What We Bargained For?

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    Photo Credit: sportsnet.ca

    On January 31, 2010, the Calgary Flames dealt Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjöström and Keith Aulie to the Leafs in exchange for Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Ian White and Jamal Mayers. A move that will most probably shape the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs once again involved Calgary. Call it fate, call it coincidence, it really doesn’t matter.

    On June 14, 2010, Brian Burke named Dion the 18th captain in the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs and that, more than any other transaction or move, signaled a new era for our beloved team. The Edmonton native became captain at 25 years of age, and although a vocal, running the dressing room type of guy, he still had to experience the expectations of a Maple Leafs captain first hand. I don’t mean this as an insult, but Calgary is no Toronto.

    A whole plethora of things with and around this Leafs team has to do with personal growth and development. If you look back, you’d remember this is the same player who was in the running for the Calder Trophy with Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, even if he had the least chance of winning it. This is a defenseman who scored 54 goals in his first three years in the NHL. He only really had 2 seasons of sub par hockey in this league. Yes, only, given the fact defensemen tend to develop at a slower pace than forwards and typically enter their prime in their late late twenties or early thirties. Yes, the game has changed and some of the cliché standards don’t apply anymore. There are many kids that are exceptions to this rule (Drew Doughty, Tyler Myers etc.) but even such top tier talent is going through sophomore slumps and after huge rookie seasons, their decline is evident, much like a 25 year old Dion, who is still expected to hit his prime in the coming years. To whom much is given, much is expected, I agree. Our captain earns $7,000,000 per season. That is a lot of money. But money, as a very important variable, only comes into play when it’s made moveable or becomes marketable. I’ll explain. Dion’s money, cap hit is static. It isn’t going anywhere. So basically, the amount of money he’s making shouldn’t be looked at when analyzing his performance. Besides, you only need to look at the C to brand him with that added responsibility. Captaining a team isn’t easy. Captaining a team in Toronto, damn near impossible. Dion has been steadily growing into his role and will eventually grow into it. It’s a young team and all are growing together, which is a very good route to take. He’ll learn to pronounce Reimer’s name soon enough, even if I suspect he’s just giving the kid a hard time.

    Dion Phaneuf is a really good player. He’s a physical presence with a huge point shot that is able to change games. I strongly disagree with people, panelists etc. who claim Dion should become more of a Scott Stevens type of presence. If you’re talking early Stevens, I’m more than fine with that. But restricting the amount of offensive talent this guy has to become/evolve into something the league will most likely end up frowning upon given the new rules and the direction the game is taking, is not really the way to go. If you’re looking for role models, try Al MacInnis. If you’re saying he has to improve his defensive zone coverage and overall defensive play, I agree. The timing of his pinches can be controlled by the coach, but I’m not too comfortable with taking that out of his game. Game changing players make mistakes because they take risks. But you take those risks because of the game changing aspects – take the game winning goal against the Penguins as an example. It was a bad hockey play. It generated a game winning goal. Point is, out of our entire defensive corps, the one player I want controlling and using such a play is Dion.

    Last but not least, regarding his play this season. At the risk of sounding like an apologist, I think most of us forgot the injury he suffered on November 2nd, 2010 in a game against the Ottawa Senators. He suffered a laceration from Peter Regin’s skate and missed 16 games. Some called it a career threatening injury. I suspect that injury was the main reason he only hit his stride towards this final stretch of games. I talked about growth, right? During the last 10 games, our captain has scored 5 goals and has 5 assists. In the last 3 most important games of the season he has 5 points with 4 goals. I don’t know about you, but to me that’s growth.

    I'm Mislav, a Croat living in Zagreb. I love the Leafs and write hockey things. First wrote on Leafspace, then did some work on LeafsHQ for about a year and a half and have been a proud member of Maple Leafs Hot Stove ever since. Also wrote for the Hockey News (that one time was sweet!), have been covering Medvescak Zagreb for the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga and the KHL as part of KHL.hr. @Xterratu on Twitter.

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