I usually don’t make predictions, preferring to follow the advice of the late, great Toe Blake and leave them to the realm of gypsies.
Sometimes, though, there are exceptions to the rule, when I get a strong sense of where I believe a player will end up. Such is the case with Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, whom I believe will avoid free agency and re-sign with the Leafs.
Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos believes it could take a seven-year, $50 million contract to re-sign Phaneuf, noting since 2005-06 he’s among the NHL’s top ten defensemen in several notable categories, including goals, points, power-play goals and average ice time.
Those stats make a strong case for re-signing Phaneuf, but his critics swiftly rejected that notion, pointing to his defensive inconsistency. They consider him an over-rated, one-dimensional defenseman unworthy of $50 million.
I believe the Leafs will re-sign Dion Phaneuf – probably to a six-seven year deal around $50 million – because they simply cannot afford to let him walk next summer.
Leafs GM Dave Nonis pretty much let the cat out of the bag this past summer, calling Phaneuf “a core part of our team” while adding there was no reason to think he didn’t have a long-term future with the Leafs.
There’s certainly no stud blueliner within their farm system capable of replacing Phaneuf nor is there anyone in their current lineup who can fill his skates. Cody Franson? Jake Gardiner? Not a chance.
Could the Leafs trade for a replacement, like Nashville’s Shea Weber? Sure, if Nonis were willing to give up Nazem Kadri or James van Reimsdyk, the Leafs first round pick in 2014, maybe his first or second rounder in 2015, and a couple of prospects, like promising blueliner Morgan Rielly.
Some believe the Predators want to dump Weber’s expensive contract, but if they didn’t believe he was worth it, they wouldn’t have matched that ridiculous offer sheet from the Flyers last year. Predators GM David Poile has repeatedly dismissed the Weber trade rumors, and I believe him when he says he wants to keep him.
It’s been suggested Buffalo’s Tyler Myers would make a good, affordable replacement. Assuming the Sabres would swap with the Leafs, only a fool believes Myers – who’s struggled in Buffalo the past two years – will magically become a superstar in the fishbowl of hockey’s biggest market.
Trade for Montreal’s P.K. Subban? Hell, why don’t you just ask Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin to beg a rabid wildcat to lick his balls? I’m sure he’d rather go through that experience than ship the 2013 Norris Trophy winner to his team’s historic rival.
Truth is, there’s no one available in the trade market – either this year or the foreseeable future – who can suitably replace Dion Phaneuf on the Leafs blueline.
As for next summer’s free agent market, guess who the best defenseman is? Here’s a hint: his name rhymes with Leon Enough.
You can argue Phaneuf is already overpaid at his current annual average cap hit of $6.5 million, but the Calgary Flames happily signed him to that contract, and former Leafs GM Brian Burke had no problem with it when he acquired Phaneuf nearly four years ago.
The marketplace is what it is. If the Leafs don’t pony up $50 million over seven years, another NHL team will gladly do so next summer, when the salary cap could rise back to $70 million next season. Teams sometimes must overpay to retain their best players. Besides, it’s not like the Maple Leafs – the NHL’s richest team – can’t afford it.
Phaneuf’s critics might argue the Leafs would be better off letting him walk and using that $7 million per season to bolster their blueline depth with a couple of good, affordable defensemen.
Only problem with that theory is most legitimate Stanley Cup contenders always have at least one stud defenseman to anchor their blueline. Look at most of the recent Stanley Cup champions. The Blackhawks have Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. The Kings have Drew Doughty. The Bruins Zdeno Chara. The Red Wings had Nicklas Lidstrom. The Ducks had Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer.
You can argue Phaneuf’s not in that class, but he’s the closest the Leafs have, and they won’t find anyone comparable or better via trade or free agency. Like it or not, Phaneuf haters, he’s the Leafs best defenseman. Losing him would leave a gaping hole in the blueline which could take years to fill, derailing their efforts to build a Stanley Cup contender.
The Leafs want to keep him. Phaneuf wants to stay. They’ll quibble over total dollars and term, but ultimately the final deal should be around the seven-year $50 million predicted by Nick Kypreos.
To Phaneuf’s critics, allow me to paraphrase a famous pro wrestler: Whether you like or don’t like it, sit down and look at it, because Dion Phaneuf is the best thing happening to the Leafs defense today.