Flames All time top 10 Draft Picks – #9 Dion Phaneuf


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Dion Phaneuf was unequivocally the first Flames draft pick to get excited about since Cory Stillman. To put that in perspective, when Cory Stillman was drafted, I was about a year old.

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Whether it was Phaneuf’s talent or the relative impotency of the Flames draft picks in the intervening years (likely a combination of both), it doesn’t really matter – Phaneuf was a player to be legitimately enthused about when he was drafted with the 9th overall pick in 2003. At the time, the franchise had just completed its 7th season in a row without a playoff spot. Things were about as bad as they had ever been in Flames land.

However, during the season the Flames had hired a man named Darryl Sutter to coach, and eventually manage the team. One of Darryl’s first acts as GM was drafting the explosive Phaneuf, then playing for his brother Brent’s team in Red Deer. The ‘03 draft was loaded with top end talent, and Sutter was able to grab one of the most sought-after prospects.

The Double Dion

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The first time I saw Phaneuf was the 2004 World Junior Championship. The “dream team” included players like Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Andrew Ladd, Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, and Dion.

Phaneuf had a great tournament, with the most memorable moments coming the Gold Medal game – Pierre Maguire’s famous “Double Dion” call and Phaneuf’s complete domination of Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin was forced out of the game in the 3rd period as a result of a Phanuef hit.

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After the World Juniors had completed, Phaneuf returned to the Rebels where he was named the CHL player of the year for the second year in a row – besting Sidney Crosby in both years.

Great Expectations

Phaneuf’s first season was one to remember, as he played more than 20 minutes per game on the second pairing and got a ton of power play time, resulting in the Flames to the 12th ranked power play in the league. Phaneuf garnered a Calder trophy nomination for his 20-goal, 49-point point rookie debut. Visions of Norris trophies danced in our heads.

Phaneuf’s next three seasons were all quality as well – playing mid-tier competition, he scored at greater than a .5 PPG pace in each of them, resulting in both a Norris trophy nomination and a new 6-year, 39 million dollar contract in 2008.

The 08-09 season seems to be considered a poor one from Phaneuf, but his 47 points in 80 games suggest otherwise. The still young defender did struggle in the playoffs, battling broken ribs, missing the last game of Calgary’s playoff series against Chicago.

The Fall

Phaneuf’s 09-10 season did not start out well. Playing top competition with both Robyn Regehr and Jay Bouwmeester, he struggled to put up points – just 22 in his 55 games played as a Flames that season – and looked just plain awkward in his own zone facing the best the league had to offer.

As a result, and with the entire team struggling to the tune of a 9-game losing streak, Phaneuf was traded to the Leafs on January 31st, 2010. As time has progressed, Phaneuf is really the only relevant player left in that deal. All the others, with the exception of possibly Ian White, have become AHL tweeners or 4th liners (sorry Matt) or are out of North America completely.

The trade had a dramatic impact on both the Flames and the Leafs – for the Flames, it was the end of an era with a player who had been homegrown and who was considered a cornerstone player. For the Leafs, their new captain and #1 Defenseman had arrived.

Regardless of what has come out in the time since the trade about who Sutter contacted and possible locker room issues, the reality is Calgary gave up a very good (albeit overpaid) young player for basically squat. It was true then and it remains true today – personally, I would rather have Phaneuf than Dennis Wideman. It’s not that simple, of course, but Phaneuf’s role in Calgary should’ve been, and likely would still be, that of a #2/3 guy who is competent on the PP.

Sutter and Phaneuf will always be tied together simply because their respective peaks and valleys were highly correlated – Sutter’s popularity in the offseason of 04 and throughout the lockout was insanely high, and with good reason. Phaneuf’s rookie season in 05-06 resulted in an amazing debut, scoring 20 goals and 29 assists on his way to a Calder trophy nomination on the Flames’ first division winning season in more than a decade.

Likewise, the team’s rapid decline from December 2009 to February 2010 resulted in an amazing amount of vitriol directed (quite fairly) towards Sutter – with the tipping point for many fans being the trade that shipped Phaneuf out of town. Sutter hung around until December of that year, but from that point on, he seemed to be a dead man walking.

The Present

Phaneuf’s post-Flames career in Toronto has been largely successful, essentially being named captain the second he walked into the Maple Leafs’ dressing room. Toronto hasn’t made the playoffs since before the lockout, but it’s hard to pin too much blame on Phaneuf – he’s scored at almost a .5 point per game pace since he’s been in Toronto and he’s been playing some of the toughest completion on the team in that time.

While Phaneuf was never able to develop into what we all thought he would be in Calgary – a true, dominating number one defenseman – he seems to have at least settled into a competent first pairing rearguard in the center of the universe, although no one expects him to challenge for the Norris anymore.

Regardless of the reasons for his “decline” in Calgary – Phaneuf has found his niche in Toronto. He’s been a successful player and likely will continue to be. Although his contract was and is large, he provides enough value as a top-pairing defenseman to minimize the overpay.

Phaneuf still possesses extreme physical talent and he still shoots the puck as hard as anyone in the league. He moves around the ice well, and that’s why he’s had success.

A treat to watch in Calgary, and an excellent player to hate in Toronto.

