Dion Phaneuf Looking Like An All-Star Early On
After a quick start to his NHL career which saw him come runner up for the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year (2005-06), being selected as a Norris Trophy finalist as the NHL’s top defenseman (2006-07) two All-Star selections (2007 and 2008) and a slew of International accomplishments, Dion Phaneuf slowly fell out of favor with the Calgary Flames, ultimately leading to him being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
At the time of the trade Phaneuf was involved in a number of controversies surrounding both his on and off ice life.
On the ice, Phaneuf had to endure a number of criticisms including accusations of laziness, rumors of turmoil in the dressing room and even allegations of drug use off the ice.
With so much scandal surrounding Phaneuf a trade out of Calgary looked to be just what the talented blueliner needed, but there were still plenty of critics that thought the move to Toronto would do little to change Phaneuf’s floundering career.
During his short time in Toronto Phaneuf has played rather ordinary.
Phaneuf’s point totals slipped from his career high 60 points in 2007-08 to a combined 32 points with the Flames and Maple Leafs in 2009-10. Phaneuf followed his trying 2009-10 season up with an injury plagued 2010-11 season which saw him post totals of eight goals and 22 assists for a career low 30 points in 66 games.
When you examine Phaneuf’s season a few things stand out.
First, he didn’t register his first goal until December 14th against the Edmonton Oilers. Phaneuf didn’t register another goal until February 3rd against the Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets). Second, the toll of his early season injury seemed to play havoc on his confidence and put him behind the eight ball where his conditioning was concerned.
Along the way Phaneuf struggled to find his way in the physical department and in the newly found leadership role which came with his captaincy designation in the summer of 2010.
Phaneuf’s defensive game was never the high point of his overall game, but it too was under scrutiny for much of the 2010-11 season as Phaneuf was often criticized for giving the puck away at inopportune times and had difficulty transitioning.
Essentially, many pundits put into question every aspect of Phaneuf’s game, causing some to ask whether or not Phaneuf would ever get back to his early career success or if we would continue to watch his skill set deteriorate.
After the February game against the Thrashers Phaneuf began to find his way. Phaneuf’s leadership— both on and off the ice— were being applauded, his goal totals started to soar, his work on the power play got better (especially after the trade of veteran defenseman Tomas Kaberle) and his defensive game, while not perfect, was simplified with the emergence of a strong defensive partner in Keith Auile.
Aulie was sent down to the AHL to play with the Maple Leafs farm club (the Toronto Marlies) to start the 2011-12 season, but Phaneuf still remains and, by all accounts, has quickly proven to be the Maple Leafs go-to defenseman this season.
Through seven games Phaneuf already has his second goal, including a power play marker, and has picked up seven assists for a total of nine points, good enough to be the second leading scorer on the Maple Leafs and second amongst all NHL defensemen.
Phaneuf finished with a plus/minus rating of minus-2 in 2010-11. He currently owns a plus-6 rating and is looking more and more comfortable with his defensive responsibilities and transition game with the help of his partner Carl Gunnarsson.
With great overall totals early on in the 2011-12 season including 24 shots on net (good enough for second on the team) a renewed zest for the big hit (remember when he lambasted Ottawa Senators forward Stephane Da Costa?) and his penalty minutes being way down with just four on the season, Phaneuf looks to be shutting up his critics with his inspired play.
With all this in mind, Phaneuf appears to be back on the right track to earning the respect and fear of his opponents and, with a continued inspired effort, an All-Star selection at the 2012 NHL ALL-Star Game looks to be well within reach.
Just seven games into the season Phaneuf still has a lot to prove and he will have to avoid another long term injury, but if all goes well (and we are thinking it will for Phaneuf this season) there is every reason to believe that the real Dion Phaneuf is back, which is great news for fans of the Blue and White.
Kudos to Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke for bringing in Phaneuf when most of the NHL general managers fraternity had turned their collective backs on him.
Burke took a chance on Phaneuf, now it appears as if Phaneuf is about to return the favor by making Burke look like a genius.
Expect to see Phaneuf in the lineup on January 29th, 2012, at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa when the 2012 NHL All-Star Game rolls around—you heard it here first!
Until next time,