Beginning next year Dion Phaneuf will take up a cap hit of $7 million dollars a season until the spring of 2021.
Assuming the Leafs don’t pull off a miracle and find someone willing to make a deal for him, they have no choice but to work with him.
So how do the Leafs go about fixing such a high priced asset that saw his level of play drop off so dramatically down the stretch?
Well this is where Brendan Shanahan comes in. During Shanahan’s introductory media conference he made it very
clear to everyone that he intends to his homework before making any
It shouldn’t take Shanahan much time to realize what he has to do to help Phaneuf.
The first thing Shanahan has to do is take Phaneuf out for dinner. Just the two of them. A good old fashioned man-to-man talk. No wives, just two dudes, some steaks and some serious hockey talk.
Shanahan will start off telling Phaneuf all the good things that he does and how much he likes him. Then he will tell Phaneuf that he is a key player on this team (Since he can’t deal him, what else can he say?) and that they need him to be better next year if they are going to compete.
To that end Shanahan is going to explain to Phaneuf that the team only wants him to concentrate on hockey next year. To help him do that, Shanahan is going to lower the boom and tell Phaneuf that they are making a change and he will no longer be wearing the Captain’s “C”.
Coming from Nonis or somebody else this would crush Phaneuf. While it will still hurt, it will hurt less coming from Shanahan.
Shanahan’s resume as a player is beyond reproach and if he tells Phaneuf that giving up the “C” will make him a better player and end up making the Leafs a better team; then he might eventually accept it.
This kind of kick in the ass by Shanahan should humble Phaneuf a little bit. And it will also serve notice to the rest of the team just how serious the Leafs are about getting better.
Shanahan also will sit down with the training staff to come up with an off-season work-out program that will help Phaneuf improve his foot speed with-out sacrificing too much of his size and strength. Everyone can improve the quality of their off-season training. And if that training helps Phaneuf be a better player, then he has to do it.
The next thing on the Phaneuf “to-do” list is work with Barb Underhill on his skating. A player is never too old to learn new tricks and there is no reason to think that, if he puts his mind to it, Phaneuf can get a little quicker in the off-season. I am not suggesting that Phaneuf will suddenly be able to skate like Morgan Rielly, but there is no reason why he can’t be quicker as a result of his off-season work.
If you think I am being harsh in asking Phaneuf to increase the amount of work his does in the off-season consider that he will make eight million dollars a
year in each of the first two years of his new deal. That is more money
in a single season than Shanahan ever made during his career.
If Phaneuf is going to get paid like a big-time player then he will be expected to produce big-time results on a consistent basis.
The next thing the Leafs can do to help Phaneuf get better is up to Shanahan and Nonis.
Whomever the Leafs hire to replace Carlyle will need to put Phaneuf in the best position possible to succeed. If that means cutting down his ice time, then so be it.
Equally important to the new coach is making sure he has a top notch defensive assistant on his staff that will work with Phaneuf and help him improve his decision making in his own end.
The combination of his ice time and the team’s apparent lack of a system in their own end ended up exposing all of Phaneuf’s weaknesses this season.
If Shanahan hires the right coach with the right system then Phaneuf shouldn’t get exposed as much. And when that happens his confidence will return. At the end of this season Phaneuf had next to no confidence with the puck in his own end.
That simply can’t happen to a defenceman logging over 23 minutes a night. Even if the Leafs reduce his ice-time, they need him to be smarter with the puck in his own end.
I asked an ex-player with over 1,000 points and 1,000 games on his resume what he would do to fix Dion. His answer was straight to the point; “Get him a reliable, stay-at-home defenceman to bail him out.”
Ultimately Dion has to take responsibility for the state of his game and spend his off-season working to improve. He needs to put the work in and he needs to be open to whatever the new coaches tell him.
Leafs fans should keep in mind that even if all of this works out the improvement in Phaneuf’s game won’t be dramatic. He isn’t going to turn into a Norris Trophy candidate over the summer.
But what he can be is a more consistent defenceman who is less prone to making boneheaded mistakes in his own end.