Dion Phaneuf doesn’t know what to expect when he returns to Calgary Thursday for the first time since he was traded.
But he can’t for the life of him understand why anyone would boo him.
“I don’t know why there would be any negative (reactions) — it wasn’t my choice to move,” said Phaneuf on the eve of his team’s three-game western jaunt.
“I had a lot of great times there and made a lot of great friends and played a lot of hockey in that building.
I wouldn’t expect a negative response.”
Prepare to be surprised Dion.
A polarizing figure throughout his four-and-a-half year stay in Calgary, Phaneuf was often booed as a Flame in the months leading to his shocking trade last January.
He was booed three weeks into his stint in Toronto, where the recently-named captain still has just two goals and 15 points in 39 games.
Heck, he was even booed by coach Ron Wilson yesterday, albeit mockingly. Brian Burke has yet to chastise Wilson for his right to vociferous free speech.
Wilson’s been around long enough to know what Phaneuf should expect. After all, with Dion the expectations have always been impossibly high.
Telling the Sun earlier this year that Darryl Sutter’s morning voicemail informing him of the trade was “the best thing that ever happened to me,” Phaneuf insists he was in no way taking a shot at the organization that drafted him ninth overall in 2003.
“It’s part of the business,” said Dion of the seven-player swap that landed Calgary Matt Stajan, Nik Hagman and the recently-departed Ian White, among others.
“It was a business decision and I have no hard feelings. I had a lot of real good times out there and have a lot of respect for the guys who play there.”
Phaneuf is trying hard to downplay his highly-anticipated return, pointing out the focus shouldn’t be on him.
“It’s not me against Calgary, it’s our team going in to win a hockey game,” he said.
While its tough to say which team is heading in a worse direction, it’s safe to say the only appeal to this battle of bottom-feeders is Phaneuf’s return, giving local scalpers respite from a season of plummeting demand.
“I think it’ll be crazy,” predicted Leafs sniper Fredrik Sjostrom, who spent two years as a Calgary Hitmen and one with the Flames before being lumped into the Phaneuf deal with Keith Aulie.
“I think the fans in Calgary still appreciate him quite a bit so I ‘d be surprised if he get booed. When I was there, he was popular. Hopefully they treat him nice.”
There will certainly be plenty of noise starting well before puck drop when a raucous contingent of Leafs fans are sure to get the building rocking early. They always do.
Then, as the players slide out, you can expect things to really heat up as the controversial defenceman hits the ice in blue and white.
Right or wrong, there will be plenty of boos directed at Phaneuf if for no other reason than the former Norris Trophy candidate is wearing another team’s jersey. That’s usually the way it goes regardless of how you departed.
Some will certainly applaud Phaenuf for a stay here that saw him run this town for three years before a monster salary and his ongoing defensive lapses made him a scapegoat on (what still is) a team in decline.
It should be noted that trying to find logic in the action of fans can often be an exercise in futility. Some may throw waffles, even if they have no idea why.
Sometimes fans just boo because it’s funny. They paid their money, they feel it’s their right and there are no other forums to simply yell at someone you are either angry at, jealous of, or simply trying to agitate.
It makes little sense, but mark my words there will be plenty of booing.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Phaneuf.
So are the fans.
Eric Francis appears regularly as a panelist on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada