It went from rumor to official real quickly: the Toronto Maple Leafs have sent captain Dion Phaneuf to the Ottawa Senators in a nine-player deal, and I’m about to hit a heretofore unprecedented sequence of keystrokes here, but the Leafs seem like they have a plan and they’re pulling it off real well.


The full deal is Phaneuf, F Matt Frattin, F Casey Bailey, F Ryan Rupert, and D Cody Donaghey headed to Ottawa, with Toronto receiving F Milan Michalek, F Tobias Lindberg, F Colin Greening, D Jared Cowen, and the Sens’ second-round pick in the 2017 draft.

In terms of players, this is about Phaneuf. The 30-year defenseman is very good, flawed, and smack-dab in his prime (though he won’t be by the end of his contract), and will make a fascinating top pairing with Erik Karlsson (Correction: my bad, he’ll be paired with Cody Ceci). The Senators are a few points out of the playoff picture, but Phaneuf is inked through 2021.


On the other side it’s mostly filler, but the Leafs reportedly really like Lindbergh, and that draft pick should come in handy.

But this deal is about money. Phaneuf is making $7 million a year for the next five seasons after this one, and that’s a huge waste of both cash and cap space for a team like the Leafs, who aren’t going anywhere soon. They will retain zero salary in this deal, which is a coup. Add it to their miracle dump of David Clarkson ($5.25M through 2020) on Columbus, and the trade of Phil Kessel ($6.8M through 2022, with $1.2M retained) to Pittsburgh, and that’s three untradaeble contracts the Leafs have traded away. Brendan Shanahan and now Lou Lamoriello are clearing the decks.

That’d be good enough on its own—the Leafs have long needed to be blown up, because it can really only get better from here. But these moves put them in position to make a run at Steven Stamkos, who grew up in the Toronto suburbs and has long been rumored to be a top targets for the Leafs. The Lightning can’t get a deal done with their 26-year-old franchise player, so there’s an outside possibility they could move him by the Feb. 29 trade deadline rather than lose him for nothing over the summer. Either way, the Leafs are very interested.


It might be a tough sell for Toronto: Sign here, we’ll be good in, like, three or four years tops, we swear. But they’ve got the money, they’ve got executives who seem like they know what they’re doing, and they’ve got the freedom and leeway to formulate a long-term plan and follow through. Whether they successfully do or not is a different story. But this is still more than Leafs fans have had to look forward to in a long, long time.