Phaneuf will get the 'C'

The Toronto Maple Leafs are reportedly set to name defenceman Dion Phaneuf as their new captain.  ...

The Toronto Maple Leafs are reportedly set to name defenceman Dion Phaneuf as their new captain. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images/AFP)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:56 PM ET

TORONTO - Ultimately, it really doesn’t matter whether Dion Phaneuf has been around long enough to be anointed.

It is time the Maple Leafs had a captain and as a team source confirmed, on Monday the in-your-face defenceman will be named the first player to wear the “C” since Mats Sundin left the team following the 2007-08 season.

It is time for the Leafs to have some sort of leadership, ceremonial or otherwise as they desperately try to find their way out of the funk of the longest stretch in franchise history without a playoff berth.

And at the least, it’s worth taking a shot on Phaneuf, who may have been a Leaf only for less than two months of action but made an impact on a team, craving a leader almost immediately.

The news comes as no surprise given it has been rumoured for months. Leadership is earned rather than awarded, but in the short body of work to judge, the one thing to admire about Phaneuf is that he doesn’t take losing lightly.

He isn’t shy about getting in a teammate’s face — and for those in the room who have tired of the tone and message of coach Ron Wilson and his staff, it is important that a meaningful voice now exists from within.

But here’s the bottom line with the outspoken 25-year-old: If he proves to be more ME-on than Dion, is it really the end of the world? It’s just as easy — maybe even easier — to rip the “C” off the jersey as it is to sew it on.

As much attention as Monday’s announcement will get, it’s just the start of a busy three-week run for GM Brian Burke, who will summon all of his managerial skills to improve the team.

Whether defenceman Tomas Kaberle is moved on draft day — when his no-trade clause expires — or whether Burke acquires an impact forward to fill the team’s most obvious need, expect something to happen. And any such move could have a far lasting impact than the naming of a captain.

The talk surrounding Kaberle is beginning to heat up, by the way, as the New Jersey Devils emerged Friday as one of the more serious of a handful of suitors.

To appease the beancounters at MLSE, Monday’s event will feature a couple other notable developments. First, the team will unveil a re-tooled jersey which, if nothing else, will increase sales from the sucker populace that can’t get enough of a losing team.

The other is the public debut of the company’s new sports bar adjacent to the Air Canada Centre — a cash cow if there ever was one.

Back to Phaneuf. There is some merit to the suggestion that the flamboyant defenceman is a prime candidate to succumb to Blue-and-White disease, the sickly strain of entitlement that both Burke and Wilson detest.

If there are any players on the Leafs roster dense enough to see it by now, Burke won’t blink before putting an underachiever on a plane out of town. The hunch here is that Phaneuf gets all that and will prove it in a dressing room void of a proven leader on or off the ice.

As the team embarks on Year 3 of it’s thus far unfulfilled rebuild, Burke is wise enough to recognize the urgency of Leafs Nation will be ramped up. But here’s the thing: There’s no one more disgusted with the team’s mediocrity under the GM’s reign than the man itself.

Many in hockey will argue that the naming of a captain is a token gesture. But if you watched more than passing moments of the Stanley Cup playoffs, you will acknowledge that players such as Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Philadelphia’s Mike Richards were more than just figureheads.

Will Phaneuf have a similar drive and impact? We’re about to find out.


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