Toronto Maple Leafs
General Manager Brian Burke
was pretty succinct when asked what kind of reaction Dion Phaneuf
should expect from the crowd at Scotiabank Saddledome when the defenseman returns to his former home arena.
"It should be applause," Burke said. "He didn't ask for a trade out of Calgary. Calgary thought they could make their team better."
Whether either team has gotten better since last season's trade is debatable, but the fact remains that Phaneuf's return to Calgary is big news in Alberta.
The Flames took Phaneuf with the ninth pick of the 2003 Entry Draft and he had 20 goals as a rookie in 2005-06. In four full seasons with the Flames, he had 65 goals and 206 points in 323 games. On Jan. 31, though, he was traded to the Leafs after scoring 22 points in 55 games. In return for Phaneuf, forward Fredrik Sjostrom
and defensemen Keith Aulie
, the Flames received forwards Matt Stajan
, Nicklas Hagman and Jamal Mayers
, and defenseman Ian White
There were rumors of strife in the Flames' locker room prior to the trade, but both sides repeatedly have said there's no basis to any of it.
"I think we've talked enough about the rumors, from my side and from their side," Phaneuf told reporters Thursday. "There was no truth to any of them. I had a really good relationship with all the guys. I had a lot of great friends I made here. Rumors are rumors. I think both sides have put them to rest."
"It's exciting to be back. I had a lot of real good times here. I started my career with this organization. I've got nothing but good things to say about the organization." -- Dion Phaneuf
Flames captain Jarome Iginla
said pretty much the same thing when he was asked about Phaneuf's return.
"I got along great with Dion," he told the team's website. "We never had any real fight ever. … When it's not going well on the ice, sometimes teams have tough goes, they don't have the results they want, but it doesn't mean there's huge underlying issues. Sometimes we don't perform on the ice so a lot of those things sprouted up. To keep saying it … I'll probably be asked about it and I'll probably say it again -- there wasn't really any truth at all."
Phaneuf repeatedly said he had all good memories of his time in Calgary, and rather than dread a return, he was happy to see some familiar faces when he arrived at the Saddledome on Thursday.
"It's exciting to be back," he said. "I had a lot of real good times here. I started my career with this organization. I've got nothing but good things to say about the organization. To see some of the guys, it was nice to see Iggy (Iginla) this morning, got to see him, have a couple laughs, some of the staff you worked with for quite a few years. I had a real good time here. I spent a lot of time here, played a lot of hockey. It'll be a special night."
However, he doesn't expect any special treatment from his former teammates.
"When the puck drops it doesn't matter if they're your best friend or not, you have to play to win," he said. "If you ask any guy over there, they're not going to let up on me."
Phaneuf tried to downplay the "Dion vs. the Flames" story as best he could Thursday.
"I'm excited about tonight, but it's not me against them," he said. "It the Toronto Maple Leafs
against the Calgary Flames
. They're big points for our team and I'm sure they're saying the same thing over there. We want to have a good trip out west. We stared on the right foot (Tuesday's 4-1 win in Edmonton). Now we come in here and it's a big game for our team."
Phaneuf also has had other things on his mind beside his return to Calgary. He was away from the team Wednesday to attend the funeral of his grandmother in Summerside, PEI. He didn't arrive in Calgary until late Wednesday night.
"It's not easy," he said. "It's a tough part of life. It was good to get down there to celebrate her life. I'm glad that it all worked out, that I could make it down."
In his absence, Leafs teammate Kris Versteeg
took the ice for Wednesday's practice wearing a Phaneuf mask that had been used years ago for a car dealership advertisement.
"I never saw it because I was flying," Phaneuf said. "One of the boys sent a picture on his cell phone. … The boys were texting me. We've got a great group, a real fun group that has a lot of fun with the game and has a lot of fun with things. It's a special group."
That's why as tough as it was for him to leave Calgary last season, Phaneuf can now say the trade was the best thing that could have happened to him.
"I said (then) it wasn't easy," Phaneuf said. "I had a lot of real good friends here. But with saying that, it was the best thing that happened to me personally. Playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs
is something very special. The history our organization has, it's been nothing but positives ever since I got to Toronto."
Those positives, however, haven't appeared on the ice. Phaneuf had 2 goals and 10 points in 28 games with the Leafs last season as the Leafs finished 15th in the Eastern Conference, and after being named team captain over the summer, he has just 6 points in 14 games, partly due to missing 16 games with a lacerated leg. The Leafs have won two straight, but with 28 points, they're 12th in the East, eight points behind eighth-place Boston.
The Flames, however, aren't in much better shape -- they're 14th in the Western Conference with 29 points.
"It's a big game for both teams," Phaneuf said. "They're probably saying the same thing over there."
While Phaneuf has tried to soft-sell his return, he knows the Flames fans will have some sort of reaction to seeing him on the ice in blue and white.
"I have no hard feelings (and) I'd hope they don't," Phaneuf said. "I tried to play hard night in and night out there. I'm excited. They're going to have their own opinion. I'm sure there'll be cheers and boos. I'm excited about the whole opportunity."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org