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signed Dion to this deal because he deserved it,

  • December 28, 2017 6:58 PM PST

    ANN ARBOR, Mich. Joseph Blandisi Jersey . – Tucked in the warmth on the surrounding grounds of the Big House, Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis made one point urgently clear as he announced the signing of Torontos captain through 2021. "We signed Dion to this deal because he deserved it," said Nonis on the eve of Wednesdays Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium. But the success of the seven-year extension between the Leafs and Dion Phaneuf wont just be about the 28-year-old defender, but the ability of Nonis and the organization to surround him and the Toronto core with capable talent. Right now that core includes at least six players; Phaneuf along with Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Joffrey Lupul, David Clarkson and Tyler Bozak – all signed until at least 2017. And while that group must remain productive – and increasingly so from a generally disappointing first half – the overall team success is likely dependent on the quality of talent the club adds in the coming years. "Weve added these pieces because we think that they can help us win long-term," said Nonis of that core group. "Its now going to be up to us to add players around them. We feel we have some pieces coming, but were not where we need to be yet. We still need to add some pieces around players like Dion and Phil and [Lupul], JVR. Those are players that will help any team in this league win, but we need to continue to add to that group." No team has done a more efficient job of surrounding their impressive core than the Chicago Blackhawks (though the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins could make equal argument). "I think theyre a model for the league, not just our hockey club," Randy Carlyle said of the defending Stanley Cup champions earlier this season. Chicagos core is among the more dynamic in the league – much of it built through the draft – but the organization has done well in surrounding that group with wave upon wave of helpful young players and outside talent. In recent years, the likes of Andrew Shaw (fifth round pick), Marcus Kruger (fifth round), Bryan Bickell (second round), Corey Crawford (second round) and Brandon Saad (second round) all proved invaluable toward the Blackhawks capturing their second Cup in four years last season. For the Leafs that means improved drafting and development. It means finding more capable assets through the draft, ever an important tool in todays cap age. "Theres still only three ways to do [build around the core] – trade, free agency or the draft," said Nonis. "We have to do a better job in all three areas. But the draft is going to be more and more important as players start to earn six, seven, eight, nine, 10 million – who knows what the numbers are going to end up being. "If you have players that are entry-level players or just coming out of entry-level that are earning substantially less that can contribute youre going to have a better chance of winning. We need to try to find some of those players." Not only does that mean the continued development of young players like Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri, Peter Holland and Jonathan Bernier, but success here and there from a solid and yet unspectacular prospect pool that features Matt Finn, Connor Brown, Petter Granberg, Dominic Toninato, and Josh Leivo. It also means finding more useful players to contribute right now. Chicago found help for example in the form of veterans like Johhny Oduya and Michal Handzus. Uneven all season, Torontos patchwork defence – which featured no major additions last summer – is a source requiring definite upgrading in the summer of 2014 and beyond. As for Phaneuf, he may be an imperfect first defender, but is a capable first defender no less in a league where commodities of such kind are difficult to find and then keep. More and more teams are locking up their most talented players long-term leaving the free agency pool increasingly weak and short of high-impact options, especially on defence. Among the top unsigned defenders for the summer of 2014 are 37-year-old Dan Boyle, 35-year-old Andrei Markov, and 29-year-old Dan Girardi. Internally, the Leafs have promising long-term options for the top of their defence in the 19-year-old Rielly and 23-year-old Gardiner, but neither is near ready to assume the difficult duties Phaneuf holds at the moment. And while the likes of Finn, Granberg, Stuart Percy, and Tom Nilsson offer prospective hope further on down the line, they are suitably unknown commodities. "If youre signing players because you dont have anyone to replace them youre making mistakes," said Nonis. "Hes going to play at this level and beyond, I feel, for seven years and maybe beyond that. Its not that you dont have anyone to replace Dion, its that hes done enough to prove to us that he is a player that is near the top of the league in terms of how he stacks up against the top defencemen." The difficulty of his minutes is easy to overlook. His role on a generally unstable Toronto defence requires him to match up nightly against the most difficult competition in the league. In Wednesdays Winter Classic for