Per Fenwick at the start of last season:
There’s a lot to love about Phaneuf. He has a hard shot that he can get off. He hits hard. He infuriates opposing players, and Oiler fans. He makes plays — right from his rookie debut, he was one of the best defensemen I’ve ever seen at keeping the puck in at the blueline. He’s extremely fit: he led the Flames in ice time last year, playing tons of PP minutes, plenty of EV minutes, and even 1:58/gm on the PK.
It’s almost unfair. He set the bar very, very high from Day One; he’s already a nice NHL defenseman. And there is progress: in Year 2, he went from 21:43/gm to 25:39/Gm, all due to a big increase in EV icetime (14:12 to 18:05). Though the toughest assignments will continue to go to Regehr, the remainder of Dion’s Handle With Care label will be pretty much removed this year.
There’s a lot that’s right here. The part that looks wrong? “Though the toughest assignments will continue to go to Regehr…” As it so happens, Phaneuf got a pretty hard push from Mike Keenan last year and what I think was the big objection a lot of people had to his Norris candidacy, that he didn’t play enough high calibre opposition, is probably no longer a meritorious objection. Horrifying evidence after the jump.
I’m back into looking at who played who – longtime readers of the site will remember that I did this a few years back with Phaneuf, looking at what I termed as the Big 8. At that time, it was, I think, a thoroughly fair point to say that he was being hidden from real opposition. Back in the day, we only had the data as to who was on the ice when a goal was scored but it was obvious that Phaneuf was playing third pairing minutes. We now have who was on the ice for every shot, which lets us get a much better idea of who was playing against who.** I’ve separated out all shots involving an opposition star* on the ice. I’ve sorted this list by percentage of team star events.
I assume that the chart is pretty self-explanatory – the last two columns refer to a) how many star events (SF+SA) a guy was on the ice for and b) the percentage of his team’s star events that he was on the ice for. I’d hope that this goes without saying, but I screened those in which Iggy was on the ice and an opposition star wasn’t.***
I’m not yet convinced that he was worthy of the Norris nomination, although, to be perfectly honest, that was his big flaw in my mind and I was obviously still caught up in my old perception of the guy.
It’s funny, I know that there are a lot of people out there who think that stats in hockey are nuts and that they’ll trust their eyes and gut to tell them who’s good and who’s not and who they’re doing it against but this to me is a perfect example of how you can use the data collected about hockey games to better understand what’s happening and more accurately assess the guy. I wouldn’t have guessed that he played this much against the opposition’s best this year (probably because it seemed like every time I watched a Flames-Oilers game, there was Regehr out running Hemsky) but then I definitely wouldn’t have pegged him as the sixth best defenceman in the NHL in 2006-07, when he clearly wasn’t playing top competition, like some misguided souls did.
So…anyone else hoping that Kiprusoff really is finished? Otherwise it might be a long couple of years.
(There’s some pretty cool stuff in that chart other than the Phaneuf stuff. I’m surprised at how poorly Iginla did against the stars, surprised at how insignificant Marcus Nilson has become and hopefuly by how terrible the team was when Iginla wasn’t on the ice against the other team’s top players, because while the Flames did many things this summer, I don’t think “added depth” was one of them.
*Star means: Mats Sundin, Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa (Thrashers only), Eric Staal, Alex Kovalev, Marc Savard, Alexander Ovechkin, Derek Roy, Vinny Lecavalier, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Danny Briere, Dany Heatley, Daniel Sedin, Jarome Iginla, Ales Hemsky, Marian Gaborik, Paul Stastny (only because guys like Smyth and Sakic missed so many games), Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Rick Nash, Keith Tkachuk, Patrick Kane, Olli Jokinen, Jason Arnott, Mike Modano, Shane Doan, Joe Thornton, Ryan Getzlaf and Anze Kopitar. Pretty amazing stuff – of the 54656 ES shots last year, one of those guys was on the ice for 29868 of them, or 54.6%. Of the 4385 ES goals, at least one of them was on the ice for 2621 of them, or 59.8%.
**It seems so astoundingly obvious that I hate to insult the reader by explaining it, but I’m using the shots to indicate who was on the ice, not because those are the only things that “star” players do that matters.
***I thought that the reason for this was obvious but I’m led to believe it’s not. If I didn’t screen out events in which Iginla was on the ice but no stars on the other team were, it’s not exactly like those are hard matchups to play. Iginla isn’t going to suddenly decide he wants to take on Phaneuf one on one.