Dion Phaneuf was once the great hope of the Calgary Flames. A devastating hitter with a big shot, Phaneuf was seen as the second coming of Al MacInnis. While the slap shot wasn’t as big as MacInnis’, Phaneuf made up for that with his intimidating physical presences on the ice. Paired up with Jarome Iginla, Flames fans figured they had the modern day equivalent to the MacInnis and Theo Fleury. Somewhere along the way, Phaneuf lost his way and he wasn’t quite the same player he started out as in his first couple seasons.
Whether the expectations for him were set too high because of his monstrous debut is up for debate, but eventually time waiting for Phaneuf to snap out of his funk ran out and he was packaged up in a mega-deal to Toronto. Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom, and Keith Aulie packed their bags to head to Toronto in exchange for Matthew Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Ian White, and Jamal Mayers. The latter two players are now in other locations and for Calgary, some, like Sun Media’s Steve MacFarlane, have called the trade a definitive win for the Maple Leafs.
Tonight, Dion Phaneuf make his first appearance in Calgary since the January trade. Fortunes have changed a lot for both teams. Phaneuf is now the captain of the Maple Leafs, Ian White is now in Carolina and Jamal Mayers is in San Jose. Matthew Stajan has been a healthy scratch a few times this season.
The Leafs and Flames both are mired in inconsistency and both fan bases are frustrated. Leafs head coach Ron Wilson found an interesting way to help Phaneuf prepare for his Calgary homecoming, one expected to see Phaneuf met with boos: Wilson opted to boo Phaneuf in practice.
Phaneuf told reporters last week he did not expect “any negativity” during the trip to Calgary, which will be his first game there since the blockbuster deal.
“Oh he’ll hear [boos],” Wilson said. “I think he’ll be cheered … but it’s like Toronto, if 500 people boo, you guys write that 18,000 booed. Most of the people don’t want to boo, and there’s always a small amount of people who do. And a little bit of booing sounds like everyone is booing.
“Hopefully it doesn’t happen. He gave a lot of great years to Calgary and I think the fans appreciate what he’s done.”
Phaneuf, who spent 4½ seasons with the Flames, is not worried about how the fans in Calgary may treat him.
“I don’t know [what] the reaction is going to be. I never asked to be moved out of there, it’s part of the business and I have no hard feelings. I enjoyed my time there in the city.”
Phaneuf is right, he never asked to be moved out of Calgary, but in the eyes of some fans it just doesn’t matter and unless you brought the team a Stanley Cup, that’s just not good enough for them. Phaneuf didn’t spend a lot of time in Calgary, but his impact was huge while he was there and a lot was expected of him. Fans will do what they want, but booing him comes off looking rather petty. Phaneuf was a solid contributor while he was in Calgary but ultimately not a winner. If not winning it all is the issue, then booing might be the right thing. As it is, both of these teams hear enough booing on the road and at home as well, perhaps the message is just lost in voicing your disapproval.