shoalts doesn’t expect Phaneuf will accept a pay cut to stay in Toronto or accept demotion to the Leafs’ second or third defense pairings. He feels the Leafs can put together a “No. 1 pairing by committee” until promising Jake Gardiner is ready to handle the top spot.
Gardiner and Cody Franson made significant improvement this season, but trading Phaneuf and promoting either of them into his role before he’s fully ready could backfire.
Phaneuf’s contract status will be a subject of considerable speculation in Leafs Nation throughout next season, but unless Nonis lands a suitable replacement via trade or free agency, the Leafs are better off keeping Phaneuf for at least one more season.
MONTREAL MEANS TO GET MIGHTIER
The Montreal Canadiens’ first round elimination by the Ottawa Senators was a disappointing end to an otherwise fine regular season, which saw the Canadiens rebound from dead last in the Eastern Conference last season to a second-place finish.
Marc Bergevin did a fine job in his first season as Canadiens GM, drafting budding star Alexander Galchenyuk, signing free agents Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong and Francis Bouillon, shipping Erik Cole to Dallas for Michael Ryder and re-signing superstar P.K. Subban to an affordable two-year contract.
Still, the Habs’ early exit indicates Bergevin has more work to do. Mike Boone of the Montreal Gazette believes the Canadiens need more size at forward and especially on defense, noting the Senators’ physical advantage over the Habs in their five-game series.
Boone doubts Bergevin will re-sign free agent Ryder, who had a disappointing performance (two points in five games) against the Senators.
Little-used defenseman Tomas Kaberle admitted the chances are good he’ll receive a compliance buyout of the final year of his $4.3 million-per-season contract.
Restricted free agent blueliner Yannick Weber also faces an uncertain future. Like Kaberle, he saw little action with the Habs this season. Bergevin could qualify Weber’s rights, then shop him around the June NHL Draft weekend.
TRADE WINDS BLOW FOR BLUES
Another early playoff exit for the St. Louis Blues at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings has generated calls for Blues management to shake things up.
Bernie Miklasz and Dan O’Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch believe the Blues lacked a skilled sniper to capitalize on their scoring chances, noting the Blues missed the net 101 times in their six-game series against the Kings.
They also pointed out the inconsistent play of winger Chris Stewart, who led the Blues in regular season scoring but was held to one assist against the Kings. Stewart’s a restricted free agent this summer and was mentioned in late-season trade rumors. His name could reappear in the rumor mill by the NHL draft weekend in June.
The Blues could also shop one of their goaltenders this summer. A report emerged Sunday claiming Jaroslav Halak and coach Ken Hitchcock got into a heated exchange hours before Game 4 in Los Angeles over Halak’s lack of playing time.
With Jake Allen waiting in the wings, Halak could become trade bait this summer.
Rumor Roundup appears weekdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).