Phaneuf has faults, but settling isn't one

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:18 PM ET

Say what you want, but Dion Phaneuf hated losing more than anybody else on the Flames.

At least he showed that hatred better than anybody else.

Frankly, when the Flames were in their death spiral out of the playoffs this past season, it was the “casual” attitude around the team which gave head coach Brent Sutter fits.

Feel free to point out Phaneuf’s faults, but having an acceptance of losing isn’t one of them.

Score one mark, a big mark, in his favour.

That’s not going to make Phaneuf a great captain for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Sure, a hatred of losing may help his cause, but it will take other traits for Phaneuf to truly deserve to be standing around the likes of George Armstrong, Darryl Sittler and Wendel Clark — who were on-hand in Toronto when it was officially announced the former Calgary Flames defenceman would be the 17th man to don the “C” for the Maple Leafs.

Time will tell whether he has the intangibles.

On Phaneuf’s side is Toronto’s make-up, so many young players who haven’t had success in the big leagues.

So many in need of lessons in what it takes.

At the same time, this is where you have to question the decision to give Phaneuf the letter and title as leader.

Questions have abounded the past couple of years regarding his willingness to learn.

Sure, Phaneuf always wanted to succeed. Hard work — be it in the gym, in practice, at home as a youngster bashing pucks — never scared him away.

What has been debated is whether he wanted to listen to the coaches and truly digest the lessons.

More importantly, the debates have raged whether he was willing to implement them.

For that, the Flames coaches must take blame.

Darryl Sutter was well aware Phaneuf had to be kept in control, but didn’t ensure it happened throughout the organization.

Jim Playfair couldn’t do it amidst all the other aspects he had to deal with in his one and only season as Flames head coach.

And Mike Keenan was the worst thing to happen to him. Phaneuf never played worse than he did under Keenan, but never played more.

Instead of reining in the young blueliner — who did deserve to be a nominee for the Norris Trophy in his third season, Keenan’s first as head coach — Keenan fed the beast by comparing him to hall-of-fame blueliner Larry Robinson. Moves like that made the situation appear out of control.

Instead of sitting down Phaneuf for a period when it was obvious he was shirking his defensive zone duties, or coasting on the ice, Keenan put him on the powerplay time and time again as some kind of reward.

End result was a team full of veterans who hated to see a youngster put on a pedestal before his time, and not earning the accolades. One sage player apparently referred to Phaneuf as 2-10: “Been in the league two years, acts like it’s 10.”

Exacerbating the situation was Phaneuf’s brash, in-your-face ways.

Some would see his constant yapping in practice — “energy boys, energy” — and always wanting to lead post-session stretching as a gung-ho attitude.

Some saw it as an act, on display for the media and the coaches but meaningless.

Ultimately, Phaneuf couldn’t be a captain in Calgary until the team nearly turned over completely. But it Toronto, it almost has to be the case.

In Toronto, Phaneuf’s way of doing things fits right in with the coaching of Ron Wilson and managerial styling of Brian Burke.

Who knows, maybe it will be some kind of kick in the pants which allows Phaneuf to reach a new level.

Right or wrong. That’s the direction they’ve chosen to travel.


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