It will be interesting to see how busy trade deadline day will be this year, but some big names are already wearing a new jersey. On Tuesday the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators added to that by engaging in a nine-player, one-draft pick deal that centered on Dion Phaneuf.
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From a fantasy perspective I think the players that might see the biggest offensive boost could be Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly as Phaneuf consumed 3:02 power-play minutes of ice time per game and those two blueliners are in a position to capitalize on that void. As for the players traded though, I'm not convinced that this deal will have a meaningful impact on them, in large part because most of them didn't have much fantasy value to begin with. The obvious exception to that being Phaneuf, but his role isn't going to change substantially in Ottawa - or at least that's sort of true.
To say Phaneuf's responsibilities in Ottawa will be identical to what they were in Toronto would be an oversimplification, but if we're just talking about the top-line numbers then you might not see a glaring difference. He logged 5:04 minutes of power-play ice time and 21:42 minutes overall in his debut with the Senators, so if you were worried that he's going to be used less on the man advantage now, it seems you can table those concerns for now. At the same time, it's not like Phaneuf has moved to a serious Stanley Cup contender. Ottawa is having a better season than Toronto, sure, but that's setting the bar so low that a toddler could step over it. The defenseman still might at least see his plus/minus improve, but beyond that I'm expecting more of the same from Phaneuf.
If you missed it Gus Katsaros did a great piece on Phaneuf yesterday that I would recommend looking into. In particular, he analyzes how being paired up with Jake Gardiner has impacted Phaneuf. From here I'm going to move on to the rest of the trade and what this means for the teams long-term, but if your interest lies with Phaneuf specifically, then reading through Katsaros' work will give you much more to think about.
That aside, the only other player that's really even worth mentioning if your primary concern is fantasy hockey is Milan Michalek. He's been having a bad campaign with 10 points in 32 contests and is out indefinitely with a broken finger. Maybe the change of scenery will help spark him when he returns, but that's not a hope worth betting on prematurely. At most, Michalek is someone to just keep in the corner of your mind so that you remember to check in on him once he finally becomes healthy.
Really the aspect that I'm most interested in is what this means for Ottawa because to be honest, this trade doesn't make a lot of sense to me from the Senators' perspective. The Senators are a small market team that needs to ration its cap space more than most, so why commit to a soon-to-be 31-year-old defenseman that comes with a $7 million cap hit through 2020-21 when you already have a gem like Erik Karlsson. It just seems like them going too heavy with high priced defensemen, which might force them to make sacrifices down the road in other areas.
I could understand it if Phaneuf was an elite defenseman because then that would give Ottawa a superb 1-2 punch on the blueline worthy of that cap space, but while Phaneuf is good, I don't know that he's at that level and given his age, he's more likely to decline over the next few years than anything, which - again - is a problem given how long he's now tied to Ottawa for.
Granted, that's a long-term concern and for now this trade has at least improved Ottawa's chances of making the playoffs, but the idea that Ottawa is right to endure long-term hardships for the sake of short-term gains would only resonate with me if the Senators were close to winning the Stanley Cup - or at least going on a long run. I think Ottawa has been moving in the right direction, but it's not there yet and by the time the Senators are at that stage, it wouldn't be shocking if Phaneuf was on the decline.
Moving past that though, it will be interesting to see what Toronto does from here. The Maple Leafs have stripped themselves of their last major long-term commitment, beyond Nathan Horton, who doesn't count against the cap because he can't play. Jake Gardiner is the Maple Leafs only roster player that's signed for another three seasons after 2015-16 while Leo Komarov, Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk, and Tyler Bozak are inked for another two campaigns after this one.
That gives Toronto a lot of cap flexibility going forward, but the question is what the Maple Leafs will do with it. The 2016 UFA market could have some pretty desirable names on it including Steven Stamkos, Eric Staal, Keith Yandle, and David Backes, but there's still a lot of time for teams to re-sign their players or trade them to squads who will then ink them. For that reason it's much too early to say that this year's pool of free agents will be a good one. Of course, rebuilding through the free agent market is typically not the way to go, but you can find some good pieces there, that could be what pushes you over the edge. Keep in mind that at the same time Toronto has been rebuilding its farm system and collecting picks, so it's not necessarily in a position where it has to pick one or the other.
It's also not necessarily in a position where it has to pick either route. A glut of prospects and cap space to burn can lead to desirable trades, especially if the low Canadian Dollar continues to weigh on the salary cap. As long as there's cap concerns, summer trades need not necessarily involve aging veterans as Brandon Saad is well aware.
At the end of the day, not a whole right has gone right for the Maple Leafs since the start of the salary cap era, but it'd be wrong to say there isn't potential there.