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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Dion Phaneufs contract extension wasnt a surprise, thanks in part to HBOs "24/7" reality series. "It was a little bit of a bad-kept secret at the end of it," the Toronto Maple Leafs captain said Tuesday after the new agreement was announced. That Phaneuf was worth US$49 million over seven years to the Leafs was also no secret. The teams No. 1 defenceman plays every situation for Toronto which makes him arguably the most irreplaceable player on the roster. "He plays some pretty tough minutes, and his plus-minus has gone in the right direction playing those minutes, against the best players, starting in his own end, most defensive zone faceoffs, all those things," general manager Dave Nonis said. "And hes done that, and hes welcomed it, I think hes improved at it." Phaneuf has a long way to go before hes considered among the elite captains in franchise history, but the 28-year-old Edmonton native fits the teams current needs perfectly. No one on the Leafs plays more minutes (24:21 a game), and his four goals are the most on the blue- line. He plays more on the power play than anyone else and more on the penalty kill than anyone except for defensive centre Jay McClement. Hes not the same player the Leafs acquired from the Calgary Flames in early 2010. "I definitely feel that my game has grown with experience and playing in the league," said Phaneuf, who was understandably all smiles at his Michigan Stadium news conference on the day of Winter Classic practices. "You grow as a player, and Ive learned a lot of things over my time since Ive started, and I feel Im a better player today than I definitely was when I started and in my time in Calgary, thats for sure." Phaneuf has developed into someone Nonis considers a "pillar" the Leafs can build around. So much of what they do on the ice is built around him, and if he were to get injured there isnt a defenceman who possesses the ability to fill his skates. But Nonis insisted that wasnt the reason the Leafs ponied up and signed Phaneuf, who would have been an unrestricted free agent July 1. "We signed Dion to this deal because he deserved it," Nonis said. "Hes going to play at this level or beyond, I feel, for seven years, again, maybe beyond that. Its not that you dont have anyone to replace Dion, its that hes done enough to prove to us that he is a player that is near the top of the league in terms of how he stacks up against the top defencemen. ... "Its not that we dont have anyone to replace him. I think if thats why we were signing him, wed be making a mistake." On the ice, Phaneuf makes mistakes. He has an element to his game that Nonis acknowledged that includes taking chances to jump up in the play or lay a hit on an opponent. Part of that is what has made Phaneuf such a polarizing player in the eyes of fans. He has shown plenty of flaws, but ultimately hes a big, minute-logging defenceman who provides a mix of offence (four goals, 11 assists) and physicality. "Dions always going to have a little bit of risk to his game, but I believe hes lowered that," Nonis said. "Hes taken less big chances, less risky pinches, he still likes the big hit but hes not running at people the way he did early on. All those things are just a function of maturity." Phaneuf has matured into not just a better defenceman but a better leader. This is his fourth season as captain. "Ive definitely grown into the role, and Ive learned a lot," Phaneuf said. "Id be lying if I sat up here and said I cant. Im very comfortable in the role." The Leafs were comfortable enough with Phaneuf in that role that they rewarded him handsomely with this deal. Phaneuf will make US$8 million in each of the first two seasons, then $7.5 million, $7 million, $6.5 million, $6.5 million and then $5.5 million in 2020-21. Nonis said hes not concerned about the length of the deal. "Dion was going to get seven years regardless. If we werent going to pay him, hes going to get it (in free agency)," Nonis said. "I think hell play beyond the term of his contract. Hes not in his 30s. Hes in his 20s. His game is rounding out and its getting better. I dont think theres any reason why he cant play the seven years and then look for another contract." Theres no guarantee Phaneuf plays the entire contract with the Leafs, given that he has only a limited no-trade clause. Nonis doesnt believe in giving players full no-movement clauses, so Phaneuf didnt get one. None of the players Toronto has signed long-term -- forwards Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, David Clarkson, Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul -- have full