Some of you may remember that I wrote a piece about the captain, Dion Phaneuf, in an attempt to try and figure out why he gets so much hate. Well, Phaneuf talks have once again heated up in Leaf land following the sudden (but expected) trade of Phil Kessel to the Penguins. As Kessel and Phaneuf were part of the old core and one half of it was taken away, many fans assumed that the captain would shortly be shown the door as well.
And for at least 93% of Leaf fans out there, I am sorry to report that Phaneuf will be a Leaf once again next year.
Wait, that isn’t bad news, that’s great news (at least for me and the other 7% of fans). Allow me to explain why it is so.
From the moment Babcock was hired by the Leafs back in May, it became clear that the organization was set to change the course of their future by stabilizing the bench for good. It was also meant to send a message to the players of the current Leafs team that it is truly now up to them to turn the team around.
While most believed that this meant the end of Phaneuf in a Leaf uniform, Babcock surprised many by expressing his praise for the captain and his desire to work with him to be a better player. The media was taken aback by this comment, but agreed with the new coach.
The reason for this is based on the potential rumour back in March that Phaneuf could have become a Red Wing. The talks were strong in the weeks leading up to the deadline as both sides exchanged ideas of a potential deal. The Leafs went as far as willing to retain salary and bring back a bad contract (Weiss). However, the trade never happened as both sides could never reach an agreement and Phaneuf stayed in Toronto for the rest of the season.
The potential of the trade continued to intrigue fans well into May and into the weeks leading up to the draft. It was also around this time that it was revealed that the Red Wings had lost interest in acquiring Phaneuf. Doesn’t that seem a bit weird? How does a team push hard for a player only to then lose interest in him weeks later?
The answer to that is two words: Mike Babcock.
It was Babcock who wanted Phaneuf as he recognized the potential that the captain had and knew he could turn his career around for the better. It was Babcock who was influential in the push the Red Wings made to the Leafs back in February. And it was Babcock that made his former team move on from acquiring Phaneuf.
That, to me, is the only logical reasoning behind it. Like I said, Babcock recognizes the Phaneuf that made him famous around the league early on his career, the Phaneuf that Burke really wanted back in 2010, and the Phaneuf that was drafted 9th overall by the Flames in the deep 2003 draft.
Had the trade actually gone through, it may or may not have affected Babcock’s decision to join the Leafs. Although, let’s be real, Mike wanted to coach the Leafs from the start of “the process.”
Going back on track, many fans feel that Phaneuf can never be changed and that he is a pylon who is a disgrace to both the Leaf uniform and the letter on the front of his jersey. They also believe that Phaneuf is slow, let’s goals into his own net every night, and can’t wait to see him gone.
For the “I-have-lost-count” time, STOP IT!!!!!!
The reason that all of those harsh criticisms keep popping up is because Phaneuf was forced into the role he was given. One which he can never really fulfill. Right from the start, Phaneuf was asked to man the power play, be a defensive specialist, keep watch of the other team’s best players, play large minutes, and be a Norris Trophy winning player every night. And with such ridiculous expectations given to a player, it’s no surprise to see what follows.
Let’s get one thing straight, Phaneuf is one hell of player. He has a booming shot, can quarter back the power play, and is not afraid to throw his weight around. That is Phaneuf at his best, the one that he needs to be in order to be successful. Yet, he could never be that Phaneuf because of the coaches he had, who desperately tried to force him into the ridiculous role that they thought he could be.
If there’s anyone to blame for the player Leafs Nation has seen, a tired and worn down player, it is the likes of Wilson, Carlyle, and Horachek who made Phaneuf who he is now. And if there is anyone who could try and fix him back into the player he once was, it is Babcock.
That’s why Phaneuf, at least for now, is safe and survived the overhaul made by Shanahan, Dubas, and Hunter this offseason. They recognize that he is a better player than what has been seen over the past four years, they know both Phaneuf and Babcock want to work together as a team, and they hope their captain can change for the better.
That view could change if Phaneuf keeps doing what he did on the ice before Babcock. In that case, the talks of trading him will become stronger. Until that happens, expect Phaneuf in a Leaf jersey on Opening Night against the Canadiens.