After weeks of speculation, the Toronto Maple Leafs have officially reached an agreement with captain Dion Phaneuf on a seven-year contract extension.
The team made the announcement on Twitter:
Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis told the team's official site that Phaneuf remains a pillar of the building process in Toronto:
"Dion is our team leader and has been a pillar in our building process," said Nonis. "He has proven to be a very durable and reliable defenceman in all facets of the game. He plays big minutes in every situation for us and we're pleased to have him under contract for the next seven seasons."
In the same report, the talented defenseman talked about the honor of being the captain of one of the league's most storied franchises:
"This is a very proud day for me and my family," said Phaneuf. "I'm very honoured to be the captain of this historic franchise and to maintain the opportunity to play and represent the Toronto Maple Leafs for many years to come. We have passionate fans and a dedicated ownership group. I have great teammates and look forward to growing with them and achieving our goal of winning."
Financial terms of the new deal weren't released, but Damien Cox of the Toronto Star reported Phaneuf was likely to receive around $7 million per season.
He also noted while some fans might not approve of giving the veteran blueliner around $50 million, another team was going to if Toronto didn't, which gave Phaneuf the leverage in contract talks:
Phaneuf is also an unrestricted free agent next summer, and as of now, would be the No. 1 UFA rearguard available and maybe the best player.
In other words, he's going to get his money, whether you love him or hate him or somewhere in between. In fact, he might well get more money in July with the salary cap going up next season that the $7 million per he expected to get in this proposed deal with the Leafs.
Phaneuf is a workhorse. He's averaged at least 23 minutes of ice time per game in every season after his rookie year, including over 24 minutes in 39 games during the current campaign. His current plus-13 rating would mark a career high if he maintained or improved it in the second half.
Offensively, the 28-year-old Edmonton native hasn't been able to match the scoring pace he set with the Calgary Flames during his time in Toronto. He averaged over 50 points per season with the Flames, but hasn't topped 44 with the Maple Leafs. He's on pace for around 30 this season.
Still, his ability to play in any situation while providing stability and leadership along the blue line is key to Toronto's success. The team couldn't allow him to enter free agency without getting anything in return, so it was either extension or trade.
The Maple Leafs decided to open the checkbook to go the extension route. Whether Phaneuf will still possess the same value at the back end of the deal is very much up for debate, but he should live up to the new deal in the short term at the very least.
Reaching an agreement gives Toronto one less thing to worry about as the battle for playoff spots heats up in the new year.