SUN Hockey Pool

Will Phaneuf ever reach great potential?

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:28 AM ET

One question resonates around Dion Phaneuf's future.

What if he gets it?

That's the major fear for the Calgary Flames after trading away the defenceman Sunday.

Despite everything you hear about Phaneuf on and off the ice, nobody can ever question his raw skills.

Nobody can ever question his desire to win.

Nobody can ever question his potential.

What you can question is whether he’ll ever become a Norris Trophy candidate year after year.

He very well may. Or he may not.

That uncertainty is why Flames GM Darryl Sutter pulled the trigger and dealt Phaneuf, forward Fredrik Sjostrom and prospect blueliner Keith Aulie to the Toronto Maple Leafs Sunday for Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan, Ian White and Jamal Mayers.

Based on the old adage of the team which receives the best player wins a trade, the Flames are losers. But it will take time to prove that theory.

A long time.

Phaneuf has shown he can be a major factor in games — albeit some times for both teams — and has yet to tap all his potential. Not known is exactly how much potential exists and whether he’ll make use of it all.

Could he be the next Chris Pronger? Maybe.

He could also be the next Wade Redden.

That possibility is a major reason Sutter pulled the trigger on a blockbuster. As was the emergence of Mark Giordano.

Sutter also painted himself into a situation where he had to jettison a big salary from the blueline to add some scoring punch up front, and had no other real option.

Jay Bouwmeester is certainly as marketable as Phaneuf, but after making a big slash at last year’s draft to acquire him, combined with Bouwmeester’s superior defensive skills compared to Phaneuf, that was a non-starter.

Robyn Regehr is too one-dimensional, all defence and too little offence. The return wouldn’t have been two forwards to play in the top nine and a defenceman to play close to the same number of minutes.

Cory Sarich’s string of injuries has done a major number on his abilities and trade value. Frankly, he’s never been in the same class as the other two, either.

Plus, those three all have no-trade clauses.

Which meant Sutter had only one option to fill the obvious need, and it was Phaneuf.

Sure, Phaneuf is likely the best player in the seven-man swap. However, the uncertainly whether he’ll win a Norris Trophy (although you have to admit his chances for that to happen increase by being in the Eastern time zone) at this point in his career means the Flames followed their best path — quantity for quality.

Hagman gives them a winger capable of around 30 goals — which is in way too short of supply right now. Maybe he’ll also ignite fellow Finn Olli Jokinen.

Stajan is regarded as a second- or third-line centre on a top-notch team, but will likely receive a shot to play with Jarome Iginla, which would allow the Flames to use a three-line attack.

White will take up a good chunk of minutes from Phaneuf, and being a right-handed shot capable of adding to the club’s anemic powerplay doesn’t hurt his chances of having a positive effect.

The onus will be on Sutter to re-signed Stajan, eligible to be an unrestricted free-agent, and White — a pending restricted free agent — to ensure his team doesn’t totally lose the deal if Phaneuf becomes a perennial all-star.

Phaneuf may put all the pieces together, and the Flames will regret the trade in the manner the Vancouver Canucks blew it by dealing Cam Neely.

Best guess, though, is it won’t happen, and Sutter made the best of a situation he put himself into.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


Photos