Dion Phaneuf: Void Of Impact?

January 16th, 2011 2 Comments

When Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager Brian Burke pulled off the blockbuster, seven-player deal that netted him Dion Phaneuf (amongst others) late last season, it was thought that—given the fact that Burke had brought in the best player in the deal (Phaneuf)—that the Maple Leafs had won the trade.

Clearly, shortsighted predictions can nip you in the butt in the long term, but when you look at the overall records of both the Calgary Flames and the Toronto Maple Leafs, as well as the seven players’ (some of which have been traded for parts) output, the trade seems to be a wash.

At least at this point.

Upon his anointment as team captain for the Maple Leafs, many felt that Phaneuf, like so many other captains before him, would be exposed to adversity, scrutiny and—to some extent—unfair expectations predicated by both the media and the fans of the Blue and White.

Thus far, Phaneuf has enjoyed a surprisingly easy first season as the Maple Leafs team captain. In fact, Phaneuf has been afforded a tremendous amount of slack from both the media and the fans. One may even say that he has been unaccountable and eerily silent.

This season has been void of any inspirational quotes from Phaneuf and his on-ice performance has been mediocre at best.

Sure, the Maple Leafs’ record with Phaneuf in the lineup may be a few percentage points better than without him, but it is very hard to quantify what he does on the ice that is making an impact on the team’s performance.

Case in point, on a team that is desperate for goals, Phaneuf has managed just one goal on the season, on December 14thagainst the Edmonton Oilers.

Phaneuf’s eight points in 28 games equates to a paltry 0.28 points per game, a far cry from the 0.40 points per game he was averaging with the Flames prior to joining the Buds. It’s an even bigger gap when you consider his career high of 60 points in 82 games with the Flames during the 2007-2008 campaign, which equates to 0.69 points per game.

The reality is, through 54 games with the Maple Leafs, Phaneuf has just three goals and a total of 18 points. That equates to 0.33 points per game, which just isn’t good enough for a player that carries a cap hit of $6.5 million.

Worse yet, for a player that averages 3:30 of power-play time per game, Phaneuf has yet to score a power-play marker, and has no goals and just four assists on the PP this season.

Mediocre five-on-five play followed by questionable power-play output is enough to make a case that Phaneuf simply is not pulling his weight. Never mind the fact that he rarely fights, never mind the fact that his bone-crushing hits (he has 43 hits on the season through 28 games) look to be a thing of the past. The fact is Phaneuf is living a very quiet existence here in Toronto, both on and off the ice.

Those in the know (mainly Brian Burke and Leafs’ head coach Ron Wilson) say that Phaneuf has been the catalyst behind the Maple Leafs’ change in attitude. Given the fact that not much has changed in the standings and that the team has been void of any personality for much of the season, the question I would pose to Burke and Wilson is this: what attitude change are we talking about here?

This group of Maple Leafs rarely plays any bigger than last season’s edition. Sure, Luke Schenn looks to be hitting more, as does Francois Beauchemin, but Phaneuf (who had 69 hits in 26 games for the Maple Leafs in 2009-10) is taking a nose-dive in that department, which is not what he was brought to Toronto for, was it?

Leafs fans could accept Phaneuf’s disinterest in hitting if he was getting it done on the scoreboard and the fact is, he is not. Perhaps the Leafs Nation could cut Phaneuf some slack if he was contributing exceptional numbers on the power play—sadly, he is not.

Let’s face it, Leaf fans, as good as Phaneuf has been in spurts, he has failed to make an impact and unless he changes the way he plays, we’ll probably never see him reach the potential that everyone in the hockey world thought he could hit after his first three years in the NHL.

Can you imagine if a player of Phaneuf’s ilk was selected as the captain of the Montreal Canadiens and proceeded to play as poorly as he has in Toronto there? They would be serving his ribs at the Bar-B-Barn! And that’s no word of a lie!

Phaneuf has three years left on his contract after this season. Each of them carries a cap hit of $6.5 million. It would be nice if Phaneuf started to earn his paycheck—then again, Toronto always seems to forgive their under-performing players—lord knows we Leaf fans have endured many.

Until next time.



  1. Claudio DiCenzo says:

    I find it very amusing to read articles such as this because the negative essence of it contributes to the scrutiny that the Leaf players are subjected to in Toronto. If Phaneuf tries to make a big hit, he’s accused of taking himself out of the play. When he does shoot, he’s criticized for missing the net. The swagger with which he arrived in Toronto appears to be gone; the presence he showed and the willingness to take on a leadership role appears to be gone. Think back to the number of star players, through generations, who have been run out of Toronto and you wonder why these guys play on tenterhooks.

    Phaneuf played 28 minutes on Saturday, mostly against Ignila. He more than held his own and actually pasted him a couple of times. Wilson won’t put people out there if he doesn’t trust them (see Komisarek), so if this guy plays nearly half the game, there must be some trust and confidence in his ability.

    It is true that he has not lived up to the hype and that he carries a big ticket? Yes, but the expectations were created by the press and by Burke himself. Phaneuf came here wanting to make a difference, but got caught in a buzz saw of attention; anybody would fold under the pressure. Remember, he is 25 years old and the best of defencemen don’t reach their true potential until they are older and more mature.

    The trade from all perspectives is in Toronto’s favour; would you take Stajan, Hagman, White and Mayers back? That’s $10 million for what?

    Have some patience and give this guy a break. Finally, remember fans and press, you don’t have to cough up the money, so why worry about it. Lighten up and watch this guy get better.

  2. MarkRitter says:

    Thanks for your comment. I appreciate your perspective, but Dion has been a diminishing asset for a number of years now. The fact that he is having one of his worst seasons statistically this season only underlines the fact that he is really struggling out there.

    As I said in the article, points are not everything, but you have to bring somehting more than Phaneuf has been bringing to justify that $6.5 million salary. Perhaps if he was making $2.5-$3.0 million we wouldn’t be having this discussion, but the fact remains that he has underachieved since he joined the Leafs.

    Think about his first game with the Buds- he hit everything in sight, contributed offensively, got into a scrap, he did it all. Now, you cannot expect a player to do that every night, but you certainly can ask your leader/captain and $6.5 million player to do it once a week, can’t you?

    Facts are facts, and the facts suggest that Phaneuf needs to pick it up.

    And I differ with you saying Phaneuf has gotten caught in a buzz-saw of attention. He has been silent as a mouse, as has the media and fans. Phaneuf is getting away with a sub-par performance, with little to no repercussions.

    I worry about the $6.5 million because A) Phaneuf should be earning far less based on his performance and B) we live in a cap world. His $6.5 million could net the Buds a nice centre to compliment Kessel…it’s an eyesore that we have that much cap space comitted to Phaneuf while getting so little in return.

    I guess we just see a different player out there. I posted this same article on another site and threw in a poll. As it stands right now, 90% of those that responded said they felt Phaneuf has fallen short of expectations. Less than 1% felt he had exceeded them and less than 10% felt he had been “ok”.

    Sounds to me like there are a number of others fans that disagree with your thoughts, but hey, that’s why they have chocolate and vanilla, right?



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