Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The First Move

In a move that caught a number of hockey pundits by surprise, the Los Angeles Kings and Ottawa Senators decided to exchange assets tonight as Ottawa sent Dion Phaneuf and Nate Thompson to Los Angeles in exchange for Marian Gaborik and Drew Shore. Phaneuf, who was playing in the game against Pittsburgh, was pulled mid-game and told of the move while both Gaborik and Shore finished their game before being informed of the deal. Needless to say, both teams needed changes, but is this deal the move they both needed?

As the NHL finalized the details, it was also reported that the Senators would retain 25% of Phaneuf's salary in order to accommodate this deal. In other words, of the $20 million-or-so still owed to Phaneuf on his contract over the next four years, the Senators are on the hook for just over $5 million over those four years. It might be a small pittance to pay when one considers the albatross contract that Phaneuf had and how Ottawa will cut $4,750,000 in salary over the next four seasons.

I have to honest that when I heard Senators owner Eugene Melnyk talking about cutting salary and not being a cap team any longer, I immediately thought that Erik Karlsson was all but gone. The Senators still have some good pieces in Matt Duchene, Bobby Ryan, Mike Hoffman, and Craig Anderson, but I suspect one of those names will finish this season with another team. If you're Erik Karlsson, the additions of Gaborik and Shore do nothing to change the fortunes of the Senators in the long-term, so why would the all-star defenceman give staying a second thought?

Let's be honest: an average savings of about $1.2 million over the next four years is not going to get Karlsson signed when he becomes a free agent. If this team loses Karlsson, the cupboards really are bare when it comes to replacing the international superstar. Thomas Chabot is good, but he's not Karlsson. When you really think of where this team is headed, Erik Karlsson should be one of those cornerstones in that build. Unfortunately, I don't see that happening now.

Gaborik has been a healthy scratch this season after returning from the myriad of injuries he's gone through as he's gotten older. His addition to this roster might help when Bobby Ryan seemingly can't remain healthy, but both men are oft-injured and largely ineffective when playing while injured, so I get Los Angeles GM Rob Blake's wish to include Gaborik in this deal. For Senators GM Pierre Doiron to move Phaneuf, Gaborik and his medical history was the price he had to pay to save $5 million for his owner.

Personally, I don't like this trade for either side, and it might be the best way for two GMs to rid themselves of problems they inherited. At 36, Gaborik's time with Ottawa may be short as a buy-out seems likely this summer. Los Angeles gets a defenceman who doesn't have to be a top-pairing guy, but Phaneuf's decline has been well-documented and it's hard to see him bringing his game to new levels in Los Angeles in an overly-competitive Western Conference.

With both sides having washed their hands of problems they no longer wanted, this might be the start of a very interesting trade deadline season. Ottawa, from all reports, is still looking to shed more salary, and I can't see Los Angeles being happy with their current roster if they're going to push for a Stanley Cup. Let's hope that this trade is the first of many on this year's major contract swap day!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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