What now: Dion Phaneuf


Beginning next year Dion Phaneuf will take up a cap hit of $7 million dollars a season until the spring of 2021.

Assuming the Leafs don’t pull off a miracle and find someone willing to make a deal for him, they have no choice but to work with him. 

So how do the Leafs go about fixing such a high priced asset that saw his level of play drop off so dramatically down the stretch?

Well this is where Brendan Shanahan comes in. During Shanahan’s introductory media conference he made it very
clear to everyone that he intends to his homework before making any
major decisions.

It shouldn’t take Shanahan much time to realize what he has to do to help Phaneuf.

The first thing Shanahan has to do is take Phaneuf out for dinner. Just the two of them. A good old fashioned man-to-man talk. No wives, just two dudes, some steaks and some serious hockey talk.

Shanahan will start off telling Phaneuf all the good things that he does and how much he likes him. Then he will tell Phaneuf that he is a key player on this team (Since he can’t deal him, what else can he say?) and that they need him to be better next year if they are going to compete.

To that end Shanahan is going to explain to Phaneuf that the team only wants him to concentrate on hockey next year. To help him do that, Shanahan is going to lower the boom and tell Phaneuf that they are making a change and he will no longer be wearing the Captain’s “C”.

Coming from Nonis or somebody else this would crush Phaneuf. While it will still hurt, it will hurt less coming from Shanahan.

Shanahan’s resume as a player is beyond reproach and if he tells Phaneuf that giving up the “C” will make him a better player and end up making the Leafs a better team; then he might eventually accept it. 

This kind of kick in the ass by Shanahan should humble Phaneuf a little bit. And it will also serve notice to the rest of the team just how serious the Leafs are about getting better.

Shanahan also will sit down with the training staff to come up with an off-season work-out program that will help Phaneuf improve his foot speed with-out sacrificing too much of his size and strength. Everyone can improve the quality of their off-season training. And if that training helps Phaneuf be a better player, then he has to do it. 

The next thing on the Phaneuf “to-do” list is work with Barb Underhill on his skating. A player is never too old to learn new tricks and there is no reason to think that, if he puts his mind to it, Phaneuf can get a little quicker in the off-season. I am not suggesting that Phaneuf will suddenly be able to skate like Morgan Rielly, but there is no reason why he can’t be quicker as a result of his off-season work.

If you think I am being harsh in asking Phaneuf to increase the amount of work his does in the off-season consider that he will make eight million dollars a
year in each of the first two years of his new deal. That is more money
in a single season than Shanahan ever made during his career. 

If Phaneuf is going to get paid like a big-time player then he will be expected to produce big-time results on a consistent basis.

The next thing the Leafs can do to help Phaneuf get better is up to Shanahan and Nonis.

Whomever the Leafs hire to replace Carlyle will need to put Phaneuf in the best position possible to succeed. If that means cutting down his ice time, then so be it.

Equally important to the new coach is making sure he has a top notch defensive assistant on his staff that will work with Phaneuf and help him improve his decision making in his own end.

The combination of his ice time and the team’s apparent lack of a system in their own end ended up exposing all of Phaneuf’s weaknesses this season.

If Shanahan hires the right coach with the right system then Phaneuf shouldn’t get exposed as much. And when that happens his confidence will return. At the end of this season Phaneuf had next to no confidence with the puck in his own end.


That simply can’t happen to a defenceman logging over 23 minutes a night. Even if the Leafs reduce his ice-time, they need him to be smarter with the puck in his own end. 

I asked an ex-player with over 1,000 points and 1,000 games on his resume what he would do to fix Dion. His answer was straight to the point; “Get him a reliable, stay-at-home defenceman to bail him out.”

Ultimately Dion has to take responsibility for the state of his game and spend his off-season working to improve. He needs to put the work in and he needs to be open to whatever the new coaches tell him.

Leafs fans should keep in mind that even if all of this works out the improvement in Phaneuf’s game won’t be dramatic. He isn’t going to turn into a Norris Trophy candidate over the summer.

But what he can be is a more consistent defenceman who is less prone to making boneheaded mistakes in his own end. 

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  • “Assuming the Leafs don’t pull off a miracle and find someone willing to make a deal for him, they have no choice but to work with him.”

    I’m not much of a Phaneuf fan but I think you’re being a bit harsh with the “miracle” comment. There’d be lots of takers for him IMO. The Wild come to mind. Pairing him with Suter would help him out a ton. That’s just one example.

