Phaneuf finding bearings with new team as Senators play Wings tonight

The Canadian Press
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Dion Phaneuf famously turned up the dressing room stereo when he first joined the Toronto Maple Leafs six years ago, seizing control of the team's leadership in the process.

By contrast, he was unusually reserved during his first skate with the Ottawa Senators.

Traded from Toronto in a nine-player blockbuster a day earlier, Phaneuf looked like he was simply taking in his surroundings Wednesday morning as he practised with the third team of his NHL career. The 30-year-old appeared out of place with the big Senators crest on his black practice jersey and an unfamiliar No. 2 on the back of his white helmet.

Phaneuf had worn No. 3 for his first 801 NHL games split between the Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames, the club that selected him in the first round of the 2003 draft. He had to surrender that number with Ottawa, where it has already been claimed by veteran defenceman Marc Methot.

“It's a fresh start for me,” Phaneuf said as teammates grouped around excitedly to watch their newest defenceman speak. “It's a new chapter of my career and my life.”

Shipped from Calgary to Toronto in a similar blockbuster on Jan. 31, 2010, Phaneuf played more 400 games for the Leafs, including nearly six seasons as a captain. He was reluctant to look back on that time as he prepared to face the Red Wings in his first game as a Senator, focusing instead on his new team's bid to make the playoffs.

Phaneuf was only 24 when he first joined the Leafs, enduring plenty of controversy and losing - and a rotating cast of teammates, coaches and general managers - over 423 games, the last of which came in a 6-1 loss to the Senators on Saturday.

“I know that for me I played as hard as I possibly could,” Phaneuf said of his Toronto tenure, which featured just one playoff series. “I worked as hard as I possibly could for that organization and I had great pride in playing there and being a Toronto Maple Leaf. But that changed. And now I'm an Ottawa Senator and I'm proud to be an Ottawa Senator and that's where I'm at now and I'm moving forward from my time in Toronto.”

Phaneuf was paired with Cody Ceci at Wednesday's morning skate and was expected to play alongside the 22-year-old when the Senators clashed with the Red Wings later.

Ottawa head coach Dave Cameron said Phaneuf would play in all situations for the Senators, including the power-play. Phaneuf lined up alongside captain Erik Karlsson on the point of one power-play unit at the morning skate.

“We've added a real good NHL long-term defenceman so we should be excited about that,” Cameron said.

The Senators traded two roster players, an AHL forward, a 20-year-old prospect in Tobias Lindberg and second round pick (2017) to land Phaneuf and a batch of AHL players. General manager Bryan Murray said the Senators value his experience and leadership on a defence full of youth.

Phaneuf instantly becomes by far the most experienced defender of that bunch. Methot, the former elder statesman of the defence, has played 300-plus fewer games than Phaneuf, who hit the 800-game plateau last week.

Meanwhile, the rebuilding Leafs were pleased to get out from under Phaneuf's contract, which still has five years remaining with an annual cap hit of US$ 7 million.

“I've got nothing but good things to say about my time in Toronto,” Phaneuf said, noting his immense respect for the team's general manager Lou Lamoriello. “And I'll tell you, I had a couple flights to get here yesterday and a lot of time to think and I'm excited to be a part of this team.”

Phaneuf had the Senators on a list of 12 teams he would accept a trade to, something he said was based on the quality of the Ottawa organization and its passionate fans.

As he ambled through his first skate with the group, Phaneuf just seemed to be finding his bearings. He chatted with new teammates during the skate, including some apparent strategy with Ceci, and wondered aloud to Senators personnel about the departure time of the team bus.

Even teammates, many of whom had faced him for years in the Battle of Ontario rivalry, thought it strange to see Phaneuf as one of their own.

“We're so used to seeing him with the 'C' on for the Toronto Maple Leafs,” Ceci said, “but now he's a teammate so all that's behind us.”

Phaneuf was such an energetic presence from the day he joined the Leafs that then-head coach Ron Wilson named him to a previously vacant captaincy after only 26 games.

Older and more experienced, he seemed content to settle in quietly in his first hours with the Senators.

“I've been doing this long enough,” he said. “I know what I have to do.”

Organizations: Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL, Maple Leafs Ottawa Senators Red Wings Calgary Flames

Geographic location: Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary Ontario

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