Now that Joffrey Lupul has signed a five-year contract worth $26.5 million, the Toronto Maple Leafs should do the obvious thing and name him team captain.
What’s that? The Maple Leafs already have a captain? Very true. But the ‘C’ isn’t sewn permanently on the sweater. It comes off rather easily, actually. And in this case the Leafs’ management and coaching staff should send the sweaters of Dion Phaneuf and Lupul to the tailors for some alterations.
Since firing GM Brian Burke, it’s been business as usual for the Toronto Maple Leafs. We haven’t seen a drastic regime change. New GM Dave Nonis is a Burke hire and the rest of the hockey staff has remained in tact, including coach Randy Carlyle.
Phanuef was appointed captain under Burke’s watch, largely because there were few other candidates for the highly-demanding position. In retrospect, Burke and former coach Ron Wilson handed the captaincy to Phaneuf with the hopes he would grow into the role. They hoped the added responsibility would propel his performance on the ice. Yet, his play continues to underwhelm, and it’s becoming more obvious with each passing game that he’ll never be a Norris Trophy-calibre blueliner, nor will he ever represent Canada at the Olympics, should NHL players be allowed to participate again.
Off the ice, Phaneuf doesn’t look any more comfortable in front of the cameras. He still speaks in a painful monotone, using banal cliches, usually looking disinterested in fulfilling his duties. This doesn’t necessarily make him a bad captain, but being a leader of men obviously hasn’t added much to his all-around game. It’s time to end the Dion Phaneuf experiment and give it to a player who would embrace it.
Step right up, Joffrey Lupul.
The 29-year-old has an infectious personality that makes him a perfect voice for the struggling franchise. He doesn’t appear as though he’s wearing the pain and sorrow of the entire world in his face. By signing a five-year contract with the Leafs, we know he wants to be here. There are some athletes who wilt under the pressure of playing in a hockey mecca. Lupul is not one of them.
Stripping Phaneuf of the captaincy shouldn’t be viewed as punishment for the rearguard. Instead, it would represent an opportunity to remove a source of pressure from his shoulders. For that reason, the timing is right to make the move.