Jason Spezza for Dion Phaneuf. That' s a deal I'd make if I were either the Ottawa Senators or Calgary Flames.
First a disclaimer. I don't like to make a habit of spreading or fabricating trade rumors. This is not a trade rumor picked up from a source. It's simply something that came from the recesses of my inner duo processor when examining the weaknesses on the two Canadian NHL teams.
Spezza, out at least another six weeks with a knee injury, has had a horrible year in Ottawa (five goals, 19 points in 30 games) without his primary triggerman Dany Heatley. Phaneuf had a terrible 2008-09 on the Calgary blueline and is hardly burning it up this season – although his defensive game has improved somewhat now that the team has cut back his ice time.
The Flames need Spezza in order to get the most out of Jarome Iginla, who at 32 is in the final few productive years of his career. Iginla and Olli Jokinen haven't worked because both are goal-scorers first and playmakers second. Iginla has been spectacular for most of his 12 seasons in Calgary, even though he has never really had a premiere No. 1 playmaking center to play with. Craig Conroy and Daymond Langkow have spent the most number of games as Iginla's center, but Spezza would take Iginla's game to another level.
The Calgary defense would be just fine without Phaneuf. Jay Bouwmeester is the main man on the blueline now and the Flames have ramped up the usage of underrated Mark Giordano, especially on the first power play pairing. Robyn Regehr and Cory Sarich provide the defensive and physical element and in addition to Adam Pardy, Aaron Johnson is an under-utilized stalwart who doesn't get enough minutes as the No. 7 man. Also, the Flames have a deep list of blueline prospects on the farm with defensive Matt Pelech and offense-minded John Negrin ready for a step up.
Trading a young stud such as Phaneuf, 24, is something the Flames never would have thought about a year ago. But his stunning regression in the defensive end – not to mention his flagging offensive numbers – opens the door for that possibility now, especially with Bouwmeester on board.
The Ottawa defense has been lacking an offensive quarterback since Zdeno Chara walked as a free agent in 2006 and Wade Redden's game went south shortly thereafter. Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov are defensive leaders, but the Senators truly yearn for a top-shelf mobile puckmover. Top 2008 draft pick Erik Karlsson might eventually fill that role, but he's still just 19.
The fly in the ointment is the Senators cannot afford to lose another top line forward. With Heatley and Spezza gone and Daniel Alfredsson in the final couple innings of his career, the team would move to rebuild mode. The only thing that would solve that is solid drafting and a top free agent signing. To soothe that hurdle, perhaps the Flames could throw in burgeoning No. 2 center Dustin Boyd into the trade mix, with underperforming defenseman Chris Campoli going the other way.
The salary offsets aren't bad either. Both teams are close to the salary cap, so Spezza ($7 million) and Campoli ($633,333) won't break Calgary's bank because Phaneuf makes $6.5 million and Boyd $650,000.
Another flaw in this deal is the fact Spezza, 26, would probably drive Flames coach Brent Sutter and brother GM Darryl crazy because of his lack of spit and grit, not to mention the fact Alberta-born Phaneuf has a long history with the Sutter clan. But maybe Spezza just needs that Sutter influence.
The beauty of this deal is it would give both Spezza and Phaneuf a much-needed fresh start. It would give the Flames more offensive balance going into the playoffs and provide the Senators with a building block for the future. The Flames are running out of time as Cup contenders and the Senators need the time to rebuild. I think it would be a trade that helps both teams.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
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