Dion Phaneuf can clear his mind of any contract issues entering Wednesday’s Winter Classic in Detroit.
The Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday announced they have signed the veteran defenceman to a seven-year contract extension worth $49 million US that begins next season.
"It was an easy decision for me to stay here and be a part of the Toronto Maple Leafs," Phaneuf told reporters at Michigan Stadium, where the Leafs and Detroit Red Wings will tangle on Wednesday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 12:30 p.m. ET). "I think we're building something special.
"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.”
The 28-year-old tops the Maple Leafs with a plus-13 rating this season and is second in scoring to Cody Franson (20 points) among Toronto defencemen with 15 points on four goals and 11 assists. He also ranks second in hits (102) and blocked shots (76), and third in penalty minutes.
'If you look at his numbers since he was a rookie, they stack up favourably with the top defencemen in the league.'- Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis on Dion Phaneuf
Phaneuf, who regularly plays against the opposition's best forwards, leads all Maple Leafs in ice time, averaging 24 minutes 21 seconds in the first half of this season.
"If you look at his numbers since he was a rookie, they stack up very favourably with the top defencemen in the league," Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis said at Tuesday's news conference. "He's a player that is getting better and a player we can build around to be a contender."
Since his NHL debut in 2005-06 with the Calgary Flames, only nine other NHL defencemen have more goals per game than Phaneuf’s 0.172.
On Jan. 31, 2010, then-Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke acquired Phaneuf in a seven-player trade with Calgary. Forwards Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan and Jamal Mayers and defenceman Ian White headed to the Flames, with forward Fredrik Sjostrom and defensive prospect Keith Aulie also acquired by Toronto.
For all the criticism Phaneuf has drawn since his arrival from some media and fans, he has only missed 18 games — 16 with a leg laceration in November 2010 and two this season due to a suspension for hitting Boston's Kevan Miller from behind.
Toronto has a record of 125-104-32 with Phaneuf in the lineup.
"Dion's always going to have a little bit of risk to his game, but I believe he's lowered that," Nonis said. "He's taken less big chances, less risky pinches, he still likes the big hit but he's not running at people the way he did early on. All those things are just a function of maturity."
'I definitely feel that my game has grown with experience and playing in the league.'- Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf
Drafted ninth overall by Calgary in 2003, the Edmonton native has appeared in 639 NHL regular-season contests, scoring 110 goals and 355 points while racking up 851 minutes in penalties.
"I definitely feel that my game has grown with experience and playing in the league," said Phaneuf. "You grow as a player, and I've learned a lot of things over my time since I've started, and I feel I'm a better player today than I definitely was when I started and in my time in Calgary, that's for sure."
Phaneuf will make $8 million in each of the first two seasons, then $7.5 million, $7 million, $6.5 million, $6.5 million and then $5.5 million in 2020-21.
Phaneuf broke into the NHL in the 2005-06 campaign and was a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie.
Two seasons later, the three-time all-star was a Norris Trophy finalist, finishing among the top three in voting as the NHL's best defenceman. He was also named to the First All-Star team.
There's no guarantee Phaneuf plays the entire contract with the Leafs, given that he has only a limited no-trade clause. Nonis doesn't believe in giving players full no-movement clauses, so Phaneuf didn't get one.
None of the players Toronto has signed long-term — forwards Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, David Clarkson, Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul — have full no-trade clauses in their contracts.