Love it or hate it, Dion Phaneuf is still the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. And although he’s been the subject of trade rumours, captaincy-stripping rumours, and all sorts of other rumours, #3 returns again for the sixth season (already?) with him wearing the “C” on his chest. Much like the cells of a newly discovered species, Phaneuf will be under the microscope all season.
Born in Edmonton, Dion’s father was a construction worker and his mother was a nurse. That’s probably why he’s so tough and sends so many people to the hospital.
After a promising junior career and very impressive pair of World Junior Championships (earning a gold ans silver medal), Phaneuf made his way to Calgary to debut for the Flames. His first two seasons saw him put up 110 points in the NHL over two years, where he finished third in Calder Trophy voting and made the All-Star game twice.
Traded in a blockbuster deal two years later to Toronto, Phaneuf has now suited up for the Leafs for five and a half seasons, remarkably, though it seems as if his best days are a distant memory.
Entering his 11th season in the league now, Phaneuf has six years left of a contract that sees an annual cap hit of $7 million paid to him. Though most would now concede that’s more than his value, it’s up to Phaneuf to prove he’s only slightly, rather than grossly overpaid. Though many teams could use a Dion Phaneuf as a player, it’s become increasingly difficult to find an acceptable trading partner for him.
The top two-thirds of this chart are respectable enough, but it’s on the bottom third where we see how most feel about Phaneuf.- he simply isn’t cutting it defensively.
What to expect
As long as he’s in Toronto, Phaneuf will still likely be utilized in a top-pairing or at the least a top-four role, alongside one of Jake Gardiner or Morgan Rielly most likely. A consistent partner who can play at a top level could do wonders for someone like Phaneuf, as he’s been forced into a role as a #1 defenceman for years when he really isn’t one. At 30 years old, Phaneuf isn’t going to get physically better, but perhaps Mike Babcock’s system can have the Leafs captain playing smarter, more consistent hockey. At times, Phaneuf shows shades of his capabilities, but he’s also long been placed in a role that he just doesn’t fit in.
Under what should be a defensively improved team, perhaps Dion’s mistakes will be lessened, shifting away much of the criticism that has stalled Dion during his past few seasons in the blue and white. If Phaneuf can find a way to use his physical side while also generating offensive chances, he might be in for an effective, if not super impressive season. If Phaneuf is still having signifcant struggles defensively that lead to goals for the other team, expect his criticism levels to double.
- WJC Gold Medallist 2005, Silver Medallist 2004, All Star Team (2004, 2005)
- World Champion 2007
- Been considered multiple times for the Olympic team
- 3-time NHL All-Star (2007, 2008, 2012)
- First Team NHL All-Star (2008)
- Norris Trophy nominee (2008)
- NHL 09 Cover boy
- Named “best defenceman in the league” by former coach Ron Wilson
- Named “most overrated player in the NHL” by players