Maple Leafs to honour retiring Dion Phaneuf on Tuesday night

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It will be interesting to see how Dion Phaneuf is received when he's acknowledged by the Maple Leafs on Tuesday. (Getty)
It will be interesting to see how Dion Phaneuf is received when he's acknowledged by the Maple Leafs on Tuesday. (Getty)

The Toronto Maple Leafs will honour one of the most divisive stars in their history on Tuesday night.

Former captain Dion Phaneuf, who last wore the letter for the organization prior to John Tavares claiming the vacancy ahead of the 2019-20 season, will be recognized ahead of Tuesday's game versus the Nashville Predators.

The ceremony will coincide with news that Phaneuf will officially retire from the sport — this despite not appearing in a competitive hockey game since the 2018-19 season with the Los Angeles Kings.

Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun broke the news on Phaneuf's official retirement plans and the ceremony being prepared for Scotiabank Arena. 

He wrote that while largely proud of his career and time in Toronto, Phaneuf's biggest regret was his role in Salute-gate in November of 2014. 

Under his watch — and perhaps guidance — the Maple Leafs held back the normal post-game salute to fans and skated off the ice in some variation of protest.

"That still bothers me," Phaneuf told Simmons. "I was the captain. I didn’t handle that well. I should have been better. I needed to be. I take responsibility for that. If I could ever have a do-over, that’s the one I’d want. 

"That’s the one I’ve thought about a lot."

While childish and completely meaningless in the grand scheme of things, or at least a vacuum, Phaneuf's role in the preeminent made-for-talk-radio moment in Leafs history says a lot of about his relationship with the organization and its fanbase. 

It's that soured association which makes his return, and the decision to celebrate him, so interesting. 

Much of the discourse around Phaneuf's tenure is rooted in the subjective, but what's undeniable about his place in the organization's history is that he represents maybe its most disappointing era.

Phaneuf was acquired during 2009-10 season from the Calgary Flames at 24 years old for pennies on the dollar. At that point in his career, Phaneuf received Norris Trophy votes in five consecutive seasons, beginning in his Calder Trophy-nominated rookie season in 2005-06 —which also featured some rooks by the names of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.

With that pedigree, Phaneuf was named captain ahead of his second season in Toronto, which was a role that he was, in hindsight, wildly unprepared for. 

His performance began to dip almost immediately following his acquisition as the goal and point totals diminished, but he managed to tread water and remain productive enough while the organization transitioned out of the Brian Burke era to command a massive seven-year — and near bulletproof — $49 million extension a few months into the final season of a contract originally signed in Calgary. 

Not long after it was signed and Brendan Shanahan was brought in months later to reset the franchise, it seemed the Leafs were working to find a way to get out from underneath the deal. That moment eventually came in just the second season of his seven-year extension when former Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello dealt the captain to the Ottawa Senators in a nine-asset deal, of which the pieces heading in each direction had little impact in the years to come.

Exiting the Phaneuf deal was one of the biggest successes in the early Shanahan seasons, adding another layer to the complicated legacy of the former Leafs captain. 

Between the contract and the captaincy, Phaneuf was simply given too much responsibility, or least more than what was warranted given his talent, in his time with the Leafs. 

And despite the systemic failures inside the organization and the inabilities of others, Phaneuf represents those regrettable days, more so than anyone else.

For that reason, it's worth asking how Phaneuf will be received in Toronto on Tuesday night.

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