Dubas

Leafs going all-in on advanced stats

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The Toronto Maple Leafs were known as a franchise that was dismissive of advanced statistics. What a difference one summer can make.

New team president Brendan Shanahan shook up the Leafs’ front office by bringing aboard 28-year-old Kyle Dubas to serve as an assistant general manager. Known as a strong proponent for advanced statistics, Dubas proved to be just the start of Toronto’s new movement.

The Maple Leafs have since added extraskater.com founder Darryl Metcalf along with Cam Charron and Rob Pettapiece to help create their analytics department, according to Puck Daddy and Sportsnet.

These moves are punctuated by Shanahan’s recent statement that “we have people in our organization who have maybe been afraid of certain words and certain information.”

It will be interesting to see how that old guard meshes with Dubas’ new department, but it doesn’t have to be a battle. Dubas doesn’t see analytics as a replacement for traditional scouting, he merely believes it’s a tool to help in the evaluation process. At the same time, if everyone’s on board, this could lead to a shift in how the Maple Leafs’ operate.

Toronto was consistently out shot last season and while they initially managed to win in spite of that, the Leafs eventually fell from grace. That descent wasn’t surprising in the advance statistics community, which had largely pegged the Leafs as a team that was over performing. Although there are those that would argue that shot totals are an overrated statistic, it is something that the Maple Leafs appear to want to address.

That desire to change isn’t surprising either. Throwing everything else aside, the Toronto Maple Leafs allowed 3.07 goals per game last season and there can’t be anyone within the organization, regardless of their opinions on advance statistics, that finds that acceptable. For that matter, everyone can agree that the win column matters and there’s no question that’s one statistic the Leafs have been sorely deficient in for years.

Clearly improvements need to be made and if the Maple Leafs’ tactics thus far had led to results, then the hiring of Dubas and the founding of an analytics department might not have attracted as much attention. As it is, the Leafs seem to be a prime candidate for change and while the impact and influence of analytics on the team remains to be seen, their recent hires suggest that they are willing to embrace these relatively new ideas.

Maybe the Leafs didn’t want to trade Phaneuf, but they couldn’t afford to keep him

TORONTO, ON - DECEMEBER 19: Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs waits for a faceoff against the Phoenix Coyotes during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on December 19, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Leafs defeated the Coyotes 2-1 in an overtime shoot-out. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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The conference call was supposed to outline the reasons why Toronto traded its captain, Dion Phaneuf.

But instead, the man that orchestrated the deal — GM Lou Lamoriello — opened with all the reasons why the Leafs would miss him.

“I’ve been extremely impressed with Dion from day one,” Lamoriello explained on Tuesday, shortly after flipping Phaneuf to Ottawa in a blockbuster nine-player deal. “I came in with no preconceived notions, I really didn’t know what to expect other than what was hearsay at different times.

“He’s been impressive in every way whatsoever. And in the phone call I had with him, I expressed that and I meant it sincerely. He’s been a great leader, he’s handled every situation that’s been asked of him, and he’s going to be missed.”

But then, Lamoriello turned to the hard truth.

For as much as the Leafs liked Phaneuf and respected what he’d done in his six-plus seasons with the organization, he just didn’t fit anymore.

Phaneuf, who turns 31 in April, didn’t fit with the rebuild. Assuming the Leafs are two to three years away from being competitive, it’s hard to envision a (successful) blueprint in which a veteran defenseman — one that’s essentially been miscast as a No. 1 since arriving in Toronto — is pushing 35 while the team is on an upswing… while pulling in $7 million annually.

Which brings us to the next thing that didn’t fit in Toronto:

Phaneuf’s contract.

In the second of a seven-year, $49 million deal, Phaneuf would’ve been on Toronto’s books through 2021. That kind of term is an albatross, especially when the likes of Morgan Rielly and Nazem Kadri need new deals by next July, and prized prospects Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen are all due to hit restricted free agency around the same time.

Sens GM Bryan Murray acknowledged as much in his conference call, saying the Phaneuf trade “gives [the Leafs] relief in the latter part of the contract.”

Lamoriello also made mention of that fact, pointing out that a key to the deal was not retaining any of Phaneuf’s salary.

“The length of Dion’s contract and the amount of cap space that is there — where that would put us at a given time, certainly not knowing where the cap will go, this gives us the opportunity to do things,” he said. “It also gives us the opportunity when some of our younger players are coming to the end of their entry-level contracts — who we have high expectations for — to sign them.”

