Kings Seemingly Win Phaneuf Trade

Hockey News and Discussions

On February 13, 2018, the Los Angeles Kings swung a late night trade with the Ottawa Senators. The Senators sent defenseman Dion Phaneuf (retained salary) and forward Nate Thompson to the Kings in exchange for forwards Marian Gaborik and Nick Shore.

The trade is the first move since Ottawa’s General Manager, Pierre Dorion, signed his contract extension.

While there are many possibilities in the world of NHL trading, two reoccurring themes in the “bad trade” department are as follows: (1) the trade looked awful in the moment and got worse in hindsight (Weber for Subban), or (2) the trade looked fantastic in the moment, only to become awful in hindsight (I’d argue Kevin Shattenkirk with the Caps). This trade seemingly fits into scenario one.

Let me preface this by saying this trade could absolutely come out even or even in Ottawa’s favor. Crazier things have happened in the NHL. But right now, this looks so overwhelmingly in the Kings’ favor for the following reasons.

First, we’ll look at LA’s playing system.

Always a tough, defensive, gritty, grindy, puck against the wall type team, the Kings have acquired Nate Thompson (who’ll fit in perfectly into their bottom six and is no stranger to LA’s system since he defended against it during his time with the Ducks) and add a top-4, two-way defenseman in Phaneuf. Well Phaneuf is no longer the modern era Scott Stevens impersonator he was back when he was on the cover of EA Sports video games, he should fit in well with LA. The Kings have a way of making defensemen look much better than their individual potentials suggest (see Matt Greene,  Derek Forbort, Brayden McNabb, Luke Schenn, Rob Scuderi, Robyn Regehr, and Willie Mitchell).

Dion Phaneuf could be the next on that list. Currently, he has 16 points in 52 games and is averaging over 20 minutes per night, 42.7 corsi, and 101.2 PDO. Last year, he put up 30 points in 81 games (including 9 goals), while averaging over 23 minutes per night, 46.8 corsi, and 99.4 PDO.

Save for the corsi, those are pretty respectable numbers.

Second, the timing.

The LA Kings are in a dog fight with the Flames, Ducks, and Sharks for the 3rd spot in the Pacific Division or the final spot in the Wild Card (add in Avalanche, Wild, Stars, and POSSIBLY the Blackhawks).  This trade goes a long way to solidifying a playoff berth. Looking at their defense: Doughty, Muzzin, Martinez, and Forbort are having solid statistical years, LaDue has looked good in a small sample size, and Fantenberg has contributed a little but is now in the AHL, but they’ve struggled to get playoff contender production out of that 6 spot. I like Kevin Gravel and have seen him play well with the Ontario Reign and the same goes for the tough guy, Kurtis MacDermid. Folin has been decent, too. But in the modern NHL, a playoff team can have few weaknesses. This move solidifies the 6 man unit and creates more defensive depth for the Kings.

Third, Nate Thompson.

My criticism of the 2017 Kings was that they essentially had two 4th lines and no real 3rd line, except for Shore. Adrian Kempe (admittedly my favorite King since he’s so fun to watch) showed some potential in a small sample size, but that was about it. Now the Kings look much deeper as Kempe has become a 3rd line center (except for those faceoff numbers: 38.5%), Brown has had a scoring resurgence, Iafallo has added some secondary scoring, and Lewis is having a career year. If LA is serious about another Cup run, they need to add to that bunch.

Now the Kings acquire Thompson who has a respectable 11 points in 43 games as a bottom 6. He is also over 56% in faceoffs and averages 100.4 PDO, but has a dismal 43.2% corsi. That being said, he adds some needed depth and will be a solid contributor to a playoff team. Plus, they have him through next season, too, at a cost effective $1.65 million AAV.

Fourth, the cost. The better response is: “What cost?”

Shore, who has 15 points in 43 games, and Gaborik (14 points in 29 games) are the only pieces going back. While both are top 11 on the Kings’ roster in scoring, I wouldn’t consider either player so instrumental of a piece that he couldn’t be replaced.

Gaborik has played well for the Kings WHEN HEALTHY. His contract is also massive ($4.875 million AAV through 2020-21). Ouch. And he’s already 35. Double ouch. Gaborik has also missed huge portions of every season due to injury since 2013-14.

Shore, who is having the best season of his career, looks like a solid 3rd center or 4th center. He’s a Restricted Free Agent after this season and the Sens will probably lock him up.

Phaneuf’s contract, in comparison, looks relatively fine. LA is only going to be paying him $5.25 million AAV through 2020-21, which doesn’t look as bad as the $7 million AAV he signed with Toronto. Phaneuf (about to be 33) is also younger than Gaborik.

Final Thoughts:

Through this trade, LA sheds Gaborik’s injury history and massive contract by only giving up Nick Shore. In exchange, they get a top 4 defenseman who can contribute on both sides of the puck (with retained salary, no less) and a solid forward who can seemingly replace Shore’s productivity. LA holds on to their picks and prospects and only slightly eats into their available cap space for this season, leaving a plentiful $3.3 million in deadline space for them to add more scoring.

I’m shocked that Ottawa didn’t get a single draft pick out of this. Their prospect treasure chest got lighter after the Duchene trade, and if they are truly serious about rebuilding (or retooling), Nick Shore, while helpful, is probably not going to be the top 6 forward they will need. But then again, no one expected Patrick Maroon to be a 20 goal scorer with McDavid, so it’s possible in theory. Ottawa also eats salary for Phaneuf for 4 years, while also eating Gaborik’s deal. How didn’t they at least get a 3rd rounder back for that?

Ottawa also needs to stay competitive for next season, since their 2019 1st-round draft pick will almost certainly go to the Avalanche as part of the Duchene deal (it will probably be in the top 10 this year, thus allowing them to keep their pick via trade conditions). I’m not sure this move accomplishes that. Plus, they now lose $1.75 million AAV in cap space for retaining Phaneuf’s contract, which makes it even harder for a budget team like Ottawa to add the necessary pieces in free agency.

They also lose opportunity cost. I’m sure Thompson could have been worth at least a 4th round pick on the open market, while Phaneuf (with retained salary) probably could have netted them something (especially in a world where Detroit’s Mike Green is rumored to be worth much more than a 1st rounder).

At any rate, unless Gaborik has a resurgence in Ottawa or Shore becomes a top 6 forward, the Toronto/Ottawa deal for Phaneuf (2 years later) cost them a 2nd round pick (Eemeli Rasanen) and  Tobias Lindberg for Gaborik, Shore and prospect Cody Donaghey.

Statistics from:

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