Mike Halford

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

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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’

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.

Habs lose Petry to lower-body injury

Montreal Canadiens v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Three
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The Montreal Canadiens will be without a key piece of their defense on Tuesday when they take on the Lightning.

Jeff Petry, who sits tied with P.K. Subban for the lead in d-man goals this year (with five), has suffered a lower-body injury and won’t be in the lineup tonight.

Petry missed the last half of the third period of Montreal’s win over Carolina on Sunday, which could be related to the injury in question. He finished with just 16:03 TOI, well off the 21:21 he averages per game.

The loss could be a big one for the Habs, who’ve won two straight for the first time since November. Petry often played on a pairing with Alexei Emelin and was on the club’s second power-play unit.

With Petry out, it’s possible that Nathan Beaulieu could draw back into the lineup.

 

Trotz wants fix for Caps’ ailing power play

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WASHINGTON (AP) The Capitals are winners of three in a row and sitting pretty atop the NHL, so not much seems to be going wrong for Washington. They do however have one glaring problem – power-play goals – and it is something coach Barry Trotz hopes to fix sooner rather than later.

Washington is 0 for their last 17 and haven’t scored a power-play goal since Jan. 19 after consistently being the league’s top power-play team the past several seasons.

The five-game drought hasn’t cost them in the standings, but after a similar stretch haunted them in last year’s playoffs, so it’s worth significant attention in the coming days and weeks.

“Sometimes we can be very stubborn and say, `Our power play will work against everybody,’ but we do make lots of adjustments,” Trotz said after the Capitals beat the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. “If there’s a trend, then we better fix it before the playoffs because to me if we don’t fix it before the playoffs, you’re almost in a situation where it’s too late.”

The Capitals went 0 for 13 in Games 2 through 7 of their second-round playoff series against the New York Rangers last spring.

A lack of power-play goals wasn’t the only reason for blowing a 3-1 series lead, and this five-game drought isn’t cause for alarm just yet. The Capitals still (barely) have the league’s top unit with a 24.2 percent success rate, but more importantly they have a four-point lead over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Presidents’ Trophy race and have played five fewer games.

But as Washington goes on the road to face the Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars this week, getting the power play back on track is a major focus. It’s not necessarily about getting rid of the goose egg in the goal column as much as fixing what’s contributing to the problem.

“We believe as long as we are getting zone time, we’re getting shots, we have some of the key elements of our power play, that results are going to come,” power-play point man Matt Niskanen said. “Some of those areas have been lacking lately, so that’s what we’ll try to fix. I don’t think you get too caught up in the results. You focus on the process and things like your breakout, your zone entries, your recoveries, net presence, execution – all those things. If we concentrate on those things, the results will come.”

Trotz blamed poor puck retrievals and execution for the power-play struggles. It doesn’t help that forward Marcus Johansson has missed four games with an upper-body injury, but with offensively-potent Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson in the lineup that shouldn’t be such a debilitating loss.

“We have some good people, so that’s not really an excuse,” Trotz said. “Marcus is very good on the power play, but so is Kuznetsov and Burakovsky and (Jason Chimera) does a good job in Marcus’ sort of spot. I don’t think that’s as big a deal.”

Not having Ovechkin when he was suspended against the Florida Panthers took away the power. Ovechkin’s one-timer from the left faceoff circle is one of the most unstoppable shots in hockey, even though defenders and goaltenders know it’s coming.

Ovechkin has been back for the past three games, and Washington hasn’t been able to get into much of a rhythm. Sunday against Philadelphia, one power play was rife with turnovers and even an icing.

Without a power-play goal once again, it was up to the Capitals’ penalty kill to get the job done. That unit is 8 for its past 9, and the pressure is higher on the penalty kill when the power play isn’t clicking.

“The power play has been (ranked) 1, 2 or 3 in the league for a ton of years in a row now and the PK hasn’t, so we always feel like we’re catching up to the power play,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We want to pull our own weight, and so when things aren’t going, you have to win the special teams war in a different way, and PK is the way it needs to be done.”

Eaves to stick with Benn, Seguin on Dallas’ top line

Patrick Eaves, Jonas Hiller
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Patrick Eaves‘ cameo alongside the dynamic duo of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin looks like it’ll continue at least one more game.

Eaves, who along with Benn assisted on Seguin’s goal in Saturday’s loss to Chicago, practiced on Dallas’ top line today and should be there tomorrow when the Stars take on the Wild.

“Seguin, Benn and Eaves were in on 11 chances [Saturday against Chicago],” head coach Lindy Ruff explained, per the Stars’ website. They could have three or four [goals]. They should have had three or four. We missed too many good opportunities.”

This latest development is a positive in what’s been a tough year for Eaves. He was hurt early in the season after an awkward fall against the Oilers — a game in which he opened on the club’s top line, next to Benn and Seguin.

All told, he has just three goals and six points in 33 games.

Last year, Eaves was plagued with concussion issues but still managed to produce well, scoring 14 goals and 27 points in just 47 games.