Detroit expected to make acquiring Phaneuf an off-season priority

Back at the beginning of March, it was news you couldn’t turn on an internet-connected device and not see; the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs were in talks to move Leafs’ captain Dion Phaneuf.

Ultimately the talks fell apart before the deadline passed for the obvious reason that Toronto wanted far too much to move Phaneuf. The minds of the Leafs’ office wanted something around the area of Anthony Mantha or Dylan Larkin, a young roster star like Tomas Tatar or Gustav Nyquist, as well as one of Detroit’s first-round draft picks from either this year or next year as the asking price for Phaneuf. Predictably, the Red Wings walked away from the table.

But it would seem that all is not lost on that front just yet. Detroit has still expressed interest in acquiring Phaneuf now that their season has ended and the craziness of the off-season can begin. One of the sticking points in the deal was that Detroit felt that Phaneuf was far over-paid (duh) and wanted Toronto to retain some of his salary in the deal, preferably somewhere around $2 million, leaving him with a $5 million cap-hit. When talks began, the Toronto office balked at the notion, but later warmed up to the idea as they approached the trade deadline. Smart money says that stipulation will still be a must in order for the Red Wings to accept any kind of deal.

Keith Gave of Fox Sports says that the two sides were closer to a deal at the deadline than anyone realizes;

How close were the Wings to this deal in March? Dave Nonis, since relieved of his duties as Toronto’s GM, said he could have made the deal for Phaneuf at the deadline. And the Wings know they were probably Toronto’s only dance partner on this deal.

That Nonis is gone now doesn’t mean the Wings would have to start at ground zero in talks with a new, yet-to-be-hired GM. This is one of those deals that went above his pay grade, involving Leafs President Brendan Shanahan, the former Wings star who remains steadfast in his desire to find a new home for his captain. Shanahan can make this deal in the absence of a GM.

One problem is that Detroit will inevitably still want to unload a bad contract of their own, most likely in the form of Stephen Weiss, who has underachieved in his time with the Red Wings. They’d also want to unload a lower-profile defenseman such as Brendan Smith or Jakub Kindl to make roster space for Phaneuf, as well as some combination of mid-tier prospects and draft picks. Will the Leafs take this deal? If history has taught us anything, probably not. But that doesn’t mean that negotiations will not be ongoing.

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Phaneuf himself has also underachieved in much of his time in Toronto since taking the captaincy. There have also been multiple instances of a lack of leadership skills and borderline sportsmanship on his part. All of these things are all the more reason he wants out of the media circus that is Toronto and a fresh start somewhere else. As far as fitting in with the Red Wings, they don’t see him as the #1 or top-pairing defender that Toronto does. They fit him in somewhere on the 2nd pairing most likely, hence why they have no desire to pay him $7 million a year, numbers that you would expect a #1 defenseman to be making.

In the end, it all boils down to how hard Toronto pushes for what they want, and Detroit’s willingness to give up future building blocks to bolster their defense. Ken Holland is not one to want to sell the future for a short-term solution, so the upcoming trade talks through the off-season could get very interesting.

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