Mike Keenan says ‘Neon’ Dion Phaneuf caused some locker room issues, but praised his overall play

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If anyone knows “difficult” people, it’s former NHL coach “Iron” Mike Keenan. After all, he sees one every time he looks in the mirror.

The fiery coach – known for brow beating a considerable amount of players, though it’s unclear that he always left as good an impression as he did on Jeremy Roenick with his rants – was last fired from the Calgary Flames after the 2008-09 season. During his last two seasons behind an NHL bench, he surely had the opportunity to get to know then-face of the Flames franchise, Dion Phaneuf.

TSN’s Darren Dreger spoke with Keenan about the Flames-turned-Maple Leafs defenseman, who will return to Calgary as the Toronto captain tonight.

Keenan admitted that Phaneuf’s “overly confident, if not cocky” behavior rubbed some Flames veterans the wrong way. If you need any evidence of that feeling, just look at the nickname he gave him: “Neon Dion.” Yup, when people compare you to a former NFL cornerback whose theatrics and rampant egotism overshadowed his elite coverage skills, it’s probably a sign that the target of such comparisons has a substantial ego.

There were arguments, and some wanted Keenan to tighten the reigns and discipline Phaneuf, but the former coach enjoyed Phaneuf’s sometimes, combative nature and verbal approach and was willing to live with his mistakes as he developed.

Keenan compliments the 25 year old defenceman for always showing drive and arriving at the rink everyday, fired up, and ready to play.

At times there was friction in Calgary’s dressing room, and perhaps a sense of jealousy over the 6 year, $39 million dollar extension Phaneuf signed with the Flames in 2008.

However, Keenan says he very much enjoyed coaching Phaneuf and says he would have him on any team he’s associated with in the future; adding former NHL stars such as Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios, or Ed Belfour, all had their issues, but all were thoroughbreds Keenan found very coachable.

Now, it’s tough to argue with one sentiment floating around Twitter and other sections of the hockey world: perhaps Keenan is just trying to get his name back out there after watching the last two seasons from afar?

That being said, it’s not that tough to believe that Phaneuf’s sense of self worth might have inflated along with his notoriety and wealth. There were some thoughts that his combination of brutal hits and a scorching slap shot might allow him to become the next Chris Pronger, but defensive lapses and other shortcomings have transformed his contract into one of the league’s worst deals.

So far, it seems like “Neon Dion” is burning out like an old neon light. Unfortunately, that just means his playing career parallels Keenan’s coaching days.

Flames release Ryan Wilson from PTO

Ryan Wilson, Sidney Crosby
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The Calgary Flames have released Ryan Wilson from his professional tryout.

The 28-year-old was trying to make a comeback after missing 79 games with a shoulder injury last season.

Even with T.J. Brodie sidelined because of a broken hand, Wilson still faced long odds to make the final roster.

The veteran will be hard-pressed to find NHL work with another team.

He hasn’t suited up in more than 12 regular season games since 2011-12.

The Stockton Heat, Calgary’s AHL affiliate, also made some news on Sunday.

The club announced that they’ve signed Colton Orr to an AHL contract.

The 33-year-old tough guy suited up in just one game for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. He has 12 seasons of NHL experience under his belt.

‘Yotes return Dylan Strome to OHL

Dylan Strome, Nikita Nikitin

The Arizona Coyotes have returned Dylan Strome to the Erie Otters of the OHL.

Strome, 18, was the third overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft.

The 6’3, 185 pounder was hoping to stick with the Coyotes this season, but the team decided to take the conservative approach with their top prospect.

Strome will look to build off an incredible junior season that saw him score 45 goals and 129 points in 68 games.

Strome seems to be taking the demotion in stride.

The team also announced that they’ve assigned goaltender Louis Domingue and forward Matthias Plachta to their AHL affiliate in Springfield.

Domingue, 23, had a 1-2-1 record with a 2.73 goals-against-average and a .911 save percentage in seven games last season.

Plachta, a free agent signing, will begin his first pro season in North America. The 24-year-old had 14 goals and 35 points in the German League last season.