Report: Maple Leafs to name Dion Phaneuf first captain since Mats Sundin

Thumbnail image for phaneufed.jpgThe Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t had a captain since Mats Sundin departed the team after the 2007-08 season, but if TSN reports are accurate, that will change on Monday. The Leafs are expected to hand the ‘C’ over to hard-hitting (and shooting) defenseman Dion Phaneuf.

The former Calgary Flames product has had a rocky few years. After taking the league by storm with a couple great seasons that mixed brutal checks and powerplay mastery, his offensive numbers began to decline while his defensive prowess came into question. Blame it on him becoming the cover star of the video game “NHL ’09” or perhaps call it “The Curse of Cuthbert,” but for whatever reason Phaneuf fell apart for a while.

Brian Burke made a big trade for Phaneuf during last season and it seemed like the defenseman started to eke out an improved existence in Toronto. That’s not to say he lit the world on fire, but the wayward franchise seems impressed with him right now.

If nothing else, the Leafs and Phaneuf will sink or swim with each other. The team made a big investment when they took on his contract, and while they have some modest cap space, my guess is that they’ll live and die by the splashy trades Burke made for Phaneuf, Phil Kessel and even J.S. Giguere.

Will Phaneuf lead the Leafs to glory or failure? We’ll just have to wait and see.

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    Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

    ST PAUL, MN - MAY 6: Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks controls the puck against Zach Parise #11 and Jason Pominville #29 of the Minnesota Wild during the first period in Game Three of the Second Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 6, 2014 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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    If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

    It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

    Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

    Central Division title chase

    1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
    2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

    Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

    Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

    The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

    Price didn’t just play for Habs; he made the difference vs. Rangers

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    It’s one thing for Carey Price to shake off that Paul Byron shot in warm-ups. And, honestly, that bump from Shea Weber during the game. But to play like, well, Carey Price? That would be something else.

    Well, you probably saw this one coming … but Price had some absolutely great moments against the New York Rangers in an eventual 3-2 shootout win.

    He was the main difference-maker, although it must be said that there’s some comic relief in Byron scoring the shootout-winner.

    Price vs. Rick Nash felt like a subplot of the overall story.

    On one occasion, Price made a resounding stop on a Nash breakaway:

    It was quite the night for the aging power forward, however, as he nailed his other opportunity.

    Some might be a little sad that Nash vs. Price didn’t go against each other in the shootout, but hey, maybe the two teams could save that for next time?

    The Canadiens needed this win more than the Rangers. The Ottawa Senators actually briefly went ahead for first place in the Atlantic Division, but now Montreal has 72 points to Ottawa’s 70 … while the Sens hold two games in hand.

    Similar tweets might end up being relevant, however. Though betting against Price is also a dicey proposition.

    Video: Laine hits 30 goals vs. Matthews and Leafs, Byfuglien battles Martin

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    Patrik Laine might rub some people the wrong way with his matter-of-fact brand of swagger, but the Winnipeg Jets rookie can back up that talk.

    Just look at how he performs against fellow Calder Trophy hopeful Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Back in October, Laine stole the show with a hat trick. He has a chance to do that again, but either way, with two goals in as many periods, Laine hit the 30-goal mark as a rookie. In February.

    His 29th goal came less than five minutes into the game:

    He then hit the big 3-0 in the dying seconds of the middle frame, though that was far from the only noteworthy moment of the clip above this post’s headline.

    As you can see, there were bodies being thrown around, culminating with a brief bout between Dustin Byfuglien and Matt Martin. The earth may or may not have shook from such an altercation. It wasn’t the only example of violence between the two teams tonight.

    ***

    It’s been a nice milestone night for young Jets scorers, as Nikolaj Ehlers also scored his 20th goal of 2016-17.

    That 30th goal came less than 30 seconds after Leo Komarov‘s second goal of the contest, putting Winnipeg up 4-3 heading into the third period. For all we know, the Jets might need even more from Laine tonight.

    No helmet, no stick, no problem as Preds’ Watson blocks shot anyway

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    Sometimes, when you ponder a player who opts not to wear a visor, you wonder if that person cares about their health. Then you remember that it takes a certain mixture of bravery and recklessness to be a professional hockey player in the first place.

    Even so, there are moments that stand out as especially “hockey tough” – and, yes, reckless – with Austin Watson of the Nashville Predators fitting both labels well on Tuesday.

    It’s already brave and dangerous to block a shot with your full gear, but Watson did so without his stick and without his helmet against the Calgary Flames. Luckily, the shot didn’t hit him up high … but dude.