The Decline of Dion Phaneuf

The Decline of Dion Phaneuf

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Dion Phaneuf / Phil Kessel

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

“Personally, I think by a country mile he’s the best defenceman in the league. It’s not even close right now,” Ron Wilson said following a 4-3 win over the Penguins. “I think he’s comfortable in his own skin. He’s comfortable being the Captain, he’s healthy and I think without taking away from his play, the way Carl Gunnarsson’s played has made Dion’s job a lot easier. It’s just freed up Dion to play as best as I’ve ever seen him.”- Ron Wilson, Oct. 30st, 2011

It wasn’t too long ago that Dion Phaneuf was a 45-point lock on the backend for the Maple Leafs. If he had a good, healthy, puck-moving defenceman as his partner on the power play, he could probably eclipse that mark. That used to be the case, but it’s no longer a reality for Dion. As we will see in the numbers further below, Phaneuf’s numbers resurged in 2011-12 and 2012-13 but have fallen off again this season.

Full disclosure: I don’t think Dion Phaneuf has ever been the best defenceman in the league, let alone by a country mile. I will say that I think he is widely overlooked as being among the best in the league by a lot of people and is unfairly criticized for gaffes all defenceman are guilty of; they’re not of greater frequency for Phaneuf, or any less. There are millions of Leaf fans across Canada—and especially in Toronto—but a lot of them aren’t hockey fans and don’t watch other teams with regularity. If you watch enough of the good defenceman in the league, they get torched frequently. It comes with the territory.

Despite Phaneuf getting more criticism than ever, it’s not hard to see that he has evolved from a wild, open-iced hitting offensive defenceman and matured into an elite, two-way defenceman going up against—and shutting down—the best players in the world. While this is the case, it’s gone too far in one direction and it has crippled Phaneuf’s offensive production.

Tyler Dellow wrote an article outlining Dion’s increased defensive zone starts and dwindling shots for -— a hallmark for Phaneuf.

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.

The Leafs need to address the issues with the coaching and/or find a working defensive system that doesn’t sewer each and every one of their players’ possession numbers, first of all. As for Phaneuf specifically, while this has been a rough 6 or 7 games for him, the question remains not whether Phaneuf must go, but can the Leafs better supplement their 1D with more defensive talent and alleviate some of the taxing load shouldered by the Captain?

Back to his offensive production.

Season
Pts/game
PP pts/game
Shots/game
SH%
2005-060.600.4038.3
2006-070.630.392.97.4
2007-080.730.403.26.5
2008-090.590.263.54
2009-100.400.202.85.3
2010-110.330.182.94.2
2011-120.540.272.55.9
2012-130.580.331.810.2
2013-140.430.151.86.1

It’s not hard to see where Phaneuf is being held back offensively; it’s on the powerplay, where he is currently putting up the worst powerplay-points-per-game rate of his career. He’s also shooting less than at any point of his career  (while it rounds to the same decimal, he shot fractionally more on a per-game basis last season).

Despite their powerplay ranking, Toronto has had a really rough time on the power play on the backend. Much of this has been masked by the play of their forwards, who made hay for much of the season. One of the most awkward things, which we talk about a lot around here, has been Phaneuf and Cody Franson on the blueline together on the power play. Phaneuf is a rare case as a defenceman who plays 5-on-5, PK and PP best when he’s on the right side despite being a left shot. The angles work better for him, his sweet spots on the boards are always in the same spot, and from a young age his slapshot was always used as a weapon in the arsenal of any team he was on. Under the guidance of Randy Carlyle and left in the hands of assistant coach Dave Farrish, Dion Phaneuf’s slapshot has been taken away in favour of “holding the line.”

It started to manifest itself in the playoff series against Boston last spring; Phaneuf, who is uncomfortable playing his correct side at both 5v5 and on the PK, and Franson, who is not the fleetest of foot on the best of days, are getting beat “holding the line” and are spending too much time in their own zone, giving up scoring chances against, unable to gain the zone with any efficiency and set up cleanly. It was disturbing that the coaching staff wasn’t able to recognize how obtuse it was having both shooters together in the playoffs; now, another 74 games later, the pair continues to play together with painful results offensively and it came to a head defensively as well when they were lit up for three shorthanded goals in the span of a week (shorthanded chances against are still occurring regularly, and nearly led to another SHG if not for a Bernier toe save versus St. Louis).

