Maple Leafs tribute to Phaneuf all but cleans up mess Burke left behind

Watch as an emotional Dion Phaneuf receives a standing ovation from the fans at the ACC, making his first trip to Toronto since becoming a Senators.

Dion Phaneuf called it “some good closure,” and kudos to all concerned: Saturday’s tribute to the former captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs in his return in an Ottawa Senators jersey is a sign that even the fans are helping to clean up the detritus of the Brian Burke era.

Some might look at Phaneuf and see one of the worst captains in Maple Leafs history, but all I see is further evidence that the carnage of Burke’s tenure as general manager is right up there with that of John Ferguson Jr. The difference is Burke has more apologists ready to defend him. He is, after all, ‘Burkie.’

Trading for Phil Kessel was a move that backfired, but the difference between that and foisting a Phaneuf captaincy on the fan base is vast. Both are signature flops of the Burke era of dysfunction, but Kessel can be written off as a bad trade. Those happen. Taking a guy with baggage brought over from the Calgary Flames and removing any semblance of comfort zone because you think you’re the smartest guy in the room and have an exaggerated sense of your magnificence is quite another thing.

I loved the pointed words of Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock, who noted that the Senators thought enough of Phaneuf to slap an ‘A’ on his jersey.

“Those things just don’t happen,” said Babcock. “He’s a good man and he was good for the franchise and he tried to help out. He shielded lots of players here by taking the brunt of a lot of negativity.”

Amen to that. Kessel’s gone, we have closure with Phaneuf, and soon it’s to be hoped Joffrey Lupul and Jonathan Bernier are sent to points elsewhere, too. There’s still space in the dumpster, but at least now there’s enough room to breathe right now for the William Nylanders of the world.

The mess left by Burke and fellow traveller Dave Nonis is all but cleaned up, and Saturday was proof of it. Funny how a guy who spouted off about wanting to clean up ‘Blue and White Disease’ turned out to simply have introduced another strain of the illness.

The Toronto Raptors torched another lead on Sunday night, but this time neither Kyle Lowry nor DeMar DeRozan could save them and, yes, it really does seem as if it’s time for DeMarre Carroll to get well, doesn’t it?

I’ve said often this season that I found head coach Dwane Casey to be a little extreme in his fixation on defence; that it seemed as if offensive decision-making and play-making down the stretch was a bigger issue. But even when the Raptors have won lately – even at home – they’ve been exposed at times defensively.

One impressive aspect of this homestand has been the contributions that the Raptors have received from the 905ers – guys riding the D-League shuttle such as Lucas Nogueira and, most recently, Norman Powell. Nogueira collected four rebounds in five minutes in Wednesday’s win over Utah and infused the team with energy; Powell started against the Portland Trail Blazers with the responsibility of guarding C.J. McCollum, freeing up DeRozan. He hit a three-pointer early in the second half from a Lowry pass – a real show of confidence for a player picked 46th overall this season.

The Raptors didn’t add another guard at the trade deadline, meaning Powell could be crucial in giving Lowry and Cory Joseph some rest down the stretch.

Powell has been a willing contributor to the Raptors 905 D-League team, and in case he ever feels like it’s all too much all he has to do is talk to Joseph – who asked the San Antonio Spurs if he could go to the D-League and played his way into the heart of head coach Gregg Popovich and his staff, parlaying it into a nice contract and regular playing time with the Raptors.

“Me and Cory talk all the time,” said Powell, who before his 10-point, six-assist performance in 21 minutes on Friday scored 36 points for Raptors 905 on Thursday. “He keeps me motivated. He’s talked to me all year about embracing the process like he did with the Spurs, about taking the grind and trying to harness my skills. The more minutes and playing time you get, the more the game slows down for you.”

The way this homestand is going, can we be far away from Bruno Caboclo making a significant contribution in a game? No, I don’t think we are.

Quibbles and bits
• In a bizarre case of retroactive interpretation of rules, Major League Baseball said Sunday it will drop its two-game suspension of Chase Utley for breaking the leg of New York Mets infielder Ruben Tejada in Game 2 of the National League Division Series between the Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers. Utley was given a suspension for his “rolling block” of Tejada, appealed the suspension, and played the remainder of the series before the Dodgers were eliminated.

Last month, MLB changed its rules to outlaw slides precisely such as Utley’s, but Joe Torre, MLB’s chief baseball officer, said Sunday that “there wasn’t anything clear-cut to say that played violated a rule.” In other words, admitting that it was wrong to have suspended Utley in the first place, even though the slide is now seen as a textbook example of a rules infraction. I know, I know … me, too.

• How many times has Bruce Boudreau been fired by fans and media as head coach of the Anaheim Ducks this season? Ten times? Twelve? Well on Saturday Gabby picked up his 400th career win as an NHL coach in his 663rd game. That’s the fastest of any coach in NHL history, beating the previous mark of 690 held by the legendary Scotty Bowman. Let that roll around in your head for a minute.

• Finally, another instalment of ‘only in Boston.’ Friday, Comcast Sports New England’s Red Sox reporter Jessica Moran told the Boston Globe that she had resigned from her position claiming that it was in her best “personal and professional interests,” and confirmed to the Globe that “questions about the nature of her relationship with the team’s manager, John Farrell” were at the centre of the matter.

Farrell is in the process of going through a divorce after a battle with cancer, and there have been suggestions that new general manager David Dombrowski would love a palatable way to fire Farrell. Since the Globe is owned by John Henry, who also owns the Red Sox, it has raised the spectre of a campaign similar to the one that preceded Terry Francona losing his job.

The end game
My friend Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports wonders if the fact that the World Cup of Hockey is held in Toronto isn’t working against P.K. Subban’s candidacy with Team Canada. Let’s think about this: Canadian head coach Mike Babcock hates distractions and views players as cogs in an efficient, often boring, machine.

If Subban isn’t going to be one of the six regular defencemen, does Babcock really want him around on the sidelines as was the case in Sochi? That would mean that Subban has to impress Babcock enough to win one of two remaining regular spots – joining Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Drew Doughty – and you have to wonder what he can possibly do in the next couple of months that he hasn’t already done, or what he can do to undo the things that are preventing him from being one of the original four.

Being a good foot soldier at the World Championships might not be enough.

Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 590 The FAN.

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