Yesterday, our friends at Silver Seven Sens asked us a few questions about Tuesday’s trade, which sent Dion Phaneuf and Nate Thompson to the Los Angeles Kings and Marian Gaborik and Nick Shore the other way to the Ottawa Senators. Because they’re nice folks, they’ve also agreed to answer three questions we had about the swap. Thanks to Colin Cudmore for his perspective!
1: How much does Dion Phaneuf have left in the tank? Do you think he is still capable of playing top-four minutes for a contender?
Colin: Phaneuf is a tough player to evaluate, because he’s been extremely affected by his context. He’s been paired next to Cody Ceci ever since he arrived, as they would oftentimes be the only stapled combo on the team where everyone else would be constantly switched up (i.e. the Boucher Blender). Unlike Ottawa’s top pair that involved either Thomas Chabot or Johnny Oduya next to Erik Karlsson getting top offensive minutes, the Phaneuf-Ceci pair was the one getting heavy defensive zone starts. Their results were some of the worst in the league, as there’d be multiple shifts per game where they’d get hemmed in the defensive end after a handful of failed clearing/breakout attempts. Ceci is far from an ideal player for a top four, although Phaneuf was almost as much a contributor to the lazy defence they provided.
That said, I still think Phaneuf has a few years left at his current level, which is around a #4 defenceman. His skating is his biggest weakness, although he has a booming shot from the point and can play on the power play. He’s been an offensive defenceman his entire career (he had 20 goals in his rookie season!), so as long as John Stevens doesn’t make the same mistake as Guy Boucher and try to convert him into a shutdown guy, he’ll still be able to positively contribute for a few more seasons. He’s also a great leader and a fantastic guy (something I would’ve never imagined admitting when he was on the Leafs), so treat him well!
2: Where can Nate Thompson contribute as an LA King?
Colin: In the AHL. Don’t let his contract fool you -- it’s a mystery to us all in Sens fandom why he was given two years when there was no competition for his services. The coach praised his intangibles, which were so intangible that they were invisible. You won’t see a spark of offence from him. He was also one of the biggest factors to the Sens’ penalty kill ranking 29th in the league, allowing 10 more shot attempts per 60 minutes compared to when he’s on the bench. Don’t get your hopes up.
3: In your view, does this trade help or hurt the Ottawa Senators?
Colin: There are two major and equally important sides to this trade for the Senators: the players and the money.
Looking at the players, I think this is a slight downgrade for Ottawa, especially since Gaborik’s four years older than Phaneuf. Coming off a major surgery too, I’m very skeptical as to how much he’ll hold up. That said, I’m excited to see Nick Shore inserted into our bottom six instead of Nate Thompson. His RFA status after this season is just the added bonus, but his results seem to scream “career 4th-liner,” which is still better than Thompson.
Then there’s the financial side, and it’s no secret that this was what prompted Ottawa to make the move. They’ll save a total of $4,750,000 over the course of the four years, which at this point is being treated as funds for the Erik Karlsson Foundation. Contrary to some rumours and hundreds of armchair GMs, I still believe the Senators will try their hardest to re-sign their captain, as losing him will essentially be the gravestone for the team’s attendance. Add in that others due for extensions in the next two years (Stone, Ceci, Duchene, Brassard), and you can see why every dollar will help.
The team overall is in a dire financial state, and in owner Eugene Melnyk’s infamous December interview where he threatened relocation (and no, the Sens are not relocating), he mentioned that player salaries would be next on the chopping block since he’s already cut internal salaries to the “bare bones”. This isn’t new for the Sens -- they’ve been operating on an internal budget for years, and have made similar cost-cutting moves (Zibanejad for Brassard, Phaneuf for Cowen/Greening/Michalek). Although the team wouldn’t need to make this trade if they were in a better state financially (we’re holding out hope for a new owner), it’s been spilling onto the on-ice product. Now we hope that they allocate this new-found salary properly.
Thanks again to Colin, who writes about the Ottawa Senators (along with several other people!) at Silver Seven Sens.