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Will the fans boo Dion Phaneuf(notes) upon his return to Calgary this evening?

Of course. If not for his years of unfulfilled potential and the unconfirmed conclusions that he split the locker room like a lumberjack would timber, but for the Maple Leaf that now occupies where the Flame once burned.

Should Calgary Flames fans boo Dion Phaneuf? That's the question they're asking themselves and each other in anticipation of the Toronto Maple Leafs' visit this evening. Because it's not just a question of Phaneuf's legacy with the franchise but of the franchise's decision to jettison him.

Which is to say that on the occasion of his hockey homecoming, it's as much about the Dion Phaneuf Trade as it is about Dion Phaneuf.

The Jan. 31 trade between the Leafs and Flames saw Phaneuf, once considered Calgary's franchise defenseman, dealt to Toronto with winger Fredrik Sjostrom(notes) and defenseman Keith Aulie(notes) in exchange for defenseman Ian White(notes), center Matt Stajan(notes), left wing Niklas Hagman(notes) and right wing Jamal Mayers(notes). White's in Carolina; Mayers is now in San Jose.

This week, the media has taken Phaneuf's return as a moment to declare victory for Brian Burke in this trade. Paul Hunter of the Toronto Star wrote that "The Flames got skunked in this lopsided transaction." Steve MacFarlane of the Toronto Sun doesn't even think the Flames GM Darryl Sutter's hindsight justification for the deal holds up:

Delving deeper into the motive of the deal, the Flames wanted to snap out of a serious funk last season and turn things around quickly because GM Darryl Sutter knew the window to win a Stanley Cup was getting smaller by the month with his veteran-laden squad.

He can say now that it was all about the salary cap and an effort to keep key pieces for the future in Rene Bourque(notes) and Mark Giordano(notes), but giving Stajan and White fat raises and adding more bodies than he dumped wasn't just about future cap management.

'AZR' of Dome Beers, a Flames blog, thinks it's impossible to separate feelings about the Dion trade from Dion's return, and that the fumbling of his departure and the disappointing return Sutter got for him deserve scorn:

Look, we really don't think too many Calgary fans are upset over not being able to watch #3 turn the puck over and then not skate back hard. We don't think many of the fans miss Dion trying to kill whoever was standing in front of the net because he can't aim his slapshot. What the people in Calgary are upset about is that they traded Dion for what amounts to be a bunch of [crap] nothings in Stajan and Hagman. And then Darryl extended them (well, Hagman was already on a contract, Darryl extended Stajan). Stajan and Hagman may be NHLers, but they certainly have proven they are not impact NHLers, and many of the fans feel that if you trade a former top 10 first round draft pick, a former Norris nominee (what a joke that was, eh?), you should get back an impact player. ...

Look, we will be honest. We don't like Dion, and we know the above seems to point to Darryl as the villain, but really, they both are. Why boo Dion, besides the fact the Captain had no problem trading him? Well, how about the fact that when Dion was first asked about who his leadership influences were, upon being named Captain of the Maple Leafs, he answered with 'Bryan Marchment'? You want to know why we think Dion is a punk? That's why, that's the illustration of punkness right there.

But please, if you are going to boo Dion, whatever your reason, remember to also boo the guy who failed to create a bidding war for #3's services. Save some throat for the 'Fire Darryl' chant.

As Dome Beers acknowledges, there will be boos. But Justin Azevedo of The 4th Line doesn't believe they're necessary for Phaneuf, given his time in Calgary:

Lastly, should the fans boo Dion? I know they will, but I'm not totally sure they have the right idea. Dion was making 6.5mil-but it was a negotiation that led to that cap hit. It's not Dion's fault he got traded for such a small return. There's never been anything confirmed that leads me to believe that there was tension in the room, and Dion has stated many times how he and Iggy still have a good relationship. Yeah, so he gave us 60 odd games of [crappiness], but the 'Dome doesn't boo Jokinen every time he touches the puck and he's had 102 games of pure awful. Remember the emotion he showed in his interview? In my opinion, he really hasn't done anything to warrant the booing.

As fans, we've all had the awkward homecoming moment. Sometimes it's an old friend, like Mike Modano(notes) playing in Dallas while wearing a Winged Wheel. Sometimes it's a hated former star, like Dany Heatley(notes) returning to the city from which he demanded a trade. Usually, the booing comes easiest when the player was a free-agent; I still remember lustily jeering Scott Gomez(notes) and Bobby Holik(notes) after they left New Jersey for the New York Rangers' money bin. The perception of greed will always trump nostalgia.

Which makes Phaneuf's return an odd one. Yes, his plyonic defensive play was maddening, and his inconsistency (and lack of a no-movement clause) made him expendable. Yes, there were seismic rumblings of locker room strife.

But that the end of his time in Calgary, was there any doubt the guy gave all? That his hustle couldn't be questioned? The NHL is littered with "good riddance" trades; even if Phaneuf's was at the time, what about with hindsight for Flames fans?

There will be boos. But the overall reaction of Phaneuf's still uncertain. From George Johnson of the Calgary Herald, in Phaneuf's return:

The reception Phaneuf will receive at the Saddledome is anyone's guess. Burke, who defended him this season, calling a chorus of booing at the Air Canada Centre "a disgrace," doesn't seem worried.

Yes, Dion Phaneuf is back. In all his glorious, maddening imperfection. Who knows what on earth he'll be up to. Nothing should be considered out of the realm of possibility. Anything, or everything, is bound to happen. Could be good or bad. Chances are, it won't be dull.

Well, at least until Dion's postgame scrum.

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