It’s hard to say if the Toronto Maple Leafs’ decision to name Dion Phaneuf one of their alternate captains is a sign of a career rebound or rather a profound statement about how desolate this Toronto team really has become since their last captain Mats Sundin left.
In his rookie year, Phaneuf wowed the hockey world with an impressive blend of Scott Stevens-like brutality and top-notch offensive talent. With his crushing body checks and successive season totals of 49, 50 and 60 points, the then-Calgary Flames defenseman was popular enough to become the cover star for NHL ’09.
I don’t know if it was the Curse of Cuthbert or what, but Phaneuf’s game began to devolve noticeably. There were murmurs building about his defensive lapses for some time, but the much-ballyhooed player truly began to take some heat when his offensive numbers started to slide. (Not that 47 points is anything to sneeze at for a defenseman, but this year’s currently projected 30 point total isn’t up to snuff.)
With an expensive off-season signing of Jay Bouwmeester and the rugged defense of Robyn Regehr, it was hard to imagine Calgary spending around $14 million for three defensemen. Eventually, the Flames soured on Phaneuf and traded him to Toronto. The question is: will another Burke gamble yield a gradual turnaround or set the Leafs back even further?
Well, look at this way: worst case scenario, the world will be treated to more hilarious Brian Burke scowls. Now that, Ms. Cuthbert, is entertainment.