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Under Pressure: Dion Phaneuf

Ottawa Senators v Toronto Maple Leafs

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 5: Dion Phaneuf #2 of the Ottawa Senators skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on March 5,2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Senators defeated the Maple Leafs 3-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

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This is part of Ottawa Senators day at PHT...

After spending seven years in Toronto where he was expected to be the No. 1 defenseman and captain of one of the NHL’s most iconic franchises, Dion Phaneuf is no stranger to facing a little bit of pressure.

The pressure and scrutiny he is going to face this season (and in future seasons) in Ottawa will not be quite what it was in Toronto, but there is still going to be an expectation for him to be a big contributor on the blue line. He is still a big name in hockey, still carries a massive contract (he is the second highest paid player on the team, behind only Bobby Ryan) and the team needs somebody else on the blue line to step up and provide big minutes to complement two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson.

It is just a question of how good Phaneuf can still be, how much of an impact he can still make, and whether or not it will be worth the financial commitment the Senators took on when they acquired him in last season’s in-season blockbuster.

At 31 it should be obvious that he is not going to be the same player he was earlier in his career when he was regularly scoring double-digit goals and a threat to put 50 or 60 total points on the board.

But just because he started to slow down a bit over the past two years and maybe wasn’t quite up to being the No. 1 defenseman Toronto needed him to be doesn’t mean that he suddenly has zero value as a player. In Ottawa, he is not going to have to be the top guy and can perhaps settle into the No. 2 or 3 role he is perhaps better suited for at this point in his career.

The problem with that is it means the Senators will have to commit $7 million in cap space per year through 2021 for a player that is not going to be (or expected to be) a No. 1 defenseman. That price tag comes with a lot of expectations on any team, but it is especially true for a team like Ottawa. Even though salary cap space itself isn’t an issue, the Senators are a team that tends to operate well below the cap.

That means there is still a pretty big opportunity cost within that budget to have that much money going to a player like Phaneuf when the team is operating under its own cap.

If he does not deliver, even as more of a complimentary player than the franchise building block he was expected to be in Toronto, that contract could be a pretty significant issue in future seasons when it comes to building around what the team has in place.