Just one goal shy of playing for the Stanley Cup last season, no one in the hockey world could have predicted the historic fall from grace that Dion Phaneuf and the Ottawa Senators have faced this season. The former Toronto Maple Leafs captain has just three goals and 13 points in 40 games this season on a Sens team that finds itself in the NHL’s basement. With so much hype and promise to start the 2017-18 campaign and the resulting disappointment of a team that has only been able to muster 15 wins in 42 games, everyone’s future in the nation’s capital is uncertain, including Phaneuf.
The 32-year-old veteran blue liner recently caught up with Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston to talk about the adversity that his team has faced this season and even acknowledged that he may not be in the team’s short term or long term plans.
“We put ourselves in this position as players,” Phaneuf said of his team’s situation. “When you don’t win hockey games there are questions from the outside. I think everyone’s stood up, they’ve answered them, and the guys have come to work with a professional attitude that we’ve got to work our way out of it.”
As for the rumours? “That’s part of when you don’t have success – changes happen,” admits Phaneuf. “There’s talk of change, and we’re living that.”
While the Sens would likely jump at the chance to rid themselves of Phaneuf’s $7 million salary for the next three seasons, they’re unlikely to find a trade partner unless GM Pierre Dorion can convince team owner Eugene Melnyk to retain some salary. We all know how that conversation is likely to play out…
But, stranger things have happened and, as Johnston points out, Phaneuf has only limited control over his future, with a 12-team trade list as part of his agreement. There was a time when Leafs fans thought there’s no way Leafs management would be able to rid themselves of Phaneuf’s deal, but somehow GM Lou Lamoriello was able to swing a blockbuster nine-player deal with Dorion that netted the Leafs Jared Cowen, Colin Greening, Milan Michalek, Tobias Lindberg and a second round pick. None of those players ended up making an impact with the Leafs, but Greening still has a home in the organization as one of the Toronto Marlies’ alternate captains.
No stranger to adversity, Phaneuf was the Leafs’ captain during one of their most dismal periods. Can he draw some parallels between his time in Toronto and this season with the Sens?
“The thing is, when you’re not getting results and you struggle like the month and a half we had, it does wear on you as a player. But as a professional you have got to come and do your job,” said Phaneuf. “You’ve got to put the work in and you’ve got to work for your teammates because ultimately we’re the only ones that are going to get ourselves out of it. We’ve been open about it. I feel the group has really taken ownership of [the fact] ‘it’s on us, we haven’t played well enough.”’
Whether he remains in the Sens’ plans long-term or not, it’s clear that Phaneuf still holds a place in his heart for his former team and the Battle of Ontario.
“I’ll always remember Toronto and the way that the city treated me, coming back for the first game and the standing ovation. I mean those are things that I can’t even explain to you how they feel when you live it,” said Phaneuf. “These are big games. I’ve got to play on both sides of the Battle of Ontario. What a great thing to say.”