Just because the contract situations of Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel aren’t presently on the “front-burner” of Toronto general manager Dave Nonis doesn’t mean Maple Leafs fans aren’t thinking about them.
Both Phaneuf, the captain, and Kessel, the team’s top scorer, can become unrestricted free agents at the end of 2013-14, at which point both would be in line for big pay days.
It may be that both end up re-signing in Toronto. Per CapGeek, the Leafs only have 10 players under contract for 2014-15 for a total cap payroll of just over $31 million. (That leaves around $33 million in cap space.)
However, if there’s one that’s more likely to stay long-term than the other, most feel it’s Kessel. Not only is the 25-year-old one of the premier snipers in the NHL, Nonis also just gave a big contract extension to Tyler Bozak, Kessel’s center and good friend.
Kessel, not a big talker at his most chatty, didn’t share much when asked recently about his contract situation.
“I haven’t even thought about it yet,” he said. “I’ve still got another year here and we’ll see what happens.”
But his good buddy Bozak is confident he’ll be back.
“He’s been the leader of our team on the ice and hopefully he can stay there for as long as he can and I know he enjoys it there; I know it’s his favourite place to be,” Bozak said last month, per Sportsnet. “I think if the money’s right he’s gonna stay for sure.”
As for Phaneuf, well, if the amount of trade speculation is any indication, there’s reason to believe he could be on his way out.
Not that the 28-year-old is coming off a poor season. In fact, he had 28 points in 48 games while averaging 25:11 of ice time per game. But the occasional (or frequent, depending who you ask) defensive gaffe — like the one in Game 4 of the Leafs’ first-round series versus Boston — has the tendency to bring the knives out in a big way.
There’s also Toronto’s sizable crop of young d-men to consider. With Carl Gunnarsson (26 years old), Jake Gardiner (23), Cody Franson (25), and Morgan Rielly (19) in the mix, perhaps the Leafs would be better served trading Phaneuf and spending the money they’d save elsewhere.
That’s all for Nonis to decide. And he’s got plenty of time to make the decision. It could be this all plays out like it did in Anaheim this past season when Cory Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, two big pending UFAs, didn’t sign extensions with the Ducks until March, only weeks before the trade deadline.
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