Babcock: Phaneuf’s ‘going to have the best year he’s had in a long time’

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Phil Kessel‘s time in Toronto is over, but what about captain Dion Phaneuf?

Like Kessel, Dion Phaneuf is inked to a long-term contract (seven-year, $49 million through 2020-21) and, at the age of 30, he might be on his decline by the time the Maple Leafs are serious contenders. Phaneuf was also a big part of the group that, in the words of president Brendan Shanahan, “wasn’t getting the job done, and it wasn’t good enough.”

In the end Phaneuf might be traded as well, but for now he appears set to be involved in Toronto’s rebuilding effort. For his part, new Leafs coach Mike Babcock seems very happy to have him.

“He’s going to have the best year he’s had in a long time,” Babcock said, per Sportsnet. “He’s prepared hard all summer. We’re going to help him with his game and he’s going to help us by being the player he’s capable of being. And we’re going to look after him. We’re not leaving him hung out to dry, either on the ice, with the media or in town.”

From an offensive standpoint, at his height Phaneuf recorded 60 points, but that was back in 2007-2008. Over his last two campaigns he’s recorded 31 and 29 points. On top of that, he’s had a negative 5v5 Corsi compared to his team’s Corsi when he’s off the ice for three straight campaigns. Of course, there’s more to his game than those numbers indicate as he will throw his body around and frequently blocks shots, although in terms of the former, he went from 227 hits in 80 contests in 2013-14 to 166 in 70 games last season.

Expectations are low for Toronto this season, to the point where Phaneuf having a great campaign might not be enough to make the squad competitive. At the least though, it would provide Maple Leafs fans with a silver lining in what might prove to be a painful campaign.