Inspired by a little debate in the FTBs between leafer1984 and mf37, I thought I'd look at potential reasons for Phaneuf's declining offensive production in his last two seasons.
I'll start with the raw stats:
|2009-10||24||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||11||0||2||2||-1||20||0||0||0||35||0.0||290||26:22|
What does this tell us?
1. His shooting percentage steadily declined every year until it actually bounced back this year. Which is the better reflection of true ability, his over 6.5% in the first three years, or sub-6.5% the last couple years? Frankly there's not that big a swing here. Looks to me like his true shooting percentage is probably in the 6-7% range. As a reality check, I looked at the S% of the top 30 NHL goalscorers among D this year, and they range from 5.1% (Lidstrom) to 14.9% (Grebeshkov). Even guys ranked 31-60 in goals have S% in the 5-10% range, so I think we can expect a guy with a howitzer like Phaneuf to settle somewhere around 6.5%.
2. His SOG/gm are typically a little over 3. This year he dipped with the Flames (no doubt due to J-Bo), but he's back up to 35 shots in 11 games with the Leafs. No problems here.
3. His ES goals have been steady at 4-7/yr, including already 5 this year. The big fluctuation has come on the PP, where he lit it up his first three years (though less so each year).
4. His assists increased each of his first three years, declining last year (but still his second best year for assists). This year they're off dramatically. I'd love for someone who has watched a lot of Calgary games (Karina?) to tell us if this is something about his game that has changed, or just a teammate effect. However, it's noteworthy that last year he received 5:34/gm of PP TOI, and recorded 17 PP assists. This year with the Flames? 3:46 (still tops on the team but way down) and only 6 PP assists. The drop off in PP time and production accounts for some (though certainly not all) of the overall decline in assists.
5. He's on pace for his lowest ever year in PIMs, but he's not far off his totals except for that huge 07/08 year. From what I've seen with the Leafs he still brings the nasty.
In short, I don't see anything in the underlying data indicating a long-term decline, except perhaps for the drop off in assists this year. I'd wait for two straight years of declining assists before I worried about that too much. If he keeps bombing 250 shots per season, he should be right around 15 goals. He's been on a dry spell and hopefully after a training camp with the Leafs he can help get the PP clicking again.
So much for the offense. What about defense? Well, Dion's never been a shut-down guy. In his 07/08 Norris candidacy year, he was only 3rd on the team in Qualcomp, well behind Regehr and Sarich. His overall behindthenet rating was middle of the pack. The stats were similar last year.
So it would appear that Phaneuf remains what he has always been. He's an utter workhorse who eats minutes and rarely misses a game. He's skilled offensively and should pile up points on the PP. He can play on your second PK unit, but he shouldn't be on your first (he ranked around 3-5 on the Flames in SH TOI the last three years).
Does all this add up to a $6.5MM player? Probably not, but he's not far off. Guys who can play over 25 minutes with a physical edge and rack up 45-60 points aren't cheap. Here are the guys immediately above and below him in salary:
Jay Bouwmeester: $6.68
Dan Boyle: $6.67
Wade Redden: $6.5 (hahaha)
Dion Phaneuf: $6.5
Ed Jovanovski: $6.5
Kimmo Timmonen: $6.33
Chris Pronger: $6.25
Those aren't terrible comparables for Phaneuf. J-Bo is the only one that I think is clearly better in pretty much every aspect. With the others it's a matter of trade-offs. Sure, we'd love to have him for Shea Weber ($4.5MM for 2 more years) or Duncan Keith ($5.55 forever) money, but he's not grossly overpaid compared to the six other players listed above.
I had been worried that we had a player in long-term decline, but these numbers tell me we have a guy who has been a bit snakebit this year and should rebound. If the cap climbs over the life of the deal he might actually perform close to his contract. I can live with this.