Dion Phaneuf: Toronto Maple Leafs Captain in Waiting

Mark KeiltyCorrespondent IFebruary 3, 2010

TORONTO - FEBRUARY 2: Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates to the box after fighting Colin White of the New Jersey Devils during game action February 2, 2010 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

It has taken a mass resurrection of Toronto Maple Leaf Vice President and General Manager Brian Burke and his followers in Leaf Nation to draw me to write again at  Bleacher Report.

The Leaf Nation's next captain wears No. 3, and his name is not Garnett Exelby (no disrespect). It is Dion Phaneuf, a Calgary Flame exile.

Several months ago, I correctly predicted that Mats Sundin had played his last game with the Maple Leafs, and my prediction stood. My accolades and best wishes were sent via this web page to Sundin.

The Maple Leafs have been a rudderless ship since Sundin's departure and subsequent ill-fated return vis-à-vis the Vancouver Canucks last season. I don't blame Burke or coach Ron Wilson for not assigning a team captain since Sundin's departure. As a former collegiate captain and leader, I understand that the decision to have a leader able to communicate effectively with both the "team" and those that "pay the bills" is a critical component to enable a cohesive team structure.

I have often been displeased with the fact that my team of the past (I'm aging myself) 40 years was unable to name a team captain for the past two seasons. Unfortunately, I can understand the reasons behind Burke and Wilson's decision.

During training camp in September and October, Wilson was constantly asked if there was a candidate to become a Leaf Captain "in-waiting." He eloquently stated that he will wait and see who will step up and lead his team both on and off the ice in the coming months.

He delegated long-serving Leaf Tomas Kaberle with an "A" (Alternate Captain). Fellow defencemen and newcomers Mike Komisarik (Montreal Canadiens) and Francois Beauchemin (Anaheim Ducks) have equivalent A's. In Leaf Nation, appointing the A's is—pardon the pun—A-okay. However, Wilson and Burke know that wearing the "C" in Toronto, Ontario is an entirely different beast. They were, and still are, shying away from this discussion.

In training camp, Wilson stated that he would pick a captain from the present assistants by late November if and when they show leadership skills both on the ice and in the dressing room. As a former coach and general manager picked captain, I knew what he was talking about. I waited on the sidelines and knew by November that a Leaf Nation captain was on hold again!

However, something happened last night in Toronto that has now invigorated me to conclude that Dion Phaneuf is the exact leader and captain-in-waiting that Wilson and Burke so consume.

In post game interviews, Phaneuf enamoured himself to both the Toronto media and Leaf hierarchy by saying all the right "cliches." Including, "It was an honour to put on this jersey and play in front of these fans, it was one of the most memorable experiences in my hockey playing life, and I will never forget it!"

At the same time, Wilson was telling the media that Phaneuf exuded confidence and an aura that no one—specially the young Maple Leafs—have seen all season. He also said Phaneuf's personality and play on the ice demands respect and presence. Wilson even went out to say that during the intermission all he could hear was Phaneuf chirping and yapping in the dressing room, which was two rooms away from his office.

Another tall sign indicator that Phaneuf came to the Maple Leaf locker room and was "in-charge" was when he entered the room and asked, "Who is in charge of the music?" When no one answered his easy question, he walked into the room and put on his music! This speaks volumes about leadership...no crap! I know, I was in charge of the music and those critics.

My positive was that I had played two years in front of my team. They were mostly at the "pub/bar" with me, and I knew the common ground with my mates. Phaneuf just took charge as a leader-in-waiting should!

This is the type of leader that both Burke and Wilson have been looking for. By the way that Leaf Nation responded to his first game at the Air Canada Centre, I truly believe that Phaneuf, despite his young age and detractors in "Cowtown" (a.k.a. Calgary), will become the Leaf Nation's new captain in 2011!

You read it here first at Bleacherreport.com, just like you read: "Has Mats Sundin Played His Final Game For the Maple Leafs?"