If you were wondering if Dion Phaneuf would ever play up to his lofty salary and the big “C” emblazoned on his jersey, you only have to look at his play over the past few weeks for the answer. In that time Phaneuf has looked more like his old, hard-hitting, playmaking self than the soft, underachieving, over-paid player that many have accused him of being since joining the Toronto Maple Leafs.
After coming over in a trade with the Calgary Flames at the end of January last season, Phaneuf initially struggled with defensive mediocrity, offensive ineptitude and a key injury.
One thing he never lacked during his early time with the Leafs was drive and determination. Phaneuf never gave up on himself and never thought once about quitting on the Leafs. Instead, through perseverance, grit and sheer will, he has turned his game around and finally looks like the impact player Brain Burke thought he was acquiring.
It has been argued that Keith (Muhammad) Aulie was the jewel of that trade. However, there is no denying anymore that Phaneuf was the true centre-piece and Aulie, along with Fredrik Sjostrom, were the tasty icing on a three-layer cake that has served the Leafs very well.
Not convinced yet?
Take a look at some of Phaneuf's recent stats. In his last 11 games, Phaneuf has five goals and six assists for 11 points—that’s a point per game average, folks.
With his seven goals and 26 total points in 55 games, Phaneuf has produced 42 percent of his total season output in the past 11 games and 71 percent of his goals.
If you extrapolated his current scoring run over an entire season, it would equate to 37 goals and 45 assists for 82 points. That would make him the highest scoring defenseman in the league and in the top-10 of overall scoring leaders.
More importantly than hitting the net, Phaneuf has just plain been hitting.
Over the past couple of months, Phaneuf has made the highlight reels for hits on guys like Jarome Iginla (click to see it), Matt Beleskey (click to see), Tuomo Ruutu (click to see it), Dana Tyrell (click to see it), John Travares (click to see it), Nick Foligno (click to see it), Alex Kovalev (click to see it), Justin DiBenedetto (click to see it), Mark Parrish (click to see it) and even his own teammate Mike Komisarek (click to see it).
Just ask those guys if they have had enough of Phaneuf.
It is no secret that I have been a proponent of Phaneuf for a long time and have gone on record in the past saying that Captain Phan-tastic would eventually pick up his game.
I had made the bold prediction that the return of his hard-hitting style would the first sign of his recovery. That would then be followed by an increase in his assist totals and then, finally, an increase in his shooting accuracy and goal production.
That is exactly what we have seen and coincides with Phaneuf becoming accustomed to his new surroundings in Toronto and comfortable with his role as captain of the team.
Still not convinced?
Look at what Phaneuf accomplished in the last game against the Carolina Hurricanes. He recorded his first multi-goal game as a Leaf. He scored two power play goals, had a three-point night and also recorded his first game-winning goal of the season as well as receiving the first star of the game honors.
That is a pretty good night for any hockey player.
Without a doubt, Dion Phaneuf has re-established himself as an elite player in this league and with a month to go before his 26th birthday, he still has quite a long while to showcase his superior talents.
Another player who showed some spunk in the Carolina game was rookie goaltender James Reimer.
Reimer had probably the worst game of his short NHL career just two days prior against the Tampa Bay Lightning. After giving up five goals on just 24 shots, Optimus Reimer was pulled with a little more than 11 minutes to go in the third period in favor of backup Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
The rumor mill had said that Reimer was tired and Giguere would get the next start against the Hurricanes.
But that was not the case, nor was it the wrong decision by Toronto coach Ron Wilson as Reimer put in an outstanding performance once again. He stopped 36 of 37 shots en route to his 14th win against seven losses.
With about an equal amount of games played compared with the Leafs two other goalies, Reimer has more wins, a better goal against average and a better save percentage. He is by far and away the best performing netminder the Leafs possess.
Yet, after a couple of "off” games and one really bad one, some Leafs’ fans were actually calling for a replacement.
From CBSSports.com, Wilson had a great quote about Reimer and his poor performance from apparent fatigue.
"I'm sick of hearing that, [Ward] has played 63 games and he's not tired, but Reimer's supposed to be tired," Wilson said. "If I don't play Reimer, I'm an idiot, so let's leave that rest. Reims isn't tired—he's going to have some nights where he's not as good as he is on other nights. That's like everyone in this league."
Well said Ronnie, well said.
I find it unfathomable that some in Leafs Nation would be so quick to throw King James under the bus after two or three poor outings. He has just 25 starts in this, his rookie year, and yet has performed better than any goalie to wear a Leafs uniform in many years.
The man deserves a break and has earned the right to have an off game once in a while without the fans and media going into an uproar and calling into question his ability.
As fans of the Leafs, we need to keep a more even keel that is slightly skewed to the positive. When players have an off game, we should not be so quick to judge them in a negative light and when they perform well, we should not be so quick to point out there flaws or ponder how much the team could get for them in a trade at their “peak.”
Lets choose to keep the rhetoric upbeat and positive and let these young guys grow into their roles. A lot of the media outside of Toronto is already saying that the Leafs are on the right track. Let that sentiment spread throughout Leafs Nation and let us rejoice with our new found optimism.