Dion Phaneuf is a bad captain because he wears a Red Bull hat: Report

During the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Chris Pronger reaffirmed his status as one of the most effective leaders in NHL history, shouldering the load for the Philadelphia Flyers during their run to the Stanley Cup Final both on the ice and off.

Those credentials were established despite his wearing a Marquis Jet hat during press conferences, promoting the private airline, which we learned today is frowned upon. (More in a moment.) Maybe there was so much attention paid to his stealing games (and game pucks) that this issue was never raised; or maybe the issue is titanically stupid, and hence wasn’t raised at all.

Dion Phaneuf isn’t so lucky. You see, he wears a Red Bull hat in interviews, labeled as a “so-called energy drink” by the Toronto Star, a so-called newspaper. He’s had an endorsement deal with Red Bull for eight years; but the Star reports that the Toronto Maple Leafs’ deposed CEO believes Phaneuf’s headgear is a distraction, like that kid with the braces strapped around his head in elementary school. (Seriously, he ate soup every day. Poor guy.)

From Dave Feschuk and the Star:

“For the captain to be wearing that hat — I’m disappointed. You can quote me on that,” said Richard Peddie, who was the top executive at the company that owns the Maple Leafs until his 2012 retirement. “I would look for better from a captain. A captain sets the tone in so many ways, especially in hockey, especially on the Leafs.”

Peddie said Phaneuf should show respect “for the people who pay (him)” by wearing a Maple Leafs cap when he’s speaking for the team. The ex-CEO has long been a stickler about such issues. Once, when then-Raptors guard Alvin Williams appeared in a post-game interview wearing the hat of his hometown Philadelphia Phillies, Peddie intervened. Williams did not repeat the crime.

“A (public relations) guy should — and maybe a PR guy did — say, ‘Hey, take that hat off . . . ’ and give him a Leaf hat,” Peddie said. “Most of the (Leafs) have been very good. They wear Leaf gear. But (Phaneuf’s hat) stands out. Frankly it’s a garish, ugly hat to begin with.”

A few reactions here …

1. Clearly, using Richard Peddie as your source for a “team captain shouldn’t wear his own sponsor’s hat” story is like when local news reporters find the neighborhood kook as the only contrarian source they can find. (“But one local man says the new children’s hospital might be one too many …”)

It’s clearly a personal offense to Peddie – living up to his name, by the way – but his opinion means nothing if the Red Bull hat isn’t an issue for, you know, the people still running the Leafs. Which it isn’t, so this becomes an “old man shakes fist at cloud” story.

2. The other issue would be if the NHL had a policy against players wearing other sponsors’ gear during interviews, which it doesn’t, according to the Star. So then … not an issue, right?

3. But but but, as Feschuk writes, “if sports logos are hallowed things — many NHL teams have gone to great lengths to insist the giant insignias on dressing-room floors are never trod upon — there’s a feeling among some fans that Phaneuf should pay his team proper homage, at least while he’s on the job.”

But he’s always on the job. There is no “private citizen” Dion Phaneuf when he’s a professional athlete – ask Tim Thomas. So where was the outrage when – gasp! – he wore this Red Bulls sweater on his porcelain skin!?!?

Oh, and the logo on the floor is a superstition. And it's dumb.

4. “Frankly it’s a garish, ugly hat to begin with.” Those in glass houses, sir.

5. Joffrey Lupul, let it be known, wears a hat for Shop.ca. But he’s not a distracting sellout, you see, because this company has a relationship with the Leafs.

What’s that you say? Red Bull has helped promote officially licensed NHL video games, and markets to demographics that are incredibly desirous to the NHL? Oh, but they don’t pay the Leafs, so…

6. All of this brings us back to the main problem here, which is that a guy like Peddie doesn’t want to see a sponsor promoted if they’re not paying the ante to the Leafs, despite what it might do for the player, the league and their brands. It’s got nothing to do with Phaneuf’s leadership or his professionalism, and everything to do with old rich white guys getting angry they aren’t richer because their human product dared cut a deal on his own.

None of this matters now – the Toronto Star is literally inventing a problem, as Phaneuf’s gotten a pass from the League, his employer and everyone else but Dave Feschuk and Richard Peddie – but it will matter years from now, when the NHL is attempting to turn its players into billboards on skates with jersey and guys like Phaneuf are trying to maintain their own sponsorship relationships.

And even then it’s got [expletive]-all to do with his being an effective captain. Ask Pronger.