Matt Stajan.

The Rankings

Player BoL KW VF Justin Ryan
Phaneuf 6 7 9 10 NR

Flames top 10 Draft Picks:

  • SmellOfVictory

    I’d argue that Phaneuf is pretty solidly a #1 defenceman at this point. I can’t think of a full 30 guys I’d prefer to have as my best defenceman above him.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Not as bad as the Gilmour trade but what a stinker. Trading Dion didnt bother me. What we got was horrendous. No reason why we couldnt have gotten Toronto 2012 or 2013 1st rounder at the time but that just wasnt Dutters agenda or style. I hope for God’s sake we dont make the same mistake with JBO. Overpaid yes but still a top pairing dman on most teams.

  • supra steve

    I enjoyed Dion’s play (mostly) while he was in Calgary. However, like many, I feel he didn’t develope into the player we all envisioned after his first few years.

    In recent years I have wondered who the Flames may have taken in Dion’s draft position if Button had still been at the helm. Perhaps he would have done worse, but the potential was there to have taken a better long term player for this club. That’s why I’m with Ryan in not including Dion Phaneuf in my own personal top 10 Flame draft choices ever.

  • Phaneuf’s toolbox never matched the tools. His play is less erratic these days, but he remains a story of somewhat wasted potential.

    A few years ago I figured he’d either develop into a Pronger or Jovanovski. Turns out he’s the latter.

      • I don’t think so. Jovo was also tabbed as this big, future Norris winner when he was drafted. It took him awhile longer to put up nice offensive numbers, but he never turned out to be the total package – mostly because of his own zone play.

        Eventually he settled into being a competent PP guy and decent op-4 option, but not a high-end difference maker. Which is pretty much what Dion is now.

  • RKD

    Phaneuf was like a son to Darryl, Darryl wasn’t allowed to trade Iggy or Kipper, didn’t want to trade Reg, so Dion became the fall guy for the team’s rapid decline.

    He will give Toronto a solid number of years, but he won’t be a Norris candidate. His big hits get him out of position. He’s been caught standing still a lot and opposing forwards can deke him out easily.

    Him and Reg got destroyed by the Anaheim forwards in that first round series in 2006.

  • flamesburn89

    I still remember laughing when I heard Pierre Mcguire claiming that after 3 years, Shea Weber would be a better defenceman than Double Dion Phaneuf. I feel kida bad about making fun of Pierre after all these years. Well at least for that. His maniacal laugh is simply too good.

  • I’ve trained myself to believe that any trade that we don’t give up a draft pick(s), we win.

    As for Dion, I will always believe that he will never be part of a “reaching expectations” team. We’ll never truly know what we could have gotten in return, but I’m not worried about it. We’re better off without him than with him.

  • Dion Phaneuf is about even in Corsi On despite logging a lot of tough minutes.

    I wouldn’t say he’s a defensive stalwart but saying he runs around in his own zone isn’t accurate.

    No Leafs fans I know think Dion Phaneuf is a Norris winner, we think he’s a top 30 defender in the league that we got for spare parts.

  • Yeah the thing about Dio in his first few years in Calgary was he was always fishing for that big hit, and if he didn’t get it, you were looking at a sure 2 or 3 on 1.

    He’s matured enough to get past that now. I think the Jovanovski comparison is pretty fair.

  • BobB

    Re Dion vs Pronger vs Jovo. It’s a fair discussion to have.

    The first point that I would like to make in response is that we have to, altough I hate to, be fair to Jovo. It’s not that he was some horrible third pairing defender like Anton Babchuk. Jovo had a decent career in the NHL and was a serviceable first line defenseman for many years. He tended to be an emotional leader more than a physical leader by the time he ended up in Vancouver and was a defender well suited to their team style.

    Pronger certainly, is an elite defender and there are few that are going to compare to him, if any, from the last decade perhaps Weber. Pronger is a Norris and Hart trophy winner and had all the skills and size needed to be a dominant rear-guard. To hope any top draft pick becomes a Pronger is fair, to expect it is another thing.

    In terms of the offensive game, certainly Phaneuf is closer to Pronger than Jovo and is arguably superior. After 8 seasons he has a similar GP, more goals and more assists than both. He may be the one who will likely have a chance of being an 700pt defender (Something only 25 players in history have done), with Pronger being 2 pts short and maybe having his career over. Who knows? Jovo… not even close with 494pts.

    Physically, Phaneuf, IMHO, is also closer to Pronger than Jovo as after his first few years of being very physical, Jovo became a fairly soft defender. It’s fair to say that in terms of a clean hit, Phaneuf still will put the most fear into the opposition than the others.

    Defensively, well…. Pronger is head and shoulder above the other two. Who knows how Dion and Jovo compare and I don’t know what Jovo’s competition was at his point in his career, but Dion faces top competition in Toronto.

    Dion maybe never turned out to be the defenseman we hoped for, but our hopes may have been unrealistic. He’s certainly a top 30 defender and looks like he’s rounding into a fairly solid defenseman, who is physical and puts up the points. He’s never going to be Scott Stevens as people hoped, but he’s a strong asset for the Leafs and we really lost that trade by every measure.