It looks like the fans in Toronto won’t have Dion Phaneuf around to boo for a while.
The veteran defenseman, who the Maple Leafs fans have soured on in less than a year in blue and white (causing heated debate in Toronto about whether Brian Burke should be criticizing the paying customers after they voice their displeasure), is going to miss four to six weeks with a laceration suffered Tuesday night.
Phaneuf was taken to the hospital after he was cut by Ottawa forward Peter Regin’s skate in the second period. He underwent successful surgery, according to the team.
Depending on your perspective on Phaneuf, this could be a help or a hurt to the Leafs and/or the Bruins. In 11 games this season, Phaneuf has famously posted just four assists (no goals) and a minus-6 rating. The Leafs are off to a 5-5-1 start after losing their last three.
Those that’ve been razzing Phaneuf at the Air Canada Centre undoubtedly believe the Leafs will be better off without their captain. But common sense says this is a major blow to an already-sliding Leafs squad. That, of course, bodes well for Boston, as the Bruins are again in possession of the Leafs’ first-round pick next June. The better the lottery chances for the Leafs/Bruins, the best that Phil Kessel trade continues to look.
“You can’t replace Dion and what he brings to the team, but other people will have to step up in a leadership role and be vocal,” Toronto head coach Ron Wilson told reporters following the Leafs’ 3-2 loss to the Sens. “We’ve got a deep defense. Some guys will get some more minutes. We should be able to weather the storm.”
Here’s what James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail had to write today about the Phaneuf injury absence:
“There’s been a suggestion out there today that perhaps the Leafs will be better off without Phaneuf, but looking at the pairings they have to work with, it’s hard to see how that’s the case. None of Gunnarsson, Lebda or Komisarek have played particularly well or received many minutes this season, and at least one is now inline for a big bump in ice time.
“Yes, Phaneuf has been prone to defensive errors and is a minus player so far, but he has also been part of a defensive unit that has dramatically cut down the shots and chances against this season. He likely shouldn’t play as many minutes as he does in tough situations, but he’s a more effective player than anyone Toronto has among its No. 5 to 7 blueliners and his loss will definitely be felt.”
The Bruins play the second game of their season series with the Maple Leafs Dec. 4, so there’s no telling if they’ll face Phaneuf — Nathan Horton’s first fighting partner in three years — at the ACC that night. It’s also difficult to believe that by then the Leafs will be in a better standings position than they are now without their No. 1 blueliner.