A look at how Dion Phaneuf changed the NHL timeline

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 10: Dion Phaneuf #2 of the Ottawa Senators waits for play to resume against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on February 10, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Senators 6-3. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 10: Dion Phaneuf #2 of the Ottawa Senators waits for play to resume against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on February 10, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Senators 6-3. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

Believe it or not, Dion Phaneuf changed the entire landscape of the NHL.

After having his contract bought out by the Los Angeles Kings, defenseman Dion Phaneuf is a free agent, as of the writing of this article. The nature of the NHL has changed since the three-time All-Star made his debut with the Calgary Flames back in 2005.

Phaneuf’s physicality no longer compensates for his lack of mobility. However, he is not merely a spectator when it comes to change. The landscape of the entire NHL was altered with a decision he made prior to the 2017-18 season.

More from Puck Prose

Though he’s still looking for a new team after being bought out, let’s have a brief look at Phaneuf’s career leading up to the decisive moment in question.

Calgary Flames

Phaneuf’s NHL career began with a bang. He recorded 20 goals in his rookie campaign, and a 60-point season two years later. The Flames would make the playoffs four years in a row with Phaneuf on the roster.

Then, on Sunday, January 31, 2010, the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Phaneuf from the Flames as part of a seven-player trade.

"“I know that’s a cliche … If Wayne Gretzky can get traded, anyone can get traded,” he said. “I was very surprised but on the other hand, I’m very excited to be going to the biggest hockey market in the world. I talked to them this morning and I’m very excited to be a Toronto Maple Leaf and getting there.”"

Toronto Maple Leafs

In 2010, for the first time in his NHL career, Phaneuf and his team would miss the playoffs. The Leafs were a rebuilding team with an impatient general manager in Brian Burke. Later that year, Burke would announce that the 25-year-old Phaneuf would be the next captain of the Maple Leafs.

The playoff drought would continue for another three years, including an epic collapse at the end of the 2012 season that gave us this quote from Burke.

Then, in 2013, in the wake of a lock-out shortened season, the Leafs finally made the playoffs, their first appearance as a team since 2004. In a traumatic event, the Leafs and their captain would see a 4-1 third-period lead in game seven disappear in one of the greatest comebacks or collapses (depending on your perspective) in NHL history.

Trending. Each Team's Worst Contract. light

The following season, Toronto signed a big fish in free agency, forward David Clarkson. Center David Bolland, the player who had scored the Stanley Cup game-winning goal for the Chicago Blackhawks, and Jonathan Bernier, a promising young goaltender, were acquired via trade.

Then, on the eve of the Winter Classic, with the Leafs in a playoff spot, Phaneuf signed a seven-year, $49 million extension ($7 million AAV) that would kick in at the end of the season. Cue another epic team collapse.

Rightly or wrongly, Phaneuf shouldered much of the blame. If he wasn’t already, the captain quickly became a polarizing figure amongst the fanbase.

Mercifully, mid-way through the 2015-16 season, Phaneuf was traded to the Ottawa Senators as part of a nine-player swap.

Ottawa Senators

We are finally drawing closer to the pivotal point of our story. After missing out on the playoffs yet again in the 2015-16 season, Phaneuf and the Ottawa Senators made the playoffs the following season.

The Senators began their playoff campaign with a hard-fought six-game series win over the Boston Bruins. They followed that up with another six-game series victory over the New York Rangers. Next up, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Senators pushed the Penguins to game seven, and then in double overtime, Chris Kunitz put a dagger in the heart of Senators fans everywhere.

The following off-season would be unlike any other. An expansion franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights, was entering the league. During an expansion draft process, the Golden Knights would be able to select a player from each of the other 30 NHL teams. There was a limit to the number of players a team could protect, and a minimum amount of players with NHL experience that teams were required to expose.

With an eye on players on the roster who would need new contracts, the Senators hoped Phaneuf and his huge contract would be acquired by Vegas. However, he held the power in this situation. Phaneuf’s contract included a no-movement clause (NMC), meaning if he did not choose to waive this clause, Ottawa would need to protect him in the expansion draft and expose another player on their roster.

Phaneuf’s Decision

Senators General Manager Pierre Dorion asked Phaneuf to waive his NMC but was rejected.

"“We talked. Dion’s a pro. He’s been around the league many years,” Dorion told reporters. “It was a man-to-man conversation. It was a good conversation. It was explained very well to him our request and why we were making this request.”Dorion added that his respect for Dion had not changed. “I still think he’s a big part of this team and the fact he wants to be here tells me a lot about him,” he said.It’s believed the three defencemen the Senators want to protect are Cody Ceci, Marc Methot and some guy named Erik Karlsson."

Put yourself in Phaneuf’s skates. Here’s a player who has suffered a lot in his career. He goes through years of not making the playoffs on some terrible Leafs’ teams. Phaneuf shoulders the blame for some monumental collapses.

In some of his post-game press conferences with the Leafs you can almost hear the internal screams of “HELP, GET ME OUT OF HERE!!!”. Finally, he gets traded to a contending team that makes the Conference Finals, is one goal away from making it to the Stanley Cup Final, only to lose to the eventual champions.

Now he’s being asked to go to a team that is not expected to contend for years. Can you really blame him for not agreeing to waive his NMC?

However you feel about his decision, as a result of it, the Senators had to expose Marc Methot, the long-time friend and defensive partner of Karlsson, in the expansion draft. Vegas selected Methot and promptly traded him to the Dallas Stars for a goaltending prospect and a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL draft.

Later that season, Phaneuf himself would be traded to the Kings, a team seeking a veteran presence on the blue-line heading into the playoffs. The Golden Knights, the same team that Phaneuf refused to be made available to, swept the Kings during their fairy-tale run to the Stanley Cup Final.

Related Story. Ranking Each Team's Expansion Draft Decision. light


Let’s take a little trip down the rabbit hole to see how many teams could have been impacted by Phaneuf’s decision. We will assume that Vegas selects Phaneuf in the expansion draft. Whether a mid-round pick or middling prospect is included to incentivize the deal is irrelevant for our purposes.

First, let us consider the Senators. With the cap space available, do they make Kyle Turris a fair offer, re-signing him and avoiding the disastrous trade for fellow center Matt Duchene? Does Erik feel more inclined to re-sign because his friend and defense partner Marc Methot is still on the team?

With key members of the core signed, does Mark Stone sign for a reasonable cap hit? When the Kings trade for a veteran defenceman heading into the playoffs, who do they acquire instead of Phaneuf?

They say winning covers over a lot of issues. If the Senators remain a contender during the 2017-18 season, how many scandals simply don’t happen? Does, for example, the alleged situation involving Mike Hoffman’s partner blow up like it did?

Already the list of teams affected includes the Senators, Stars (Methot), Nashville Predators (Turris), Avalanche (Duchene), Golden Knights (Phaneuf and Stone), Florida Panthers (Hoffman), San Jose Sharks (Karlsson), and Kings (Phaneuf).

Lovers of revisionist history would not need to be overly imaginative to construct a vastly different landscape based on such factors.


Love him or hate him, any player that appears in over 1,000 NHL games (1,048) deserves some respect. Dion Phaneuf has poured his heart and soul onto the ice no matter where he’s played, no matter how tough it’s been.

Here’s hoping to at least one more year from the defenceman. It would be a beautiful irony if Vegas, the team that he rejected moving to two years ago, triggering all these changes, extends an offer.

Next. Every Team's Greatest Player In Franchise History. dark

The reason why Phaneuf remains an unsigned free agent is that the game has changed. But always remember, he changed the game too.