Two of the longer term concerns entering the 2013-14 season for the Toronto Maple Leafs were the contract statuses of their star players Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf. GM Dave Nonis made good on Kessel’s desire to negotiate before the season, and now the Leafs leading scorer will be in the fold until 2022. Having taken care of the time sensitive work, now Nonis’ sights will be set on re-signing the Leafs captain to a long term deal. But what’s it going to cost? Let’s take a look.
For his part, Phaneuf has said he’s open to negotiating a new deal midseason, having done so in Calgary back in 2008. And why not? The Flames overpaid to lock up a young, budding star defender that had already reached the 20-goal and 60-point plateau by the age of 23. He’s never managed to repeat either feat since, and was shipped to Toronto two years later as a high-priced disappointment. Since coming to Toronto, he’s lost and re-found some measure of his scoring touch, while regularly lining up in the toughest defensive assignments. His role has changed, the cap has risen, the rules have changed, but his paycheque has remained static since then.
To look at what Phaneuf should get, I looked into the last four seasons of data on defensemen (2009-10 through 2012-13). Amusingly, these happen to be the four worst years of Phaneuf’s career from a statistical standpoint, but probably better reflect his scoring output as the seasons roll on. Yes, in an eight-year career, two Phaneuf’s worst individual seasons saw him feature 10th and 12th in league scoring among defenders. So please understand that I used the word ‘worst’ in a relative sense here.
In 277 games over the last four seasons, Phaneuf ranks 23rd in points scored with 134, good for .48 points per game. More impressively, he ranks 8th in goals (41), power play goals (18) and time on ice (6916 minutes). It is in that last category where there’s some interesting salary correlations, as six of the seven players ahead of him in TOI over the last four seasons also have higher cap hits (Weber, Chara, Bouwmeester, Doughty, Suter and Boyle). Only Duncan Keith, signed to a phony 13-year, $72-million deal that pays just 5% of his total salary over his final two seasons, has a lower annual cap hit and has played more hockey than Phaneuf.
Now, ice time is hardly a perfect measure of Phaneuf’s worth, and I think most would agree that at least five of the seven players ahead of Phaneuf on that list are better defensemen than the Leafs captain. But what we can extrapolate is that is that defensemen who play as much as Phaneuf does tend to get paid as much as Phaneuf does. They also tend to have both a leadership role and a ‘play in all situations’ role with their club, much like Phaneuf does. So while I’d be hesitant to say that Phaneuf is the league’s 8th best defenseman, he’s certainly in the top 20.
But one of the greatest difficulties in projecting Phaneuf’s future cap hit is understanding the vast shift in his playing style since coming to Toronto. As alluded to above, he has been tasked with defensive zone starts and top lines every shift he’s skated in Toronto. In his early days, Phaneuf saw over 5 minutes a night on the power play, and was given sheltered minutes at even strength. This season, Phaneuf finds himself in an elite pair of defenders (the other being Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson) who average at least 3:30 in ice time on both the penalty kill and power play per game while facing the league’s best forwards.
At this point, I’d like to remind Leafs fans of Phaneuf’s idol and potential career model, Scott Stevens. While known for punishing hits and staunch defensive play for the New Jersey Devils, it’s sometimes hard to remember that he was once a pure scorer. While never among the ranks of Larry Murphy or Paul Coffey offensively, Stevens still tallied 900 points in his career. His best season was 1993-94 when he finished with 78 points. Then came the first of Gary Bettman’s lockouts and a new game format that encouraged stifling defensive play. In 10 more seasons, Stevens would only crack 30 points once more, yet he became the most notable defensive presence of the “Dead Puck Era.”
Similarly for Phaneuf, the offensive dynamism that made him rich seems to have been replaced by defensive prowess. It’s not that Phaneuf has lost that offensive side to his game, it’s that his role and usage limit his overall number of offensive chances for in favour of limiting offensive chances against. Phaneuf could never score 40 points again, but he’s significantly more reliable, responsible and positionally sound than he was in his halcyon days as a scorer. As both James Mirtle and I said on Monday, Phaneuf is without a doubt the most irreplaceable player in the line up.
Many have argued that Phaneuf’s current cap number looks out of place citing his capgeek comparables, and have been using Jay Bouwmeester when forecasting Phaneuf’s next deal. The St. Louis Blues defender and former linemate of Phaneuf’s is in the last year of a deal that pays him $6.68-million annually. He also recently signed a five-year extension with the Blues that will pay him a mere $5.4-million. And for seemingly little reason, that’s what Phaneuf should get. Or so the thinking goes.
But there’s several factors that make me believe there’s no chance that Phaneuf can be re-signed for JayBo’s modest number. Firstly, there’s little similarity in their game, beyond the fact that both log a tonne of minutes. Over the past four seasons, Bouwmeester has 30 fewer points than Phaneuf; 22 fewer goals. While a top defenseman in his own right, Bouwmeester has to fight for third billing behind standouts Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. It’s hard to ask for a raise when there are two other guys at your work who do your job better than you. Phaneuf does not have to suffer that workplace competition, and might never in a Leaf uniform. Also, George W. Bush was still president at the start of the last season where Bouwmeester recorded 40 points. Finally, Phaneuf is also a year younger than Bouwmeester, still closer to his prime and still able to crack 40 points.
