TORONTO — When the Calgary Flames dealt Dion Phaneuf to Calgary, it’s a wonder the Edmonton Oilers weren’t there to help pack his bags.
Maybe drive him to the airport.
They had five years’ worth of bumps and bruises courtesy of the hard-hitting, in-your-face defenceman and were glad to see him out of their division for good.
Glad he’s gone
As one long-serving Oiler put it a few days after the Jan. 31 trade: “We’re happy to see him gone. He brought a tough, physical element to that team. You had to keep your head up when he was on the ice. You don’t have to worry about the other guy (Jay Bouwmeester).”
Phaneuf is glad to know he isn’t missed.
“It’s definitely nice to hear,” he said of Edmonton’s take on the trade to Toronto. “You want to be a guy that other teams don’t like to play against, and that’s the way that I am as a player, the way that I play the game.
“To be effective I need the other team to not like playing against me.
“I’ve had a lot of battles with the guys over there, played a lot of games against them, I definitely respect their team.”
Even though he’s no longer one of the key ingredients in the Battle of Alberta, Phaneuf says he’ll always be up for games against the Oilers.
“Definitely — I grew up in Edmonton, a big Oilers fan, so any time you play a team where you grew up and a team you were a fan of growing up, it’s a special night. I’ve played them many times, but this is the first time playing them in this uniform.”
The blockbuster trade to Toronto hit Phaneuf like a Matt Cooke cheap shot.
The morning after Calgary whupped Edmonton 6-1 at the Saddledome (fitting his last game as a Flame was against the Oilers), he was a Leaf.
“It was definitely a shock, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t,” said the 24-year-old.
“But I’m very happy with where I’m at. The guys have welcomed me into the room.”
On a team with a glaring leadership void — if Tomas Kaberle doesn’t come back next season, sophomore defenceman Luke Schenn will be the second-longest serving Leaf — Phaneuf has stepped in and begun to shape the team in his own image.
“He’s kind of taken charge of our dressing room,” said head coach Ron Wilson. “He’s been very vocal, very positive with all the young guys.
“He plays the game hard, everybody knows that. Big hits, he has an incredible shot. He leads by example and vocally. He’s very vocal in practice, in the room, during games.
“Everything about Dion is very loud and it’s starting to have an impact, especially with the young guys on the team, the enthusiasm he creates every day.”
So while shocking and disruptive at first, Phaneuf is beginning to think the trade east is the best thing that’s ever happened to him.
“I really like it, it’s been great, nothing but positives the first month I’ve been here. I love the city, I love the organization. It’s enjoyable to come to the rink.
“When I came here I was very excited about the opportunity. I can’t say enough good things about the city and the organization.”