So earlier today I was surfing through some of the fan-posts, and struck upon the one regarding Phil Kessel's production expectations for next year. The summary basically concluded he'll produce goals, and all will be fine... go Phil. It was a decent piece of work, but it got me thinking about other players of import and their production levels.
Most obviously the player requiring an offensive rebound if the Leafs are to be successful next year is Dion Phaneuf. So I thought about it and considered what the main complaints I've heard about Phaneuf are over the years, and did some exploring to figure out how many of those complaints are based in fact or just perception.
So first off, the idea that Dion misses the net a lot or gets his shots blocked a lot are both accurate... BUT - the thing is, he takes so many effing shots that he misses and gets blocked way more times than most players. I explored his stats from last season using a combination of the NHL shots on net and missed shot totals, and his blocked shot against totals from Gabe Desjardins' BehindTheNet.ca. Phaneuf hits the net with roughly 50% of his shot attempts. That includes the shots he tries that are blocked or miss the net.
Oddly, He and Ian White are almost IDENTICAL in that regard last season, hitting the net with 49.02% for Phaneuf, and 49.01% for White. The fact that Phaneuf attempted to shoot 103 more times than White is largely why his shots were blocked or missed more often. The ratio of his shots that make it through is virtually identical. Of the 202 D men that attempted at least 80 shots in the NHL last year, Phaneuf ranked 107th in terms of the ratio of his shots that actually find the net. He’s right in the middle in terms of his shots making it on net, and thus he’s not far worse at it than the average NHL D man.
Now… because he attempted the most shots in the league, the fact that he had more shots blocked than anyone in the NHL sort of stands out, and the fact that he missed the net more than every D man other than Shea Weber also makes people think he’s innaccurate. Unfortunately this is just a matter of scale and has little to do with his actual ability to hit the net. The NHL average of getting shots on target is 49.63% and 1 Standard Deviation is 6.37%. That means 63% of NHL D men hit the net within a range of 43% of the time and 56% of the time. To be truly bad, he’d have to be hitting the net less than 43% of the time… to be below replacement level, he’d have to be incapable of hitting the net more often than that. There ARE D men in that range.
For instance, if Calgary fans are upset at a D man for missing the net, they might want to look at Robyn Regher, who only hits the net with 39.59% of his attempts. Jaroslav Spacek’s shooting is alarmingly off target for an offensive blue liner, as he only hits the goal with 42.49% of his attempts.
The worst Leaf blue liner is Luke Schenn, who only shoots on net 42.98% of the time. Other bad players from this perspective (who probably shouldn’t shoot a lot) include Matt Hunwick in Boston (42.86% on net), Victor Hedman on the Lightning (43.69% on net), Michael Del Zotto of the Rangers (43.78%), Brett Lebda (44.53%), Andy Greene (45.03%), Mathieu Schneider (45.12%), Wade Redden (45.21%), Tyler Myers (45.22%), Kevin Bieksa (45.45%), Jack Johnson (45.77%)… Those guys are falling to the low end of things, and probably should be shooting LESS, and passing more.
Ironically, some of the best passing D men in the NHL are accurate shooters (probably because they pick their spots)… for instance Kaberle’s shot makes it to the net a wonderful 59.62% of the time. In fact in recent years, the Leafs have had 3 of the top 7 D men for accuracy from last year in Kaberle, along with former Leafs Pavel Kubina (61.15%) and Anton Stralman (60.50%). Obviously hitting the net isn’t as important to Burke as hitting the opposition though.
Secondly - has Phaneuf's shooting or play on the PP changed drastically over time? For that I again looked at his shot numbers, and his partners on the PP over the past few years. In his rookie year, the 2005-06 season, Phaneuf scored 16 power play goals, and he fired 242 shots on goal, missing the net 128 times. That ratio of 65% of his shots that aren't blocked actually making it to the net is pretty standard for his career, so he hasn't suddenly become less accurate. In comparison to this past season he again hit the net with 65% of the shots he took that weren't blocked, and he hit the net 225 times. Not a huge dip, and probably not enough to explain the fact that his PP goal total dropped from 16 to 5 this past season, and 4 the year before that.
So what explains it? Likely luck. Dion's career shooting percentage is 6.2%. That's not bad for a blue liner, and he does take a hell of a lot of shots. He's had a career high of 8.3% and a career low of 4.0%, so he's likely going to be somewhere in between this coming season. He's averaged 247 shots in his career, so anticipating that he'll get around 250, and he'll score on roughly 6% of them isn't a huge leap in logic. That puts him at 15 goals for this coming season.
The other factors to consider are the player's he's lined up with. Back when Phaneuf was scoring a lot on the PP, he was being set up by the likes of Alex Tanguay, Jarome Iginla, Kristian Huselius, Daymond Langkow, and Roman Hamrlik. In 2005-06 Iginla had 17 PPG and 14 PPA, while Langkow had 11PPG, and 18PPA, and Huselius had 6 PPG, and 18 PPA. Even Andrew Ference had 2 PPG and 17 PPA, while Hamrlik only had 1 PPG, and 15 PPA. Phaneuf scored 16 PPG, and had another 17 PPA. The Flames power play was fairly average that season, but Phaneuf's goal totals weren't. It's rare that a defender accounts for almost 20% of a team's power play output in one year. The only player to score more than Phaneuf on the Flame's PP was Iginla. Most of their forwards were passers.
Consider that even in Bryan McCabe's best season on the PP (that same 2005-06 season) he never recorded over 13 PPG, and he never accounted for more than 12% of the Leafs power play goal production. For a top flight power play, the Leafs also boasted production from Tucker (18), Sundin (16), and Jeff O'neill (14) in that same season, and they produced 20 more goals on the power play than Calgary did.
If the Leafs want a truly deadly PP this coming season, they need more production out of more players. Phaneuf can probably chip in 8 or 9 goals on the PP reasonably, but they need the likes of Kessel, Bozak, Versteeg, Kulemin, and Grabovski to chip in some goals. Unfortunately, Versteeg has never topped 6 PP goals, Kessel's never topped 8, and Bozak, Grabovski, and Kulemin are all sitting at 6 or less goals on the PP in a single season.
The way the Leafs PP is currently structured, Leaf fans really need to hope that the team discovers a body to plant in front of the net - Hi there Colby Armstrong? What's that, you've produced on the PP before?
Yep... Armstrong actually scored 7 PP goals in 47 games as a rookie with the Penguins... playing alongside Sidney Crosby in only 153:47 of PP ice time. That translates to a PP goal every 21:58 in PP ice time... or roughly every 5 games or so. If he maintained that level of production for a full year with the Leafs (unlikely but hey were in dreaming mode here), he would be capable of scoring around 16 power play goals for the Blue and White. That might take some of the heat off of Phaneuf and Kessel and crew... and it might be why the Leafs signed him to the contract they did.
Offensively, Phaneuf's game really hasn't changed much since he came into the NHL. He's probably calmed down a bit defensively, but he still shoots the puck a hell of a lot, and hits the net around half of the time. He'll probably get 10 to 15 goals, and score 35 to 45 points depending on how the players around him play. If there's someone to take the focus off of him, he'll be fine. If he's a one man army on the point, good luck pushing the puck through shot blocking defenders.