When you play hockey in Toronto, the spotlight burns brighter than in other cities. For this and other reasons, views on the Maple Leafs and their players vary across the spectrum. In the case of Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, he may be the most polarizing figure when it comes to the court of public opinion.
The negatives that many fans point to regarding Phaneuf seem to boil down to decision making. Phaneuf has had his share of mental gaffes during his time in blue. Untimely penalties and costly giveaways top the list of fans' complaints regarding the defenseman.
Many fans are still holding a grudge against Phaneuf for what appeared to be an error in judgment that led to the Leafs losing Game 4 of their playoff series against Boston. Fans received more fuel for the fire this week when the league handed Phaneuf a two-game suspension for his hit from behind on Boston's Kevan Miller in Sunday's game (report per NHL.com).
The suspension comes at perhaps the worst possible time for the Leafs. They have found themselves struggling to overcome a November skid that has continued into December. The Leafs have been trying to right the ship in a difficult stretch of the schedule.
After the loss to Boston on Sunday, Toronto is facing the Los Angeles Kings Wednesday, followed by the St. Louis Blues. With Phaneuf now scheduled to miss these two key matchups, Toronto's slide seems set to continue.
Some fans believe the Leafs will be better without Phaneuf on the ice, but supporters of the captain are quick to point out statistics.
Those in Phaneuf's corner are quick to point out his team leading plus-12 (per NHL.com). The next nearest Leafs all sit at plus-5. Critics can say what they want about the plus/minus statistic, but considering Phaneuf logs the biggest portion of his minutes against the opposing team's top line, it makes a positive argument for him.
Phaneuf also logs a team high 24:13 of ice time per game (per NHL.com). Many point to his minutes played as a contributing factor to some of his errors. Pulling those minutes per game can lead to fatigue. Fatigue does make one prone to mistakes. Another way to look at it can be the more minutes played, the greater the opportunity for a mistake.
One thing that can be said about Phaneuf is that he has owned his mistakes as a Leaf. After the loss to Boston in Game 4 of last year's playoff, Dion made it clear he was at fault (per TSN report):
“I made a bad play and it cost us the game"
Opinion on Phaneuf will continue to be divided, especially among Leaf fans. This divide will continue to widen as Phaneuf is in the last year of his contract. As split as the opinion is regarding his play, the way fans feel regarding whether the Leafs should resign him is also all over the map.
As long as Phaneuf wears Toronto blue, the view of him will continue to be polarized to both extremes. As long as his career continues in Toronto, he may never be judged fairly one way or the other.