Dion Phaneuf always had the ability to lay out a huge hit. If you were an opposition player entering the zone with your head down, watch out. They didn’t come as often in Toronto as they did in Calgary for various reasons, but when they did come they hurt hard and left a huge thump.
The current Maple Leafs young guns are going to have to do just that when they face their former captain tonight.
Here are the top five Dion hits as a Maple Leaf:
5) Oshie goes down
Oshie had his head down. Paid for it:
4) Stepping into Hornqvist
I remember watching this live and feeling a thunderous vibration through the cores of my bones:
3) Bowen Lights Up!
Maybe the best part about this hit is the reaction from Joe Bowen. But the there had to be something to react to and it was big:
2) A soured up Sauer
Unfortunately for Mike Sauer, he didn’t play another NHL game after this. It wasn’t a dirty hit by any means, but Phaneuf once again preyed on a player looking down:
1) Da Costa is Eliminated
The helmet came off, the player went down, and the rival Senators were left embarrassed. Good thing Stephane Da Costa no longer plays for Ottawa and has to make friends with the guy that did this to him. The most memorable Dion hit:
Say what you want about Phaneuf’s tenure in Toronto, but we likely won’t see someone entertain us like this for a while.
Tonight the spectacle is at the Air Canada Centre where former Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf returns for the first time to face his old team since being traded to the Ottawa Senators in a nine player trade.
Towards the end of his Toronto tenure, the goals dried up for Phaneuf scoring just seven goals in the last three seasons. A stark difference from the first four seasons where he was able to tally an average of nine goals per season with the Leafs.
Ahead of tonight’s game, we take a look at some of his best goals as a Maple Leaf:
5) First as a Leaf
It took a while to come and it wasn’t pretty, but Phaneuf’s first goal with the Maple Leafs:
4) Classic Phaneuf Goal
A classic Phaneuf one-timer on the power play, the thing he’s done to make a living in the NHL. Does it against his now current team and smashes the goal camera for good measure:
3) Beating Miller
I’ve always said there weren’t many players in the league that could beat a goalie straight-on with a shot from the blue line. Phaneuf was one of those that could, and he did it Ryan Miller here:
2) Clutch against the Canes
The offensive pressure the Leafs were applying to the Hurricanes was relentless. Finally they broke through and it was Phaneuf with a clutch shot:
1) The Big One
Without a doubt the most memorable goal in Phaneuf’s tenure in Toronto. After making a costly pinch in game four that lead to a David Krejci OT goal, Dion made up for it with a huge goal in game six:
When people talk about the “core” of players the Maple Leafs are trying to put together in Toronto, the names you often hear revolve around the likes of Morgan Rielly, James van Riemsdyk, and Mitch Marner. Now as the Leafs usher in the young age, you’re seeing prospects like William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen enter the fold.
But the name that often gets overlooked is Jake Gardiner.
Yesterday’s tilt against Gardiner’s hometown Minnesota Wild was a great example of the type of impact he can have on a game. The Leafs put forth a valiant effort on the second half of a back-to-back against a team vying for a wild card spot in the Western conference.
Leading the charge was Gardiner, driving the play and scoring the only goal for Toronto. When he was on the ice at even strength, the Leafs had over 85% of the shot attempts (corsi) in 19 minutes of action, according to Naturalstattrick.com. Unreal.
This type of production from Gardiner has been a regular occurrence that’s fallen under the radar due to the many other storylines that surround the team. He’s produced a possession rating better than 60% in 19 games this season, and five of which saw him reach over 70% according to WarOnIce.com.
He stands atop the Toronto defenseman at a score adjusted rate of 56.92% of corsi-for attempts per 60 minutes at 5v5. Only Frankie Corrado is currently better than that, but he’s also played 40 less games.
Defensively he’s effective at suppressing the shot attempts against. In the last five years, Gardiner ranks among the top Leafs defenders with a 50.29 shot attempts (corsi) against rating per 60 minutes at even strength.
While he’s been playing well and establishing his role in the NHL, the Maple Leafs have recognized his value. Instead of another bridge deal, the Leafs went long term with Gardiner at a 4.05M cap hit that has three more years. Perfect for a defenseman that at the least locks into your second pairing, plays on your power play, and can carry the team when playing well.
Let’s not forget about the way he played in the 2013 playoff series against the Boston Bruins. Doubted by then head coach Randy Carlyle, Gardiner rose to the occasion and was clearly the best player for the Leafs not including James Reimer.
He may not be talked up well in the media, a lot of which is due to the remnants of the Carlyle era, but Gardiner’s game has become a consistent point of optimism for the Maple Leafs and they should move forward considering him as a player for the “dream” lineup.
And if the opportunity presents itself, Toronto may do well looking to expand Gardiner’s game, such as instituting a slap shot on the power play. We saw a beautiful howitzer last night, and there’s been more of that when Gardiner actually decides to shoot: