PITTSBURGH — On the ice and on the scoreboard it was just another night at the office for the 2017-18 Ottawa Senators as they were on the wrong end of a 6-3 decision in Pittsburgh.
It was what was happening off the ice during their latest loss that made things a little more bizarre and, quite honestly, a little more interesting. That was when the Senators were in the process of completing the rare mid-game trade by sending defenseman Dion Phaneuf and forward Nate Thompson to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for forwards Marian Gaborik and Nick Shore.
From an Ottawa perspective a lot of it was about moving salary, while also signaling the beginning of what will likely be a pre-deadline firesale in the middle of what has been a bitterly disappointing season that comes on the heels of last year’s shocking run to the Eastern Conference Final.
It was easy to tell something was up in the second period when Phaneuf suddenly stopped getting ice time and word started to leak out that something was up. Things really got bizarre when Phil Kessel, one of Phaneuf’s long-time teammates with the Toronto Maple Leafs, told Penguins television analyst Bob Errey (who was positioned between the benches for the game) that Phaneuf was on his way to Los Angeles during the game.
After the game Phaneuf and the Senators all reacted to the trade.
“I want to thank the Ottawa Senators organization for my time with them,” Phaneuf said after the game. “That is first and foremost, I have nothing but great things to say about the city of Ottawa, about the organization, about my time here. It’s disappointing when you do get moved, but with saying that I am very excited about where I am going, to the team I am going to, and about being a Los Angeles King. I am honored to be going there, I am excited about the team they have, where they are in the standings, I am going to go there and do the best I can to help their team.”
Phaneuf joined the Senators in the middle of the 2015-16 season in a trade with the Maple Leafs and spent parts of three seasons with the team, including their playoff run a year ago.
“I will always remember the run we went on,” said Phaneuf. “As a player that is what you play for. You want to have that success, you want to go on those runs. Now I am going to a team that has won, to a team that has had a lot of success. I am very, very excited to be going where I am going. It is a lot to take in right now, standing here there are a lot of different emotions, but I am excited about where I am going. It is an exciting time for me to think about being a Los Angeles King.”
Phaneuf said he was not told immediately that a trade was close to being completed, but that he knew something was going on when he stopped getting ice time.
He said he was finally told between the second and third periods.
“Guys were kind of wondering why he wasn’t playing in the second period so we kind of knew something was up,” said Senators forward Mark Stone. “Unfortunately when your team struggles you lose teammates and changes get made. It’s obviously a tough day for a lot of the guys in this room. I had a real close relationship with Dion.”
Senators coach Guy Boucher said he did not address the trade in the locker room and instead tried to the focus on the task at hand — trying to get a win.
“Everybody knew what was happening, there was no need to address it,” said Boucher. “It’s a business, it’s a tough part of the business. We’re talking about two players I really enjoyed having around, two character people that brought a lot of positive things to us, two players that I really respect. Two guys I have been far in the playoffs with, [Thompson] with Tampa going to the Conference Final there, then same with Dion last year. You develop relationships with people. I really wish those individuals the very, very best. They are tremendous individuals that deserve the best. I thank them for everything they have done, they were tremendous to work with.”
Phaneuf’s teammates seemed to share that sentiment.
“It’s an unfortunate part of the business,” said Senators captain Erik Karlsson, whose future with the team is also in question as the team continues to lose and his long-term contract situation looms.
“He’s a good friend of mine, a good friend of everyone on this team and someone that did really well for us. He is someone we would have liked to have kept if the circumstances would have been different. That is the unfortunate and sad part of the situation we are in, things like this are going to happen.”
Karlsson also talked about how much Phaneuf helped him in his brief time with the team.
“He was great for me coming here from Toronto,” Karlsson said. “He helped me out a lot, not only on the ice but stuff around the locker room, with the guys, with the media. He took a load off my back and I am going to miss that, most importantly I am going to miss him as a friend.”
If there is anyone that can relate to what Phaneuf’s night was like it would have to be Senators forward Matt Duchene.
Duchene’s time with the Colorado Avalanche came to an end earlier this season when he was traded early in the first period of a game.
“I don’t know how much time was left,” said Duchene when asked when he found out about the trade. “I found out right before we went out for the third. It’s very strange. I know what it’s like obviously, for me it was maybe a little crazier, getting trade a minute into the game then I kind of sat there for a while. I know for him it is probably a crazy whirlwind right now but they [Phaneuf and Thompson] are going to help Los Angeles a lot.”
What makes the night even more interesting for Phaneuf is that he doesn’t even have to go anywhere to meet his new team.
The Kings, after losing 7-3 to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night, are on their way to Pittsburgh for a game on Thursday night where Phaneuf will join them.
“It is a different situation,” said Phaneuf. “I am not flying anywhere right now to meet them. My gear is staying here, and I am too.”