Dion Phaneuf, the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was able to take on more than 23 minutes in both Monday and Tuesday’s games. He was instrumental in more ways than just the score sheet, although an apparently planned pass to Phil Kessel off the end boards last night was sweet.
Though many enjoy calling him overpaid after his recent seven-year, $49 million contract extension, the fact is that he is 25th in the entire league in time-on-ice (TOI). He averages just a hair under 24:30 in ice time per night, and that is awful long time to be playing hockey in one night.
Some have also observed that the “bite” in his game has gone away. This means that he no longer delivers the same bone-crunching body checks that he once did while playing in Calgary that would bring the crowd to their feet. In one sense, they are right about the idea that he seems to have changed his game. On the other hand, it may be that these adjustments are due to a new role he has since coming to Toronto. Consider the following:
1. Phaneuf is giving up the chance at big hits in order to make solid puck plays that help his team from a checking perspective. He is no longer caught out of position as he was earlier in his career.
2. Phaneuf is not the sole offensive contributor on D. His numbers will take a hit as a result of this, but he is still capable of producing forty points a year (which I project he will achieve this year).
3. Phaneuf is on a team which generates a lot more goals-per-game than his former team, meaning he has a different role as a puck-carrier in his own zone.
4. Being a captain for the most popular hockey franchise in the world naturally made Phaneuf more reserved about the way he plays.
5. The Department of Player Safety would target Phaneuf as a repeat offender for leaving his skates as often as he did early in his career, and he is an important part of the Maple Leafs.
Whichever of these adjustments Phaneuf is making and whatever the reason is for his adjustments, one can see that he is trying to fit into the role that the Leafs have for him. If that means playing “differently” than he is used to, then so be it.