Is It Time For Dion Phaneuf To Send A Message?
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.
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,