9th Overall in 2003 by Calgary
I will end up saying this over and over again. I started admiring Dion Phaneuf when he was on the cover of NHL 09. I played that game so much. I became a Calgary Flames fan and even started following their games and standings. I fell off the Flames train after a year or so and I didn’t look back, until one day. The day the Flames traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs. This is possibly the best move for Dion. And I’m going to explain why in just a moment. This is Beyond the ‘C’: The Story of Dion Phaneuf.
Dion Phaneuf grew up in the perfect household. A house in which every hockey player wishes they could have grown up in. His father was a construction worker, and his mom was a nurse. He learned to skate from his mom, who competed for Prince Edward Island in the 1975 Canada Winter Games. He skated on the ice rink his father made every winter in his own backyard. It has been said that he broke many nets that his father had bought him while practicing his shooting in his basement.
He played for the Red Deer Rebels, and didn’t put up impressive numbers. In the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Calgary’s GM Darryl Sutter made it his personal goal to get Phaneuf at any cost. Scouts said he was a physical player who had a chance at improving offensively and defensively. With the right chance, he did. Sutter even tried to trade to a higher pick to make sure he got Dion, but he was stuck at 9th. Even though he didn’t get his trades, he got his defenseman. He was a candidate to play with the Flames in 2004, but since the lock-out came by, he was stuck playing in the juniors just one more year. His final season, he put up 56 points in 55 games, putting his junior points total to 146. He was named top player in the CHL in both 2004 and 2005, ahead of Sidney Crosby, making him one of the best junior defenseman of the decade.
His sophomore year on the Flames was phenomenal. His 50-point season led to his first NHL All-Star Game, where he competed in the Hardest Shot competition. He would lose to Zdeno Chara in the competition. To see Phaneuf’s attempt, go to 4:40 in the video, but I recommend watching the whole thing. It’s only 5 and ½ minutes. He signed a six-year, $39 million contract midway through the 2007-2008 season. He wasn’t putting up the numbers they wanted though, with his last season in Calgary, by having 10 goals and 12 assists in 55 games. He was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. In Toronto, he scored 10 points in 26 games. His Maple Leaf debut was on February 2nd, 2010. He was named captain on June 14th, 2010, succeeding Mats Sundin who left after the 2007-08 season. This made Phaneuf the 18th captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The trade couldn’t have better. He was captain material, at least I thought so. Defenders aren’t supposed to score many goals, just keep them out of their own net. Had he stayed in Calgary, he wouldn’t have been able to be captain. He needed space to expand, which is exactly what he got from Toronto. He is a perfect fit in Toronto.
Dion is a big hitter. Here is a video of some hits. Now everyone knows you have to feel what your teammate is putting out. Just ask Mr. Mike Komisarek during a pre-game warm-up. Watch! My brother Derek and I always joke about his hits. It’s like when Niklas Kronwall from Detroit hits someone. They just got Kronwall’d. Whenever we are playing the EASports video games, when you get hit with Phaneuf, you got Phaneuf’d. It is fun and our little brother Devin likes to say it too.
The corner is a bit misshaped today folks. The editor of Editor in Leaf hadn’t responded to my email in time, so I got the next best thing. A die-hard Leafs fan and writer for the site, Kurtis Friesen had a good statement and wrote it under short notice. Here it is.
“I don’t think there’s any debate to the question mark that is the Leafs’ leadership.. at the helm: Dion Phaneuf. Ever since his arrival in the big T-dot, the ‘C’ he wears seems to stand for ‘controversy’ more than it does ‘captain’.
Known for his offensive prowess and blistering slap shot, Phaneuf seemed to generate a ton of excitement when the trade was announced. Leafs Head Coach at the time, Ron Wilson, stated that despite the offensive struggles, he brought a positive vibe to the locker room. Though he has been able to find an offensive touch of sorts, the concern for me with Dion is his ability, or lack thereof, to lead by example on the ice.
Obviously, no one knows what is really said behind the locker room doors, but if you can’t lead on the ice, what does anything else matter? Last season, Leafs Nation witnessed one of the greatest meltdowns in NHL history. Yes, there were many aspects of the team that appeared dysfunctional, namely goaltending, which seemed to suffer when Wilson couldn’t make up his mind who was the #1 late in the season. But I believe the root of that meltdown to be the absolute absence of leadership. When the going got tough, no one stepped up.
In fairness to Phaneuf, the Leafs are the second youngest team in the league and the blame cannot be shouldered on one man. However, my concern was his play on the ice. He seemed to take timely penalties and make a lot of careless plays defensively for a player getting paid $6.5 million and who wears the ‘C’. I’m going to further my point with the argument that we need to add experience and leadership to this team. What would this mean for Phaneuf?
It’s no secret that the constant declaration by GM Brian Burke that Luke Schenn is capable of being a Leaf captain and franchise player in the future, got to the head of Phaneuf. Whether that actually led to the eventual dealing of the young defenseman is a topic of another debate. But if Phaneuf was intimidated by a player younger than him, can you imagine what the acquisition of an experienced veteran would do to Dion’s confidence? Someone that could potentially rival his captaincy? Could it rejuvenate his game? Not likely.
However, I’m not oblivious to the upside Phaneuf brings to the team, I am aware that he is an extremely gifted player. My criticism seems to lie on the price tag for such services. With the current cap situation in Toronto.. the big bucks and long-term deals.. the management’s hands are pretty tied. Given this issue, I am not opposed to shopping Phaneuf and his whopping contract on the trade market. I don’t mean this to say I want him out, but I think he would bring a lot of interest and value to a multi-player deal. , I am also aware of Burke’s inability to swallow pride. As a result, a Phaneuf trade seems highly unlikely. But if we bring in a player like.. say.. Shane Doan (ambitious, I know), I don’t see Phaneuf liking the move. Remember, he’s only 27 years old, I’m merely concerned what is to become of Phaneuf if we acquire much needed experience and leadership. Just food for thought.
Now that I’ve passed the storm cloud and bombarded the Leafs captain with the typical Leafs Nation criticism, I will conclude on a positive note. As stated, Phaneuf is only 27.. he has a ton of upside. His style fits the bill for both Burke and Carlyle. And for that reason, I do not expect him to be moved and believe his play will improve as the Leafs get closer to a postseason trip. And let’s be honest, who else on the roster could bare the ‘C’ and be justified?” I totally agree when Kurtis says “I’m merely concerned what is to become of Phaneuf if we acquire much needed experience and leadership.” The thought that Dion got a little jittery when someone like Schenn got to his head, what would happen if someone else came along? Would he break down?
There is no doubt that he is a great player and a great leader. He is great for Toronto and is exactly what Toronto needs in the driver seat. He is their only chance of making the playoffs next year, and I think they will have what it takes, especially adding Morgan Reilly to their defensive roster. Phaneuf said (Like “enough” said)!
That’s it for Dion Phaneuf in Toronto. Next up is a toss-up. It’s Shea Weber and the Nashville Predators, unless he goes to Philadelphia like it is looking towards. If he goes to Philadelphia, you will read Beyond the ‘C’: The Story of the Nashville Predators. If he doesn’t and stays, you will read Beyond the ‘C’: The Story of Shea Weber. Which do you think it will be? Tweet me your guess. The winners will get a shout-out in the next post. Join me Wednesday for Beyond the ‘C’!