Phaneuf lives up to net worth

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

Some players are motivated by the prospect of a new contract.

Not all react the same way when they get one.

Think of how many guys lit it up in the NHL before becoming free agents, and then tanked after signing for the big bucks.

Bobby Holik comes to mind as one of the biggest busts.

Even without addressing the failures, you can look at a guy like Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla and see two of his best seasons came before negotiation years.

Many people looked at Miikka Kiprusoff's newly minted multi-year deal as the reason for his slow start to this season.

One thing is for sure: No one can suggest defenceman Dion Phaneuf is resting on his laurels now that he's locked up for six more seasons at an average of $6.5 million a year.

Since signing that substantial second pro contract Feb. 6, Phaneuf has stepped up his game. A game that wasn't lacking much enthusiasm to start with.

In the 10 contests since signing the $39-million extension, he's potted four of his 13 goals, and 10 of his 45 points. That's more than 20% of his point production.

He was a big reason for the team's turnaround on the powerplay, and had a five-game point streak on the man-advantage before hitting a three-game point drought.

But you're not just getting points from the 22-year-old. You're seeing fights (two of them in the last 10 games), edgy hits that get under the other team's skin, and a new level of leadership that likely will one day be his biggest and most intangable skill.

Those who only see his post-game interviews don't see anything but the serious side of the fun-loving and comical star in the making.

While his teammates got a good laugh from his stolen car story on trade-deadline day, all the cameras saw from Phaneuf was a stone-faced defenceman unwilling to talk about a topic unrelated to his profession.

He's private, but by no means quiet in the dressing room, or on the ice.

In fact, he's easily the most vocal in practice -- whether it be a word of encouragement, a challenge, or a joke at a teammate's expense.

Just think of it this way. Could you imagine Scott Stevens cracking a smile if his truck was stolen in front of his eyes?

On a game day?

More and more, that's who Phaneuf is starting to look like in terms of intensity and potential leadership.

Of course, he's got the offensive upside of a Scott Niedermayer to go with it.

Stevens never won a Norris because he never had the numbers to back up his intensity.

You can bet Phaneuf will win the trophy in the future.

He still has a long way to go, though.

Robyn Regehr is the Flames' top shutdown defender for now, and Phaneuf needs to work on his skills and safe play in his own end to be considered the best all-around blueliner in the league.

A betting man would put money on him claiming that honour while still wearing the Flaming C. He'll be 28 when his current contract expires. While Bobby Orr's Norris win at the age of 20 was remarkable, and Denis Potvin's claim as a 22-year-old was almost equally as impressive, many of the game's greats won it between the ages of 24 and 30.

Brian Leetch was 24, as was Paul Coffey. Chris Pronger was 25, and Ray Bourque didn't take his first of five titles until he was 26.

Wanting to join them in the record book as one of the game's best is what will propel Phaneuf to be better.

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NORRIS NEWBIES

Some first-time Norris winners and their ages:

20, Bobby Orr, Bos. (1967-68)

22, Denis Potvin, NYI (1975-76)

24, Doug Wilson, Chi.(1981-82)

24, Paul Coffey, Edm (1984-85)

24, Brian Leetch, NYR (1991-92)

25, R. Carlyle, Pgh (1980-81)

25, C. Pronger, StL (1999-2000)

26, Ray Bourque, Bos (1986-87)

27, Chris Chelios, Mtl (1988-89)

28, R. Blake, L.A. Kings (1997-98)


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