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Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Dion Phaneuf: Goal is to make playoffs


NEW YORK -- For one night and one night only, Dion Phaneuf wasn't on center stage.

Nope, he was just one of the thousands of fans jammed into a sold-out Yankee Stadium on Monday night to witness the new ballpark's first concert, a doozy headlined by hip-hop stars Eminem and Jay-Z.

"It was something to see," Phaneuf told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "Both those guys are icons in their own way, and for them to play that show -- it was the first concert ever held at Yankee Stadium -- it was pretty cool to be part of [the crowd] there. It was quite the show to experience and be part of, and it's one I'll never forget."

Phaneuf had some quality seats alongside the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos and other NHL stars who were in town for an NHL preseason event.

On Tuesday, Phaneuf was back in the spotlight, taping interviews with several media outlets at the onset of arguably the biggest season in his NHL career. As the new captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he is the face of a rebuilding franchise desperate to shed a half-decade of misery. It's a lot of pressure, but as he sat down with ESPN.com, you wouldn't know it. Phaneuf appeared comfortable in his own skin, genuinely enthused about the challenge ahead and as though he was born to wear the famous Leafs uniform with a "C" on it.

"It was an exciting summer for me personally being named captain of such an historic franchise, not only in hockey but all of professional sports," Phaneuf said. "I'm really excited about the opportunity."

This is Phaneuf's chance to press the reset button on his young career. Just three years removed from a career-high 60 points in Calgary, things got off track with the Flames, enough for GM Darryl Sutter to do this past January what he publicly said he would never do -- trade Phaneuf.

"It was definitely something that was very unexpected," Phaneuf said. "There were rumors and talk of it, then Darryl put it all to bed by saying, 'We're not moving him.' A couple of weeks later, I got a call at 8 a.m. that I'd be traded. Suddenly your life is up in shambles, you've got a house in one city, you've got five hours to pack that up and be in another.

"But as soon as the initial shock went away, I was real excited about where I was going and the team that I was going to. It's been nothing but positive and it's been a great thing for my career."

Phil Kessel is perhaps the most controversial trade to date in Toronto for Brian Burke, but it's the Phaneuf deal that will be looked back on as the GM's signature move, the acquisition of a rugged and talented offensive blueliner who embodies all the qualities the fiery Burke adores.

Sink or swim, Phaneuf and Burke are tied at the hip in this Maple Leafs adventure.

"I think everyone is involved in the journey, not just the general manager, not just me," Phaneuf said. "The last five years are in the past. This is a new season, a new team. We made a lot of moves, and it's going to be an exciting season."

Not everyone shares Phaneuf's enthusiasm for the Leafs' chances. Kris Versteeg was an excellent acquisition, but this remains a club that -- on paper, at least -- will struggle mightily to score goals.

"Our goal is to make the playoffs," Phaneuf said. "We have a very young team. We made some really good moves over the summer. We're young, which gives us the opportunity to learn and grow together. As a group, we look forward to try and prove people wrong."