Phaneuf Fails at Chance to Win over Hearts of Fickle Maple Leafs Fans

Jeff PiechowskiContributor IFebruary 28, 2013

Dion Phaneuf
Dion PhaneufClaus Andersen/Getty Images

(Toronto) -- It is a fan base who's captains have been larger than life over the past 20 years.  From Clark to Gilmour to Sundin, wearing the C is a badge of honor in a city where they bleed blue and long for the glory of the past. 

However, this rabid fan base has not been so quick to embrace the Maple Leafs' most recent version of team leader in Dion Phaneuf.  The 18th captain in the history of this storied franchise had a chance in Wednesday night's game against Montreal to bring a large group of those fans, who have not fully committed to the idea of Phaneuf as the team leader, into his corner.

The Maple Leafs were sleepwalking their way through what was supposed to be a big game against their blood rivals and top team in the Eastern Conference in Montreal; a team the Leafs had already beaten in their first two meetings.  

The game was tied 1-1 in the second period when Montreal's Brandon Prust got tangled up with Phaneuf.  Prust who was getting the better of Phaneuf then dropped a glove inviting him to a fight.  Phaneuf declined, and today it is something Leafs fans will still be talking about. 

This morning in an interview on Toronto's 590 The Fan, Sportsnet analyst and former Leaf Nick Kypreos said he heard the rumblings from fans at the game last night.  They were asking each other, "What would Wendel have done?", referring to former captain and Leafs legend Wendel Clark.  The consensus is undoubtedly that Clark would have dropped the gloves and sent a message to his team, to Montreal, and to the fans.

Dion Phaneuf needed to do the same last night.  While there are no guarantees that his fighting Prust would have changed the mood of the team, or swung the momentum the Leafs' way, there's no doubt it would have changed the mood in the building. 

More importantly, it may have also started to swing some of the Phaneuf detractors into believing that maybe, just maybe he is worth the $6.5 Million he is getting, and that maybe he does deserve to wear that C on his sweater.