Inspired by a Vic Ferrari post and a thread that’s teetering on the edge of violence at Calgarypuck, I went and took a look at which Flames defencemen were on the ice for events against the elite forwards in the Western Conference. The big 8, as defined by Vic Ferrari, includes Markus Naslund, Joe Sakic, Mike Modano, Jarome Iginla, Pavol Demitra, Henrik Zetterberg, Joe Thornton and Teemu Selanne. Obviously, I didn’t include Iginla in the Flames results.
As should be obvious, the potential problem with this sort of analysis is that it depends on the events that occur being representative of the proportion of time being spent playing against those players. It’s a small sample though, and crazy things can happen. With that said, the distribution of these events amongst Flames players is pretty much exactly what I would have guessed.
|Player||ES TOI||ES Events||Event Rate||Big 8 Events||Big 8 %|
I’ve prepared a table with the most significant 7 Flames defencemen from last season, along with the number of events that they were on the ice against the Big 8 for. There seem to be some clear distinctions in the percentage of events that they were on the ice for events with the Big 8 for. Leopold/Regehr, the Flames top pairing if I’m not mistaken, both had about 21% of their events against the Big 8. Ference is close to that with 19.5% of his events against them. Warrener is reasonably close to Ferrence at 14.3%. Marchment is in there as well for the games that he played.
Bringing up the rear, you’ve got Phaneuf and Hamrlik. It’s interesting to me that they’ve got such diverse rates – they were a pretty consistent pairing for the Flames, judging by a look at some of the shift charts and my own hazy recollection. I went and took a look at the ES events where one of the Big 8 was on the ice, Phaneuf was on the ice and Hamrlik wasn’t.
In game 1210, Pavol Demitra scored against the Flames at 1:11 of the third after coming out of the penalty box. Judging by the shift chart, Hamrlik got off the ice at the end of the PP for Regehr and Phaneuf had yet to change when the goal was scored.
In game 954, Joe Sakic scored against the Flames at 13:09 of the second. Hamrlik was out of the lineup so Phaneuf was playing with Marchment. The two were on the ice for the end of a PP. The penalty expired, Colorado shifted Sakic onto the ice and Colorado scored.
In game 522, the Flames scored against Vancouver with Naslund, Phaneuf and Marchment all on the ice. It looks like both teams made clean changes on the fly immediately prior to the goal.
In game 731, the Flames scored a 4 x 4 goal against Colorado and Sakic with Phaneuf and Warrener on the ice. A couple of interesting points here – the game was in Colorado so the Avalanche had last change. There was a faceoff three seconds prior to the goal. Calgary puts out Yelle, Kobasew (apparently Sutter had his own version of Edmonton’s vaunted Peca/Hemsky 4×4 duo), Phaneuf and Warrener. Colorado counters with Sakic, Svatos, Brisebois and Clark – fair to say that Quenneville didn’t mind the matchup at that point in time.
In game 903, the Flames scored against San Jose with Phaneuf, Ference and Thornton all on the ice. Phaneuf was again at the end of shift on the PP – he looks to have been out there for a minute – when Thornton took to the ice. Scott Hannan gave the puck away and Calgary scored.
So that’s three times where Phaneuf was on the ice with one of the big 8 at the end of a PP, once on a faceoff where the other coach had last change during a 4 on 4 and one clean change in Vancouver. It certainly doesn’t look like it’s a matchup that the Flames were giving away.
Just for shits and giggles, I took a quick peak at the ES goals that Hamrlik and Phaneuf were both on the ice against one of the big 8 for as well.
In game 63, after Phaneuf had been on the ice for a minute and Hamrlik for 40 seconds or so against Barnes/Jokinen/Skoula/Zubov, Phaneuf – say it with me – got caught at the end of a shift as Modano came out and set up Boucher for the game winner in overtime.
Finally, in game 46, Phaneuf was on the ice for what looks like a clean shift against one of the Big 8 – Joe Sakic. The two look to have been on the ice for a good 25-30 seconds together prior to the Flames goal. The only slight quibble one might have is that Colorado was leading 5-0 at the time. Probably not the highest leverage minutes on the face of the earth.
I’ve said elsewhere that there’d be somewhere between 80-100 guys I’d rather have this season than Phaneuf. While that’s probably a bit high, I don’t think that it’s significantly higher than the “correct” answer. I have a hard time thinking that this distribution of goals is due to chance, particularly with so many of Phaneuf’s events involving the Big 8 being due to him getting caught on the ice.
My basic objection to the Phaneuf deification – and according to someone who claims to know at Calgarypuck, he was seriously considered for the Olympic taxi squad – is that he doesn’t play the tough minutes and you’ve therefore got to take the hype with a grain of salt – lots of guys can knock the crap out of the Jaarko Ruutu’s of the world but it’s a little more difficult to do it against elite competition. Phaneuf doesn’t look to have been given that opportunity last season, and it’s a bit unfair to ding him for that, but at the same time, I have a hard time saying that I’d take him for one season over someone who’s already earned his spurs against top competition.
As I mentioned above, it’s possible that Phaneuf actually played large minutes against elite scorers but it seems unlikely. This topic has been examined from a number of different angles numberswise and no matter how you look at it, he looks to have been sheltered. He did solid things with the minutes he played but that’s not the same as playing competently against the best players.
It’s absolutely fair to say that there’s nothing Phaneuf could do about this – a defence made up of Bobby Orr, Chris Pronger *assuming he was allowed to play in the city this fictional team is based*, Doug Harvey, Ray Bourque, Nicklas Lidstrom and Scott Stevens, someone’s gotta be the sixth defenceman. That said, Andrew Ference looks to have been ahead of Phaneuf in the books of the Flames coaches and I don’t recall reading the stories touting Ference as an Olympian and darkhorse Norris candidate.
One other point – I don’t know the last time a 20 year old defenceman played as significant a role on as good a team as Calgary. I can’t imagine it was any time in the recent past. Phaneuf’s PP work was phenomenal, although he had a very high shooting percentage – most young forwards take a couple of seasons to become effective PP players. He’s well above most of his peers. That doesn’t make him an elite NHL defenceman.