Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Direction of Dion

The big announcement came yesterday in Toronto, the one that was going to change the way people look at the Leafs roster. Something that was about three seasons in the making and something that was whispered about for a while, but finally made official on Monday.

They'll have a shoulder patch and stripes at the hem of the jersey.

Oh, and Dion Phaneuf is a the new captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Now, GM Brian Burke said that Phaneuf was the best choice for the role and knew it when he traded for him. Many will say that Phaneuf got the role for the lack of anything else on the roster that could be considered for the captaincy, therefore-- Phaneuf wins by default. Either way, the dealing is done and Phaneuf is the 18th captain for the Maple Leafs and the first in two seasons since Mats Sundin left the team.

The question isn't really if Phaneuf has the credentials to be the captain for the Leafs. He was an alternate captain for the Calgary Flames for a time and he does have enough skills to warrant being a captain. While Burke said that Phaneuf did bring a vocal aspect of leadership to the Leafs room, which may or may not have happened in Calgary, depending on what story you listen to; he does have times where he leads by his actions whether with a big check or dropping the mitts to shift momentum. In all those aspect, you can say that Phaneuf does have what it takes through his play.

The biggest issue is whether or not Phaneuf can mentally take the role of captain for the Toronto Maple Leafs. We all know, the Toronto media is cutthroat and can love you at one moment, but try to run you out of town the next. Phaneuf did seem to be shaky when it came to criticism when dealing with the Calgary media; how will he be able to deal with 100 times that much pressure and criticism when he's in arguably the toughest market to play in?? Odds are if he gets down in the dregs and is there for a while, the heat will be on and the test of character will come through and determine if he was the right choice over having a vacated once again.

It says nothing of the 26 games, because when you trade for someone like Phaneuf; who does have a solid resume behind him; you know what you're getting and don't have to play the loyalty card to someone who may or may not be cut out for it or may not be there for the start of the season due to possible trades. Plus, it's not like they're giving it to a rookie; it's a guy who has been considered as a Norris Trophy candidate at one point and does have a lot of solid upside to him. If you have that, then the lack of games with the franchise really shouldn't matter.

In the end, the real test is going to be whether or not the new captain can take the heat from the media if the team is doing badly or he himself is doing badly. Phaneuf did have the chance to see what Jarome Iginla was able to do with the pressure when he was hounded by the media, though the personality types of Iginla and Phaneuf are night and day. Also, he'll have a decent amount of old Leafs around the area to get some pointers from if/when the heat is on. It will be another interesting sidebar to watch for the Leafs this year after, I'm sure, a whirlwind summer for the club. The one thing you can say is even when the chips are down-- Toronto keeps themselves in the fracas.

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