Toronto Maple Leafs Ex-Captain Dion Phanuef Retires

Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs alumni are making quite a bit of news this morning.

First, Phil Kessel moved into third place on the NHL’s Iron Man list, then ex-Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf announced his retirement.

I thought he already had, but it turns out he hadn’t quite made it official.

The reason I thought Phaneuf had already retired is that he hasn’t played an NHL game since 2018-19 with the LA Kings.  That is two full seasons, plus this one, so you see how I made the mistake.

 Toronto Maple Leafs Ex-Captain Retires

I still remember the day the Leafs traded for Phaneuf – it felt like they had just repeated the Doug Gilmour trade.

Just 24, the Leafs picked up Phaneuf, who had been on the cover of EA Sports, scored 20 goals, and was known for his thundering hits.   As a rookie, he was spoken of along with Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.  He was named to the first all star team while with Calgary. He was second to Nick Lidstrom in Norris voting.

When the Leafs trade for Phaneuf, it seemed like the second piece to a Stanley Cup team was in place. He was going to compete for Norris Trophies.  He was going to be a lock for the Winter Olympics.

I still don’t know what happened, but like the Strokes, a high-school athlete, or M. Night Shyamalan, Phanuef peaked early.

He was never an all-star in Toronto (he was voted in, but didn’t really deserve it) he never was a Norris candidate, he never scored 20 goals, the BIG hits stopped happening, and was never a candidate for an international team.

Like the second single from Baha Men Phaneuf’s time in Toronto was a huge disappointment.  The former ninth overall pick’s best accomplishment as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs was that Ottawa took his contract without any retention.

I loved Phaneuf during his time in Toronto – he was my favorite player.  But no amount of positivity can overcome the fact that I loved him for the player he was in Calgary and we never saw that player in Toronto.

He didn’t rush the puck, he didn’t score and he didn’t lay out any big hits (not in the same way, at least).  His 12 goal 44 point performance in 2012 might have more meaning if the team made the playoffs.  Phaneuf played in only seven playoff games during his time in Toronto and they are memorable for all the wrong reasons.

The best thing you can say about the Phaneuf era in Toronto is that he was a warrior who gave his all under less than ideal circumstances.  Had the Leafs acquired a complimentary player from Calgary that day in 2010 things might have been different.

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Unfortunately, they thought, and we thought, that they had acquired a Franchise Player.  It’s only in that light that Phaneuf’s career looks disappointing.  Otherwise, he played a 1000 NHL games and was a beloved figure, and that’s worth celebrating.  It’s just hard – as a fan or the Toronto Maple Leafs – to have any perspective here.