He doesn’t know it, but Dion Phaneuf holds the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs in his hands. The decision he makes regarding re-signing with the Leafs will have a dramatic effect on what the Leafs do next summer.
Phaneuf’s current cap hit is $6.5-million. Whether that goes up, down or stays the same is dependent on how well he plays this year.
So far, with his play, it looks like he’ll at least stay at or around the same cap hit. However, he might want a raise and that might cause a problem for the Leafs.
After this season, the Leafs have a lot of players that will hit unrestricted free agency. The list is as follows: Dave Bolland, Nikolai Kulemin, Jay McClement, Mason Raymond, Mark Fraser, Paul Ranger and Phaneuf. Cody Franson, Jake Gardiner and James Reimer will also be hitting restricted free agency.
Of those players, Bolland, McClement, Raymond and Franson will be criticial to be re-signed. I believe Kulemin, Gardiner and Reimer have a good chance of being traded before the season is over. Fraser and Ranger could leave as free agents and be replaced with Toronto Marlies.
The salary cap this year is $64.3-million. If all the speculation is true and the cap rises to around $70-million, the Leafs should have close to $27-million in cap room to spend. Most, if not all of the free agents the Leafs re-sign will deserve raises.
That is where Phaneuf comes in. As the captain of the team, he has an opportunity to prove his leadership and prove that he wants the Leafs to improve. If he were to stay at his current cap hit or, even better, take a slight paycut, he would give the Leafs the money to re-sign their own players and perhaps go after a free agent or two.
Doing this would probably put him the good graces of Leaf fans and in return, they more than likely wouldn’t rag on him so much. It’s all up to him.