April 10, 2012
Phaneuf polarizes Leafs Nation
By Mike Zeisberger, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Dion Phaneuf wasn’t wearing a flak jacket when he was trotted out to face the media as part of the Maple Leafs “See You In September” gathering on Monday.
At least none that we could see.
Given the amount of verbal and written bullets that have been fired his way recently, you would have figured he might need one. With all the criticism that has been heaped on him in the past couple of weeks (some of it justified, some of it really over the top), it’s become obvious that fans and media alike have made Phaneuf the No. 2 target as the source of the franchise’s epic collapse this season, only trailing embattled general manager Brian Burke in the blame game.
One of the biggest slags of Phaneuf during the team’s collapse was the allegation that he had yet to personally assume accountability for the team’s downward spiral, something his legions of critics allege should go hand in hand with the “C” that he wears.
And, for a while, it appeared the cynics would not be any more appeased during Phaneuf’s meeting with the press on Monday at the Air Canada Centre, where the Leafs spent time cleaning out their lockers.
Of course, there have been claims that some Leafs had already packed it in back in February, when the start of a monumental collapse left the team going from four points out of third in the east to 26th overall in the NHL.
During his 15-minute question-and-answer session, Phaneuf used the word “disappointed” (or a modification thereof) on six occasions. There was a friendly game of back-and-forth with our friend Lance Brown of CTV, who asked Phaneuf two different times about what he had learned during this, ah, “disappointing season.”
Finally it was our turn.
“Do you feel you are a scapegoat or does that go with the letter that is sewn on the front of your jersey?” Phaneuf was asked by the Toronto Sun.
The answer was candid. More importantly, for those who feel Phaneuf has not shown the traits of leadership they both expect and demand from a captain, the response suggested he was willing to put blame on his own broad shoulders.
“It’s part of being the captain of the team,” Phaneuf said. “I definitely accept responsibility for the way this season has ended.
“I take that upon myself.”
Will such an admission settle down the riled-up citizens of Leafs Nation who started booing the captain so much at the ACC, you almost figured Daniel Alfredsson was in the house?
Of course not. Nor should it.
At the same time, whether you agree with Phaneuf’s appointment two years ago as captain or not, taking the heat for your team is one of the things donning the prestigious “C” is all about.
“I’m not happy the way things have gone,” Phaneuf said.
“It’s a new year next year and that’s the way we are going to handle it. What’s done is done. We have to learn from it. We’re definitely disappointed but we have to move forward.”
In the first half of the season, we saw, at least on the ice, the Good Dion. During “The Skid Heard ‘Round The GTA” over the regular season’s final two months, we witnessed, more often than not, the Bad Dion.
Such is the polarizing effect of Dion Phaneuf who, even off the ice, can split bystanders into Pro-Dion and Anti-Dion factions the moment he walks into a room.
In recent weeks, there have been various reports about an alleged rift with Luke Schenn and questions as to why the captain did not attempt to spend more time with Mats Sundin when the big Swede was honoured by the Leafs in early February.
On the other hand, this is the same Phaneuf who was heavily involved in blueprinting team bonding exercises during the team’s three-day stint at CFB Trenton in early October, including bringing many of his teammates out to a local watering hole for some spicy wings, frosty beverages and Monday Night Football.
In the end, all that really should matter is that the Leafs failed to reach the playoffs. Again.
“We’ve taken heat (and) rightfully so,” Phaneuf said.
Those may be the most accurate words uttered by the Maple Leafs captain all season.