Maple Leafs had no choice but to sign Dion Phaneuf | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaMaple Leafs had no choice but to sign Dion Phaneuf

Posted: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 | 12:24 PM

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Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf will make $49 million US over the life of his newly announced seven-year contract extension. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press) Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf will make $49 million US over the life of his newly announced seven-year contract extension. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press)

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Love him or hate him, there is no denying the Toronto Maple Leafs had no choice but to sign captain Dion Phaneuf to a long-term deal rather than risk losing him in the off-season as an unrestricted free agent, writes Mike Brophy.

It is not a signing that will be universally endorsed by Leafs Nation.

In fact many fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs will bemoan the fact they are 'stuck' with captain Dion Phaneuf for seven more years.

But love him or hate him, there is no denying the Maple Leafs had no choice but to sign Phaneuf to a long-term deal rather than risk losing him in the off-season as an unrestricted free agent. And if you don't think he's worth the $7 million a season, understand that if he had gone to the open market, he likely could have received more.

To nobody's surprise, since it was leaked on HBO's 24/7 series this past weekend, the Maple Leafs signed their captain to a seven-year contract extension for $49 million Tuesday. The two sides had agreed on the salary and the only hold up was the term related to a no-trade, no-movement clause. 


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"This is a very proud day for me and my family," Phaneuf said. "I'm very honoured to be the captain of this historic franchise and to maintain the opportunity to play and represent the Toronto Maple Leafs for many years to come. We have passionate fans and a dedicated ownership group. I have great teammates and look forward to growing with them and achieving our goal of winning."

Blah, blah, blah...

Phaneuf's detractors are quick to point out that in his three full seasons in Toronto, the team has made the playoffs just once and have not won a playoff round. Obviously that isn't entirely his fault. However, when the chips were down last season, he was minus-2 in Toronto's disastrous playoff collapse in Game 7 of the opening round against the Boston Bruins; a game in which the Leafs blew a three-goal lead.

That is not the type of lasting impression that plays well in Toronto.

On one hand the 28-year-old Edmonton, Alta., native leads the Maple Leafs in average ice time at 24:21, as well as in plus-minus at plus-13. Those numbers are impressive given the fact he routinely faces the opposition's best players.

On the other hand, he ranks second among Leafs defenceman scoring with just four goals and 15 points in 39 games despite getting first unit duty on the power play. He is projected to put up career-low scoring totals in a full season. He ranks 42nd among NHL defencemen in scoring.

Not scoring enough

Phaneuf broke in with the Calgary Flames in 2005-06 as the club's first round draft pick (ninth overall), scoring 20 goals and 49 points in 82 games. He followed that up with back-to-back seasons of 17 goals. He also accumulated 522 penalty minutes in 378 games.

With the Maple Leafs he has been a less effective scorer and has not played with the same physicality. That has not gone unnoticed by the fans.

None of that changes the fact the Maple Leafs had to sign him or risk having him walk away for nothing in return as their previous captain Mats Sundin did. Besides, six-foot-three, 215-pound defencemen don't grow on trees.

Also, Phaneuf is regarded as one of the better defencemen in the league as evidenced by his inclusion in the Canadian Olympic Hockey Team's summer orientation camp last July. Even though he is considered a longshot to make the team, Phaneuf was among 17 defencemen invited to that camp.

Leafs general manager Dave Nonis said Phaneuf is a team leader and pillar in the club's building process.

"He has proven to be a very durable and reliable defenceman in all facets of the game... we're pleased to have him under contract for the next seven years," Nonis said.

Nonis may be pleased with the signing, but in order for Maple Leafs fans to feel the same way, Phaneuf needs to find a way to win over the masses.

That is a considerable challenge.

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