One year later

Se­na­tors pleased with returns from Pha­neuf trade

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS -

When long-time Toronto Maple Leafs cap­tain Dion Pha­neuf first joined the Ot­tawa Se­na­tors, his new team­mates didn’t re­ally know what to think.

Some­one they grew to hate was now sud­denly clad in their black and red colours, an un­likely team­mate fol­low­ing a block­buster trade from Toronto.

“You didn’t even know if it was real or not,” Se­na­tors winger Mike Hoff­man re­called. “But once it set in that yeah okay, it’s not a dream, he’s ac­tu­ally on our team now it didn’t take long at all (for him to fit in).”

Ot­tawa has seem­ingly got what it was af­ter in the trade for Pha­neuf, which was made a year ago to­day.

“This trade for us was a bit more than hockey-re­lated for us,” Se­na­tors gen­eral man­ager Pierre Do­rion said in a re­cent in­ter­view. “Dion ob­vi­ously has brought great lead­er­ship to our team, his in­flu­ence on our younger players — how to be pros, how to ap­proach games — has been a big fac­tor, I think, in what we’ve done this year and what we’re try­ing to ac­com­plish mov­ing for­ward.”

Not only that, Do­rion says, but Pha­neuf keeps the club from hav­ing to ex­pose younger, less ex­pe­ri­enced de­fence­men to heav­ier min­utes and re­spon­si­bil­ity. Pha­neuf av­er­ages al­most 23 min­utes in all sit­u­a­tions for head coach Guy Boucher, his most fre­quent five-on-five op­po­nents up front this year in­clud­ing Alex Ovechkin, Nick­las Back­strom, Ryan O’Reilly and Aus­ton Matthews.

Pha­neuf’s ef­fec­tive­ness, how­ever, does not quite align with a con­tract that has four more years re­main­ing with an an­nual cap hit of US$7 mil­lion — tied with reign­ing Nor­ris tro­phy win­ner Drew Doughty for six­th­high­est among NHL de­fence­men this sea­son.

Over­all pro­duc­tion for the Ed­mon­ton na­tive, who turns 32 in April, is more in line sta­tis­ti­cally with a No. 5-cal­i­bre de­fence­man, ac­cord­ing to the hockey an­a­lyt­ics web­site Own The Puck.

Among the weaker puck pos­ses­sion teams in the league, the Se­na­tors are out­shot even a lit­tle more with Pha­neuf on the ice. The vet­eran de­fender has also taken 29 mi­nor penal­ties, most at his po­si­tion league-wide and nearly as many al­ready as the 35 he took all of last sea­son.

Do­rion con­tends that the un­der­ly­ing num­bers don’t fully cap­ture the dif­fi­culty of Pha­neuf’s min­utes.

“At the end of the day I look at his con­tri­bu­tion and what he’s able to do five-on-five. (Penalty kill), he’s been tremen­dous,” Do­rion said, cit­ing the club’s rise from the sec­ond-worst unit last year to 10th this sea­son.

Un­der­ly­ing penalty-killing num­bers, though, sug­gest oth­er­wise.

The club has al­lowed 110 shot at­tempts per-60 min­utes when he’s on the ice, worse than team­mates Erik Karls­son (90), Marc Methot (99) and Cody Ceci (108) and among the high­est marks league-wide.

Pha­neuf has be­come an ef­fec­tive net-front pres­ence on the Ot­tawa power play (11 points), on pace to match the 32 to­tal points he recorded last year be­tween Toronto and Ot­tawa. But he has only nine even-strength points (tied for 104th among the 175 de­fend­ers who’ve played at least 30 games) and only one pri­mary as­sist in five-on-five sit­u­a­tions.

Ot­tawa saved money in the short-term in deal­ing for Pha­neuf — part­ing with con­tracts for Mi­lan Michalek, Jared Cowen, and Colin Green­ing — and while his con­tract is in­deed large, it’s not quite as pro­hib­i­tive for a team like the Se­na­tors, which never spends to the cap.

Pha­neuf’s im­pact, in the team’s view, also goes well beyond the ice with players and their GM laud­ing his lead­er­ship abil­ity — a ben­e­fit cer­tainly for 26-year-old Karls­son, the team’s cap­tain.

Hoff­man was among the many Se­na­tors who de­spised Pha­neuf from all those Bat­tle of On­tario clashes, but the out­go­ing, like­able per­son he’s come to know since is “com­pletely dif­fer­ent”.

“Prob­a­bly the most dif­fer­ent that I’ve ever met in that in­stance where you play against some­one and you maybe think of them as a cer­tain way and then you meet them in per­son and they’re com­pletely 180-de­grees (the op­po­site),” Hoff­man said, cit­ing Pha­neuf’s char­ac­ter and lead­er­ship.

“I’ve be­come good friends with him.”

CP PHOTO

Dion Pha­neuf (left) con­grat­u­lates goalie Mike Con­don on his 3-0 shutout against the Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals fol­low­ing NHL ac­tion in Ot­tawa in this Jan. 24 file photo.

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