When Dion Phaneuf arrived in Toronto after being traded from the Calgary Flames it was reported that he walked straight into the locker room, cranked the music up on the stereo and went about his business, sending a message that this was his locker room now and anyone that didn’t like it could shove it.
Phaneuf followed that up by having one of his best games as a Maple Leafs when he hit everything that moved, chirped countless opposing players, yelled at a few teammates and even dropped the gloves against Colin White (winning the fight) while helping the Blue and White defeat the New Jersey Devils 3-0 back on February 2nd, 2010.
If you have watched Phaneuf over his time with the Leafs nights like February 2nd have been few and far between. Sure, as team captain and with the rules changing, Phaneuf cannot be “that player” every night, but you would think he could pick it up a notch.
At one time in his career Phaneuf was one of the most feared defensemen in the NHL. Partially because of his uncanny ability to catch a player with a big hit, partially because he could throw down with players bigger than him and Partially because he could put the puck in the net—pick your poison, there was a time when Phaneuf could do it all.
Fast forward to last season and Phaneuf, while effective at times, was very inconsistent. Now don’t get me wrong, Phaneuf was an all-star last season and he did manage to take his point total from 30 points in his first full season (actually, he only played in 66 games) with the Maple Leafs to 44 (in 82 games) in 2011-12, but there was still something missing in my mind and the opposition knew it as well.
To me there are two incidents that stand out—the all-star game where Philadelphia Flyers forward Scott Hartnell had the nerve to yell “hey Phaneuf, suck it” and the game the Flyers and Maple Leafs played shortly there after when Hartnell and Phaneuf dropped the gloves.