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Klaxons sounded around the NHL as opposition GMs were put on notice that the Toronto Maple Leafs, under new management, were flogging their captain in the desperate hopes of addressing the gaping void of leadership which contributed to the team's ignominious collapse.
Dion Phaneuf was only recently signed to a blockbuster 7 year, $49M contract which was timed to air on Home Box Office's 24/7 show in the lead up to this year's Winter Classic outdoor hockey match as a nod to the Leafs' obsession with style over substance. However, considering the leathering that Phaneuf and the rest of the players have taken for their prominent role in the team's failures it is strange to read such lavish praise from his general manager:
"We signed Dion to this deal because he deserved it," Nonis said. "He's going to play at this level or beyond, I feel, for seven years, again, maybe beyond that. It's not that you don't have anyone to replace Dion, it's that he's done enough to prove to us that he is a player that is near the top of the league in terms of how he stacks up against the top defencemen. ...
"It's not that we don't have anyone to replace him. I think if that's why we were signing him, we'd be making a mistake."
The Leafs' brass is now rightly second-guessing their commitment after witnessing their team fall apart in their final 14 games to throw away a second straight playoff appearance. Already heads have rolled as the architects of the tactical failures - Randy Carlyle's three assistant coaches including one of his very best friends - all found themselves eight inches shorter after their appointments with MLSE's newest headsman Brendan Shanahan who swung his axe cleanly through their exposed necks. Warmed over leftovers from the previous regime, that move marked a clear delineation leaving the Maple Leafs as well and truly Mssrs. Nonis and Carlyle's.
What will the Leafs do to fill the void left by moving their taciturn captain? The Toronto Marlies, fresh
off of from their third straight divisional title, are currently leading their second round playoff series 2-0 and feature a bevy of starlets champing at the bit to play in the NHL. With the carefully stocked cupboards, there is certainly a fit to be found.
The clock is ticking on this franchise-saving move as Phaneuf's new contract includes a restriction against his trade that begins on July 1. A potential Phaneuf trade would leave the Leafs with an influx of cap space - save for the salary which will likely have to be withheld - and a vacant captaincy which will allow them to complete the process of remaking this team in Carlyle's preferred fashion by re-signing David Bolland to a long-term deal to ensure that next year's edition of the Leafs aren't found wanting for lack of an identity.