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NHL rumors: Is Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf on trading block?

By Chris Peters | Hockey Writer

Could Dion Phaneuf be on his way out of Toronto? (USATSI)
Could Dion Phaneuf be on his way out of Toronto? (USATSI)

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Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf was the latest big-name player to have his name tossed into the offseason rumor mill. Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos got the rumor mill kicking into high gear when he lumped Phaneuf in with Ottawa Senators captain Jason Spezza as being shopped by their respective clubs.

That Spezza may be on the move is hardly a surprise. The Senators need to reshuffle the deck a bit and trading a big name like Spezza for some youth wouldn't be a bad idea, considering his contract expires after next season.

It's a little more surprising that the Maple Leafs would be willing to deal a player like Phaneuf, especially after signing the captain to a seven-year extension in the middle of last season worth $49 million for an annual average of $7 million.

According to Kypreos, there is a lot of interest in Phaneuf at the right price, which is unsurprising considering he's still a high-end defenseman.

There is some dispute of Kypreos' report from TSN's Darren Dreger who took umbrage with the idea that Phaneuf is being actively shopped.

So it's possibly an issue of semantics, but the increasing smoke suggests there could be something to Phaneuf's availability on the trade market. Whether the Leafs are shopping or listening, it seems like Phaneuf could be had for the right deal.

As Kypreos notes, the Leafs are probably going to have to eat salary in order to move the 29-year-old veteran defenseman. At that point, the Leafs will have to decide just how much value they'll end up getting as part of any Phaneuf deal.

There's also the little problem that Phaneuf is the team's best defenseman and probably by a wide margin, which admittedly isn't saying a lot, but it matters. Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner definitely have bright futures, but Gardiner could also be on the way out and neither has the experience level or ability to eat high-leverage minutes like Phaneuf does yet.

The question the Maple Leafs have to ask themselves if they have any plans of dealing Phaneuf is how much restructuring they think they need to do. There's no question the roster as is probably isn't going to get the job done, certainly not on the back end. Can Toronto make meaningful improvements to their blue line by dealing their best player at the position? That's going to be extremely tough to do.

The Maple Leafs have many problems and maybe sometimes Phaneuf and his contract are part of them, but there are a host of others more pressing it would seem.

With the team bringing back head coach Randy Carlyle, there is going to have to be changes to the roster, as the coach and lineup didn't seem to mesh. Whether it was right or wrong to bring back Carlyle is now irrelevant as that ship has sailed. But will the team be able to make positive changes without harming the long-term health of the club if the goal is to fit the head coach's system? That's a risky play, especially if Carlyle ends up on a relatively short leash despite his recent contract extension.

It's going to be an awfully interesting summer for the Maple Leafs as we find out just how big a wrecking ball they take to this roster or if they do much of anything at all.

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