Dion Phaneuf never went through an apprenticeship on his way to the NHL.
Unlike most players who learn the pro game in the minors, Phaneuf went straight from the Red Deer Rebels to the Calgary Flames after the 2004-05 lockout and he has been an every-game NHL player since.
He highlighted that fact when asked if he’s ever been a healthy scratch before in his NHL career.
“Never,” Phaneuf said. “Does that answer your question?”
Phaneuf is prideful about that track record. His first public comments about that run ending were stubborn and bordered on defiance, after interim coach Willie Desjardins sat the longtime defenseman Thursday against the Philadelphia Flyers for the first time in a career that’s spanned more than 1,000 games.
“I talked to Willie,” Phaneuf said. “[It’s] Willie’s decision. I talked to [general manager] Rob [Blake]. For me, I’ve got a job to do. I come to work every day. It’s obviously something that I wasn’t happy about. But I respect the decision. I respect our team. I respect my teammates. It’s all about winning games.”
Desjardins said he needs to evaluate younger defensemen such as Sean Walker and called it a rotation on the back end of the defense. Phaneuf will go back into the lineup, and Paul LaDue will come out, when the Kings play the Boston Bruins on Saturday, according Desjardins.
But it still made for an awkward episode to scratch Phaneuf, a one-time Norris Trophy finalist. He scored his first goal of the season Tuesday.
“That’s tough,” Desjardins said. “That’s a tough thing to do, especially when it’s never happened before. I appreciate his character and his leadership. That’s the worst part of coaching.”
Desjardins said Phaneuf “went and got his workout gear and worked out right away” upon getting word of his benching. That professionalism is a trademark of Phaneuf, and it’s made an impression on players like Walker, who, coincidentally, was first paired with Phaneuf when he came up with the Kings.
“Dion’s been huge,” Walker said. “He talked to me tons right off the bat, and made sure I felt comfortable and made sure I knew everything that was going on. He was awesome.”
Phaneuf dutifully sets the example for others but he scoffed when asked about a mentor role. He turns 34 in April, and sitting out, regardless of the reason, was a reminder of the direction the Kings are headed.
By his own admission, Phaneuf has graded himself low this season. His goal Tuesday was his first since he scored three times in his first four games with the Kings a year ago. But with two more seasons remaining on his $5.25 million annual contract, he still sees himself as a contributor, not a mentor.
“I’m not that old. I will say that, and I’ve got lots left,” he said. “Mentor, whatever you want to call it, but I’ve got a job to do as well. I feel good, and I know I’ve played a long time, and I’ve got more left. Right now, it’s about working to get back in the lineup and then when you get back in, you want to do your job.”
Trevor Lewis is on the verge of returning from a broken foot. The Kings re-assigned Matt Luff, which opens a roster spot for Lewis to come off injured reserve.
Desjardins said he didn’t know where Lewis would slot into the lines, but all parties are eager to integrate Lewis back smoothly.
“Obviously it’s been a while, but I’ve been on the ice for a long time getting back,” Lewis said. “I feel pretty good, and I’ll be ready to go, for sure.”
Jeff Carter (lower-body injury) skated before practice but Desjardins said “it was a short skate, so to me, that wouldn’t be a great sign. I would think if he stayed out a long time, it would be a better sign. I haven’t talked to him. I have no sense” about his return …
Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk was fined $5,000 for high sticking Alec Martinez on Thursday. No penalty was called.
When: Saturday, 10 a.m. PST.
On the air: TV: FSW; Radio: iHeartRadio (LA Kings Audio Network)
Update: David Pastrnak leads the NHL with 15 power-play goals and has 31 overall. Tuukka Rask passed Tiny Thompson last Sunday for the most wins in Bruins history and has 254. The Kings visit TD Garden for the first time since Tyler Toffoli’s goal with 0.4 seconds left in overtime last season.