And yet, still, the coaching staff stubbornly keeps Phaneuf and Franson on their correct sides. While that is an egregious coaching error in and of itself, they aren’t a correct pairing to begin with.

With the help of data available at sportingcharts.com, we can see in the first chart Phaneuf’s shot location data on the powerplay for shots and goals. By having to make two touches on the puck — one to corral and settle it down, and another to wind up for a shot — there is just absolutely no efficacy to one of Toronto’s most dangerous powerplay threats. There is also a knock-on effect in that Kessel, as the primary puck carrier on the half wall, can be pressured more heavily and double teamed — which has been the case during this recent slide — with the opposition knowing that there is no real threat from the points. The same can be said on the other side for Franson and his dangerous slap-snap shot. Both have to take two touches and it’s compounded even further when they play catch with each other. It’s the main reason they get picked off on the points. The opposing penalty killers don’t have to respect the shot, and instead can cheat, pressure the points harder and take greater risks knowing that both are standing still trying to settle a puck down before taking a shot.

Two seasons under Carlyle/Farrish

Dion Phaneuf SOG

2013-2014 (74 games) / 2012-2013 (48 game schedule)

What does it look like when Phaneuf gets to use his one-timer and isn’t stuck on the left side?

Dion-Phaneuf-Shots-2011

And some more…

Dion-Phaneuf-Shots-2009

(2010 was skipped due to the injury from a skate slice injuring Phaneuf’s MCL).

Note the goals from the right side of the ice.

849 comments
the sturgen
the sturgen

Ahh yes, good old Ryan Lambert. I remember him now from twitter, what a great article.  He has an uncanny knack for regurgitating the obvious. He has the flow of Vanilla Ice, with some added cream. Anyways, enough with platitudes. The possible silver lining to this unmitigated disaster is the realization that we still keys players such as Phanuef and  Clarkson locked up long term, giving us hope for the future.  Various stats show how good they can be, and that they will only be better in the future.  Keep your heads up boys.  The future is still bright, of course, we'll need to trade Kadri and Gardiner to free up space for more veteran cornerstones. Fingers crossed.


B_Leaf
B_Leaf

Leafs Raptors and Jays all play at same time tonight

ShiftyD
ShiftyD

Reading the comments is way more fun listening to "For Those About To Rock" and clicking on the new comment every time the cannon fires. FIRE!

mvw
mvw

@the sturgen ACTUALLY That's the bad news!!! but nice try.

dlb Mad
dlb Mad

@Shift_Disturber1

so far it's a good read, but the roles that were handed from the outgoing players to the incumbants are curious.

MacArthur - Clarkson

Grabovski - Bolland

Komarov - Raymond

would be more like it i think.  the effect is debatable, of course.  still reading...eager to see where he's taking this.

dlb Mad
dlb Mad

@Shift_Disturber1

" It was reported yesterday that in a period in which the Leafs were outshot 21-5 by St. Louis, the team listed scoring chances at only 5-3 in favor of the Blues. "

seems to me that would be really easy to quantify if we could go back and watch the period again and simply keep score ourselves as we watched, no?

ShiftyD
ShiftyD

@B_Leaf Well, I'll make this real simple. I hate basketball and I feel the same about baseball. LEAFS it is

mapleaf13
mapleaf13

@wiski  At least Philly's coach/management has the balls to play their over-paid players on the fourth line instead of sand-bagging the third line with a Lecavalier/Clarkson.

loomx
loomx

@wiski  I was just thinking, maybe they know that if they stick to a 4 line and because Randy is a line matching coach, they put Vinny on the 4th line and they'll outmatch us. Not that they wouldn't outmatch us anyway but still.

dlb Mad
dlb Mad

@Belfour20/JB-45

good question

i think Carlyle gets a chance to start next year with a shortened leash, personally.  be tough to bring in new assistants without allowing it a little time...might be potential for too many re-shuffles of the coaching staff if things don't work out next year.

maybe one will quit?

