General manager Lou Lamoriello plans to exhaust the alphabet from A to Z to improve the Toronto Maple Leafs. His latest move was trading the man who has worn the ''C'' on his chest for the past six seasons.
The Maple Leafs dealt their captain and highest-paid defenseman, Dion Phaneuf, to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday in a nine-player trade that will clear plenty of salary-cap space in the years to come. The Senators sent defenseman Jared Cowen, forwards Milan Michalek, Colin Greening and Tobias Lindberg and a second-round pick in the 2017 draft to Toronto for Phaneuf, forwards Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey and Ryan Rupert, and defensive prospect Cody Donaghey.
No salary was retained by either team. Phaneuf and the remaining five years of his contract at a cap hit of $7 million now belong to the playoff-minded Senators, and the Leafs get to press on with their rebuilding project.
''This was a transaction that certainly wasn't for today,'' Lamoriello said on a conference call with reporters. ''The length of Dion's contract and the amount of cap space that is there, and where that would put us at a given time ... this gives us the opportunity to do things.''
Things, perhaps, like being aggressive in free agency this summer. Trading Phaneuf will do nothing to quiet speculation about the Maple Leafs' possible pursuit of Steven Stamkos, the Toronto-area native who can be an unrestricted free agent this summer if he doesn't agree to an extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In case Stamkos makes it to the open market July 1, not only will there be cap space available but Toronto's captaincy. Lamoriello said he and coach Mike Babcock agreed to use alternates the rest of this season.
In Ottawa, the 30-year-old Phaneuf won't have the pressure of being captain or the expectation of being a top-pairing defenseman. Two-time Norris Trophy-winner Erik Karlsson fits the bill there.
''We don't expect him to come in and be a savior,'' general manager Bryan Murray told reporters at a news conference in Ottawa. ''We expect him to come in here and just be the hockey player he is.''
The Senators hope that adding Phaneuf, who has three goals and 21 assists this season, helps their playoff push. They are four points out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, but Murray expects Phaneuf to be an addition for ''this spring and beyond.''
''It's a trade that will give us a little more security on the back end,'' Murray said. ''It's getting an experienced leader, good person, hard-working, competitive guy to add to the mix in our top four.''
Phaneuf's departure makes Toronto weaker on defense in the short term, but this was not supposed to be a winning season. Under President Brendan Shanahan, the Maple Leafs are trying to win when recent first-round picks William Nylander and Mitch Marner are ready and there's plenty of talent around them.
Before Lamoriello was hired, the Maple Leafs over the summer traded high-scoring right winger Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Phaneuf trade is yet another wrecking ball to the team's core that had made only one playoff appearance.
It could get worse before it gets better. The Maple Leafs have several players with expiring contracts who could be traded ahead of the Feb. 29 deadline, including forwards Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, Shawn Mathias and Brad Boyes, defenseman Roman Polak and goaltender James Reimer.
Lamoriello wouldn't say how active he plans to be in the coming weeks. But his focus continues to be on building for the future.
''I couldn't really answer what's going to happen next,'' Lamoriello said. ''We're going to have a 5-year plan that's going to change every single day.''