Is It Time For Dion Phaneuf To Send A Message?

July 31st, 2012 13 Comments

When Dion Phaneuf arrived in Toronto after being traded from the Calgary Flames it was reported that he walked straight into the locker room, cranked the music up on the stereo and went about his business, sending a message that this was his locker room now and anyone that didn’t like it could shove it.

Phaneuf followed that up by having one of his best games as a Maple Leafs when he hit everything that moved, chirped countless opposing players, yelled at a few teammates and even dropped the gloves against Colin White (winning the fight) while helping the Blue and White defeat the New Jersey Devils 3-0 back on February 2nd, 2010.

If you have watched Phaneuf over his time with the Leafs nights like February 2nd have been few and far between. Sure, as team captain and with the rules changing, Phaneuf cannot be “that player” every night, but you would think he could pick it up a notch.

At one time in his career Phaneuf was one of the most feared defensemen in the NHL. Partially because of his uncanny ability to catch a player with a big hit, partially because he could throw down with players bigger than him and Partially because he could put the puck in the net—pick your poison, there was a time when Phaneuf could do it all.

Fast forward to last season and Phaneuf, while effective at times, was very inconsistent.  Now don’t get me wrong, Phaneuf was an all-star last season and he did manage to take his point total from 30 points in his first full season (actually, he only played in 66 games) with the Maple Leafs to 44 (in 82 games) in 2011-12, but there was still something missing in my mind and the opposition knew it as well.

To me there are two incidents that stand out—the all-star game where Philadelphia Flyers forward Scott Hartnell had the nerve to yell “hey Phaneuf, suck it” and the game the Flyers and Maple Leafs played shortly there after when Hartnell and Phaneuf dropped the gloves.

While it is tough to go after a guy at an all-star game, one would have thought that Phaneuf would have wiped the floor with Hartnell (or died trying) when the two hooked up on the ice after the all-star game.

Instead, Phaneuf was on the ice for the Flyers’ first goal that game where, you guessed it, Hartnell scored the first goal. Hartnell immediately turned around, chirped Phaneuf and the two dropped their gloves.

In the old days you wouldn’t forget a fight between two players with Phaneuf and Hartnell’s physical prowess, but on this occassion the fight was right up there with watching paint dry.

The Hartnell incident was not an isolated one last season. There were plenty of times where Phaneuf backed down or was taken advantage of by the opposition as was teammate Mike Komisarek, another tough guy that suddenly all but refuses to make a bit hit or drop the gloves.

Let’s face it, the days where Phaneuf and Komisarek could intimidate opposing players are long gone and until Phaneuf sets a different tone guys like Hartnell will continue to take advantage of them.

Which brings us to the upcoming season—how will Phaneuf reinvent himself? How will he regain the fear and respect that opposing forwards once gave him? I mean, this is a player that at one time was compared to former New Jersey Devils defenseman  (one of the best hitters and most feared players in the history of hockey) Scott Stevens.

One thing is for sure, there is no way in hell that Stevens would have let his physical game fall to the level that Phaneuf’s is at, rules be damned! Stevens would be laying guys out as he always did! Stevens never would have allowed Hartnell to chirp him the way he did Phaneuf.

With Randy Carlyle replacing Ron Wilson behind the bench as the Maple Leafs head coach both Carlyle and Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke have promised a much more physical team.

When you consider the roster moves Burke has made this summer (or lack thereof) there is no indication that the Blue and White are any more intimidating today than they were at the end of the 2011-12 season.

The point is, at this juncture, any increase in physical play is going to have to come from within, and that means Phaneuf is going to be relied upon to bring the noise every chance he gets.

Mike Komisarek isn’t going to do it, John-Michael Liles is not that kind of defenseman, Jake Gardiner will be too busy rushing pucks and Carl Gunnarsson simply doesn’t have the mentality to be a physical force on the ice—or at least not a guy that is feared. That leaves Korbinian Holzer to do the dirty work? I don’t think that is going to happen, do you?

I remember a scene from the movie Good Fellas where Henry (a mobster and drug dealer) found out that his neighbor was bothering his wife. Henry, working on adrenaline and a few lines of coke, drove home in a panic, sped into his driveway, slammed the door and walked right over to the guy where he smacked him in the head and face a few times with an open palm, pointed his gun at the guy and left him crying in the driveway, bloodied and scared.