ShiftyD
ShiftyD

@dlb eh @Shift_Disturber1Yes we could..From memory(admittedly sketchy) we were soundly outplayed in that period. 5-3 sounds a little optimistic

vinoa
vinoa

@Shift_Disturber1 @B_Leaf  With basketball you literally only have to watch the last minute of play. In close matches that's when all the action happens.

dlb Mad
dlb Mad

@loomx

did you get a chance to watch the BOS-CHI highlights from last night?

on 2 of the 3 goals the CHI wingers are collapsed like our system

;-)

ShiftyD
ShiftyD

@dlb eh @Shift_Disturber1The benefit of the doubt is going to be a hard sell in Leafs Nation. Sure there are things that haven't gone as expected. Can you imagine the toxicity around this team if they don't make the playoffs and the coaching staff remains intact, even if it's on a short leash. Not to mention if most of the roster remains as well. Yikes.


Pit has taken some heavy hits this year and still (with everything pointed out) remains comfortably atop their division with some breathing space in terms of time to sort it out.

Big difference IMO

dlb Mad
dlb Mad

@Shift_Disturber1

i thought so too, but in the end i'm not sure there's much to it.  it's a collective effort this year.  things didn't turn out well except for the Bernier deal, really, but excuses are really all we have for things like Bolland being injured and Clarkson being in and out of the lineup and not being "himself".

the collective effort also includes everyone's expectations to start the year as well.

and until people read that article, would they have even been aware of PIT's record of late?  tough to fluff off the Canadian teams being under a microscope without considering how much isn't being made of PIT struggles...

dlb Mad
dlb Mad

@Shift_Disturber1

yeah, it does sound unbelievable.  but if i was writing an article in which i was going to call the coach a fibber, i might take 20 minutes to check to see what's what.

dlb Mad
dlb Mad

@wendelsway1

one of my favourite memories as a kid was listening to Blue Jays games on the radio up at a friend's cottage.

i still enjoy doing the work around the house with the game on the radio.

the guys who do all the talking do a good job.

dlb Mad
dlb Mad

@Savo43

don't ask me about basketball systems lol

"ball"

dlb Mad
dlb Mad

@Savo43

i played basketball as a kid and loved it.  what's not to love when you're playing, right?

i have been a fair-weather Raps fan.  i like them when there's something to be excited about, i'll be honest.

but i never really love basketball because it's a sport that has too much premadonna stuff about it.  guys taking nights off for piddly little things.

but...the raps are on a roll right now.  a month ago i watched my first start to finish game, and i didn't hate it.

why?  because the effort was there the entire game.  grinding out possessions.  sharing the ball.  hustling to play defense.  and the group is young and promising...to a degree at least.

so i respected the effort and the talent.  and they won.  so that was cool.

vinoa
vinoa

@wendelsway1 @vinoa @Shift_Disturber1 @B_Leaf That's how it is for me. I can watch hockey all day and some football (American and European). Basketball just has way too much scoring for my liking. I still don't understand Americans' fascination with baseball.

wendelsway1
wendelsway1

@vinoa @Shift_Disturber1 @B_Leaf  I can watch hockey or lacrosse all day long.....and do watch football now and again.  Always enjoyed playing basketball, watching not so much....and baseball is boring as hell  IMO

dlb Mad
dlb Mad

@Bruffins

yeah, that makes sense overall (your 6 F and 4 D when trailing)

good coach has that in his pocket but also pays attention to who's playing each night, right?

i think McClemment had as good a game as anyone versus STL the other night, so while i was also taken aback seeing him out there i accepted it pretty quickly.

he hasn't been a go to guy on a regular basis in that situation to my memory, so it's not something anyone should be able to make a point of.

dlb Mad
dlb Mad

@loomx

i'm sorry, but that's all just too simple-minded.  honest.

loomx
loomx

@dlb eh @loomx  So let's just get Duncan Keith shall we? or how about Jonathan Toews? Let's just go get him. Either that or we can try and employ a system that works for OUR team with OUR players. If that system works all the time, why does nobody else employ it regularly? Maybe it's because every team is unique? I dunno.


We have a coaching staff that STILL doesn't think getting outshot is a problem.......come on.

loomx
loomx

@dlb eh @loomx  Go into the corner and battle for possession? Jay McClement is literally our worst puck possession forward. And by the way, I'm talking about throwing out the 4th line with 2 minutes to go, which is something Carlyle does regularly. But let's go with your idea. So he comes out to take the faceoff, let's say he wins it. then what? he's our worst possession player so don't pass him the puck. Best he can do is go to the net(JVR's spot) or run to the bench....wasting more time. The difference between Bozak and McClement in faceoff percentage is on average about 1 faceoff per game. 


