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What will Senators do if Phaneuf doesn’t waive no-movement clause?

Dion Phaneuf was asked to waive his no-movement clause, but he will reportedly decline, meaning the Senators must protect him in the expansion draft. What does that mean for Ottawa's blueline?

It doesn’t appear Dion Phaneuf is going to be bound for Las Vegas this off-season, unless of course he’s taking a trip to Sin City for some summer fun.

In the weeks since the Senators’ off-season has ended, there has been speculation about Phaneuf’s future in Ottawa as the team prepares for the expansion draft, and the talk about Phaneuf moving on to the Golden Knights this summer reached its peak over the past few days. With teams facing a deadline to ask players to waive no-movement clauses, word spread that the Senators had asked Phaneuf if he would agree to do so in order to be exposed in the expansion draft.

However, it appears the possibility of Phaneuf ending up in Vegas next season can be put to rest. TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that while Phaneuf has been asked, the expectation is that he won’t be waiving the clause, as is his right. As such, the Senators blueliner will require protection in the upcoming expansion draft.

That Phaneuf is unwilling to waive the NMC shouldn’t come as all that much of a surprise. For many of the prime years of his career, Phaneuf toiled on a lowly Maple Leafs squad, making the post-season only once while in Toronto before a trade sent him to Ottawa at in February 2016. And after helping the Senators earn a berth in the Eastern Conference final this past season, a series which Ottawa pushed to double-overtime in Game 7, it would make sense were Phaneuf unwilling to go to a squad that could be years away from getting into a post-season position.

Of course, there was a chance if Phaneuf waived the clause that he wouldn’t have been selected anyway. As a franchise looking to find some footing, the Golden Knights may not have had any interest in taking on Phaneuf’s $7-million salary and cap hit for the next four seasons, no matter what he could bring to the expansion squad. In fact, Vegas may have only been enticed by the possibility to acquire Phaneuf via the draft and flip him to another team. There’s little point in having that discussion, though, as Phaneuf won’t be available for the Golden Knights to select. And that means the Senators have a tough decision to make.

The problem facing the Senators is one that several other franchises are facing and is one of protection, as in who to protect now that Phaneuf, with his NMC, and Erik Karlsson, with his all-world ability and superstar qualities, are locks to go unexposed in the expansion draft. For GM Pierre Dorion, there are two choices to make, the first of which is what route to go with player protection.

One option, which would leave Dorion only one remaining protection slot on the back end, is to secure seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender. But with the current makeup of the Senators’ roster, that would leave one of Cody Ceci or Marc Methot up for grabs for Vegas. Dorion could protect both rearguards if he locks eight skaters and one goaltender to his roster, but the issue there is that there’s no way to pull that off without also losing a key member of the forward group. The Senators have several forwards, including Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, Kyle Turris, Derick Brassard and J-G Pageau, who they would no doubt love to protect. The eight-skater option, with all four defensemen protected, would almost certainly mean the forward group would lose a contributing member.

So, that will bring Dorion back to a choice between Methot and Ceci, and there’s a case to be made for either defenseman. In Methot, the Senators have a tough-as-nails second-pairing blueliner who is physical, blocks shots, plays largely mistake-free hockey and can put a few points on the board, whereas Ceci is a solid skater, has offensive ability and proved this past season that he can handle big minutes. At 23, Ceci also has eight years on Methot and is locked up to a more team-friendly at $2.8-million compared to the elder rearguard’s $4.9-million cap hit. It’s an incredibly tough decision for Dorion, one that he was hoping to avoid when he came to Phaneuf with the idea of waiving the NMC.

There could still be a way out of this situation, however, and one in which neither Methot or Ceci has to be lost. 

As McKenzie pointed out, Ottawa could now choose to pursue a trade of Phaneuf instead of leaving him on the team’s roster heading into the expansion draft, and his NMC wouldn’t preclude that option. Phaneuf’s contract carries a modified no-trade clause, according to CapFriendly, that allows him to submit a list of 10 teams he will accept a trade to. Dorion could potentially ask Phaneuf to submit his list and attempt to expedite the process of trading the defender in order to ensure Methot and Ceci are able to receive expansion draft protection.

Possible? Absolutely. Probable? Hard to say. It’s difficult enough to trade a player in the salary cap era, but harder to make it work when it’s one that carries a sizeable contract. Plus, Phaneuf doesn’t have to do Ottawa any favors with his 10-team list. It could be 10 contending teams with a tight cap situation and little interest in acquiring the rearguard.

If that’s the case, Dorion could then look at potential trades of Methot or Ceci. Obviously, that’s not ideal for the Senators, but if they could land another protectable forward in return, it might be something worth considering. It’s a case of getting a return instead of losing something for nothing.

Regardless of the decision Ottawa comes to, though, the Senators are quickly becoming a team to keep an eye on as the deadline for protection lists inches ever closer.

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