Dion needs to make a point

STEVE MACFARLANE

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

From Norris Trophy finalist to all-star game absentee.

That's not exactly the career path envisioned for Calgary Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf.

People think he's taken a step back this season.

Really, he just hasn't taken a step forward.

His game has changed little since coming in as a rookie four seasons ago. Phaneuf has a lot of growing to do. He's just 23 years old.

Don't worry about his offensive game -- he's stalled at just three goals after scoring at least 17 every year -- it's the defensive side of things that has even those fans who were touting him the next great blueliner wondering, "What's wrong with Phaneuf?"

His minus-8 rating is a bigger concern than the paltry goal total. The only other active Flames defenceman who has a negative plus-minus is Adrian Aucoin at negative one. Some are calling Phaneuf the Tony Romo of the NHL.

Folks in Dallas were all over the Cowboys quarterback, believing his starlet girlfriend Jessica Simpson was distracting him from the game.

Dating Elisha Cuthbert has Phaneuf taking the same kind of criticism.

Others suggest Phaneuf is lazy on the ice. Doesn't care enough to get dirty in the corners or mark an open man in front of the net.

"If I read everything that was written about me, and listened to everything that was said about me, you wouldn't feel very good," said Phaneuf, who knows he's under the microscope.

"You've got to take it with a grain of salt."

People in the locker-room and those who watch practice every day know better -- he might care more than anybody on the team. You'll be hard-pressed to find a more intense individual.

But something is definitely wrong. With his size and skill level, improvement should be noticeable.

Maybe he's not listening to his coaching staff. Maybe he's worrying about his offensive numbers falling short of his previously lofty benchmarks rather than concerning himself with the 'little things' that hockey players say make them successful at both ends of the ice but never fully disclose.

Maybe missing the all-star game will help him realize something -- however minor an adjustment it may be -- has to change.

"The NHL does a great job. It's a great weekend to be a part of," Phaneuf said of the all-star events. "Is it disappointing? Yeah. Am I happy about it? No. But the guys that are going definitely deserve to be going.

"I have to keep improving and keep playing my game."

Asking himself, in his answers, as many questions as reporters direct his way, the young $6.5-million man seems to be experiencing a little self doubt.

A thought-provoking pause, about six-seconds long, follows when asked to assess his year on a personal level.

"I think I've had (another brief pause) a pretty good year," he said.

"Am I happy about the plus/minus? No.

"Am I happy about the goals? No.

"But I'm getting opportunities, and getting a lot of shots."

That much is true. He is leading all defencemen in shots for a third straight season.

His assist total is on track, too.

He's on pace for a few more than the 43 he earned a year ago.

"I went close to 20 games last year without a goal. It's not something that's new to me, to be honest with you," said Phaneuf, who scored 11 of his 17 goals last season in the second half. "I'm not going to change anything. It's not a big concern.

"The main thing is that we're winning hockey games. It's not about my personal statistics, it's about where we are as a team. We're in first place (in the division)."

Fair enough, but if Phaneuf wants to make a return to all-star status in the future, a change will have to take place.

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TOP 20 SCORING DEFENCEMEN 2008-09

Prior to last night

Player GP G A P +/- PIM PP SH GW S S%

1. M. Streit, NYI 42 8 25 33 -3 38 7 1 0 80 10.0

2. D. Boyle, SJS 38 12 20 32 7 32 6 0 3 106 11.3

3. B. Rafalski, DET 40 5 26 31 11 12 3 0 1 75 6.7

4. A. Markov, MTL 40 6 24 30 9 20 3 0 2 85 7.1

5. S. Souray, EDM 38 12 17 29 0 51 7 1 3 124 9.7

6. S. Weber, NSH 40 12 17 29 6 43 4 1 2 128 9.4

7. B. Campbell, CHI 38 7 22 29 7 6 4 0 1 57 12.3

8. C. Pronger, ANA 42 7 21 28 0 48 2 0 2 98 7.1

9. N. Lidstrom, DET 38 5 23 28 16 12 3 0 2 89 5.6

10. D. Wideman, BOS 40 8 19 27 24 8 4 1 2 80 10.0

11. M. Green, WSH 28 10 16 26 14 26 8 0 1 92 10.9

12. R. Blake, SJS 39 6 20 26 10 69 3 0 1 113 5.3

13. D. Phaneuf, CGY 41 3 23 26 -8 40 2 0 0 138 2.2

14. T. Kaberle, TOR 41 3 23 26 -8 6 2 0 0 59 5.1

15. K. Timonen, PHI 40 3 23 26 5 32 2 0 0 47 6.4

16. L. Visnovsky, EDM 39 6 18 24 6 26 3 0 1 71 8.5

17. S. Niedermayer, ANA 42 5 19 24 -2 44 5 0 0 89 5.6

18. D. Keith, CHI 38 5 18 23 23 18 1 1 1 80 6.3

19. K. Quincey, LAK 37 3 20 23 -1 30 2 0 2 70 4.3

20. J. Bouwmeester, FLA 41 7 15 22 0 48 4 0 0 103 6.8

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PHANEUF'S NHL SCORING HISTORY

Season GP G A P +/- PIM PP SH GW S S%

2005-2006 82 20 29 49 5 93 16 0 7 242 8.3

2006-2007 79 17 33 50 10 98 13 0 4 230 7.4

2007-2008 82 17 43 60 12 182 10 1 4 263 6.5

2008-2009 41 3 23 26 -8 40 2 0 0 138 2.2

NHL Totals 284 57 128 185 19 413 41 1 15 873 6.5


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