Dion Phaneuf has the whole scowl routine down pat. Unfortunately, when Brian Burke hands you the captain's 'C,' that's not nearly enough.
It took Toronto fans a little more than a period Thursday night to start getting on Phaneuf, which in some quarters might seem fairly rude considering it was his first game back after a 16-game absence due to a gruesome laceration on his leg. But that's a sign of how bitchy Leafs Nation has become and merely foreshadowed what happened at the end of a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, when some cad threw waffles on to the ice in the direction of the Leafs as they gathered around Jean-Sébastien Giguère.
Waffles? Considering the Leafs performance, cupcakes would have been more appropriate. But there you go. Toronto FC fans organize and make noise about boycotts to get the attention of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment; Leafs fans continue to overpay for tickets and food for the privilege of leaving half-way through the third period of another loss. And those that stay throw waffles.
When Burke took over as general manager, there was an appetite in this market for an educated rebuilding of the franchise. Yet in Phaneuf, Burke has in a strange way presented Toronto fans with a player who is the personification of the team he's trying to build as well as the personification of what's gone wrong with the process to date.
So, no wonder they boo the guy. Burke played a high-risk game trading draft picks for Phil Kessel; Phaneuf plays a high-risk game on the ice, often pinching in at the wrong time, compounding the wanderlust with an apparent knack for going out of his way to deliver a hit without thought about the consequence of, say, a resulting 2-on-1. Misplaced truculence. A howitzer shot that often misses the net. Sound familiar?
Phaneuf is one of those maddening players who leaves fans yearning for more and, on the odd night, yearning for less - as in fewer shifts. He looks good standing in uniform, but when you see him in proximity to, say, a stud No. 1 blueliner like the Flyers' Chris Pronger - with the game going on - that's not so much the case. He starts to look a little ersatz.
And to all you Calgary Flames fans out there: Yes, we in Toronto remember the cautionary missives on Phaneuf. Thanks again!
But here's the issue for Leafs fans: With three more years and $18.5-million left on his contract and a general manager who can be stubborn (and with the GM's self-imposed Christmas trade freeze now on us, Happy Burkiemas to you and yours,) what is the point in getting into some kind of war with the guy? The 'C' won't likely come off the jersey and it's just going to make everybody's life hell if he is turned into the next Bryan McCabe or Larry Murphy.
As much as sacrificing a better draft placing by adding Martin Gerber for an aborted run at a playoff spot and as much as adding Kessel seem now in retrospect to be a misguided attempt by Burke to force the issue, so was the naming of Phaneuf. Who says Luke Schenn isn't the real captain? Why even name a captain? What was the rush?
(When I first saw a popular energy drink using a scowling picture of Phaneuf for an advertising campaign, with the catch-phrase 'Dion Gives Toronto Wings,' my first thought was 'Well, at least somebody's trying to make a trade to help out this lot.'") Anyhow, you're stuck with Phaneuf, Toronto. Deal with it.
In the meantime, instead of throwing foodstuffs at the local flannel, take it down to your local food-bank and do something good for the holiday season, okay?