Pha­neuf’s a fit in Ottawa

For­mer Leaf well liked, play­ing well and play­ing against NHL’s top lines one year af­ter trade

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - JONAS SIEGEL

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.

SEAN KIL­PATRICK, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Sen­a­tors de­fence­man Dion Pha­neuf is a big, hard-work­ing player that Ottawa hated to play against when he was a Leaf.

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