The disaster that this season has become for the Toronto Maple Leafs started on a night that a former captain saw his number rise to the rafters. Players should have been paying close attention to what it means when a great heritage team like the Maple Leafs honor a former player. Two of those players, Luke Schenn and Dion Phaneuf, both of which in my mind should have long careers as Toronto Maple Leafs should have been very proud of what they witnessed.
The Toronto Star reported this week that Dion Phaneuf was visibly absent from two receptions held for Mats Sundin that weekend in February. The Star also reported direct quotes from former Leaf players that refused to be named calling out the captain on his absence from these events.
I am not an expert on the finer details of being a captain in the NHL but something tells me that you are required to make an appearance at these types of events. Taking the time to show up, would only be providing respect to the organization that allows you to take the ice every night with “C” stitched to your jersey. A great deal of weight is assumed with the captaincy of the Toronto Maple Leafs or any other organization for that matter, however there is something historic about putting on the sweater that dons the “C” for any original six franchise.
This Toronto Star article clearly shows the ongoing battle Dion Phaneuf has with being the leader of the organization. Keith Aulie was rumored to have been shipped out of Toronto because of his inability to get along with the captain Dion Phaneuf. I mention this in part because at times Dion looks to be on an island both on the ice and in post game interviews. Mats Sundin had an ability to get players to come out of their shell on his team and play with unabashed attitudes both on the ice and in front of the camera post game. Sundin often criticized himself for poor play or even in subtle senses asked more of his team by taking the game into his own hands.
Has Dion Phaneuf done enough to take the team on his own back both through criticism from the media and his own play? I don’t feel he has. I don’t look to Dion as the type of captain to own up to his own mistakes. If he isn’t doing it publicly, what kind of message is he sending in the dressing room? One with a pointed finger of disapproval at teammates around him?
Schenn vs Phaneuf
With the rumor mill spinning out yarns of Keith Aulie and Dion bashing heads, I move now towards one that seems to be picking up steam. That yarn is the rumor of Schenn and Phaneuf not getting along in the dressing room. While under the coaching eye of Ron Wilson it is noted that Dion Phaneuf could do no wrong. The captaincy that was given to Phaneuf by Coach Ron Wilson came with it an almost bubble in which Dion was put in and protected by both Coach and General Manager Brian Burke. Not once in this entire Toronto Maple Leaf meltdown did we hear about the Leadership of the team from either Ron Wilson or Brian Burke. I am not saying that the organization should be calling out Phaneuf, but subtle reminders that this team was lacking production from the captain might have jump started his point production. During this meltdown under Coach Wilson, Schenn seemed to take a brunt of the blame in the media and from Wilson tantrums behind the bench. Schenn looks to be playing better hockey under the coaching eye of Carlyle as of late, something Phaneuf has yet to figure out.
The Philadelphia Schenn incident
Dion Phaneuf and Scott Hartnell have been jostling back and forth all season series long. They dropped the gloves back in February when the two teams met and have seemed to be constantly trash talking back and forth since.
Fast forward to March.29 and Flyers Brayden Schenn scored twice in the opening 12 minutes—the first came with brother Luke, the Toronto defenseman, on the ice. At the half way point of the third period with the Leafs down by a whopping six goals Brayden Schenn took a thunderous check from Dion Phaneuf, whom had been a target of Hartnell all game long. It seemed as if there had been a fight possibly brewing between Phaneuf and Hartnell for most of the lopsided game. Phaneuf chose at this point in the game after leveling Brayden to take a few stick liberties on him as well. First a slash and then an attempt to fight him. Strange circumstances indeed when your Leaf teammate that some believe you are not getting along with is his brother. Hockey is hockey and yes there is some unwritten code that if ever explained might take up an encyclopedia of footnotes alone; but targeting a teammates younger brother might not fit the code.
Coach Randy Carlyle as some work to do this summer and I am a firm believer that he needs to sell his system to not only the team but Dion Phaneuf. If Phaneuf is to stay captain of this fragile franchise he needs to learn to be part of the team, both off the ice and on the ice. I can’t see the mysterious captain being shipped off over the off-season to a team looking for his defensive stature, but what I do see is Luke Schenn being shopped around. Their chemistry in that dressing room isn’t working and something has to give.
The summer story might just be Schenn vs Phaneuf.
Toronto Star Article mentioned in Blog.