Old friend James Mirtle had a piece mentioning Dion Phaneuf’s struggles on the PP this week:
Kaberle and Versteeg played the point on the top power-play unit much of the year, and in their absence, it has mainly been captain Dion Phaneuf taking on the role. A dominant power-play quarterback when he entered the league, Phaneuf has struggled in the role in Toronto, going from more than 30 power-play points in each of his first three seasons to just eight in 51 games this year.
James’ piece isn’t really aimed at audience of statzis but I suspect that part of the answer to his question lies in Phaneuf having played an ever decreasing amount of 5v3 time, through no fault on his part. 5v3 time has fallen off dramatically since the first season back from the lockout, which coincided with Phaneuf’s rookie season. Calgary scored 13 5v3 goals during Phaneuf’s rookie season; Toronto has 4 this year. 13 goals would probably put you first or second in the league in 5v3 goals in 2010-11; Calgary finished in a three way tie for tenth in that category in 2005-06. Toronto is currently in a seven way tie for 11th in 5v3 goals. Fewer 5v3 goals means fewer points.
That’s not all of it though – Phaneuf’s 5v4 numbers show a definite falloff.
A couple of points there. First of all, his shooting rate is awfully consistent. I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m always amazed at how consistent shooting rates are. His don’t move that much. I was talking to James about this and James mentioned that Phaneuf only has one goal or so in 75 games in Toronto. I’ve got a hard time getting all that worked up about it – on his historic numbers, he should have four or so. Over the small amount of sample that we’re talking about, it’s just not that much.
Phaneuf’s teams have done much more poorly over the past two years at 5v4 than they did in the preceding two. You can see significantly lower shot rates and shooting percentages. Phaneuf himself has much lower numbers – after averaging 3.5 PPP/60 in 2007-09, he’s averaged 2.6 PPP/60 in 2009-11. A couple of things that aren’t in the table jump out at me as well. Phaneuf’s taking 33.4% of the Leafs’ shots when he’s on the ice at 5v4 this year after fluctuating between 26% and 28% in the three preceding years. Shots by defencemen are a lot less useful, because they tend to be taken from low percentage areas of the ice. Phaneuf has also got points on more goals over the past two years (58%) than he did in the two years before that (52%). That strikes me as sort of curious – if he’s struggling, why is he getting points on more goals and generating a greater proportion of the shots?
I’m hesitant to say Phaneuf’s lower numbers mean that he’s struggled in the PP QB role. Unlike in baseball, where we measure the things that lead to runs (BA/OBP/SLG), in hockey, a goal is scored and we immediately start assigning credit for it on the basis of the last guys to touch the puck. We aren’t measuring the skills that lead to a goal; we’re inferring that people have skills that lead to goals on the basis of an arbitrary assignment of credit.
We don’t really measure whatever skills might lead to a good PP in hockey. We know that more shots are, generally speaking, better than fewer, and that’s been a problem in Toronto (although Phaneuf is producing around his historical level). We know that shooting percentage is important as well, although it’s subject to vicious fluctuations. If we really wanted to get an idea of the skills that matter, we’d be charting every touch of the puck on the PP and getting an understanding of where a good PP team looks different from a bad one. Is it an inability to gain the line? A tendency to shoot from bad spots? A tendency to shoot without making the goalie move? With better data, all of this could be answered. As it stands, it can’t.