no-trade clauses in their contracts. "The core is always going to be somewhat movable," Nonis said. "Its not locked in stone for eight years that these guys are all going to be here. We signed them because we believe theyre part of a winning team, that they can be part of something, but it doesnt mean that were locked into anybody." The Leafs arent locked into Phaneuf, but this deal represents a major commitment, even with the salary cap expected to rise above $71 million next year and continue to increase. Phaneuf locked himself in rather than test the unrestricted-free-agent market, and though he thought about that possibility, he called this an easy decision. "I really believe that were building something special," he said. "That is a very big decision, and one that Im very happy with in the way that I chose to go." Authentic Tim Duncan Jersey . Not that he was complaining. Davis had 13 points, nine rebounds and a career-high eight blocks, and the New Orleans Pelicans emphatically snapped a three-game skid with a 135-98 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night. Cheap Nike Spurs Jerseys .9 million deal Thursday. 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The stakes were higher, the competition more fierce and the atmosphere was that of a playoff game - something the young, upstart Raptors have five weeks to better prepare themselves for or the result will be eerily similar.LONDON - FIFA Vice-President Jeffrey Webb condemned "deep rooted racism" in Italy on Wednesday after Mario Balotelli was racially abused while training with the national team. A year after spearheading the strengthening of FIFAs discrimination sanctions, Webb is frustrated that some countries including Italy and Spain are not showing the commitment required to the fight against racism. "National associations obviously really have to not just talk about zero tolerance — they have to put action behind it," Webb told The Associated Press in an interview in London. "If you look at some of the decisions that have been taken in Spain and Italy definitely thats cause for concern." Balotelli, who is black, faced racist chants again on Wednesday morning in Italy — this time at the national teams World Cup training base in Florence. "Unfortunately, it just shows the deep rooted racism and prejudice that exists obviously in the Italian community and society at large," said Webb, who heads FIFAs task force against discrimination. "It is a fight, it is a challenge." And a challenge to ensure every country adopts the penalties adopted by FIFA last MMay, including minimum five-game bans for racist abuse by players, and point deductions or relegation for serious incidents in the stands.dddddddddddd In Spain, Villarreals only sanction last month was a 12,000 euro ($16,000) fine from the league after a fan threw a banana at Barcelona defender Dani Alves, rather than any partial stadium closure for the next game. "We have seen national associations taking decisions and they have not implemented what FIFA has adopted or what UEFA has adopted (including a minimum 10-game ban for racism)," said Webb, who is also CONCACAF president. "In those cases now we have got to make sure that those regulations go down to the national associations — and the national associations hold the clubs accountable." To Webb, Spanish football remains in a state of denial about the extent of racism and the need to show a commitment to eradicating the scourge on the game in the home of the world and European champions. "Its obviously very much deep-rooted," he said of the situation in Spain, adding later: "In many countries its not high on the agenda." ___ Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris Authentic Nike Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jerseys Cheap Authentic Nike Tennessee Titans Jerseys Cheap Authentic Nike Washington Redskins Jerseys Cheap Authentic Nike Arizona Cardinals Jerseys Cheap Authentic Nike Denver Broncos Jerseys Cheap Authentic Nike Green Bay Packers Jerseys Cheap Authentic Nike Los Angeles Chargers Jerseys Cheap Authentic Nike New England Patriots Jerseys Cheap Authentic Nike Oakland Raiders Jerseys Cheap Authentic Nike Seattle Seahawks Jerseys Cheap Authentic Nike Carolina Panthers Jerseys Cheap Authentic Nike Cleveland Browns Jerseys Cheap Cheap Throwback Baseball Arizona Diamondbacks Jerseys Cheap Throwback Baseball Atlanta Braves Jerseys Cheap Throwback Baseball Baltimore Orioles Jerseys Cheap Throwback Baseball Boston Red Sox Jerseys Cheap Throwback Baseball Chicago Cubs Jerseys Cheap Throwback Baseball Chicago White Sox Jerseys Cheap Throwback Baseball Cincinnati Reds Jerseys Cheap Throwback Baseball Cleveland Indians Jerseys ' ' '