Phaneuf’s a fit in Ottawa
Former Leaf well liked, playing well and playing against NHL’s top lines one year after trade
When longtime 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 OK, 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 Thursday.
“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.”
Ottawa, currently hanging onto the second playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, likes the bite Phaneuf has given them and believe he’s capably filled a veteran void near the top of their defence. They rave about a “tremendous” leadership effect which also won fans with the Leafs.
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.
“When you play a hard 20-25 minutes, finding those defencemen (who can do that), they don’t grow on trees,” Dorion said. “For us, for Dion to come in and do what he’s done it’s been very valuable.”
Phaneuf’s effectiveness, however, does not quite align with a contract that has four more years remaining with an annual salary of $7 million — tied with reigning Norris trophy winner Drew Doughty for sixth-highest 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.
Senators defenceman Dion Phaneuf is a big, hard-working player that Ottawa hated to play against when he was a Leaf.