The Dawn of Dion: Maple Leafs' New Identity Cemented as Phaneuf Named Captain

Jon Neely@@iamjonneelyAnalyst IJune 14, 2010

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 3:  Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs waits for a faceoff in a game against the Boston Bruins on April 3, 2010 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario. The Bruins defeated the Leafs 2-1 in overtime. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Claus Andersen/Getty Images

It's just a letter on a sweater.

When Dion Phaneuf stepped up to the podium Monday afternoon to accept his new role on the Toronto Maple Leafs, as captain, not a whole lot changed for the 25-year-old stud or the team he plays for.

The Maple Leafs didn't add any new talent or swap any personnel, and Dion is still the same player; surly and focused as ever. The team didn't get any better or any worse. All they really did was add a few small details to their jersey and slap a C on the chest of one of the best young players this city has seen in a long time.

Phaneuf will be as vocal as he always was in the dressing room and on the ice, he'll be just as tough on his teammates to play their best every night, and he'll still be the same leader that he was last year on the team.

The only difference is now it's official. Now he has the bling, if you will, on his chest, ensuring his place in Leafs history as the 18th captain.

It might just be a letter on a sweater, but for these Maple Leafs it means so much more than that.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

It's a sign of the franchise's stability; something they haven't fully had since the early 2000s. Not since Mats Sundin—arguably the best player to ever play in Toronto—wore the C in these parts and Pat Quinn stood behind the bench.

It means that for the first time since Sundin walked out the doors for the last time in 2008, the team has found a suitable replacement for the Swedish legend; not such an easy task to be left with.

The naming of a new captain in Toronto shows that another step has been taken in rebuilding this club to respectability. It's a small step, but one that had to be done before this team's regeneration could fully be considered complete.

It doesn't mean everything is now rainbows in Leaf Nation, far from it. But for Ron Wilson and Co. to entrust Phaneuf to take on the major responsibility of being the leader of this storied franchise is a sign of better times on the horizon.

Times that include a team that not only makes it to the playoffs, but makes some serious noise once they get there. The city of Toronto is just begging for a champion, and though this new jersey and new captain don't necessarily get them closer to that in a physical sense, it shows that the management has found the player they believe is fit to lead them there.

Some may criticize the team for naming Phaneuf as captain too soon, since he hasn't even been a member of the team for a full season yet. They might say that announcing such a change in the middle of summer is just a money grab, simply done to increase sales before the next season can begin.

But the team had to do this, and they had to do this now. They had to name a captain and show the fans and players that this is an organization no longer searching for an identity.

When Brian Burke stepped in as President and GM of the Leafs, he spoke of transforming the team into one full of pugnacity and truculence —two words most probably don't even know the meaning of. After Monday it's clear that he has found the man who best fits that description.

Now the task is putting the pieces in place around the new leader and bringing this team back to a place that has them fighting for division titles, rather than the draft lottery (or this season, where they fought for neither).

As Phaneuf stood on the podium and finished his acceptance speech, he concluded with simple, yet encouraging words for both fans and the team alike: "We have a good team and a lot to be excited about."

He didn't have to say anything else, because for the first time in a long time in Leaf Nation, their team has a true sign of the positive direction they're headed in.

New captain. New sweater. New outlook.

The dawn of Dion has officially begun in Toronto. We will soon find out if the new captain of the Leafs is the right man for the job as the bearer of the C.

On Monday afternoon the Maple Leafs found their identity, or at least made it public, and though the team doesn’t look any different (other than a few stripes and a logo on the shoulder), it's certainly something to get excited about.

It's just a letter on a sweater. But to the Maple Leafs and their diehard fans, it means so much more.