It’s the first time since November of 2010 that we’ve even had to ponder the question of what the Maple Leaf blueline will look like without Dion Phaneuf.
Alas, Phaneuf has been suspended for two games as a result of his hit from behind on Kevan Miller at the end of Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins.
It seemed like a game would suffice given Phaneuf’s nonexistent priors and Miller being fine outside of a cut on his face. But the Leafs haven’t had much luck in the injury or suspension departments this season, and Phaneuf will join David Clarkson, Carter Ashton, Nazem Kadri and Phil Kessel (preseason) among those in Blue and White to have been suspended this season. Combined with significant man games lost for Bolland, Bozak and Lupul, adversity has not been in short supply for the Leafs in the first half of the season.
Cody Franson and Jake Gardiner could become the de facto top pair in Dion Phaneuf’s absence, with perhaps Paul Ranger replacing Dion on the right side of his pairing with Carl Gunnarsson. From there, Randy Carlyle can fill out his lineup with a combination of Morgan Rielly, John-Michael Liles and Mark Fraser. Jake Gardiner playing 25 minutes isn’t something he’s foreign to, but a guy like Cody Franson will need to step up on the right side.
Update from practice:
Carl Gunnarsson paired with Cody Franson today. Jake Gardiner with John-Michael Liles. Paul Ranger with Mark Fraser.
— Jonas Siegel (@jonasTSN1050) December 10, 2013
It could be a sink or swim proposition for some of the Leafs D seeing increased minutes, as the two games Phaneuf will miss will be against the Kings and Blues, who are both in the League’s top 8 overall with a combined record of 38-13-7.
One upside is that Phaneuf seemed a little hobbled after blocking a shot with his foot against Ottawa, and played despite some discomfort on Sunday. Maybe the forced rest will do him some good. But it’s woeful timing as far as the competition in the Wednesday/Thursday back to back.