Dion Phaneuf: Does He Deserve The Criticism?
Blessed with a reputation for big hits, big presence and a big shot, Phaneuf looked to be the answer to the Maple Leafs struggles, even if there were rumors that Phaneuf had “flamed” out in Calgary.
Phaneuf’s first steps into the Maple Leafs locker room included a memorable moment in which he headed straight for the stereo, cranked up the tunes and made his presence felt. For many, it marked the turning point in the franchise- this was going to be Dion’s team, come hell or high water.
In his first game action with the Maple Leafs Phaneuf played a rugged game that saw the future captain of the Buds register more than 24 minutes of ice time, hitting everything that moved, taking four shots and getting into a spirited tussle with New Jersey Devils defenseman Colin White.
As good as Phaneuf was in his first game with the Maple Leafs he has yet to demonstrate that he can or is willing to play that style of game on the regular.
Fact is, Phaneuf has been nothing short of mediocre in his first 37 games with the Leafs, registering a measly two goals, 14 points, a minus eight rating and just 51 penalty minutes.
While Phaneuf has the reputation of owning a lethal shot, of the 124 he has registered as a Maple Leaf only two have found the back of the net, which is alarming to say the least. Simply put, as the evidence suggests, Dion couldn’t hit water falling out of a boat on most nights.
Thought to be a lethal hitter, Phaneuf has failed to demonstrate that he is the player that once put fear in the hearts of opposing players when he was on the ice. Riddle me this: When is the last time Phaneuf really laid a guy out? When was Phaneuf’s last memorable hit?
At $7 million per, Brian Burke, Maple Leaf fans and ownership expect Phaneuf to be the teams best player on the ice on more nights than not and, to date anyways, that’s simply not the case.
Outside of Brett Lebda, who barely plays, Phaneuf is the only Maple Leaf defenseman with a minus rating- an alarming minus six at that.
Playing similar minutes Tomas Kaberle (plus four), Luke Schenn (plus four) and Francois Beauchemin (plus one), all have plus ratings, which exposes Phaneuf for his defensive shortcomings.
This season Phaneuf has already been benched for his sub-par play, but it seemed to have little to no effect on him.
As much as I’d like to defend Phaneuf’s lack of scoring and apparent struggles on the backend the reality is he has not played up to his potential, which has to have Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson and Burke a little nervous.
On the whole, Maple Leaf fans have been patient with Phaneuf. That said, with a few of the boo-birds recently voicing their displeasure for Phaneuf’s paltry play, GM Brian Burke had to come to his prized ponies defense.
According to TSN, Burke reported, “I don’t think some of our fans realize the extent of what Dion has done for this organization, on and off the ice. Off the ice he’s done tremendous charity work and more than any other individual (Phaneuf) has gone out of his way to change the in the dressing room with our players,” said Burke.
Burke went on to call the booing of Phaneuf a “disgraceful act”, one that will not go unaddressed on his watch.
While there is some substance to what Burke is saying, the fact remains that Phaneuf has not been getting the job done on the ice.
I respect Burke as a hockey man and, to be honest, I love the fact that he backed Phaneuf up in this the first example of controversy thrown the newly appointed captains’ way; this is what a good GM does.
That said, it does not change the fact that Phaneuf needs to be better on the ice and if that means he attends a few less charity dinners or needs to get called out by the fans, coach or otherwise, so be it.
So what do Maple Leaf fans want from Dion?
They want to see Dion rip someone’s head off, they want to see him hit the back of the nest more often and they want to see him playing the way he did when he was such a huge success early on in his career.
Simply put, Leaf fans want the “real Dion” to stand up and, until he does, the captain can expect more of the same treatment, which is to say, until he starts pulling his weight, he is gonna get booed.
Until next time,