So what does it all mean? What is Phaneuf worth? Most would agree that he’s not worthy of Ryan Suter’s $7.4-million paycheque, despite Phaneuf having 59 more points over 600-game careers. He’s also worth more than Jay Bouwmeester’s future cap hit of $5.4-million.
If I had to stake a guess, I’d actually say that Phaneuf will see a slight raise ahead of next season. He’s still only 28, and has been healthy most of his career. He’s proven capable of playing 25-minutes a night and more likely than not to score 40 points a season. There’s a dearth of options internally or externally that the Leafs could acquire to immediately replace and improve upon what Phaneuf does.
The only way I could see him re-signing at his current price tag or for less money is if the Leafs are willing to offer Phaneuf an eight-year deal. But if I had to give a more accurate range, I’d say that the Leafs and Phaneuf will probably end up coming to terms on a deal in the 7-8 year, $47-56-million deal. That would put his annual cap hit at a reasonable, $6.7 to $7-million cap hit on a deal that would expire when Phaneuf was 36 or 37 years of age. Should the Leafs want shorter term, expect the AAV to go up accordingly.
While it might sound unreasonable, nothing about NHL player’s paydays are ever reasonable. And ask yourself, what would you rather have? Phaneuf at 6.9 million, or to spend the next few seasons trying to replace him?
Highest Scoring NHL DefensemanFor combined seasons, from 2005-06 to 2013-14, playing defenseman, sorted by descending goals scored.
Using the argument of Bouwmeester and his standing (behind Pietro & Shat) in STL, could it not be argued that Phaneuf might be the #3 dman in Toronto in future if the likes of Gardiner, Rielly and possibly even Franson continue to develop?
If Dion were smart, he'd take a 5 years deal at $6mm/per season ($30mm total). He gets paid a fair salary and he won't have Leaf fans calling him out as overpaid given that he took less than his previous contract. It also leaves a little extra for another player should this team ever become a true contender. Play it smart Dion!!
The build through the draft pissing match continues i see.
For proponents, the Bruins, Wings, Anaheim, 94 Rangers, 86 and 93 Shabs, to name a few, obviously didnt win a cup because they didnt have a lottery pick in their lineup
I've got no problem giving Phaneuf $7M for the next 6-8 years. Like Michael said, if you let him walk how long does it take for the Leafs to find or develop a replacement? The time to go on an extended run is coming up and the Leafs are going to need Phaneuf around for that.
Hey any word on Scott getting suspended??? It's been quite a few days, are they just going to forget about him?
Pretty cool chat here with Bob McKenzie here for anyone interested:
Two years ago, Kessel had 21 pts. (10 g, 11 a) in his first 13 games. He ended the year with 82 pts. (37 + 45). Let's hope he keeps this going a while longer, then, and gets to 40 this year.
In response to posters below, this is the roster Burke inherited four years 10 months ago, from the top scorer down
Mike Van Ryn
94 Rangers were built with Messier, Graves, Larmer, G. Anderson, Kevin Lowe, Greg Gilbert, Tikkanen, Gartner, Karpotsov, Bukeboom, Olczyk, Kocur, Lidster, jay Wells, McTavish, Phil Bourque, Kypreos in the lineup. All from other teams.
@Cloud09 I heard the list of potential free agents for next summer and to say it's lean is an understatement. Pay the man.
Refresh the page, BB. You might have the whole 1000 comments loaded on one page. It will go back to load only the most 50 recent. Running well for me.
@Cloud09 yah I just heard today it got delayed
@Cloud09 his hearing is tomorrow I think
@Jay31 That is a really good interview.....thanks for sharing!
@TheCanucksnaphook dang these late starts !!
@Dougie Wraparound slightly different team this season
@Dougie Wraparound With Kadri he will ;)
I know right ? Didn't they have Philly in top 3 in conference ?
Glue sniffers !!
But he was suppose to be the next Zetteberg.... That's what Edmonton said when they drafted him
Why am I remembering Sundin and Burke in a few articles then ? Was it something to do with Sundin wanting to come back and Burke saying No ?
and He gets fired !!!! LOL
@ingy56 Yea best thing coming out of that group would be Girardi, Boyle and Markov...
@rustynail Ah, ok
So Fenton, you are basically trying to say that you are a complete jackass with no knowledge, nor brains. An admirable thing to fight for and aspire to.
@likesthelinks @ProfessorRance @Dougie Wraparound I agree Phil is a great playmaker, but with Kadri there it brings a whole new dynamic to the line. Phil isn't relied on to do everything. Kadri can carry the puck and open up room, defenders back off cuz they're 3 weapons there and you're not sure who he's going to pass to or if he'll shoot himself. Where as if bozak has the puck you know he's going to pass to Kessel. And if Kessel has the puck well they'll take their chances covering he's shooting angle because chances are bozak is going to fan on his pass anyway
Lottery pick is top 3... Leafs finished in that category once. So the man misjudged his talent on this team. He did a fantastic job tearing it apart and rebuilding it from the bottom up. Why do you focus on the negatives? I'd much rather have a GM whose goal is to make the playoffs then have a GM like the Oilers who goal was to tank and create a losing environment in which they seem to still be stuck in.
@17Forever Didn't he sign Mcclement right before the lockout? I always thought that was Burke.