On the verge of the All-Star break, I find myself returning to questions that I pondered at the start of the season. Having witnessed the earth-shaking hitting abilities of Dion Phaneuf against the Carolina Hurricanes, I wonder if the latest captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs has turned a page.
When Brian Burke acquired the defensive talent from Calgary it was with the assumption that such hits as were delivered in the Carolina game would become the norm from the back end of his squad.
However, nearly two-thirds of the way through another season it is fair to say that truculence, belligerence and tenacity have not been a staple of the Maple Leafs defence. Nor have these been consistent elements of Phaneuf’s individual play.
As a result, the question that I asked when the season began still persists; was naming Dion Phaneuf the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs the right move?
It is slightly premature to find an answer to the question, but it is fully within the capabilities of passionate Leafs fans to access Phaneuf’s performance to date. To his credit, the latest Maple Leafs captain has played fairly well defensively throughout the season, but the title of most consistent defenseman this season resides with Luke Schenn, a title that in my opinion should belong to Phaneuf.
Having only recorded 10 points on the season thus far Phaneuf currently sits with a plus/minus rating of -8. He still remains the leading defensive point producer in the NHL since of lockout, but with most of those points having been scored as a member of the Calgary Flames, Leafs fans don’t find much comfort in such stats.
Phaneuf did only spend the later part of the season with the Leafs last year and was severely injured for a considerable amount of time this season. However, it is still fair to argue that Phaneuf has yet to equate to the “game-changing” captain that he was made out to be by Burke and the Leafs brash upon being named captain.
Given time, Phaneuf may grow into the effective “game-changing” leader that the Maple Leafs require, but at a cap hit of 6.5 million dollars per season, should Leafs fans not expect the best from their captain in the present, as well as the future?
In short, yes! Dion Phaneuf has been awarded the privilege to dawn the ‘C’ for an original six franchise that arguably resides as the centre of the hockey universe. The captaincy of the Maple Leafs is a position held by few, respected by all and continually pushed to new heights by greats of the game.
Does Phaneuf have the sole ability to lead the Leafs in ways reminiscent of Sittler, Vaive, Clark, Gilmour or Sundin? Granted, the aforementioned captains were forwards who could sway a game or playoff series with their scoring abilities, but should the demands for Phaneuf not be the same?
If the latest captain of the Maple Leafs forms into a bone crushing stay-at-home defensive player similar to a mid-1990s rendition of New Jersey’s Scott Stevens it would be fine by me. Leafs fans do not need a captain that has the ability to change any game by scoring a goal, but they do need a captain that has “game-changing” abilities unlike any other player on the roster.
In Phaneuf we have witnessed on occasion great potential, but the Leafs need a captain game in and game out. Did the Leafs brash make the right call when they awarded Phaneuf the captaincy? Let’s hope so. But unfortunately, thus far there are not many positives to report.
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