Jan 23, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs defensemanDion Phaneuf
(3) takes the ice to face the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
It has been the same narrative ever since Dion Phaneuf was named captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs on June 14, 2010. “Dion Phaneuf sucks, he is a big pylon and he should not be captain.” Many have speculated that Phaneuf could see his time as captain over soon, but it probably won’t happen right away.
Now with a new Sheriff in town, Phaneuf’s status has been in question even though Brendan Shanahan has gone on record saying that he would prefer to keep the 29-year old as captain and give him the tools to improve as a leader.
Back in May when Shanahan was hired as President, Jeff Simmons wrote an article about Shanahan’s plan to deal with the leadership of the team and how he would approach the captaincy.
Jan 1, 2014; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs defensemanCarl Gunnarsson
(36) tries to pass the puck to defenseman Dion Phaneuf (3) while defended by Detroit Red Wings left wingJustin Abdelkader
(8) in the second period during the 2014 Winter Classic hockey game at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Shanahan said he wants to surround Phaneuf with more leaders, because he had too much on his plate. This would probably explain the signing of Stephane Robidas and the trade for Roman Polak, Robidas joined Toronto because he wanted the task of being mentors for Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner. Polak will be used more with the PK and in the more grinding minutes that were taking a toll on Phaneuf.
If Phaneuf is going to remain as captain, he has to set the example for the younger defencemen like Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and even a young player like Petter Granberg (who could be with the team this year). I have always said that having Carl Gunnarsson play did not give Phaneuf the help he needed. The former Calgary Flame needs a player that can skate back if he gets caught out, or help carry the play up the ice.
Dec 8, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defensemanCody Franson
(4) and defenseman Dion Phaneuf (3) and defenseman Jake Gardiner (51) look on from the bench against the Boston Bruins at Air Canada Centre. The Bruins beat the Maple Leafs 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
If Gardiner is going to be partnered with Phaneuf it should come as a bit of relief for the captain. Gardiner has the ability to fall back if Phaneuf were to get caught. It will be up to the coaching staff to ensure that Gardiner is aware of his role, but that is only if Randy Carlyle decides to put him on the top pairing.
The Leafs front office has professed a culture change ever since Tim Leiweke took over as President of MLSE last summer. However it has been the same the story; over spending on free agents, disappointing season ending in a collapse and no end to the suffering for fans. When Leiweke does leave MLSE, his legacy will be determined by the changes made to the Leafs.
Could the decision to keep Phaneuf as captain be a potential mistake that will bury this team? If Shanahan did decide to make a change with his captain it would be understandable. He did not name Phaneuf captain, that was during the Brian Burke and Ron Wilson regime. The same regime that the organization wants to leave in the past.
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I understand that Phaneuf has not been the best captain in franchise history, but he had to replace Mats Sundin. Mats Sundin had to carry the Leafs on his back for years and he did it at an elite level. I do not blame Phaneuf if he has underachieved in his role as captain, he needs to be put in a position to succeed. The man had to play with Mike Kostka as his partner for a portion of the 2012/13 season. IT is hard to argue that Phaneuf has been given the tools to succeed.
Also Phaneuf has done a good job with the media. Elliote Friedman admired how Phaneuf has taken his ups and downs in Toronto.
The San Jose Sharks recently announced that Joe Thornton had been stripped of his duties as captain. He took over for Patrick Marleau after the Sharks took the captaincy from Marleau. In their eyes the Sharks thought a change in captain would give the team the spark it needed to make it to the cup final. Well sorry to disappoint Sharks fans but nothing has changed for the team, and honestly last season was the team’s best chance to win the cup but it crumbled to pieces.
After the announcement was made, the situation went from bad to worse in San Jose. David Pollak from San Jose Mercury News wrote that Thornton was unaware of the decision to remove him as captain until the media reported it.
Tod McLellan danced around the issue saying that he should have been clearer with Thornton about his plans and that Thornton will get a chance to win back the role of captain. Honestly San Jose’s problem has not been leadership, it is the lack of depth on the team which has not been fixed. The decision to remove Thornton as captain will likely have no effect on the team and hopefully the Leafs realize this.
Dec 31, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf speaks at a press conference during practice the day before the Winter Classic hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings at Michigan Stadium. Phaneuf signed a 7-year contract extension with the Maple Leafs. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Toronto would be wise to keep Phaneuf as captain for this season. The team just gave him a new contract and the last thing Shanahan wants is a messy situation with his captain. The media storm in Toronto would swarm all over a decision to remove Phaneuf as captain before training camp starts. You want Phaneuf to worry about playing to his capabilities not about losing the captaincy.
Apr 1, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forwardJoffrey Lupul
(19) during the warm up against the Calgary Flames at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Also there are not that many players that are captain material for the Leafs. I have heard from many people that Joffrey Lupul should be captain. He is popular with the fans, provides a lot of energy and is a well spoken player in the locker room. However his inability to stay healthy makes him a illogical choice for captain at this point and it is uncertain what his future looks like with the team.
Mar 28, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers centerClaude Giroux
(28) controls the puck against Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Joffrey Lupul (19) and defenseman Dion Phaneuf (3) during the third period at Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers defeated the Maple Leafs, 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Shanahan did announce that he was going to have a face to face meeting with Phaneuf and that more things are going to be done to the team. So far the Toronto Maple Leafs have made some small changes with the team but it seems like the team wants to be patient before making a big move.
I doubt that the Leafs would want to create a circus by removing Phaneuf as captain but stupider things have been done. If Phaneuf has not been removed as captain by now it is highly unlikely that it will happen now. The meeting with Shanahan will give us all a clearer picture but I doubt Shanahan is meeting with Phaneuf to tell him that he is not going to be captain.
So if the Leafs do suffer another lackluster season will Phaneuf get the “C” removed from him or will Shanahan do something more drastic like trading him?