With the contracts of both Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel set to expire after this season, Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis has his work cut out for him if he wants to re-sign what are the Leafs top earning players on a yearly basis. The Phaneuf negotiations may prove to be somewhat easier however, as the Leafs captain told TSN 1050 that unlike Kessel, he is willing to negotiate with the team during the season.
“I have no issue negotiating during the year, I did my last deal during the year,” Phaneuf said in an interview with Bryan Hayes, Jamie McLennan and Jeff O'Neill Friday afternoon on Leafs Lunch. "I love playing here and I want to be a part of this organization.”
In the last year of a six-year, $39 million contract he signed with the Calgary Flames, the 28-year-old's stance is in contrast with the Leafs leading goal-scorer, Kessel who indicated the team may have only until the end of the month to get him to agree to a deal, saying he felt in-season negotiations would become a distraction.
Coming off his second straight season finishing in the top-10 in league scoring, the 25-year-old Kessel will likely be seeking a significant increase on the $5.4 million cap hit he is currently costing the team, whereas Phaneuf may seek an amount more in line with his current $6.5 million number.
Besides his contract status, Phaneuf touched on some of the other main storylines circulating around training camp, including the battle in net between James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier -- someone he got to know when the two played together at the world championships -- and the prospects of 19-year-old defenceman Morgan Rielly making the team.
“Obviously there's going to be competition there between him and ‘Reim's' and that's good for everyone and it's good for our team,” Phaneuf said. “There's a competition at every position during training camp and that's no different.”
Thus far, the Leafs captain believes both goalies are handling the situation well and is not concerned about whether the battle could eventually divide the two young netminders.
“Controversy is going to come from the outside. Both of them have handled it well so far and their going to push each other for the betterment of our team.”
As for Rielly, Phaneuf likes what he sees from the team's fifth overall pick in 2012.
“He's obviously a very skilled guy that skates very well, he sees the ice very well and he passes the puck," Phaneuf said. "When you have guys that come out of junior, passing is the biggest thing at the next level I find and he passes the puck hard and that will help him.
“I'm excited to see what he does in the pre-season that's for sure.”
Facing another compressed schedule as a result of the two week Olympic break, Phaneuf admitted the season will be again be a grind, but believes the coaching staff handled things well last year and is prepared for a similar situation this season.
“The biggest thing for our team this year I think will be getting rest and really preparing. I think last year managing how much you practiced and your workouts, they did a really good job with our team and I think you're going to have to do much of the same this year.”
Besides managing the compressed schedule, Phaneuf said he thought a key to success will be the team's focus on having a consistent approach and following the message of head coach Randy Carlyle.
“We knew that if we kept to the way we had to play and to our system that we felt gave us a chance every night, that's where we grew and that's where consistency came for us.
“It's the big stretches of losses that can really hurt you and I thought our consistency was very good and we're going to have to do that again.”