There was a lot of opinion on both sides of the fence. He had tremendous potential, but seemed somewhat stymied in Calgary under the shadow of Jarome Iginla. At the same time, people wondered aloud whether the hockey world had already seen the best of Phaneuf with his career high 60-point season in 2007-2008.
At the time, there was little doubt that the Toronto Maple Leafs had needed a leader even before the departure of of long-time captain Mats Sundin. But to say that Brian Burke was taking a chance on the brash young man from Edmonton, was an understatement.
As the story goes, Dion Phaneuf walked into the Leafs dressing room upon his arrival and 'cranked' up the music—intent on changing the energy and atmosphere of the team in one quick motion.
While the five games that February, (after the Jan 30th trade) were somewhat lackluster due to the Olympic break that year, the month of March was a different story altogether. The Maple Leafs—much like many other teams in the NHL—would play a lot of games that month: precisely 16 games in 28 days.
The team that month would earn 20 of 32 total points available and a record of 9-5-2.
Phaneuf was lauded as the pivot point for the Leafs season and the driving force behind their resurgence. With his loud and effective communication skills, and his well-intended reminders written on the end of his stick, it seemed that the new 'Brian Burke' edition of the Toronto Maple Leafs had not only found a new leader, but an ideal one.
The following offseason, the Toronto Maple Leafs eagerly announced the appointment of the teams new captain, Dion Phaneuf.
Early the following season, Phaneuf suffered a cut on his left leg that would sideline him for more than a month (via The Star.com) He hasn't looked like the same boisterous player since.
Whether it was a conscious decision to play a little safer, he was instructed to tone it down or a subconscious aversion made him prone to injury again—the reason may never be known.
The fact is, he may well be on his way to a career year offensively: He currently has 24 points in 38 games, and if you were to listen to all of the people who "know hockey," they'll tell you that that is the Dion Phaneuf the Leafs need. They have to have the offense from the defense.
I don't know if they have watched the Leafs lately, but it looks like they have been playing flat, uninspired, ineffective hockey and they seem to have lost their direction.
It looks like they need a leader.