When Canada names its Olympic roster in less than 24 hours, it’s unlikely Dion Phaneuf will hear his name called, however, the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ captain deserves more consideration than he’s receiving from media trying to predict the squad.
Canada arguably has the most depth to choose from out of any country participating in the Olympics. To be named to Canada’s roster is a significant honor as it places the player among the best of the best. Although Phaneuf might not be considered a top 10 defenseman in the league, there’s no question he’d receive less criticism for his on-ice performance if he wasn’t playing in Toronto. There’s no question Phaneuf is overly criticized and has every detail of his game dissected by the media because he wears a Maple Leaf on his chest.
However, given his strong first half of the season where he’s single-handily carried an awful and inconsistent Maple Leafs’ blue-line, Phaneuf should be considered for the Olympics. After all, playing for Canada at the Olympics will involve massive pressure and extreme criticism for every player, kind of like what Phaneuf endures as captain of the Maple Leafs on a nightly basis. Phaneuf has proven he can play under tense conditions in Toronto, and Canada needs players who won’t fold with the pressure to repeat as gold medalists.
Now, even if Phaneuf somehow made Canada’s roster, he still wouldn’t be a top defenseman on the team. In fact, the only realistic chance Phaneuf has to make the team would be as a seventh or eighth defenseman. However, even at the bottom of the depth chart, Phaneuf could still be a solid contributor to the team.
It’s likely safe to say there are currently five locks to be named to Canada’s blue-line. Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo can probably book their flights to Russia if they haven’t already. Even though he’s considered a bubble player, P.K. Subban can probably book his flight too because if he’s not named than his snub would make Bobby Ryan’s Team USA snub look like a minor issue by comparison.
With those six players likely on the roster, it only leaves room for two players to fill out the rest of the defense. Players like Dan Hamhuis, Brent Seabrook, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Dan Boyle and Marc Staal are all being considered and two of those five players will likely make the team. However, it can be argued that Phaneuf is better prepared or would perform just as well as any of those five players.
There’s nothing Staal or Seabrook can do that Phaneuf can’t do better. Staal and Seabrook are also surrounded by better players in the NHL and if they swapped teams with Phaneuf, then a case could be made that Toronto’s captain would play even better than he currently is, while the duo would suffer with limited support. Hamhuis is a better skater, but he can’t carry an entire blue-line like Phaneuf has been. Hamhuis has Alex Elder and Kevin Bieksa to help support his game, either of those players would easily be Toronto’s second-best defenseman.
Boyle is a better player than Phaneuf and his superior skating and passing, along with his Olympic experience, will likely see him named over Phaneuf. However, Vlasic shouldn’t be named over Toronto’s Captain simply because Phaneuf’s game is better suited for the team than Vlasic’s game would be. In a seventh or eighth position on the roster, Canada would be better served to have Phaneuf than Vlasic because they already have plenty of players who can provide what the San Jose Sharks defenseman brings to the table. It’s also a lot more comfortable and there’s a lot less pressure playing in San Jose than in Toronto, a factor that can’t be ignored.
It also can’t be ignored that most of the players that will make the squad won a gold medal with Phaneuf at the 2005 World Junior Hockey Championships. Phaneuf was a key member of that team’s defense that featured stars such as Weber, Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter and It might not mean much at the end of the day, but it can’t hurt that Phaneuf proved he can shutdown Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin when it matters most.
Although Phaneuf is unlikely to make the team, there’s no denying he should probably be getting more consideration than he’s been receiving.