Not many players in the league are criticized more than Dion Phaneuf, as the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs can’t seem to be judged fairly for his on-ice performance.
Many believe the label of being Toronto’s captain hurts how people look at Phaneuf as they judge him on unrealistic expectations. Being the captain of one of the league’s biggest teams results in all of Phaneuf’s decisions often being questioned. However, a closer look at the numbers suggests the criticism towards Phaneuf is grossly unfair and that Toronto’s captain deserves praise for how well he’s played this season.
Leading the Maple Leafs to a 14-9-1 record, Phaneuf is tied for 13th in the league with a plus/minus rating of plus-11. He’s currently ranked higher than defensemen such as Duncan Keith, P.K. Subban, Zdeno Chara and Alex Pietrangelo. Considering the captain plays just over 24 minutes a game while always playing against the opposition’s top forwards, Phaneuf has done a marvelous job of leading the way on a thin blue-line. Even in the 10 games Toronto has lost this season, Phaneuf still only has a combined plus-minus rating of minus-one — meaning he’s still playing relatively well in losses considering the team has been outscored 35-11 when they’ve been defeated.
Along with leading the Maple Leafs in plus/minus and ice-time, Phaneuf sits second on the team in blocked shots with 47 and hits with 61. He hasn’t scored as much as he’s like, but he’s still managing to produce with two goals and seven assists, good enough to be second in scoring among the team’s defensemen.
Being able to play well against the opposition’s best forwards along with playing the majority of the penalty-kill and anchoring the team’s first power-play unit has made Phaneuf one of the biggest reasons for Toronto’s success this season. He’s easily been the team’s most consistent player. When Phil Kessel is in a goal slump, Phaneuf is still playing solid defense. When one of the goalies hasn’t had their top performance, Phaneuf is battling hard to pick up his teammates. Regardless of what is going on around him, Phaneuf has played at a high-level night-in and night-out, turning into the definition of reliable for Coach Randy Carlyle.
Because of Phaneuf’s strong first two months of the season, Team Canada has to be considering him for a spot on their Olympic roster. Considered a long-shot to make the team before the season started, Phaneuf has easily played his way into the discussion of being on Canada’s blue-line. He won’t crack a top-four position on the team, but being Canada’s fifth, sixth or seventh defensemen is a realistic scenario today that not many predicted entering the year.
It’s time fans stop criticizing Phaneuf and start appreciating him for everything he’s providing the Maple Leafs on a nightly basis. He’s not perfect, but Phaneuf has more than proven he can lead a team’s top-defensive pairing against NHL competition each and every night.