Kats Krunch: Phaneuf Regression In Context


    In the end, perhaps the player to best describe the trades is … Wayne Primeau?

    After all, the former Flame has been through this before.

    The surprising deal for all parties involved, smells eerily similar to this one, in which the Leafs pivot was involved:

    To San Jose Sharks: Joe Thornton
    To Boston Bruins: Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau

    Only injury prone Sturm is left from the original package.

    And here we are full circle, a marquee player traded away for spare parts essentially, done in a clandestine manner.

    Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan, Ian White and Jamal Mayers do fill secondary scoring roles for the Flames, however they are short term solutions with specific roles.

    Consider, Hagman’s strength emerges from individual skills, with more success doing the work himself and working for his own goals. He follows Alex Burrows and Jordan Staal in this regard, using their hard work pay off.

    Matt Stajan offers the Flames another distribution option, missing since days of yore when Craig Conroy mattered in a top-six role. Stajan doesn’t have the high end distribution skills, and if you’ve read my blog before, I’ll take the goal scorer over a playmaker any day of the week. Iginla will get a hard worker in the former second rounder, but he is not likely to be a decent compliment. Iginla is fleet of foot, while Stajan relies on smarts and positioning. He’s also an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

    Aside from the stability of Hagman’s reasonable contract for what he delivers, essentially the gem in the deal is Ian White.

    Or is it?

    Bob McKenzie compared White to Phaneuf in recent play asking which player is the best in the deal:

    Well, it’s all a matter of how you frame the question.

    Check out the stats – White has nine goals and 26 points and is plus-1 in 23:47 minutes per game compared to Phaneuf’s 10 goals and 22 points, with a plus-three in 23:14 minutes per game. Check out the tape – while White hasn’t been quite as good in his last 10 games for Toronto, pro scouts will tell you White’s game has been equal to or superior to Phaneuf’s in most every aspect you care to name, offensively or defensively.

    But it must be pointed out that White is arguably performing to his absolute maximum right now. He’s at or close to 100 per cent of his potential.

    Dion? It’s not even close. There is so much room for growth.

    Most pro scouts would suggest Phaneuf is operating in the 50 to 70 per cent range. The question then becomes, will he get there? To 100, or close to it, that is. Or maybe even more importantly, does he really want to get there?

    It’s tough to argue pro scouts equating White’s performance to Phaneuf this season. Yet, while White has made headway and emerged into a top-four rearguard in Toronto, keep in mind the circumstances that allowed him to thrive:

    Opportunity and ability.

    While the assertion of White operating at maximum level compares to the less than 100-percent by Phaneuf, in the end, the question isn’t about how each rearguard is performing now.

    Ask a pro scout which player they would rather have in a Championship series, and the answer likely won’t be White.

    What matters most moving forward isn’t about how players are performing on a bad team, but who is the better defenseman when the game is on the line; would a coach throw on White, or Phaneuf?

    When wingers are bearing down, is White or Phaneuf the bigger threat? The smaller White, with a big heart, or the open-ice hitting threat of neon Dion? Championship teams have game-breakers that create momentum for their clubs.

    Much has been made about him dropping off defensively last season. Consider, he suffered through an early season eye injury, with season-long rumors of hip and back problems that finally forced him from the lineup for the final two regular season games. And don’t forget the cracked ribs/sternum in Game 5 against Chicago in last spring’s playoffs, forcing him to miss Game 6.

    Oh, that’s in addition to coming off a fractured foot he played with in the 2006 playoffs.

    Yet despite that, last season he ranked fourth overall in TOI in 2008-09 (26:31) with all the injury issues, logging over 2,100 total minutes, in 80 games. This season, with the acquisition of Jay Bouwmeester, his ice time has been cut (23:14) with Jay-Bo taking over.

    Nice touch by those doing trade analysis of the deal in denouncing the blueliner and his fading game without even glossing over the issues that have contributed to that factor, aside from any locker room concerns.

    This upgrade comes at a $6.5 million cap hit. What would Ian White be worth as an RFA, on a second pairing in Toronto?

    White was given the opportunity to play as a forward and unlikely not in the Leafs plans at the beginning of last season. After moving back due to injury, the blueliner established himself as a top-four, two-way defenseman. He made critics, myself included, rethink his value to a club and in the NHL. Now, away from the spotlight of TO, contract and performance should be on par.

    This is what I wrote about him for McKeen’s for the Yearbook:

    Smallish, gritty and mobile rearguard, with a good first pass and maturing offensive instincts, led by a hard point shot .. struggles with sizeable forwards in front of the goal and along the boards, often boxed out resorting to cross-checks and stick fouls as a result .. efficient, smooth skater and puckrusher, but misses hands and some creativity, rather mechanical .. diminutive stature forces him to rely on solid positioning.

    Some issues that forced the struggle defensively will be magnified in the tighter Flames system. Not taking away from his work ethic, he’ll fit right in to the type of style, but will fall behind Jay Bouwmeester, Robyn Regehr, and Mark Giordano. The opportunity that existed for him in Toronto won’t be readily available and if the play deteriorates into what’s been witnessed in the last 10 games, he could find himself in the press box at least once.

    In the end, this trade really does have the same feel of the Bruins and Sharks.

    I’m wondering how long it will take someone in the mainstream media to put that one together and finally ask the question to the player himself.