Maple Leafs’ Forgotten Ones: Dion Phaneuf

Dion Phaneuf, Hockey History, Maple Leafs History

Dion Phaneuf is now a 37-year-old former NHL defenseman who, in total, played 14 seasons. He was a large defenseman at 6-foot-4 and 222 pounds. He was selected by Calgary Flames in the first round (ninth overall) of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

Phaneuf will certainly have big shoes to fill in Leafland (Mike Cassese/Reuters)

Phaneuf played parts of seven NHL seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, coming to Toronto in a trade from the Flames during the 2009-10 season. He became a team captain young in his career. He was eventually traded from the Maple Leafs to the Ottawa Senators during the 2015-16 season. 

Phaneuf was not the first of the Maple Leafs’ polarizing defensemen, and he will probably not be the last. Many fans appreciated his hard-hitting, physical style of play combined with his offensive abilities, his leadership, and his work ethic. However, others were critical of his performance, particularly during the team’s regular-season struggles to even put together a winning season.

Related: Revisiting the Dion Phaneuf Trade to Ottawa

As well, when the Maple Leafs inked a seven-year, $49 million contract with Phaneuf on Dec. 31, 2013, that added fuel to the fans’ ire. 

Phaneuf’s Time with the Maple Leafs

Looking at a summary of the Maple Leafs’ regular-season records from the 2009-10 season to the 2015-16 season shows just how poorly the team played during his time with them. Forget the playoffs, even winning during the regular season was difficult. 

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In fact, during Phaneuf’s time with the team, the Maple Leafs never made the postseason. Overall, the team struggled to play consistently good hockey. Its best season was during 2012-13, but that season was strike-shortened. 

NHL Season Regular-Season Record Point Total Postseason Status

2009-2010 30-38-14  74 points Missed Playoffs

2010-11 37-34-11 85 points Missed Playoffs

2011-12 35-37-10 80 points Missed Playoffs

2012-13 26-17-5
{Strike-shortened season}
57 points Missed Playoffs

2013-14 38-36-8 84 points Missed Playoffs

2014-15 30-44-8 68 points Missed Playoffs

2015-16 29-42-11 69 points Missed Playoffs

During Phaneuf’s time with the Maple Leafs, some of his teammates on the team included Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Jake Gardiner, and James Reimer. Even Morgan Rielly was a young defenseman with the team when Phaneuf played.

Phaneuf Was Named Maple Leafs’ Youngest Captain in History

Phaneuf was a team leader, who was considered one of the best defensemen in the NHL. In fact, when he was elected as a starter for the 2011-12 NHL All-Star Game, he was the first Toronto All-Star starter since Mats Sundin and Curtis Joseph were both named starters for Team World and Team North America in 2000. 

Related: Should the Toronto Maple Leafs Sign Dion Phaneuf?

Phaneuf was named the 18th captain and the youngest captain in franchise history. At that time, he had been a Maple Leafs’ player for less than five months and joined such greats as Mats Sundin, Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark, Darryl Sittler, Dave Keon, and George Armstrong to wear the “C.” 

Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

Phaneuf, a native of Edmonton, captained the team from June 2010 until he was traded to the Senators in Feb. 2016. After he was traded, the Maple Leafs went three seasons without a captain. That changed when John Tavares was chosen to fill the role in 2019.

Phaneuf Was a Leader on a Team That Didn’t Win

Although his time with the team started on a high note, it didn’t last. The team’s record during his tenure was not strong and his contract was one of the highest on the team. Those two things led to criticism from fans. Overall, Phaneuf’s reputation among Toronto fans was mixed during his tenure with the team.

Phaneuf’s contract was a seven-year deal worth $49 million, which he signed on Dec. 31, 2013. The contract had an average annual value (AAV) of $7 million. At the time, it was one of the largest contracts in the league for any defenseman and one of the highest on the Maple Leafs’ roster. The contract represented a significant commitment from the organization to Phaneuf as its franchise player and leader.

Related: Dion Phaneuf Trade End of a (Disappointing) Era

During his time with the team, Phaneuf was considered a solid defenseman, known for his offensive and defensive abilities. He was a heavy hitter and shot blocker. He led the Maple Leafs in ice time, and he was known for his hard shot and ability to score on the power play. 

However, critics argued that Phaneuf’s play was inconsistent. Some believed he did not live up to expectations, especially given the size of his contract. In addition, he was a leader of a team that experienced little success. As losses mounted and winning seasons eluded the team, his popularity diminished. 

Maple Leafs: A Decade of Whipping Boys
Dion Phaneuf was a polarizing Maple Leafs player. He was not alone.

Phaneuf’s tenure was not a successful seven years for the Maple Leafs, and the team experienced more downs than ups. The long-term success fans wanted just wasn’t to be found during his time with the team.

Final Analysis: Phaneuf Created Many Positive Memories

In the final analysis, although Phaneuf’s time with the Maple Leafs was not a time of regular-season success, he was a key player and leader. He was physical, with some offensive ability, and was a leader both on and off the ice. Phaneuf was the team’s captain in 2010 until he was traded in 2016. 

Related: Dion Phaneuf Finally Appears Settled In Toronto

Additionally, Phaneuf was a popular figure with the community, who regularly participated in charitable causes. Specifically, when he came to the team in 2010, he rented a luxury suite in the northwest corner of the Air Canada Centre. Decorated in blue and white, this private box hosted a number of patients and their families from The Hospital for Sick Children. (from “Toronto Maple Leafs: The sensitive side of Dion Phaneuf,” Paul Hunter, Toronto Star, 15/02/2013)

During every Maple Leafs’ home game, children and their families were invited as guests of Phaneuf. He paid for their tickets, food, Leafs T-shirts, flags, and hats. Over the course of his time with the Maple Leafs, the price tag topped $250,000. He often also visited with families after games.

Well over 1,000 visitors were part of a program known as “Phaneuf’s Friends in the Captain’s Corner.” During his visits to children and their families, he posed for photos where the children could take home team jerseys that he bought and signed for them. 

Phaneuf might have been a polarizing player for the team, but he also left many families and children with lasting positive memories about their home team.

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