You think Anaheim is going to throw out Mathieu Perrault out there instead of Getzlaf because he's better at faceoffs or because Getzlaf would take the faceoff on the wrong side? No! Put your best players on the ice. Randy and the whole team has endorsed Bozak as a true 1C in this league all year. What does that say when you don't put him on for a faceoff when your team needs a goal?.......in favour of Jay McClement.

dlb Mad
dlb Mad

@loomx

when we collapse we do get control of the puck in the middle of those minute long sieges.  we just don't execute the breakout like CHI does.

and CHI doesn't fumble the inital breakout like we have done so often this year.

coach's system not problem.  CHI has better players top to bottom than we do.

Franson is not the player we all hoped he'd be.  it's unfortunate.  but he signed a contract and has shown glimpses of being great.  we have to play him to see what he is.  it's a sad truth that's part of building a winning team at this stage of it.

the young guys don't need that same treatment.  they can be put in better situations right now so they come out squeaky clean.

coaching and managing are so much more complex than we all pretend

dlb Mad
dlb Mad

@loomx

so he shouldn't be throwing out

- at least 2 guys to win faceoffs

- shouldn't consider what handed they are

- shouldn't consider their results in the circle in the game, and against the other player they're facing off against

he should throw out all the scorers, because the other team is going to give us the puck, right?

makes sense to throw out some guys who have been checking and skating all night who can go into the corner and battle for possession since there's a better than average chance that's what's going to happen.

expand your thinking....

loomx
loomx

@dlb eh @Belfour20/JB-45  Second of all, yeah, Chicago collapses. They certainly don't do it all game. Why? Because they have the puck for most of the game! Carved out roles or not, Carlyle doesn't have answers because he's a single-minded ancient coach. Same with Wilson. The comparison with Quenneville and the Hawks is hardly relevant.

dlb Mad
dlb Mad

@Belfour20/JB-45

STL once had Gretzky, MacInnis, Anderson, Hawerchuk, Hull and Fuhr  (sorry, and Pronger)

and Keenan couldn't get it done.

coach definately has a little something to do with things haha

loomx
loomx

@dlb eh @loomx  Not the guy with 3 goals. wow, that was a fairly easy decision. 

Bruffins
Bruffins

@dlb eh @loomx  

if losing...


JVR, Bozak, Kessel, Lupul, Kadri, Kulemin

Phaneuf, Gunnar, Rielly, Gardiner

dlb Mad
dlb Mad

@loomx

in the last 2 minutes of a game, hopefully the coach has 6 forwards and 4 defensemen to lean on.

name the ones you would turn to...remembering Bolland has only been back a couple games now.

go.

loomx
loomx

@dlb eh @loomx  wait what? That's the reason why Carlyle plays Jay McClement in the last 2 minutes of  the game? That's the reason why he inexplicably plays Franson when he shouldn't play? That's the reason why Phaneuf plays the wrong side on the PP? All that because players have carved out roles?? I'm confused.

dlb Mad
dlb Mad

@loomx

they don't have to.  their players have carved out their roles and made some decisions easy on their coach.

loomx
loomx

@dlb eh @loomx  Did they have Brandon Bollig play in the last 2 minutes of the game? Do they have their equivalent of Cody Franson(Sheldon Brookbank?) play at every important time of the game? Do they put Duncan Keith on the wrong side of the ice on the PP?

dlb Mad
dlb Mad

@Belfour20/JB-45

probably a couple things.  we're all Leafs fans here, and we watch their games intently.  some don't watch other teams play so they wouldn't know any better.  but some do watch lots of hockey, but enjoy it for what it is with so little riding on it so they don't look for the mistakes or systems or whatever.

it was funny reading comments about how crappy MTL was last night when we wanted them to win one for us haha

dlb Mad
dlb Mad

@wiski

yeah i saw that.  one of the knocks on him years ago was that he trained like he was semi-retired.  while MSL and Stammer were working their asses off to improve their fitness and their game, Vinny always liked the laid back lifestyle.

he was once considered one of the best in the world.  to many, he never acted like a guy who cared to stay on top, if you know what i mean.

Crosby became the best because he had a lot of talent, but also because he practised at the highest level he could every time out in order to keep improving.

so Vinny has himself to blame if he doesn't like where he's at right now.  it's not like flipping a light switch and he's great again.

maybe this is all obvious.  i know.  sorry.  i like to type.  the keys feel good on my fingers.