It’s been over a month since the captain was in the Leafs lineup.
Out since Jan. 21 with a broken hand, it’s been difficult for Dion Phaneuf to sit on the sidelines. During that time, Toronto has gone 2-8-2, compounding to a losing record that has put the room with understandable unease and decisions looming as the March 2 trade deadline approaches.
“As a player you can feel it,” Phaneuf said. “And when you’re being asked about it day-after-day it is what it is, but it does take a toll on your group, on your room. We’ll get through this week and we’ll move forward but as players, it’s part of the business but it’s not easy to go through.”
During his downtime, Phaneuf worked with strength and conditioning coach Anthony Belza. It’s a regular session for players when they suffer midseason injuries. For some, it’s a long road back, and the reminder of not being with your teammates during a difficult time begins to wear on even the best of players.
“I’ve seen enough of the gym, that’s for sure. I’ve spent more than enough time in there for midseason,” Phaneuf added. “I don’t like missing (games). It’s been an extremely tough month for me to be not be able to play and to be able to be on the ice with the team. It’s taken a toll mentally; it’s been extremely tough to be watching. But I’m happy to be back.”
It’s not hard to argue the value of a healthy Phaneuf.. Since he was acquired by the Maple Leafs in January 2010, the Maple Leafs are 169-157-33 (.517) with him in the lineup. Without him, the Leafs have struggled no matter what year it has been. Toronto is 7-18-5 without their captain suiting up (.317).
Taking part in his first full practice since the all-star break, Leafs interim head coach Peter Horachek feels optimistic about Phaneuf’s return. With the Leafs off until Thursday, Phaneuf should be able to get the time he needs in order to get into game shape.
With a full practice under his belt, he is privy to all the duties that come with players who are healthy. That includes the intense scrutiny the team is going through.
“I think there are going to be lots of questions and that’s part of trade deadline,” Phaneuf concedes. “We’re going to be asked lots of questions, there’s going to be lots of rumours. That’s not easy to deal with. You can feel it in the dressing room, you’re talking about guys lives, you’re talking about their jobs and careers.”
Phil Kessel sat out of Monday’s practice, for what was deemed as a maintenance day by Horachek. Trevor Smith could also be making a return soon after skating for a bit during Monday’s practice. He’s been out with an undisclosed injury.