Toronto Maple Leafs: Dion Phaneuf’s tenure a reminder of worse times

Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

As Dion Phaneuf announced his retirement, we look back at what went wrong during his tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs despite the hype around his trade.

Some of you might remember the day the Toronto Maple Leafs announced that they acquired Dion Phaneuf from the Calgary Flames in a blockbuster trade.

It was back on Jan. 31, 2010 where general manager Brian Burke took a big swing to shake up a Leafs team that needed it. In that same week, Toronto also traded for Jean-Sebastian Giguere from the Anaheim Ducks for Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake.

At that point, the Leafs were on a six-game losing streak and at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Many will remember that they did not have a first-round pick in that draft because of the Phil Kessel trade which put pressure on the front office to do what it could to turn things around.

What the Phaneuf trade and ones made by Leafs management at the time showed a flawed philosophy that put the team on the wrong path. Players like Phaneuf and Kessel were in the crosshairs of the media and fans whether justified or not.

Was Dion Phaneuf miscast by the Toronto Maple Leafs?

There was likely a belief that getting Phaneuf to Toronto would give the Calder Trophy nominee a restart after some struggles in Calgary.

Phaneuf was a dynamic offensive player in Calgary recording 49, 50, 60, and 47 points in his first four season. He wasn’t shy from being a physical player and was getting consideration for the Norris Trophy.

He had strong possession numbers as a player who was used mainly in an offensive role but then in Toronto, he was played more in defensive situations. Not only that but he never really had a partner that was considered a top-pairing defender which didn’t help matters either.

On top of his struggles on the ice defensively where he is lack of foot speed was being questioned, Phaneuf also had the extra responsibility of being the captain. He was the leader and face of a Leafs team that had flaws and he had to be the face of the criticism they faced.

Then the Leafs signed Phaneuf to a long-term deal at seven years, $49 million. It was not cheap by any means but he was also the captain and top defenceman so there was justification for handing a contract like that.

However, as the team continued to spiral as the tension in the locker room was intense as Kessel went to bat for his teammate and captain in front of the media. Then as the team continued to struggle, a new regime came in and they wanted to start over which meant moving out core players.

In the end, a trade was completed with Ottawa on Feb. 9, 2016 that sent Phaneuf to the Senators in a similar deal that Toronto made to acquire the defenceman in the first place. The Leafs got away from Phaneuf’s contract and were able to start over again.

Unfortunately for Phaneuf, his seven-year stint in Toronto was remembered for the team’s struggles, his own poor play at times and of course “Salutegate” which as we found out recently was the biggest regret of his career.

"“That still bothers me,” said Phaneuf in an interview with the Toronto Sun. “I was the captain. I didn’t handle that well. I should have been better. I needed to be. I take responsibility for that. If I could ever have a do-over, that’s the one I’d want. That’s the one I’ve thought about a lot.”"

Maybe if the Leafs had done a better job of balancing drafting, developing and making the trades when they needed to find specific players, the end result would have been different. Phaneuf shouldn’t be judged by how the team was formed and it has become clearer that he left a positive impression on those who are still with the organization from his time in Toronto.

Just remember what these tough times led to because as much as there are frustrations with the lack of success in the playoffs with this current core, the last thing we should want is to return to those tough days.

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What are your thoughts on Phaneuf’s tenure with the Leafs? Was he put in a tough position with his role? Let us know in the comments below.