That’s the new buzzword when assembling a team, be it in basketball, soccer or, in this case, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The word had a particular resonance, Wednesday, New Year’s Eve, as the Maple Leafs announced seven more years for Dion Phaneuf at about $7 million per.
“You need some players to play around the core,” Leafs GM Dave Nonis was saying at the press conference. “We think we are adding pieces that will help us win.”
Never mind that tantalizing idea for a moment. There is no question the Leafs, with Joffrey Lupul, Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and now Phaneuf locked up have the makings of a formidable core.
But think, for a moment, about the other pieces that made the Phaneuf contract possible.
Jake Gardiner, 21:34 a night, second only to Phaneuf.
Cody Franson, a workmanlike 21:26. Even Morgan Rielly, good for eighteen minutes a night.
In speaking of his new deal, Dion Phaneuf thanked his family, his agents and his teammates. Good call.
The wondrous thing about the Phaneuf contract is that his value peaked when the caliber of the team’s other defencemen heightened.
You may not like how this year’s Leafs team has compared to last season’s group but there is no arguing that with a maturing Franson, with Gardiner growing into his game and Rielly providing broad hints about his, the Leafs defence is on the move.
Dave Nonis, no fool, went out of his way to assert that the Leafs didn’t sign Phaneuf because they had no one capable of assuming his minutes, his role, his leadership. They don’t of course, but that’s not the point.
“It’s that he has done enough to say he stacks up against the top defencemen in the league.”
He does, of course. The most telling moment of Phaneuf’s Leaf career were the dying moments of Game 7 in Boston when Phaneuf had to stay on because there was nobody anywhere near as dependable to put on in his stead.
That in a measurable way, has changed. Dion Phaneuf is better for it. So too are the Leafs.