• A Brief Defence of Dion Phaneuf

    by  • March 26, 2014 • Hockey • 7 Comments

    Dion Phaneuf didn’t have a very good game against the St. Louis Blues the other night. I sometimes get stuck playing defence on my men’s league team when guys don’t show up because of some irrelevancy like “Date Night” or “My wife is having our first kid.” Phaneuf had one excruciating sequence that reminded me of my own defensive efforts.

    Ugh. After the game, he didn’t talk to the media. These moments are basically a test for the media – are you shameless enough to equate not talking to the media as a failure of character/leadership? – and a bunch of them failed the test. Toronto being what it is, it was The Story in town today, until Phaneuf made the rounds of radio stations this afternoon.

    Friend of the site James Mirtle, who passed the test, has a story about Phaneuf up on the Globe’s site right now. This passage caught my eye:

    What’s important to note about Phaneuf’s career year in Calgary isn’t necessarily the production. What was starkly different was actually the fact he wasn’t relied on to be all things in all situations.

    He split time playing with Anders Eriksson and Adrian Aucoin on a type of sheltered, offence-first second unit while stay-at-homers Robyn Regehr and Cory Sarich drew the defensive zone faceoffs and first-line assignments.

    They didn’t trust Phaneuf to do the heavy lifting. And it makes you wonder how much he’s been miscast in Toronto.

    Under Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, Phaneuf starts a higher percentage of his shifts in the defensive zone than any defenceman in the NHL. He faces a higher quality of competition than any other defenceman, including getting pummelled by David Backes’s big line in Tuesday’s loss.

    He is, in short, in the Chris Pronger role without being Chris Pronger, and if you look at the over all results, they’re not always pretty.

    I don’t disagree with James that Phaneuf isn’t Pronger. He’s right about Phaneuf’s zone starts having become a lot more difficult as well. For the years in Calgary where we have data, he had a ZoneStart of 56.6%, meaning that 56% of his offensive or defensive zone faceoffs were in the offensive zone. From the time of this trade to Toronto through the end of 2011-12, this was 50%. In 2012-13, it was 41%. This year, it’s 39.3%. The road keeps getting steeper.

    I think that there’s a little more too it than that though. As I mentioned back into the summer, I kind of got into breaking zone start effects down into their constituent elements by looking at how long we could see an effect after faceoff wins/losses in given parts of the ice. I haven’t tabulated this year’s number yet but I think that we can see a real Carlyle effect on this.

    I’ve split Phaneuf’s career into three parts: 2007-10 in Calgary, 2010-12 in Toronto and 2012-13 in Toronto, which I’ve called TOR – Wilson and TOR – Carlyle, for obvious reasons.

    It is striking the extent to which Phaneuf’s Corsi% just collapses following DZ faceoffs once Carlyle takes over. The personnel wasn’t that different in Toronto from the Wilson era to the Carlyle era but Phaneuf’s numbers just collapse. I’m not providing a ton of context here in terms of whether those numbers are good but I can assure you that they aren’t. The thing is though, we can tell from Phaneuf in Calgary and under Wilson that he’s capable of more.

    If the Maple Leaf season ends as we all hope it will, in an orgy of shamefree schadenfreude about another epic collapse, there have to be some very difficult questions in the Maple Leaf front office about how players like Phaneuf, who have achieved so much more, have just been destroyed under Carlyle.

    Fortunately for those of us who enjoy a bit of a circus (and want MLSE’s attention focused to more pressing matters, like TFC), the Leafs don’t believe in any of this crap. Blame Reimer, blame Clarkson…the process couldn’t possibly be flawed.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com

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    7 Responses to A Brief Defence of Dion Phaneuf

    1. rw970
      March 26, 2014 at

      For some context, is the 37.8% under Wilson good or average or bad? The 48.2% in CGY strikes me as very good, and the 30.7% under Carlyle strikes me as terrible. Am I correct in assuming 37.8% is average-ish?

      • Tyler Dellow
        March 27, 2014 at

        Low 40s is about average. That’s a very low shot time of the game – possession is with the team in the wrong end of the ice.

    2. RP
      March 27, 2014 at

      Nice read. While Dion has evolved into a two-way player while in Toronto, I’ve long believed that he is being miscast by Carlyle in a shutdown role. However, despite this misuse, he’s still managing to produce 0.4-0.5 ppg as a Maple Leaf. This leads me to believe than Dion can be much more effective if his minutes are slightly reduced and he is placed in a role in between what he had in Calgary and how he is currently being deployed in Toronto. In a perfect world, I’d like to see Dion and Gardiner paired (I think this can work since Dion typically plays the right-side with Gunnarson, I believe) and given more offensive opportunities together (especially on PP1). Unfortunately, that would leave Gunnar-Gleeson handling most of the heavy defensive duties, which is less than ideal. Hopefully, Toronto signs a decent defensive dman (or two) this summer to help free up Dion. I wouldn’t mind seeing a combination of Robidas, Orpik, or Greene in the blue and white next fall:

      Dion-Gardiner
      Greene-Gunnar/Orpik
      Gleeson-Reilly

    3. March 27, 2014 at

      Tyler, I think there’s a relevant underlying issue I would mention about his time under Wilson and his time in Calgary vs. his time with Carlyle.

      His dCorsi (or Adjusted Corsi – or Usage Adjusted Corsi whatever you want to think of it as) was pretty bad on the defensive side in Calgary. He allowed more shot attempts against than you would expect based on his OZ/DZ% split and his team-mates and opposition Corsi.

      Then under Wilson he was still pretty bad in his first partial year, but in year 2 his dCorsi Against improved amazingly. Either Wilson made serious inroads in his play in the DZ, or he just lucked into some great results (I don’t really know which it is for sure). Then his defensive side numbers fell out again, Wilson got fired and Carlyle came in. His defensive dCorsi numbers have continued to be horrible (and have in fact gotten worse) under Carlyle at the same time his usage has gotten more difficult.

      I just wonder if the numbers under Wilson are a bit of a mirage based on that one year where he performed well defensively in his career. At this point it seems like an outlier year after 8 in the league. I agree his numbers are atrocious with the current usage, but I think Calgary had it right because his defensive results are just plain bad. He needs sheltering.

      • Tyler Dellow
        March 27, 2014 at

        I’m not really sold on dCorsi.

    4. Back in Black
      March 27, 2014 at

      I fully agree with this entire post except, oddly, the video clip. Phaneuf did have a rough game against the Blues, but I give him a pass on that particular goal. He should have iced the puck, but at least he cleared the zone – and that was his last mistake. Backes proceeded to whiz by McClement and Gunnarsson and ended with a very stoppable shot.

      • PopsTwitTar
        March 27, 2014 at

        I dont disagree, but I do love the comedy of Phaneuf going down to block a pass to a guy who wasnt there.

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