This is what Phaneuf needs to do! He needs to make an example out of the next guy that tries to take liberties with him—he has to lay the guy out the first chance he gets or drop him like a dirty habit right on the spot.

We are not talking about a dirty hit or a cheap shot, I am talking about nailing a guy with a legal hit or settling the score with his fists and leaving no doubt as to which guy won the fight.

One thing is for sure, Phaneuf cannot allow anyone to laugh at him the way Hartnell did last season. The time has come for Phaneuf to return to his roots and start making people pay the price the way opposing forwards once did in Phaneuf’s years with the Calgary Flames.

I, for one, like that guy a whole lot better than the guy we’ve seen on more nights than not since he arrived in Toronto. Phaneuf did it in his first game as a Maple Leaf, there is no reason to think he can’t do it on a consistent basis.

Until next time,

Peace!

13 Comments

  1. Hudson says:

    I’d sure take 30 points and a lot of nasty than 48 points without it.

    I am looking forward to Komisarik’s last season with the Leafs. He seems like a nice guy, but that may be part of the problem. Four years to find your game and still sucking doesn’t cut it. IMO, if he has not found it already, this season will be no different. I would like for him to surprise me, but I just severely doubt that is possible.

  2. MarkRitter says:

    Agreed Hud. I want the Dion of old to show up!

  3. Xalvion says:

    I agree with this article 100%.

    There’s no question that there is a wide disparity amongst Leaf fans as to what they EXPECT of Dion, but I don’t think there’s any disagreement at all that this is exactly what we NEED from him.

  4. mrj says:

    I think there may have been several reasons for Dion’s play last year, first of all he played way to many minutes last season and therefore he had to pace himself.

    Unlike Wilson, Carlyle expects his players to play with a little snarl in their game and I think Dion and the rest of the Leafs will be a bit more nasty this season.

    The leafs as a team last year were not the most physialy fit group of players in the NHL, that will change with Carlyle. If you are going to play a tough, nasty game the players need to be in excellant physical condition.

  5. twr says:

    Dion is the captain and has to lead by example, he needs to step up to protect his players when they are too small to protect themselves. I was a big Phaneuf fan while he played in Calgary but not impressed at all with his time in Toronto.If he wants to lead this team MAN UP

  6. jam says:

    Phaneuf was really only ‘that kind’ of player a bit in Calgary, and very very little in Toronto. He’s not a leader, despite his bravado, and he’s not the player Burke conned us into believing he was.

  7. MarkRitter says:

    Jam-

    I think Burke took a chance that Phaneuf could somewhat reinvent himself in Toronto. If memory serves, Dion was an alternate captain with the Flames, so they saw somehting in him as well.

    I think he CAN be a leader, but he has to want it.

  8. MarkRitter says:

    TWR-

    true say, true say…

  9. MarkRitter says:

    MRJ-

    I too felt the team could be in better shape last season. Hopefully they take their off-season training seriously and come into camp ready to play at 110%.

  10. Dave says:

    Speaking of training, I hear Kadri has been working with Gary Roberts this off season. Thats nothing short of great news, so lets hope he starts 2012 with a bang!

  11. MarkRitter says:

    Dave:

    If you are correct he should see huge gains both physically and mentally this summer. Kadri needs to step up this season, his choice to train with Roberts will go a long way in making him a success. Where did you see this bud?

  12. Dave says:

    Heard it on TSN radio, I think it was on Cybulski and Company. They had Roberts on talking about training Kadri and I was surprised to hear Roberts say that Kadri is one of the most dedicated and most talented young athletes he’s worked with.

    Roberts then moved on to talk about getting Kadri’s footspeed to be quicker for the upcoming season and making him into an explosive player off his first stride. He also stated that he was not aiming to bulk him up but to make him stronger and more efficient on the ice. He also said Kadri was taking well to learning how to eat, sleep and train properly.

    I was kind of hoping to hear that Roberts was going to bulk the kid up into a man sized body, but Roberts pretty much shut down that notion saying that shouldnt be Kadri’s goal as a player. Roberts also boldy predicated he thinks Kadri will be a cuperstar in a few years being a legit 30 goal guy.

    I hope it all works out. Bottom line is that he couldnt find a better mentor and trainer. Perhaps Dallas starts knocking on our door?

  13. […] Burke also made a pretty big deal when he sent a load of crud to the Calgary Flames in return for Dion Phaneuf and spare parts.Could Burke be working on a deal that might mirror his work on the Phaneuf trade?As […]

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