example, that tall challenge will include large quantities of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. "I dont think you can look beyond the situations and positions that Randy puts him in," said Nonis. "Theyre not always the best situations. He plays some pretty tough minutes." In fact, no defender in the league has faced more challenging competition in the past two seasons than the Leafs captain, this according to ExtraSkater.com. And though hes struggled to produce offence this season – 15 points in 39 games – Phaneuf has ranked amongst the top-20 at his position in offensive production in each of the past two seasons. The Leafs were in a surprise in 2013, finishing fifth in the conference while nearly upending the eventual Cup finalist Bruins in the first round. But theyve fallen under considerable strain this season – just four regulation wins since Nov. 1 – and have proven a poor defensive contingent again after struggling in that regard a year ago. Phaneuf is more solution than problem. The Leafs simply need better players around him. "You see some of the best players around the league," said Nonis, "if you put them on a team by themselves theyre going to have a hard time winning. We think were adding pieces that will help us win." Keith Kinkaid Jersey . A broadcast source said the deal is for five years. The agreement calls for a minimum of 17 regular-season games as well as the East and West Division finals being broadcast annually on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNEWS. Pavel Zacha Jersey . Still, its a start. Josh Baileys goal with 1:40 left capped a furious third-period rally, and the Islanders edged the Penguins 4-3 on Friday night.ERIE, Pa. - Connor McDavid scored 53 seconds into overtime as the Erie Otters came from behind to defeat the visiting Guelph Storm 4-3 on Saturday in Ontario Hockey League action. The Otters (18-3-1), trailed 3-0 after 40 minutes, however shorthanded goals from Michael Curtis and Connor Brown brought Erie within one and Spencer Abraham forced extra time with a shorthanded goal at 19:08. Tyler Bertuzzi, Hunter Garlent and Brock McGinn scored for the Storm (16-3-3), who are 11-0-3 in their last 14 contests. Devin Williams made 25 saves as Erie extended its win streak to five games. Guelphs Justin Nichols stopped 37-of-41 shots in defeat. The Otters went 0 for 2 on the power play while the Storm scored once on four chances with the man advantage. --- KNIGHTS 6 BULLS 3 BELLEVILLE, Ont. -- Max Domi and Michael McCarron each scored twice as London doubled up the Bulls. Brett Welychka and Ryan Rupert also scored for the Knights (15-5-2), who are 7-0-1 in their last eight games, while Bo Horvat chipped in with two assists. Cameron Brace, Garrett Hooey and JordanSubban scored Belleville (5-13-4). Jake Patterson started in goal for London but left after the first period. Anthony Stolarz came on in relief and stopped 27 shots for the win. Bulls netminder Charlie Graham allowed six goals on 33 shots. --- SPITFIRES 5 PETES 4 PETERBOROUGH, Ont. -- Josh Ho-Sang scored the winner on the power play at 13:30 of the third period as Windsor handed the Petes their fifth straight defeat. Brady Vail scored once and set up two more for the Spitfires (13-7-0) while Ryan Foss, Slater Koekkoek and Remy Giftopoulos added a goal apiece. Eric Cornel led Peterborough (8-12-3) with a goal and two assists and Josh MacDonald, Jonatan Tanus and Nick Ritchie scored the others. Windsors Alex Fotinos made 30 saves for the win as Michael Giugovaz stopped 33 shots for the Petes. Brian Boyle Jersey. --- STING 4 WHALERS 2 PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- Brodie Barrick turned aside 35 shots as Sarnia toppled the Whalers. Nickolas Latta had a goal and an assist for the Sting (8-14-1) while Anthony DeAngelo, Davis Brown and Nikolay Goldobin each scored once. Zach Lorentz and Connor Sills supplied the offence for Plymouth (9-13-1). Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 24-of-27 shots in a losing cause. --- SPIRIT 2 STEELHEADS 1 SAGINAW, Mich. -- Nikita Serebryakov made 33 saves, including 17 in the third period, as the Spirit slipped past Mississauga. Cody Payne opened the scoring for Saginaw (12-8-2) and Kristoff Kontos scored the eventual winner midway through the second period. Damian Bourne put the Steelheads (12-10-2) on the board 9:27 into the third period. Mississaugas Spencer Martin kicked out 26 shots in defeat. --- COLTS 8 ICEDOGS 2 BARRIE, Ont. -- Erik Bradford scored twice and Justin Scott had a goal and two assists as the Colts crushed Niagara for their sixth win in a row. Alex Yuill and Mitchell Theoret each had a goal and an assist for Barrie (12-8-1) while Aaron Ekblad, Andrew Mangiapane and Zach Hall added single goals. Jordan Maletta and Mack Lemmon scored for the IceDogs (6-13-3), who are on a four-game slide. Mackenzie Blackwood stopped 23 shots for the Colts. Niagaras Brent Moran allowed eight goals on 44 shots against. --- GENERALS 4 ATTACK 2 OWEN SOUND, Ont. -- Daniel Altshuller stopped 28 shots through the final two periods and 36 in total as Oshawa defeated the Attack. Scott Laughton scored twice for the Generals (18-4-1), who have won four in a row, and Aidan Wallace and Michael Dal Colle had the others. 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