In the end, the deck was just too stacked against Phaneuf.

The GM that acquired him (Brian Burke) and the one that extended him (Dave Nonis) are long gone, and the new regime made no bones about the fact that, for as much as they liked Phaneuf, they didn’t like his contract.

So, off to Ottawa he goes.

“This is a transaction, “Lamoriello said, “that we had no choice with.”

Related: For Sens, Phaneuf brings experience and ‘security on the back end’

For Sens, Phaneuf brings experience and ‘security on the back end’

OTTAWA, CANADA - APRIL 12: Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs passes the puck against Erik Condra #22 of the Ottawa Senators on April 12, 2014 at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)
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If it felt like this morning’s Dion Phaneuf trade came out of the blue, well, it kinda did.

According to Senators GM Bryan Murray, talks only got “serious” this past weekend during a phone call with Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello.

“He called me about something else,” said Murray. “I brought up Dion’s name.”

The way the Sens had been playing, it’s no surprise to hear that Murray had been looking for a “little more security on the back end,” as he put it.

“You hear people talk all the time that we’re dreadful in our own end,” he said. “We haven’t been great. We’re getting better. This we believe will be a good addition. It’s about getting an experienced leader, good person, hard-working, competitive guy to add to the mix in our top four.”

Phaneuf is expected to start on the Sens’ second pairing with Cody Ceci. Ottawa’s top d-man, Erik Karlsson, typically skates with Marc Methot.

While Murray called the multi-player deal a “hockey trade,” he conceded there were financial considerations involved.

“It had to work financially for us, as well as for Toronto,” he said. “It gives them relief in the latter part of the contract, I suspect, and it gives us some working pieces to go forward with for the next couple of years.”

What do the Sens expect from Phaneuf?

“Just to be a solid person, player,” said Murray. “Come in and give a little experience to the back end. Play his game the way he plays it.”

“He’ll just bring, we hope, a presence to this organization,” Murray continued. “It appears right now that we’ve got a lot of young guys that are going to be fitted in and playing. Our depth and youth, it’s good. We just needed a little bit of help.”

One thing Murray doesn’t expect?

“We don’t expect him to come in here to be a savior. We expect him to come in here and just be the hockey player that he is.”

Ottawa plays tomorrow in Detroit, where Phaneuf is expected to make his Senators debut.

The Sens and Leafs play March 5 in Toronto.

No hearing scheduled for Abdelkader after Barkov hit

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There’s no disciplinary hearing scheduled for Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader following his big check on Florida’s Aleksander Barkov last night, an NHL spokesman has confirmed.

The incident, which occurred early in the second period, left Barkov woozy and forced him from the game entirely. Abdelkader wasn’t penalized on the play — that, along with the hit itself, infuriated the Panthers and head coach Gerard Gallant.

“It was a cheap hit, I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,” Nick Bjugstad told the Miami Herald.

“I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn’t see it that way,” Gallant added, noting that Abdelkader “left his feet a little and got [Barkov] in the jaw.”

Abdelkader has run afoul of the Department of Player Safety before. He was suspended two games during the ’13 playoffs for a hit on then-Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman.

The Panthers are back in action tonight, as they take on the Sabres in Buffalo.

Detroit doesn’t play again until Wednesday, when it hosts the Sens at Joe Louis.

Dion Phaneuf traded to Senators

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 07:  Jordan Nolan #71 of the Los Angeles Kings is knocked off balance by Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period at Staples Center on January 7, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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And this is why we listen when Bob McKenzie says something.

The Ottawa Senators have acquired defenseman Dion Phaneuf, forwards Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey, and Ryan Rupert and undrafted defensive prospect Cody Donaghey from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for defenseman Jared Cowen, forwards Colin Greening, Milan Michalek and Tobias Lindberg, plus Ottawa’s second-round pick in the 2017 draft.

No salary will be retained by either team.

From the Leafs’ perspective, the trade provides even more cap flexibility for their rebuild. Phaneuf is signed through 2020-21 for a cap hit of $7 million; he’s entirely on Ottawa’s books now. As for the guys coming to Toronto, Michalek, Cowen, and Greening are only under contract through next season, for a combined cap hit of around $10 million. And according to the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch, both Cowen and Greening could be bought out by the Leafs this offseason.

The Sens, meanwhile, get to add a workhorse defenseman to a blue line that already includes Erik Karlsson. Plus, they rid themselves of some onerous contracts.