While Phil Kessel signed an eight-year, $64-million contract extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs a few weeks ago, the understanding has been that neither side has illustrated any urgency regarding Leaf captain Dion Phaneuf who also becomes an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos now reports the Phaneuf camp is looking for a contract in the seven-year, $50-million range, given Leafs captain’s strong play early this season. He regularly leads the team in minutes and is playing arguably his best hockey as a Leaf during this great start to the season. Given the apparent lack of quality free-agent defenceman that will be available this summer, I can understand the argument being made on behalf of Phaneuf.

My only word of caution to GM Dave Nonis is not to be bullied into any sense of urgency in the matter. If Phaneuf wants to remain the Leaf captain—and if the Leafs want that, too—a deal can always be worked out later in the season or in the off-season. Toronto’s recent track record serves as fair warning. The “clock was ticking” on getting a deal done with unrestricted free agent Bryan McCabe in 2006; as it ticked, the price kept going up. At least that’s how it appeared to then-GM John Ferguson Jr. McCabe signed a five-year contract with an average salary of $5.75 million per year. His play plummeted immediately and he was shipped to the Florida Panthers two seasons later.

Overall, the Leafs have seriously misjudged the value of any defenceman who’ve gotten contracts of more than three years. Jean Michael Liles is in the second-year of a four-year, $3.875-million contract the Leafs already regret, while two unrestricted free agent acquisitions (Jeff Finger, four years, $3.5 million per season in 2008; and Mike Komisarek, five years, $4.5 million per season) were basically busts from the day they first put on their Leaf uniform.