Last season, the Los Angeles Kings took what amounted to a desperation chance that Dion Phaneuf still had some productive hockey remaining in his career and acquired him from the Ottawa Senators. The hope was that he could help their blue line.
One year later, it is becoming painfully clear that his best days are long in the rear view mirror.
Kings coach Willie Desjardins confirmed on Thursday that the 33-year-old Phaneuf will be a healthy scratch for their game against the Philadelphia Flyers. It was probably a long-time coming.
It has been, to say the least, a pretty a miserable year for Phaneuf as he enters Thursday with just a single goal, only two assists, a minus-16 rating, and a 46 percent Corsi rating, per Natural Stat Trick, in 46 games this season. His ice-time has also been reduced down to a career-low 14 minutes per night.
That alone is a concerning sign for his future with the Kings. Even more when you consider the Kings are clearly looking toward the future and looking to rebuild in what is now their fifth consecutive season of mediocrity.
The problem is they don’t really have any good options for what to actually do with Phaneuf as part of the rebuild.
If the Kings really are looking to the future they do not have much use for a mid-30s blue liner that isn’t even able to crack their current lineup.
He also still has two more years remaining on his current contract that pays him a salary cap hit of $7 million per season, per Cap Friendly.
That contract, combined with his declining play, is going to make him nearly impossible to trade unless the Kings throw in a useful asset to get a team looking to reach the salary cap floor in future seasons to take his contract (oddly enough, one such team could be … Ottawa … not that it would ever happen).
The other option is a buyout.
With two years remaining on his deal that would leave the Kings on the hook for some dead money through the end of the 2022-23 season. According to the CapFriendly buyout calculator, the cap hit would be $2.9 million next season, $5.4 million the year after, and then down to $1.4 million the two seasons after that.
That’s a big chunk of salary cap space going to a roster spot that is, literally, giving you nothing. But right now they have significantly more going to a player that has been so unproductive this season that they are making him a healthy scratch. So it is probably something that is worth considering.
Either way, it has become obvious based on his play, the new direction of the team, and Thursday’s decision that his future with the Kings should very much be up for discussion.
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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.