Phaneuf’s Biggest Fan: It’s Time to Trade Phaneuf

Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf  (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)
Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf with a very unfortunate mustache  (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

It pains me to write this. Dion Phaneuf is one of my favorite hockey players of all-time. I have watched him be unfairly maligned by the world’s most ridiculous hockey market for the last five years.

I have witnessed him play some of the hardest competition in the NHL, seen the Leafs ask him to be all things (top penalty killer, top offensive defenseman, top defensive defenseman, power-play specialist, top minutes-eating defenseman, enforcer and captain).  I’ve seen him do it all with aplomb and then be s#it on by the very fans he does it for.

I have seen the worst of NHL fans through the lens of Dion Phaneuf: blamed for everything that goes wrong, credited with nothing. I have seen the very worst of confirmation bias, the worst media response and the saddest case of making a guy a whipping-boy since actual whipping boys went out of fashion sometime in the 1600s.

(Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)
(Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

Through it all, Dion Phaneuf has never complained. He’s never played a single game where he didn’t put his heart and body on the line, and through it all, the Leafs have never once given him a partner worthy of his game. If they hadn’t miscast him as the anchor of the blueline, if they had instead partnered him with someone as good as he is who could share some of the load, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation: the Leafs would probably have been a good team.  But we are and they aren’t.

Sure, Cody Franson is a nice player, but if we’re realistic about it, him and Dion make up a nice #2 and #3 on a good team. The fact is, in the NHL, if you want to compete, you have to have a legitimate number one Dman.

I thought once-upon-a-time that Dion was exactly that.  It turns out that he wasn’t. But, at worst, he’s still one of the top twenty or thirty defensmen in the NHL and that is nothing to sneer at. His treatment at the hands of the Leafs and the media that covers them is nothing short of despicable and it should be, and is, a black-eye on the Leafs franchise, their fans and the Toronto market.

The way Phaneuf Has Been Treated Is an Injustice.

Dion Phaneuf (Icon SMI)
Dion Phaneuf (Icon SMI)

There is Nothing I would like more than for these views to be confirmed and shoved down people’s throats as Phaneuf leads the Leafs to the Stanley Cup.  I think he’s an excellent – underrated – hockey player. I think he deserves better and I also think he’s worth every dime of his contract: but it’s time to move on.

The fact is, it pains me to write this. I don’t want the Leafs to trade Dion. But I don’t want the Leafs to continue to be the joke of the NHL either. The time to make a hard decision is upon the team’s new management group and this time I hope they don’t cower.

They had a chance to do the hard thing this summer and re-tool the team in advance of the deepest draft in recent memory. They had a chance and instead they added pieces that only made sense if you thought the team was on the verge of being a strong Cup Contender.

Stephane Robidas Maple Leafs Stars
Signing a 38 year-old coming off, not one, but two broken legs, to a three year contract does not build confidence in the Shanahan regime(Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

The Leafs should never have added Komarov, Santorelli, Winnik, Polak or Robidas. To do so was, frankly, wishful thinking and it was the easiest answer to a complex question.  The team – we can now safely say, although there are those who said so all along – should have been getting its house in order and not maxing out the salary cap with the kind of players you add when you’re close to the Cup, not the basement.

These terrible summer moves have lead to a situation where the team is almost certain to trade a player they have no business trading in Cody Franson (his development into a top 4 right-handed shooting defensemen is almost certainly going to be wasted because the team has $20 million dollars tied up in Bozak, Lupul, Clarkson, Robidas and Reimer for reasons no one can seemingly answer).

But the reason to move Phaneuf is only partially because of the problems the team has with the salary cap. The main reason to move him is because this team needs a change. I put less stock into the idea of “culture” and “leadership” than possibly any writer you are apt to come across, and I don’t think that is necessarily what I am arguing for here.

What I am saying is a bit more complicated than mere culture: the team has a core which has been together for several years, coaches and massive collapses. Outside of the younger half of said core, there really isn’t a lot of room for improvement and there is a ton of salary committed. Even if you could magically get rid of Clarkson and Robidas, the team would still have barely enough money to re-sign Kadri, Bernier and Franson, so the management has really no choice but to move at least one, maybe two of their “core pieces.”

Who Do You Move?

