It sounds like the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to announce Dion Phaneuf as the captain of the franchise tomorrow - and this is a good sign for the Buds, mostly because it shows that they are finally moving on. First off - Phaneuf seems like a nice guy, an intense player, and of course he is about as star-studded a hockey player that the Leafs have had since Mats Sundin. For some reason, since Sundin has left, the Leafs have had an incredibly difficult time moving on.
Is Phaneuf going to be as media-friendly and charismatic as we'd like to see from a captain? Probably not - he might be more like Darcy Tucker was before he was traded away, just a grumpy miser who wouldn't crack a smile or play nice no matter what. If the team wasn't winning, for some reason he had to be a crank. I see Phaneuf being the same way - and unfortunately, the Leafers aren't going to be "Winners" for a while. So ... expect a grumpy Phaneuf with his bland answers and hockey cliches.
But that's fine - what's more important is what he does on the ice. Let's just hope he doesn't wait till the last two games of the season to score goals as a Maple Leafs next year, too.
Signs that the Leafs are moving on ... They will finally be naming a new captain since Sundin. Mats walked away from the team at the end of the 2007-08 season, and the Leafs have been without a captain ever since. And the reason they didn't name a captain was because they were without a 'leader.' To think that for two full seasons they were without a bonafide leader is a bit scary, but we can probably agree that it's true. [Granted, Beauchemin could have been a pretty good captain, I think - I think Burke wants more "star power" in a captain, though. Perhaps "star power" helps to attract free agents? Seriously, it might.]
Their trade to get Phil Kessel was Burke's first real stab at restocking the roster with Top 6 forwards, but we can see by how very shy he is (and streaky) that he wasn't captain material. Tomas Kaberle was always rumoured to be captain material, but head coach Ron Wilson thought he was fat and lazy, and Burke has obviously been more interested in trading him than keeping him - no reason to put him in charge of a locker room when you'd rather trade him for something.
So the Leafs have two star players, and arguably 1 Top 6 forward and 1 Top 2 defenseman. It's a start, but there's obviously 6 more pieces to the puzzle before they are considered "talented." Perhaps two or three of those spots will be replenished from within the organization - let's hope. That still leaves 3 big important roster spots vacant - with few organizational assets to acquire them. Tough luck .
But naming a captain is a big step to getting away from the Leafs old days in the shadow of Sundin.
New goal scorer
Phil Kessel scored 30 goals last season, and this is important because he's the first Leafs since 2008 to score that many (Mats Sundin). This is the first Maple Leaf not named Sundin to score 30+ goals since Alexander Mogilny scored 33 in 2003! So it's been a long time in the coming. If Kessel begins to hit the 40-goal mark, and the team fills in behind him with consistent and normal scoring behind him, this is a big positive.
The next big step will be to try and acquire a point-per-gamer to help add consistent offensive talent to the team. Again, this was last achieved by Sundin in 2008. Mogilny lead the team in scoring and averaged over a point per game back in 2003. But there has been an obvious (and well documented) absence of star power and offensive consistency for years in Toronto. Last year being one of the very worst where the leading scorer only had 55 points (which is unbelievably poor - but perhaps expected from a 29th place team?).
So let's hope that the rebuild begins by finally shaking off the shadow of Sundin. He left us with nothing but memories of him scoring a bunch of points for a long time, and that's all. (I'll always remember him for splitting the defense and then faking a shot, switching to the backhand and shelving a goal on goalies in Calgary!)
King of the Road
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