    I could also see plenty of interest from: Anaheim, Edmonton, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, etc

  • Nate

    I do believe that Phaneuf needs to be stripped of the C, but I don’t think he’s an awful player. When he plays his game, he is solid and no one complains, but his mistakes make him look like a beer-leaguer. I totally agree with you Jim when he will be able to focus on his game instead of the responsibilities as captain. We don’t need a captain right away – we have Lupul and McClement as the alternates, Bolland can provide some leadership, maybe Clarkson…Just wait and focus on the defensive side of our game, and the wins will come. Great article.

  • Nate

    Strip him of the C to improve his on ice game? Don’t think the C has anything to do with his on ice play.. All that will do is create an unnecessary distraction for the whole team

  • Leaf Fan in Mexico

    A good part of this problem should fix itself:

    There’s too many offensively-minded defensemen on the Leafs that don’t pay enough attention to defense.

    I think Franson is gone. He is -20 and he has been difficult in contract negotiations before.

    Granberg shoots right, just like Franson. He is big, mean, mobile and plays a defense first type of game. Replace Franson with Granberg and you just made one of the pairings a lot more dependable.

    Plus Gardiner and Reilly will be a year older. Gunarrson might get healthy.

    If it all works out you might be able to reduce Phaneuf’s minutes plus Granberg might become the safe guy you can put out late with a lead.

  • Leaf Fan in Mexico

    I think people make too big of an issue out of the captaincy. The Leafs need more than one guy to be a leader. Sure the captain should lead by example and be more than a 4th line plug but the captains only real job is to be the one who talks to the ref. So is Phaneuf the guy you want to be doing that? Maybe, maybe not, but the people saying he’s not a leader need to realize that winning hockey teams have more than one guy who leads

  • STAN

    Phaneuf used to have some speed. I saw him up close and personal as a Red Deer Rebel and then as a Flame. But he’s always carried his stick with one hand and skates by pushing off with one foot.

    I’m still baffled by Burke’s decision to anoint him captain. I think it had more to do with Burke wanting to make that trade look even more lopsided than it was, although I’m not sure the Leafs are actually ahead at this point. Stajan is a journeyman, but isn’t hurting the Flames with his ‘reasonable’ salary and he gives them 16-17 minutes a night.

    Before taking away the C Shanahan should order Nonis to work the phones and see what offers are out there for him. It’s too late to teach him to be a better player. He’s already earned about $50 million for being just average and he has another $49 million coming. Not much incentive, folks.

  • TGT23

    I think the term “miracle” and “forced” are terribly misused in this case.

    I think that Dion’s value is harshly diminished by Leaf fans who think no one wants him and that his contract isn’t at market value.

    Fact is, should he have become a Free Agent, there would have been suitors. He would have received just as big of a contract elsewhere.

    Don’t fool yourself. He may not be an elite d-man but he is a 1a and the kind of player that is so rare in FA that teams line up to sign him.

    As for his flaws. I think most of them get covered up if the Leafs have a better system, if the forwards knew their role in a defensive system, and if his partner were better.

    Gunnerson is a 2nd Line D-man, not a top pairing guy. The Leafs need a responsible 1st line d-man. A compliment to Dion and his style, not a hindrance. Gardiner and Reilly are too offensive, Gleason too slow, Franson and Brennan are specialists.

    They need to take the C from him though. Not because he is undeserving but because they need his attention put back on just hockey. Kessel NEVER talks to the media, neither should Dion.

    Give Lupul the C. He loves the media. Or, make JVR and Kessel have to be available so Dion doesn’t have to be the face every game.

    He gives Crosby level dull interviews anyway, why force him to be distracted just to say nothing and face all the scrutiny for the team?

  • STAN


    I don’t disagree that there would have been suitors for Pylon.

    NHL GMs love to spend as much money as possible and usually make their worst mistakes in the first week of July.

    Nonis is a perfect example with his Clarkson mistake. And, no, there weren’t any other teams willing to pay more for Clarkson – that was just his agent’s camp putting out false stories to drive up the price and Nonis bit.

    Trading him two years ago would have been the smart move, but Burke / Nonis / Poulin et al hesitated and now look what TLN is stuck with.

    The next seven seasons are now sure to be bad.

    Thanks Dave and Tim.

  • Derian Hatcher

    All good suggestions but would he buy in? For all of the above to occur and help Dion become a legitimate top d-man, his ego and cockiness would have to take a back seat to summer work ethic and desire to actually come close to earning that massive contract game in and game out. Showing off your clothes collection like a woman and driving around in your Bentley is easy, Dion. The last month of the season you were exposed, what are you going to do about it over the summer? Smart money says he doesn’t have it in him. Good luck with that.