Recognize the guy in the picture? Didn’t think so. Maple Leafs’ fans love to think of themselves as the best and most savvy in the world. What they are, in fact, is the least tolerant. Ask Dion Phaneuf. He can tell you all about it. Larry Murphy could probably shed a little light as well. In Phaneuf’s case, since he came back from a wicked leg injury on December 9th v. Philadelphia, the castigation has been ramped up a notch each game, it seems. And, while thinking of Phaneuf’s plight, I thought about a former NHL defenceman who reminds me a lot of Phaneuf – Barry Beck. Some of you might have just said, “Ya, Barry Beck, that’s who that is.” But the majority probably don’t have a clue. Read on.
Barry “Bubba” Beck was as big and rugged a defenceman as the WCHL (now the WHL) has ever produced. He played three seasons for Punch McLean’s New Westminster Bruins, inflicting maximum physical punishment on whomever came his way. In Beck’s final year of major junior, the Bruins pounded their way to a Memorial Cup championship. Beck was then drafted second overall by the most embarrassing team in the NHL – the Colorado Rockies. He was to be their saviour.
In his rookie season, Beck scored 22 goals. It was a record for rookie defencemen for about a decade until Brian Leetch came along. Beck racked up 89 minutes in penalties and, unbelievably, helped the Rockies make their only playoff appearance ever. Then something happened.
Barry Beck’s sophomore year was a struggle. Fewer goals, fewer assists, no playoff appearance. And, for some reason, he’d asked the Rockies to pay him more money. As the next season began, Rockies GM Ray Miron and head coach Don Cherry had seen enough. They peddled Beck to the Rangers for Lucien DeBlois, Dean Turner and Pat Hickey and his hair. And Barry Beck was never the same.
When he arrived in New York, hopes were still high that Beck would return to the level of play that made him second overall in ’77. In fact, in 1981, Beck was named Rangers’ captain. He wore the “C” in Manhattan for five seasons. And the Madison Square Garden fans rode him mercilessly. They expected Beck would be able to lead the Rangers to greatness. He did not. And he finally retired in 1986, just nine years after being the most sought-after defenceman in the NHL Amateur Draft.
See any parallels? Solid junior career. Very high NHL draft pick. Incredible rookie season. Play begins to tail off. Traded away while still young. Made captain with new team. Fans ride him endlessly.
Here’s a suggestion Leafs’ fans – get the hell off Dion’s back! The guy’s not Bobby Orr or Denis Potvin or Larry Robinson or Doug Harvey – and he’s never going to be. But he does go out and lead his team the best way he can every game.
Just because he’s the Leafs’ captain does not mean he’ll ever be able to walk on water. Nor will he put an opponent through the glass every game. But call me when you don’t see him making an extreme effort every night. Then we can talk.