The Face Of The Franchise

Editor’s Note: This is an entry in our search for Fresh Blood at TLN. Every possible contributor will get three posts to strut their stuff and then we’ll ask you readers to help us choose who is going to join.This is blog post #3 for Matt.


Every team has a few marquee players that can provide a face and brand for the franchise, something for fans to grab hold of. The current incarnation of the Leafs should have enough star power in their two Art Ross candidates Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel, as well as a recognizable captain in Phaneuf. However, it’s still hard to put your finger on a cohesive personality for this team, unlike, for example, when Sundin led a likeable (at least off-ice) group including Tie Domi, Darcy Tucker, and the late Wade Belak.

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With next year’s Winter Classic giving host to its first Canadian team, the game is sure to be a captivating event, but even moreso the weeks leading up to the outdoor game as the HBO cameras (hopefully) document the ins and outs of each dressing room. One reason for the success of 24/7 is that it gives fans an opportunity to see team dynamics at a level of detail they never get in pre- and post-game interviews. You get to see players with their cliché-guards down. For the Leafs, who have enough players who, you know, take it "one game at a time" and "uh, like I said, ya know, always give it ‘110%’", there are sure to be some interesting personality revelations in the locker room.

Post-lockout, mid-rebuild, the Leafs are going through proverbial puberty this year and are searching for an identity in the meantime, and I made the case for fan support in my last post. Media training tends to make any (non-Russian) player interview a relatively dull one, maybe moreso in Toronto than anywhere else. Especially for young guys who are trying to avoid controversy like Luke Schenn, all personality can be washed out before the soundbites get to the fans.

So what personalities are most prominent in the Leafs locker room? Let’s break it down:

Candidate #1

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Dion Phaneuf

Position: Defence

Post-game response: Pull on Red Bull sponsored cap, stare off into the middle distance with a furrowed brow and grumble away until the media scrum cowers in defeat.

Catch Phrase: "somebody f****** go"

Type Cast: The Bully/Jock/Doofus as played by Channing Tatum

Make mine a double Dion: 

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Dion on the difference between the battle of Ontario and the battle of Alberta:  "Geographically they are in different parts of the country"

Candidate #2:

Phil  Kessel

Position: Right Wing

Post-game response: Phantom of the dressing room, nowhere to be found.

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Catch Phrase: "I’m not sure." "I don’t think it really matters."

Phil trying his best to be chill:

Potent Quotables: "I’m not a guy that likes the attention that much. I’m a guy that likes to go out and play hockey and have some fun."

Type Cast: The Socially Awkward Nerd, as played by Michael Cera

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Candidate #3

James Reimer

Position: Goaltender

Nick-Names: Optimus Reim/ Reiminister of Defence

Post-game response: Eternally upbeat, "Oh golly gee, well you gotta just keep giving it your best"

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Video evidence:

Type Cast: Lovable Dope as played by Jon Heder

Beleaf: "It’s a big reason why I’m calm out there," says Reimer. "I mean, I don’t have any fear of what’s going to happen. The way I see it, or tell myself, if I let in zero or six, it’s His call up there. It’s whatever He wants in my life. It helps to calm it down and put everything in perspective."  

There is a bright spot for Leafs fans though, in the form of Joffrey "don’t call me Jeffrey" Lupul. He showed humility and charisma in front of Ottawa hecklers at the All Star game. Lupul seems to be the exception to the rule. He’s quietly becoming the Leafs’ league-wide ambassador for the team, a likeable (or at least less punchable) face for non-fans who know very little about the team can warm up to Lupul, who has the early makings of a future captain. For what it’s worth, he does have the most Twitter followers of any Leafs player. 

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  • Leadership comes in many dimensions. In Toronto the public profile and image maintenance takes on disproportionate importance. The more salient leadership is what happens in the dressing room and on the ice. The young caption Phaneuf is growing into the responsibilities nicely in hockey’s toughest market. We have seen flashes of what Dion can do to change the course of a game in a critical situation. In today’s NHL the dressing room leadership is a complex and volatile mixture of egos, culture and personalities. Mats taught us at least one thing about leadership – don’t confuse style with effectiveness. As a quiet less vocal leader, Sundin was arguably the most effective leader in Leafs history.
    With time Phaneuf will evolve into the leader that Toronto fans have come to expect. The remainder of this season will give us a good early read on his leadership mettle.

  • Leaf Domination

    This article is very interesting. Buffalo has faced this exact problem for the last several years after Drury and Briere departed. Without this leader on the roster your team cannot push through the tough situations. This is why the Leafs should have traded Kessel for Nash. In the end Nash brings the leadership intangibles that Kessel does not possess. I think you are spot on with your assessements of the players that you reviewed. None of them have the leadership qualities of a Matts Sundin. Dion Phaneuf comes across as a punk, always has a tough guy image where as Matts could ramp it up on the ice and then have a solid CEO media prescence off the ice.