Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun debate the merits of this nine-player swap for both the Senators and Leafs and predict how this will influence Steven Stamkos' free-agency decision.
BURNSIDE: Well, my friend, that's a nice old-fashioned blockbuster of a trade, isn't it? The Toronto Maple Leafs sending captain Dion Phaneuf to the division rival Ottawa Senators as the centerpiece in a nine-player swap. No salary retained, just a bunch of bodies crisscrossing the province. Love it.
And what I love about this move from the Senators' standpoint is they're saying, "Yes, we have stunk for a while and we're 28th in goals allowed per game and we are dead last on the penalty kill, but we're not done." Of course, Phaneuf is no rental player, having five more seasons left on his contract with an annual cap hit of $7 million, so there has to be significant belief within the Senators' hierarchy that Phaneuf can fulfill a top-four role in the Canadian capital.
I remember sitting beside you in Detroit before the 2014 Winter Classic when the Leafs announced Phaneuf's extension and described how he would be a cornerstone player in Toronto for years to come. Now he's going to have to be that cornerstone player in Ottawa. What do you make of this, mon ami?
LEBRUN: Where to start? From the Senators' perspective, I heard murmurs that they were debating the merits of Phaneuf internally but found it hard to believe they could stomach that contract. Boy, was I wrong. We always give owner Eugene Melnyk a hard time for limiting the Senators' payroll, but a stick tap to him here for giving general manager Bryan Murray the green light to absorb that long-term contract. That top four on defense with Phaneuf joining Erik Karlsson, Marc Methot and Cody Ceci looks pretty darn good. No question Murray took former Leafs winger Clarke MacArthur aside at some point to ask him about Phaneuf as a player, person and teammate; and no doubt MacArthur would have given it the thumbs up. Phaneuf didn't even have to waive his modified no-trade clause because the Senators were already on his 10-team list of accepted destinations. So it tells you he was comfortable months ago with this potential scenario.
I'm told Murray and Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello spoke about Phaneuf a few months ago, then it went cold, and then it heated up big time over the past week. Of course, the rebuilding Leafs in all this clear up major salary-cap space moving forward. Not hard to predict what people were quickly saying on Twitter about that. Taking a run at pending unrestricted-free-agent star Stamkos was already in the cards for Toronto, but now there's even more financial muscle to do it. Of course, that's if Stamkos doesn't re-sign in Tampa Bay first.
BURNSIDE: I think it's interesting that lots of fans draw a direct line from the Phaneuf trade to signing Stamkos. But if you're Stamkos and you look at the Toronto lineup without Phil Kessel (who was dealt to Pittsburgh last summer) and Phaneuf, what else is there other than a lot of cap room to pay a top-end player? That lineup does a disservice to the term "bare bones."
Perhaps the most immediate impact of this trade is that, in theory, it increases Toronto's chances of finishing dead last and getting a crack at Auston Matthews with the first-overall draft pick, and maybe that's the part of the Stamkos puzzle that tips the scales. The Leafs are tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Edmonton Oilers for the fewest points in the league, although they have three games in hand. Is a rebuilding Leafs team with a franchise center attractive enough to Stamkos to make the move? I still have trouble imagining Stamkos wanting anything to do with this franchise, given the long uphill climb that still lies ahead. But I rarely pretend to be the Lightning captain.
Have to imagine that the Leafs have lots of work ahead, including possibly flipping Milan Michalek pending his health, no? So, do you think this move actually takes the Leafs closer to being able to lure Stamkos north?
LEBRUN: Well, the Leafs are far from done. They've got a list of pending unrestricted free agents led by the likes of Roman Polak and Shawn Matthias whom they're going to try to move for picks and/or prospects before the Feb. 29 trade deadline. And losing games won't be a bad thing, as you say, for a Leafs team that has been crying out for a true No. 1 center since Mats Sundin left town, and the No. 1 overall pick in June would answer that prayer.
For the Leafs, there are other interesting parts in this blockbuster deal: prospect Tobias Lindberg in particular, as well as the second-round draft pick in 2017. Teams are throwing around second-round picks this season like they used to. This is a long, painful rebuild for the Leafs, but honestly Tuesday's trade was another example of this franchise, finally -- finally -- acting like a responsible organization that won't take short cuts anymore. Really this has the chance to be a tremendous deal for both organizations, Ottawa because the Senators want to win now, and the Leafs because it further enhances the rebuild.