In Calgary, Canada NHL hockey is now a major part of Calgarians lives. It was not always so and Dion Phaneuf was a big reason for that transition.
Dion Phaneuf: Getting Back to What He Does Best
Calgarians can remember the days of rebuilding their team in the 1990’s and 2000’s in which the players were ostensibly referred to as the “Young Guns”. While that sentiment was good for the newspapers, the seats at the Saddledome remained mostly empty. There was future-Hall-of-Famer Jarome Iginla and then there was the rest of the team. Slowly the building blocks of a great team started to come together and one of those blocks was a young Red Deer Rebel’s defenseman named Dion Phaneuf.
Dion Phaneuf was exactly what the city of Calgary needed to re-energized its love for hockey. He had a hard hitting style (and I mean HARD HITTING) that would shake the plexiglass in the Saddledome for years to come. He had a career high 60 points in the 2007-2008 season. He finished his rookie season by being named a Calder Trophy finalist behind two fairly mediocre and non-talented players named Sidney Crosby and eventual winner Alex Ovechkin.
He was beloved in Calgary for his scoring, his defence and putting opponents into the glass, but not so much for his off-ice attitude.
It was rumoured that his demeanour in the Locker Room left something to be desired from his teammates, yet his prolific scoring and bone crunching hits made him a fan favourite. His off-ice demeanour got him traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs when he was arguably at the peak of his career in Calgary and now the same reasons have been got him traded to the Ottawa Senators. That, and the fact that his huge salary cap hit is now off the books it looks like the Maple Leafs will now use that gap to try to get Steven Stamkos.
Dion Phaneuf is a great defenseman who has an amazing workout regimen and can be a leader in the locker room but he should not have been made the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs; arguably the toughest job in the NHL. The media and the pressure of being the face of the most watched and most scrutinized hockey market in the world makes it infinitely harder to be the player you need him to be. When he was in Calgary and not in the white-hot Toronto spotlight, he played the best hockey of his career. He was fun to watch. He body-checked everyone. He blasted shots on the power play. Players couldn’t get around him. Now that he doesn’t have the enormous burden of being Toronto’s captain, he should revert back to the great player he is, the player that should push the Ottawa Senators into the playoffs and form one of the best defences in the league alongside Erik Karlsson.
The best thing about this trade is that Dion Phaneuf has the pressure of the Toronto hockey world off his shoulders. To all the other players in the NHL, watch out. It should be fun to watch, just like in the good old days in Calgary.