By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (May 12) – I guess David Nonis is reading my drivel. Or, maybe not. Bottom line is, I began vouching for a Dion Phaneuf trade in this corner on Mar. 31 – a full 42 days before Sunday night’s monster Tweet from Nick Kypreos suggesting the Leafs general manager is “shopping” his beleaguered captain.
The entire Mar. 31 blog is here: http://bit.ly/1liiohs
The paragraph in question read: “My vote, therefore, would be to dissolve the current nucleus. Though I do not revel in the notion of someone losing his or her job, neither is it feasible to retain [Randy] Carlyle. Additionally, If I’m Dave Nonis, I would pursue every viable option to trade Phaneuf this summer. With a seven-year, $49-million commitment about to kick in, that may seem implausible though I made a point in my weekend blog that I’ll repeat here: Had the Leafs not ponied up for Phaneuf, up to half-a-dozen teams would have thrown similar money and term at him as an unrestricted free agent this July. As such, I don’t believe his contract is unmovable. Neither do I believe Nonis should command a king’s ransom for Phaneuf. In Morgan Rielly, the Leafs have a young stud that can easily accrue the minutes Dion appropriated. Give the team to Rielly and see what happens.”
The key point above is for Leaf fans not to expect a colossal return in a Phaneuf trade. Though Dion is technically a $7 million defenseman and Leafs would need someone to step into his big-minutes role (do not underestimate Rielly, even at his tender age), this would be a glorified salary dump by Nonis aimed at reversing the old “culture” issue. Additionally, Leafs would have to assume at least $1.5 million of Phaneuf’s contract. So, anticipating a $7 million-caliber player coming back would be silly. I suspect, rather, that Nonis would settle for a prospect or depth blue-liner and a third or fourth-round draft pick. That seems like an awfully meager exchange for the team’s No. 1 defenseman, though Phaneuf did not perform anywhere close to such a designation when the Leafs’ season was on the line in March and April.
DION PHANEUF HAS BEEN AN HONEST, DEDICATED CAPTAIN OF THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS SINCE FEBRUARY 2010. BUT, IT’S TIME FOR A CHANGE.
Personally, I have mixed emotions about this. We all know – and we did from the start – that Dion was thrust into an untenable situation when Brian Burke acquired him from Calgary on Jan. 31, 2010; hyped him as the second coming of Mark Messier in respect to leadership and promptly slapped a “C” on his blue-and-white jersey. Burke had all the best intention and the staggering Leafs were in need of a shake-up after a 3-12-2 mark in their previous 17 games. Never one to stand idly, Burke deserves enduring credit for the multi-player swap with the Flames and for acquiring savvy netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere from Anaheim on the same day. If double-B’s intention had panned out, however, we wouldn’t be discussing a Phaneuf trade nearly 4½ years later. What it means is that Burke, Nonis, Ron Wilson, Randy Carlyle, Dave Poulin, Claude Loiselle and the entire cast at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment gave the Phaneuf experiment more than enough time.
That still doesn’t equate, in my opinion, to the level of disparagement Phaneuf has absorbed in his tenure with the Maple Leafs. As I’ve written here many times, Dion has been an honest, diligent worker on and off the ice. Though he may not have been the ideal choice as captain of the team, he fully invested in the role and cherished its connotation. He gave his all in representing the club – many times without fanfare at a hospital visiting sick children or as part of a worthwhile charity. For that Dion deserves abundant praise; not contempt. As the club’s No. 1 defenseman, however, he was expected to perform incrementally better as the season progressed. And that’s where he – and the team – failed miserably; perhaps never more-so than in March and April of this year (though the 1-9-1 late-season plunge under Wilson also rates highly).
As I’ve pounded away at in this corner since the end of March, culture change must involve at least one of Carlyle, Phaneuf or Phil Kessel. Leafs have already made the perplexing decision to retain their head coach – minus his obviously-culpable assistants (sigh) – and Kessel isn’t going anywhere. So, Phaneuf pretty much has to be the man. Such a move would be a progressive start for Dave Nonis, though clearly not a remedy in and of itself. It would, however, augment other changes the Leafs GM will make this summer. If David Bolland chooses to return, and if he is fully recovered from his severed ankle tendon, he might be a worthy recipient of the “C.” That said, the Maple Leafs – should they trade Phaneuf – do not need to rush into naming a new captain. Remember, the club did so last time, without the on-ice result.
As we have known all along, this off-season for the Blue and White will be fascinating to watch unfold. Hang onto your hats.
MEDIA BANTER: Rogers made a terrific hire this year in Joe Siddall, the former big-league catcher now second man in the Blue Jays radio booth alongside Jerry Howarth. I felt it would be extremely difficult for the company to replace Hall-of-Fame-worthy pitcher Jack Morris, who spent last season with Howarth and Mike Wilner before returning home to Minnesota in a similar role with the Twins. As during his years on the mound for Detroit Tigers, Morris was a no-nonsense figure in the broadcast booth – the Blue Jays being an abject disappointment throughout his lone season with the club. In Siddall, Rogers acquired a bit of a softer voice, yet one with the same propensity to tell it like it is (occasionally with a few too many words). I enjoyed watching and listening to Siddall in the Sportsnet TV booth this weekend alongside the club’s play-caller (and ex-catcher) Buck Martinez. As he does on the radio side, Siddall merely described what was happening on the field without a profusion of bias toward the home team. And given how the Jays were pitched into the ground by Tyler Skaggs and Jared Weaver of Los Angeles Angels, there wasn’t much for Martinez or Siddall to praise. I felt Siddall was an improvement over regular TV color-man Pat Tabler. Though Martinez and Tabler form a knowledgeable tandem and are able to impress with their stories about the game, Tabler is far too much a cheerleader for my taste. He also tends to go heavily on after-the-fact wisdom – quite often using the phrase “you just knew” when commenting, for example, on a Toronto player getting a big hit. Never does Tabler exhibit such prescience when a Blue Jays batter strikes out or hits into a double-play. Tabler is no-less insightful than Siddall but his over-the-top booster-ism of the Jays undermines his performance.
THE IMPRESSIVE SPORTSNET BLUE JAYS COMBO OVER THE WEEKEND.
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