How Much Better is Ottawa with Dion Phaneuf?

As you may have heard from my colleague Dustin Nelson, the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs have completed a nine-player trade earlier today. On Ottawa’s end, the prize piece of the trade was Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf.

In French, I’d like to say, nine players ça Phaneuf.

The trade for Dion Phaneuf shows that the Senators are serious about making the playoffs this year, despite being four points out of a wild card spot with the team in that last playoff position with three games in hand.

The thought process behind the acquisition is quite obvious: to greatly improve the team’s back end, one that is tied with last-place team Columbus for allowing the most goals against in the league.

The hope is that Phaneuf can come in, perhaps play on the left side alongside team captain Erik Karlsson on the first defensive pairing, and bring a shut-down and physical role. He would be joining the likes of Mark Borowiecki, Marc Methot, and Patrick Wiercioch as a player who can make life difficult on opposing forwards with speed and hard hits.

Don’t forget about his powerful slapshot, something that he has be underutilizing of late.

How Much Better Does Dion Actually Make Them?

One of the major factors that went against Phaneuf during his time in Toronto is the perception that he was misplaced in the Leafs’ lineup. Many observers argue that he is best suited to play as a second-pair defenseman, but as Toronto’s best option before Morgan Rielly’s surge, Phaneuf was constantly in situations against the opposition’s top forwards that were often more than he could handle.

In Ottawa, head coach Dave Cameron has several options with Phaneuf. While Phaneuf does not suddenly make the Senators’ back end among the best in the league, there is flexibility there. Although it is likely that he will begin his Senators tenure along Karlsson on the top pairing, Phaneuf’s task may be much easier playing alongside a player of that calibre compared to a Jake Gardiner, for example.

With Phaneuf’s addition, another important effect is that others can now play in more comfortable situations, being in more suitable position within the depth chart.

Dion Phaneuf Erik Karlsson
Marc Methot Cody Ceci
Patrick Wiercioch Chris Wideman
Mark Borowiecki Fredrik Claesson

With the Maple Leafs, he was playing an overage of just over 22 minutes per game, and bringing that time on ice to the Senators will relieve some of the team’s other defensemen with more favourable minutes.

However, Phaneuf is not without his defensive lapses, as Senators fans may remember from a recent game.

But if this work out as management most likely hopes, the Ottawa defense will become much more difficult to play against with the size and physicality on the left side.

Phaneuf an Improvement over Jared Cowen, at Least

The Senators traded Jared Cowen as one of the several pieces going the other way. They had hoped that he would have been the one to fill the top as a top shutdown defenseman, but unfortunately it did not work out. Hopefully for him he finds new life in Toronto, or wherever else he may be in the near future.

I had written about him and his future with the Senators about a month back, stating that Ottawa should try to improve his value in order to get more for him. They were unable to do so, but since so many players were involved in this trade, including Colin Greening and Milan Michalek, it made up for Cowen’s lack of value.