The Toronto Maple Leafs will be captain-less for the next two games.
The NHL suspended Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf for Wednesday and Thursday’s games for a hit from behind on rookie Kevan Miller in Sunday’s loss to the Boston Bruins.
Remarkably, this is the first suspension for the hard-hitting Leafs captain, who forfeits $66,666.66 of his $5.5-million salary.
"I obviously have to accept it and move forward,” Phaneuf said in a brief appearance at practice on Tuesday. “There's not much more I want to say about it. I'm not going to comment on the play any more than saying that I'm not happy about being suspended obviously.”
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle was more outspoken about the suspension.
“We thought with the Miller hit that he did kind of go off balance [before Phaneuf hit him],” Carlyle said. “Obviously [the league] felt it was warranted and we have a difference of opinion of it. But they don't take our opinion one way or another so you accept it and move on.”
This could be another costly loss for the Leafs. They have won just six of their last 17 games, and Phaneuf is by far their highest minute player at more than 24 minutes a game.
He is also relied on to play the team’s most difficult minutes. Phaneuf starts nearly twice as many shifts in the defensive zone compared to the offensive one and plays the majority of both special teams.
His absence will be especially difficult for the Leafs to cope with given how inconsistent their blueline has been this season. The fact Toronto’s next two games come against two of the top teams in the NHL – Los Angeles and St. Louis – doesn’t help, either.
This is the 22nd suspension of the season in the league, five of which have gone to the Leafs. (Including bans to Phil Kessel, David Clarkson, Carter Ashton and Nazem Kadri earlier, Toronto has lost 23 games to suspensions during the preseason and regular season.)
With Phaneuf out, the Leafs used revamped pairings at practice on Tuesday. Phaneuf’s regular partner, Carl Gunnarsson, was skating with Cody Franson, while Jake Gardiner was paired with John-Michael Liles and Mark Fraser was with Paul Ranger.
Rookie Morgan Rielly was with Phaneuf in one sign he will again be a healthy scratch on Wednesday against the Kings.
Phaneuf is set to become an unrestricted free agent in the off-season and is in the midst of negotiating a huge extension – rumoured to be in the $50-million range – with Leafs GM Dave Nonis. He has logged more minutes than all but two others and has 84 points in 161 games in the last three seasons, which is tied for 13th leaguewide for defencemen.
Phaneuf will be next eligible to play on Saturday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.