Apparently no one told Lou Lamoriello that the Toronto Maple Leafs are not supposed to make trades with the Ottawa Senators. Ah well, at least one got a blockbuster deal out of it. After all, this is the biggest trade the Leafs have made since they acquired Doug Gilmour all the way back in 1992.
So let’s look at the deal. The Leafs sent Dion Phaneuf, along with prospects Matt Frattin, Cody Donaghey, Ryan Rupert and Casey Bailey to Ottawa. In return, they get Jared Cowen, Milan Michalek, Colin Greening, prospect Tobias Lindberg and a second-round pick in 2017. What makes this trade even more amazing is that the Leafs were able to shed Phaneuf’s salary without retaining any of it.
What does this do for the Leafs? Let’s look at Cowen first. He was drafted ninth overall in the 2009 NHL Draft, two picks after the Leafs selected Nazem Kadri with the seventh overall pick. While he was considered one of the Senators’ top prospects when he was playing with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, it has pretty much gone downhill from there. As the Sens brought in more and more defensemen, Cowen became expendable. He has even been a healthy scratch recently.
The Leafs can see what they have in Cowen for the rest of the season. Now it has already been suggested that the Leafs could buy him out if they choose that he is not going to fit with the rebuild. A trade is also still possible.
Michalek and Greening are trade candidates, if not this year, then next. What they give the Leafs are buffers for when they trade their expiring contracts. They might not have to bring up prospects with these two in Leafs uniforms. Of course, Michalek needs to return from injured reserve first.
Of course, what this gives the Maple Leafs is cap flexibility after the season. The Leafs are going to save money when they trade away the players that will be unrestricted free agents. They will save more money by letting go of the players they don’t trade.
The Leafs first job this off-season will be re-signing Morgan Rielly. He could very well be the next captain. The question is: will the Leafs give him a long-term deal and a big raise or will they take the Kadri route and give him a bridge deal. Next on the list will be James Reimer if they elect to bring him back.
Now to talk about the elephant in the room. It has already been talked about, so lets talk about it. Every time the Leafs open up cap room, the talk of Steven Stamkos coming to Toronto is going to pick up. Now, of course, we have to wait to see if Stamkos even makes it to free agency. If he does, the Leafs might be in the best position out of anyone to give him the money he wants. Whether that would be enough to lure him home to Toronto remains to be seen.
This could also make the second contracts of prospects such as William Nylander and Maitch Marner easier. With all the contracts coming off the books in the coming years, it could be a fun few off-seasons seeing what the Leafs will do with the cap space they will have available.