Welcome Dion Phaneuf to the trade rumor mill

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For the record, this isn’t due to any specific report that Dion Phaneuf is being shopped. While the Maple Leafs reportedly fielded “inquiries” on their captain during the summer, the most recent trade speculation (and there’s been plenty, not just limited to Phaneuf) comes on the heels of Toronto’s embarrassing back-to-back losses to Buffalo and Nashville.

The main argument for trading Phaneuf? Besides the fact he hasn’t been all that great this season, it’s that the Leafs, as they’re currently composed, are married to mediocrity. In order to get a divorce, they’ll need to shed some of the big contracts they’ve got on the books. And Phaneuf’s contract (7 years, $49 million, through 2020-21) is second in size to only Phil Kessel’s (8 years, $64 million, through 2021-21).

There will, of course, be those who argue that Phaneuf has little trade value, that moving him would amount to a salary dump and no more. That may indeed be the case. Then again, take a look around the league. In case you haven’t noticed, teams desperately need defensemen. (Dallas, Philadelphia, Colorado, Edmonton, to name just four.) Phaneuf may not be an elite blue-liner in the sense that he’s in the running for the Norris Trophy, but beggars can’t be choosers. (Lest we forget what Brooks Orpik — five years older than Phaneuf, and with far fewer offensive capabilities — commanded in free agency.)

This is far from the first time that Phaneuf’s name has been bandied about in trade speculation. If he is dealt, it probably won’t be tomorrow.

But as the Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur wrote today, “The Leafs shouldn’t be impatient, but they need to be decisive. They need to decide on the core of Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, James van Riemsdyk, Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak, David Clarkson (contractually, anyway), and what to do with them.”

And while Leafs GM Dave Nonis said yesterday that the Leafs wouldn’t overreact to a couple of bad losses — “You can do a lot of damage to the long-term success of your team by overreacting,” he told reporters — he also said, “If there’s a deal there to be made that helps us, then we’ll do it.”