Recognize the guy in the picture? Didn’t think so. Maple Leafs’ fans love to think of themselves as the best and most savvy in the world. What they are, in fact, is the least tolerant. Ask Dion Phaneuf. He can tell you all about it. Larry Murphy could probably shed a little light as well. In Phaneuf’s case, since he came back from a wicked leg injury on December 9th v. Philadelphia, the castigation has been ramped up a notch each game, it seems. And, while thinking of Phaneuf’s plight, I thought about a former NHL defenceman who reminds me a lot of Phaneuf – Barry Beck. Some of you might have just said, “Ya, Barry Beck, that’s who that is.” But the majority probably don’t have a clue. Read on.

Barry “Bubba” Beck was as big and rugged a defenceman as the WCHL (now the WHL) has ever produced. He played three seasons for Punch McLean’s New Westminster Bruins, inflicting maximum physical punishment on whomever came his way. In Beck’s final year of major junior, the Bruins pounded their way to a Memorial Cup championship. Beck was then drafted second overall by the most embarrassing team in the NHL – the Colorado Rockies. He was to be their saviour.

In his rookie season, Beck scored 22 goals. It was a record for rookie defencemen for about a decade until Brian Leetch came along. Beck racked up 89 minutes in penalties and, unbelievably, helped the Rockies make their only playoff appearance ever. Then something happened.

Barry Beck’s sophomore year was a struggle. Fewer goals, fewer assists, no playoff appearance. And, for some reason, he’d asked the Rockies to pay him more money. As the next season began, Rockies GM Ray Miron and head coach Don Cherry had seen enough. They peddled Beck to the Rangers for Lucien DeBlois, Dean Turner and Pat Hickey and his hair. And Barry Beck was never the same.

When he arrived in New York, hopes were still high that Beck would return to the level of play that made him second overall in ’77. In fact, in 1981, Beck was named Rangers’ captain. He wore the “C” in Manhattan for five seasons. And the Madison Square Garden fans rode him mercilessly. They expected Beck would be able to lead the Rangers to greatness. He did not. And he finally retired in 1986, just nine years after being the most sought-after defenceman in the NHL Amateur Draft.

See any parallels? Solid junior career. Very high NHL draft pick. Incredible rookie season. Play begins to tail off. Traded away while still young. Made captain with new team. Fans ride him endlessly.

Here’s a suggestion Leafs’ fans – get the hell off Dion’s back! The guy’s not Bobby Orr or Denis Potvin or Larry Robinson or Doug Harvey – and he’s never going to be. But he does go out and lead his team the best way he can every game.

Just because he’s the Leafs’ captain does not mean he’ll ever be able to walk on water. Nor will he put an opponent through the glass every game. But call me when you don’t see him making an extreme effort every night. Then we can talk.

  • CoryNewb

    Point well taken. But where’s the NHL’s responsibility in all this. It seems like in their first year in the pros, these kids play on adrenaline to show the organization they haven’t wasted their money. Then in their sophomore year, they struggle and we see this Beck/Phaneuf spiral.

    Fact is, NHL teams should be responsible for developing these young players. They should be equipping these guys with all the tools they need from media training to how to balance a cheque book. Seriously, these are kids who’ve had everything done for them until they get to the NHL. Once there, they’re expected to perform like trained seals – consistently and on-demand.

    There’s too much talent that gets wasted because there is no off-ice guidance (il.e. career development) for young players. Seriously, who would give millions to an 18-year-old and think that he can manage it without being overwhelmed or stressed out? Build confident players INSIDE and out, and you’ll see the talent blossom over the long term. It’s time the NHL stepped out of the 1950’s and started managing their employees to excel – just like most other major companies do. Manage talent for future success.

  • CoryNewb

    Cheers bud. It takes a full NHL squad to make this happen, and until the Leafs can completely erase Brett Lebda from their organization (Marlies too), they can fill that spot with an NHL caliber player…