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Brian Burke defends Dion Phaneuf, calls fans booing him ‘disgraceful’

Nov 2, 2010, 3:58 PM EDT

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Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke is a lot of things. He’s outspoken, cocky, accomplished and wildly entertaining.

It also seems like he’s an intensely loyal person. Perhaps this was just hearsay from Earl Sleek of Battle of California, but it seemed like he allowed Ilya Bryzgalov to escape to the Phoenix Coyotes when he was the Anaheim Ducks’ general manager because he told the Russian goalie that he would get his chance to start.

So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Burke is upset that Maple Leafs fans have been booing defenseman Dion Phaneuf. After all, Burke and Co. have a lot invested in the once-proud-but-now-struggling blueliner. Not only will the team pay him an average annual salary of $6.5 million – and do so through the 2013-14 season – but the club also decided to make him their first captain since Mats Sundin.

Burke said he thinks it’s within hockey fans’ rights to boo whomever they want, but admitted that it bothered him more than a little bit to hear the team’s captain (and figurehead) get jeered during home games. He explained as much to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

“Are they entitled to do it?” Burke said, “Sure, they are. And I honestly don’t believe it was a lot of them. It doesn’t take many fans booing to be heard so I think we’re talking about a very small number, but my opinion is that it’s disgraceful to boo Dion Phaneuf for everything he has done for this franchise, on and off the ice, in a very short period of time.”

Burke said the biggest difference between this year’s 5-4-1 team and last year’s team that started the season 0-7-1 is “cultural” and the most significant factor in that “culture change” has been Phaneuf.

“I don’t think some of our fans realize the extent of what Dion has done for this organization, on and off the ice,” Burke said. “Off the ice, he’s done tremendous charity work and more than any other individual has gone out of his way to change the attitude in our dressing room with our players. On the ice, we’re extremely happy with his play. Sure, he could have some more points but we are not scoring as a team right now and Dion’s point totals reflect that. The bottom line is that Dion has wrought a considerable culture change with our team and he’s done it almost singlehandedly. His leadership has been outstanding in every way. Outstanding. So, yeah, when I hear some of our fans boo him, it bothers me. I think it’s disgraceful.”

While I applaud Burke defending Phaneuf – it’s seemingly the polar opposite of what Burke’s former assistant Bob Murray did it in Anaheim – it seems almost naive for Burke to expect charitable work or “culture change” to change fans’ minds about a player.

Let’s face it, when you wear the “C” and get paid as much as Phaneuf does, you need to generate serious results. Now that Wade Redden has been exiled to the AHL, Phaneuf might be the second most overpaid defenseman after Chicago’s Brian Campbell.

So, yes, it’s a shame that fans boo players, but you cannot expect that to change anytime soon.

As if things weren’t already bad enough for Dion Phaneuf, he was injured in their game against Ottawa and was taken to the hospital to get a deep cut on his leg stitched up.

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