Lofty expectations see Phaneuf under fire as Leafs fade in the playoff race

“It’s been a very trying time for our team,” Phaneuf admitted on Wednesday as he made the rounds on both Toronto sports radio stations. “I was emotional after the game … I was disappointed with the way I played and mistakes that I made.”

Now some of the Phaneuf criticism out there is fair and some of it’s not.

On the personality side, those that know him well will tell you he’s an entirely different person at the rink (and with the media) than away from it. His charity work is extensive, his reputation among his teammates and coaches is high, and his work ethic is, too.

But that’s all obviously secondary to what happens on the ice, and it’s there where the issues are more complex.

If you look back over Phaneuf’s career, the one year that stands out among all the rest is 2007-08. In his 22-year-old season, he finished second in Norris Trophy voting (to Nick Lidstrom), scored 17 goals and had 60 points in what remains, six years later, a career high.

Midway through that season, he signed the $39-million contract from the Flames that he’s playing on to this day, and his ticket as a budding superstar seemed punched.

But his star has fallen since then. He hasn’t finished in the top 10 in Norris voting after three consecutive years there to start his career. And if you look at this season, his point pace has dropped to almost half what it was (34 points).