The relationship between the local media and the team that they cover is often a strange one. It's never really clear where the loyalties of the former may lie at any given moment as they generally do not lie with reporting objective facts or educating the followers of the team. Instead, you get ludicrous suggestions, hit pieces, the shielding of anonymous sources, and a desire to be the most outrageous voice. Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star is quickly becoming the epitome of this state of affairs.
His approach to the team shifts in the winds as the prevailing sentiment changes. One of the stranger relationships where this is evident is with Dion Phaneuf. Last year when Dion Phaneuf was named the most overrated player in a Sports Illustrated players poll you'd have expected Feschuk to revel in the news. But that would just fall in line with the majority of mittenstringers so what is one to do in order to differentiate oneself? Why, defend him of course!
Those of us who care about the game aren't impressed that you're content to be ignored. The athletes we've come to truly appreciate relish the spotlight, crave the big stage. Phaneuf, after some early stumbles, has embraced life under the Bay Street glare, and he's currently prospering.
Nice job, jealous, petty gentlemen. Can't wait to observe your post-retirement careers as learned TV analysts in, um, the city you love to pretend to hate (but secretly, obviously love).
Now, there are some good digs in that article at the players that prefer to ply their trade away from the relentless media hordes in Canadian cities but it still stands out because of how it paints a picture of Phaneuf so at odds with Feschuk's future articles. Maybe it took a softer bent because the Leafs were in 7th place and looked well placed to make a return to the playoffs. Of course, on March 30th, the Leafs' death spiral was nearing completion so it was a lot easier to get some kicks in:
Whether Phaneuf, best known for his Day One command of the dressing-room stereo, can be a voice for team-wide harmony remains an open question. Some close to the team believe, citing Phaneuf's absence from Sundin's shindigs, that he is tone deaf to what's expected of the playing face of a heritage club, not to mention unwilling to ask for advice. Many found it curious in this week's blowout loss that Phaneuf passed on chances to fight the likes of long-time nemesis Scott Hartnell and instead turned his late-game wrath on Flyers rookie Brayden Schenn. Schenn's brother, Luke, of course, is Toronto's longest serving defenceman. The tete-a-tete fuelled long-held speculation that the tension that exists between Phaneuf and Toronto's Schenn is a cancerous dressing-room presence. It also had more than one former Leaf questioning the captain's wherewithal.
When this was written it was such an egregious example of a vendetta driven article that Gabe Desjardins, a Jets fan, felt compelled to enumerate the number of ways that Feschuk had follow a slander-by-numbers approach to the article. Seriously, read that post because it surgically shreds Feschuk's 'story'.
The story is actually amazing not just for its complete 180 from January but because of the hilarious arguments made. Let's set aside that three former Maple Leafs were given carte blanche to get their shots in on Phaneuf because they were too afraid to lose their alumni privileges (comped seats, swag, an increased post-retirement profile, and more) but that if Phaneuf had attended Sundin's party that I'm sure some mittenstringer would have written to say that he should have been too upset over the loss to party.
A few reporters asked Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf for his reaction to the firing of Brian Burke. Phaneuf stared into the mountain of cameras and spoke.
"I was definitely shocked," he said. "That's the biggest word I could use to describe it."
Really, Mr. Phaneuf? You were just asked to relay your feelings about the professional demise of a man who bestowed on you the 18th captaincy of the Toronto Maple Leafs - a man who held your on-ice abilities in delusional esteem - and the biggest word you can come up with is seven letters long? Can you confirm this is precisely how you feel?
"Shocked," Phaneuf said again not long after.
He was robot-talking his way through Take 2 of the same script.
This is so strange because I thought that Dion Phaneuf was prospering under the bright lights of Hogtown. Oh, wait, I expected to read about the Maple Leafs and possibly their upcoming season. Instead, we were treated to just over 1100 words crying about how the lack of a good quote makes it oh so hard for Feschuk to provide us with the cutting edge insight into the team such as we've read in the excerpts in this post. Maybe he can just combine his love for anonymous sources and good quotes and just make them up. It's not like that's a stretch based on how he normally covers the team.
And it's not just on radio that Feschuk carries out this vendetta, yesterday he was on TSN Radio once again lampooning Ron Wilson and his defence of Dion Phaneuf (even though he did the exact same thing) and suggesting that on a good team Dion would be the 4th defenceman. Yeah, and in a city with good reporters Feschuk would be covering bake sales. Now, I'd go through the list of every team's defence corps to argue the fact but then I'd have done a million times more research than Feschuk ever does. This is the kind of media environment that leads to the stupid suggestion that Phaneuf actually be bought out. As one prominent Canadian media critic said when asked about Dave Feschuk's career:
When your career goal is "being the next Damien Cox" you have taken some severely wrong turns.
But hey, it's a well paying gig if you can sell your soul for it.