It's easy to jump on the Burke bandwagon the day after the Leafs 3-0 win against the Devils last night, especially with the three new players he brought in playing such pivotal roles.
But this isn't about hits, blocked shots, or fights.
This is about the missing ingredient.
You know the one I'm talking about. The one Doug Gilmour oozed. The one that made Gary Roberts tick. The one that Wendell Clark had in his bones. The one, sadly, that Sundin, despite all his talent, utterly lacked. The one too many of the leaf players lacked. Until now. It's the one Dion Phaneuf has in spades.
It is quite simply the unrelenting will to win. The intensity to do everything it takes. The killer instinct.
You can ask if that's the case, why wasn't Phaneuf performing in Calgary? And despite a good first game, who knows if he can continue it in Toronto. You can just as easily ask why Doug Gilmour wasn't potting 100 points a season until he landed in the big smoke. Let's just say, certain situations bring out the best in certain people.
The Leafs are now Phaneuf's team
When a player of Phaneuf's stature is brought in by a mega-deal like the one Burke just pulled (essentially four for one), it instantly elevates him to the penultimate leadership role. And in this hockey crazy town of Toronto, that leader needs to be just as serious about winning hockey games as the craziest fan.
Not just talented. But obsessed by it. The way the Gilmours and Clarks and Roberts were obsessed by it. The way Phaneuf appears to be obsessed by it. Only that is good enough in Toronto.
Carrying a team is something that Phaneuf was never asked to do in Calgary, but something he appears to be more than ready for. Throughout all the interviews I have seen since the trade, he has not only said the right things, but looks absolutely thrilled to be cast in that role.
To my mind, Phaneuf is about to emerge as more than a rare physical talent—and that's what they didn't see in Calgary. I believe that it will soon become clear that he has that rare ability to embody the spirit of a team, and do it naturally and without hesitation.
Burke is certainly not finished. The forwards are young and will need help. But the rear guard and goalie positions are now well taken care of. More than that, this direction-less team has at last found its leader.
Carrying the Toronto Maple Leafs on your shoulders is a job only a few can handle. But it is certain that the Leafs have found their new captain in Dion Phaneuf. Its not because of his big hits or big shots. Its the intangibles that he brings to the rink every game: the passion, the intensity, the desire to win.
The missing ingredient has at last been found.