As some of you may already know, today is Dion Phaneuf's birthday. Not only is Dion our captain, but he also happens to be our best defenseman. However, according to a lot of the mouth breathers, he sucks and should be bought out. What is even worse, is those same mouth breathers make up a big part of our fan base. They call in to all the radio shows lamenting the exact same things, "Kessel sucks, doesn't back check and is completely useless if it weren't for Bozak" or "Phaneuf should be bought out. He can't play defence and he isn't even in the top three in points for defensemen." Well we here at PPP know better, so join me for a look at why Dion Phaneuf is great, along with a little celebration for our captain's birthday.
Dion Phaneuf came to the Leafs on January 31st, 2010. He was sent by Calgary along with Fredrik Sjostrom and Keith Aulie, for Matt Stajan, Ian White, Niklas Hagman and Jamal Mayers. At the time of the trade, there were complaints that we sent the better defender away in the deal (Ian White), and that we lost a lot of depth. The concern was a bit absurd, seeing as how before the trade, everyone would agree that Phaneuf had more talent. The trade signalled a major change for the Leafs, who recently departed with their former "#1" defenseman, Bryan McCabe. With McCabe's decline and eventual trade, the Leafs had a major problem with their defense. Not only was McCabe gone, so was Pavel Kubina, who performed quite well for Toronto. That left Toronto with Tomas Kaberle, Ian White, Francois Beauchemin, Garnett Exelby, Jeff Finger and Luke Schenn. To say that Toronto needed an upgrade on the back-end would be an understatement. So Burke did what any competent GM would. He went out and got his team the defenseman they sorely needed.
While Phaneuf did not have the greatest season in terms of offensive output in 2009-2010, he quickly garnered the attention of Leaf fans with his physical play. However, Phaneuf's Corsi Rel QoC has been a positive every year he has been in Toronto. What that shows is that Phaneuf performs relatively well against the competition he faces. Based on what we have seen, he is usually playing against the other team's top players (Matched against Rick Nash for the whole game on Monday). So combining something subjective (Us seeing him play against good players) with an objective measure (Corsi Rel QoC) we get a clearer picture of how well he performs defensively. More often than not, Dion Phaneuf matches up well against the players he faces.
Offensively, Phaneuf has been solid in his time here. Although he was 42nd in points among defenseman in 2009-2010, he still put up 12 goals and 20 assists, which isn't a terrible number at all. In 2010-2011, Dion put up two less points, ranking him at 44th among defensemen, but it should be pointed out that he only played 66 games that year. The next season (2011-2012), Dion scored 12 goals, and racked up 32 assists for 44 points. That placed him 12th in the league for points among defenseman. So far this season, Dion Phaneuf is 6th in points for defensemen; with 24 points in 39 games, (This season will only feature 48 games, due to the lockout). If he keeps up his pace, Phaneuf will finish among the top ten, which puts him among the very best of the league offensively.
But wait! If we subscribe to the theory that he sucks at offense, which is the belief of many Leaf fans, then how is it that in back-to-back years, he has finished among the top 30 in points for his position? Well the answer to that is simple. He comes nowhere close to "sucking". Being in the top 15 in points last season, and being 6th so far this season, that shows that offensively, Dion Phaneuf is a bona-fide #1 defenseman. To play devil's advocate though, Phaneuf's possession numbers are less than stellar. His Corsi numbers have been a minus in the last three seasons. Puck possession has never been a strong suit for Phaneuf. He is not the kind of player who drives the play offensively for his team. However, Phaneuf's strengths lie in his huge shot, his ability to put himself in the right position at the right time when the Leafs are in the offensive zone, and his ability to make smart, heads-up passes.
I have never quite understood the dislike of Phaneuf among many Leaf fans. Is it because he does not play a "fancy" kind of game? However, isn't that what a lot of fans hate about Kessel? It really doesn't make any sense. What are fans looking for in a defenseman? The ability to put up points, and play well defensively? Well Phaneuf does that pretty damn well. Well my theory is that the "Common" Leaf fan has unreal expectations of every player on the roster. When comparing certain players, Leaf fans get extremely picky (Which is hilarious since we haven't made the playoffs since 2004. Beggars cannot be choosers). When talking about Luongo, the main criticism among the average fan wasn't his contract, but his inability to win "clutch" games in the Stanley Cup finals. With Phil Kessel, he is criticized with being too soft, and not playing stellar defense (Although as Draglikepull pointed out in today's FTB, Kessel has been in the top 15 in goals and assists in the past two seasons. The only two players to accomplish that are Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel). With Phaneuf, the criticisms are not very reasonable. In fact, the main complaints that people seem to have with him are completely off base. As I have shown above, offensively, he ranks among the best defensemen in the league. Defensively, Phaneuf has performed well above average in the last few seasons. This year, his offensive start percentage is among the lowest in the league (Meaning the coach does not put him out in the offensive zone at the start of a shift very often at all) and his Corsi Rel QoC ranks among the very top of the league. What that shows is that Phaneuf almost always starts his shifts either at centre ice, or in the defensive zone, all the while, performing extremely well against his competition. Adding on to that is the fact that he is putting up great offensive numbers, while rarely starting in the offensive zone.
Well, this post was meant to show just how good Phaneuf has been as a Leaf. He has been our best all-around defenseman since arriving here. Something, which he is accused of not being. While some criticize his leadership as captain, let it be known that leadership is not quantifiable, and can never be proven either way by any fan. By all accounts, Phaneuf is loved by his teammates and by the team's management. When he was made captain, he was far and away our best choice. He plays a very well rounded game, and has an edge to him that makes him even harder to play against. After the last game against the Rangers, coach John Tortorella was asked "Were you looking to get Nash more ice time or away from a matchup?", which Torts responded with "From Phaneuf, everytime Phaneuf was on the ice, so ya". Rick Nash is considered an elite powerhouse of a player, and whenever Phaneuf was on the ice against him, he stopped Nash from making any meaningful plays. So to the "Average" Leaf fan, please, stop talking publicly, and stop posting on the internet. No matter how much you yell and scream, you are still wrong. Feel free to post any Gifs or pictures celebrating Phaneuf, seeing as how it is his birthday.