Maple Leafs captain
Dave Nonis failed to find sufficient support for Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf this summer (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

The Leafs have Rielly, Kadri, Bernier, Nylander as basically their “untouchables” and then they have Kessel who is so good the team really shouldn’t consider trading him.  That leaves Phaneuf, JVR and Gardiner as guys you would keep in a perfect world, but really have to at least consider moving at this point.

Phaneuf not only makes the most money out of that group, but he plays a position that teams want the most.  For whatever it’s worth, trading him would likely have the effect of a coaching change – the captain, vocal focal point, and biggest minutes-eater would create a massive change within the room no matter what the dynamics currently are or how much they matter overall.

On top of which, trading Phaneuf allows the Leaf to transition Morgan Rielly into the #1 role – a role he is going to have to learn-on-the-job.

If you do the analysis, it really is a no-brainer: Dion Phaneuf must be traded for the Leafs to get out of whatever the hell has been happening to them for the last twenty-odd months since that notorious game in Boston.  I don’t want him to go. I don’t blame him and I think his treatment here has been shoddy. But he has to be traded.

And I also suspect if you could ask him and he could trust you not to blab, he’d say he’d like to get out too.

6 thoughts on “Phaneuf’s Biggest Fan: It’s Time to Trade Phaneuf”

  1. Wow, I’m stunned by this article. Dion is drastically overpaid, he is a number 3 or 4 defencemen at best. Dion might be the worst captain in Leafs history, the other players on the team clearly don’t respect him or like him enough come to his aid in any way. Yet he is one of your favorite player of ALL TIME?? Have you been in a coma since 2006? are you just waking up now thinking he is still that same player??

  2. please let me know what glue brand you are huffing, I want some too…what an idiot

  3. You must be young, James Tanner. If Phaneuf is your favourite player, you are in the wrong business of sports/hockey journalism, or maybe you need your eyes checked. Phaneuf is among the worst and most over-rated defenseman in the NHL. The mistake the Leafs made was acquiring Phaneuf in the first place. In his 6th year now with the Leafs, and their defense is the worst it’s ever been. Phaneuf is too slow, and cannot compete at today’s fast pace. He is caught out of position and coughs up the puck more than any Leaf other than Kessel.

  4. I would like to say that the media is interested in creating attention to read or listen to something. Toronto media is going to talk about the hockey team first. Than the captain of the team second. Than the goaltending. Than maybe management. That’s the way it is an always has been. If they are hard on the captain of the leafs, it’s because of how they operate as a media business. They are not going to talk too much about the seventh defenseman on the team or the forth-line RW. The captain is fine. He has his money and a hot wife. He’s doing fine. And he’s playing in the best city in Canada. Although it’s cold as hell in the winter. If they trade him than they will have to make a good package, because this team should blow up and start over. If you explain this to the fan base, they will understand. But being a five-hundred team isn’t going to get you anyplace. Remember the Harold Ballard days? Things could be a lot worse.

  5. I’ve never made any comments on these boards but your current article is so laughable it compelled me to add my ‘two cents’. Dion was never the player you media types portray him to be unless you were playing video games with him as your main pick. His game has never improved since he came to Toronto. It has gotten worse each successive season. Management as always in Toronto needs to play a poor performer to prove they were right in trading for him. Any other team of good quality management would never have paid him $7mil/yr knowing full well Dion’s real value does not come close to even $3m. His best years were his first two when he had to make a name for himself. Since that time he’s done very little except to keep up the fascaud. IF you have watched the games with your blinders off you would have noticed he’s a below average puck handler, shoots into defenders pads, stands in front of his net watching the play go by around him, shoots high and wide in a terrible consistency, never hustles to the bench during line changes, allows offensive players to beat him to the puck into his corner even with a healthy lead for fear of being checked etc.

  6. I agree with some of your opinion that too much is expected of Dion but I’d like to remind you of the too-numerous-to-count moments when he has coughed up the puck, failed to pin a player, couldn’t keep up when the opposing team was attacking, stood around in front of the net like he was lost, etc., etc., etc. Then I’d like to mention that it seems very clear that in spite of the comments ‘we’ve got a great group of guys…blah, blah..’, there is trouble in the room and my spidey senses tell me that he does not have the skill set to deal with players in the room. That’s why they brought in Robidas and brought back Komorov. Finally I agree with your assessment that he should go – for everyone’s benefit.

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