Dion Phaneuf protecting a lead vs playing catch up

After last weeks untimely pinch by Dion Phaneuf in game 4 that led to an overtime goal and the Bruins taking a 3-1 lead in the first round series there was a lot of evaluation of Phaneuf as a defenseman both good and bad. I was intending to write an article to discuss the relative merits of Dion Phaneuf and attempt to get an idea of where he stands among NHL defensemen but in the process of researching that I came across some interesting Phaneuf stats that I think deserve their own post so here it is.

My observation was with respect to Phaneuf’s usage and performance when the Leafs are leading and when they are trailing over the previous 3 seasons. Let’s start of by looking at Phaneuf’s situational statistics over the past 3 seasons.

5v5 5v5close 5v5tied Leading Trailing
G/60 0.222 0.175 0.101 0.156 0.408
Pts/60 0.700 0.670 0.660 0.420 1.020
IPP 30.1% 31.1% 34.2% 20.0% 34.5%
GF20 0.773 0.721 0.640 0.692 0.986
GA20 0.841 0.760 0.943 0.865 0.714
GF% 47.9% 48.7% 40.4% 44.4% 58.0%
CF20 18.316 18.113 18.159 15.195 21.542
CA20 20.686 21.418 21.880 22.982 17.223
CF% 47.0% 45.8% 45.4% 39.8% 55.6%
OZ% 28.0% 26.7% 25.2% 24.2% 34.5%
DZ% 31.8% 30.3% 29.7% 37.5% 28.5%
NZ% 40.3% 43.0% 45.0% 38.3% 37.0%
DZBias 103.9 103.6 104.4 113.3 94.0
TeamDZBias 108.9 109 107 115.2 100.8
DZBiasDiff -5 -5.4 -2.6 -1.9 -6.8

Most of the stats above the regular readers should be familiar with but if you are not you can reference my glossary here. The one stat that I have not used before is DZBias. DZBias is defined as 2*DZ% + NZ% and thus anything over 100 indicates the player has a bias towards starting shifts in the defensive zone and anything under 100 the player has a bias towards starting in the offensive zone. I prefer this to OZone% which is OZStarts/(OZStarts+DZStarts) because it takes into account neutral zone starts as well. TeamDZBias is the zone start bias of the Leafs over the past 3 seasons and DZBiasDiff is Phaneuf’s DZBias minus the teams DZBias and provides a zone start bias relative to the team. Anything less than 0 indicates usage is more in the offensive zone relative to his teammates.

So, what does this tell us about Phaneuf.  Well, there isn’t a huge variation in either the zone start usage or the results during 5v5, 5v5close and 5v5tied situations so the focus should be on the differences between 5v5leading and 5v5trailing which are significant.

Typical score effects are when leading a team gives up more shots but of lower quality (defensive shells protect the danger zone in front of the net but allow more shots from the perimeter) and takes fewer shots but of higher quality (probably a result of more odd-man rushes due to pinching defensemen of the trailing team).  Phaneuf seems to take this concept to the extreme but more importantly Phaneuf seems to excel best in an offensive role and struggles in a defensive role. When the Leafs are trailing Phaneuf has  0.408G/60 (10th of 180 defensemen) and 1.02 points/60 (36th of 180 defensemen) but when leading Phaneuf falls to 0.156 G/50 (64th of 177 defensemen) and 0.42 points/60 (137th of 177 defensemen). Furthermore, Phaneuf’s involvement in the offensive zone drops off significantly when leading (IPP drops from 34.5% when trailing to 20.0% when leading).

In terms of on-ice stats, Phaneuf’s CF% drops from 55.6% when trailing (79th of 180 defensemen) to a very poor 39.8% when leading (164th of 177 defensemen).  Some may be thinking this is due to zone starts but Phaneuf is getting above average offensive zone starts both when trailing (ranks 100th of 180 defensemen) and when leading (ranks 154th of 177) and using even the most aggressive zone start adjustments in no way will account for the difference. Similar observations can be made with on-ice goal stats as well. Let’s look at how Phaneuf ranks among defensemen over the past 3 seasons.

Leading (of177) Trailing ( of 180)
GF20 109 25
GA20 125 71
GF% 126 36
CF20 128 31
CA20 174 154
CF% 164 79

That is a pretty significant improvement in rankings when trailing over when leading, especially in the offensive statistics (GF20, CF20). If zone starts aren’t a factor, might line mates be? He are Phaneuf’s most frequent defense partners:

Trailing:  Gunnarsson (364:33, 31.0%), Beauchemin(212:07, 18,0%), Aulie(162:09, 13.8%)

Leading: Gunnarsson (376:16, 32.5%), Aulie(234:17, 20.3%), Beauchemin(166:30, 14.4%)

Playing more with Beauchemin and less with Aulie when trailing ought to help, particularly ones offensive stats, but I doubt that is going to account for that much of a difference. Also, when leading Phaneuf has a 41.2CF% with Gunnarsson and when trailing that spikes to 54.6%. When leading Phaneuf and Beauchemin have a CF% of 37.3% and when trailing that spikes to 57.7%. With Aulie the difference is 36.6% vs 49.3%. Regardless of which defense partner Phaneuf is with, their stats dramatically improve when playing in catch up situation than when in trailing situations.

The same is true for forwards. When protecting a lead Phaneuf plays more with Grabovski and Kulemin but when playing catch up he plays a bit more with Kessel and Bozak but for all of those forwards Phaneuf’s numbers with them are hugely better when playing catch up than when protecting a lead and playing with Grabovski and Kulemin more when playing with a lead should only help his statistics as they are generally considered the Leafs better corsi players.

Let’s take a look at a chart of Phaneuf’s corsi WOWY’s when leading and when trailing.



As you can see, when leading the majority of Phaneuf’s team mates are to the left of the diagonal line which means they have a better corsi% without Phaneuf than with.



When trailing the majority of Phaneuf’s team mates are near or to the right of the diagonal line which means they generally have better corsi% statistics when with Phaneuf than when apart.

So the question arises, why is this? It doesn’t seem to be zone starts. It doesn’t seem to be changes in line mates and it isn’t that the team as a whole automatically becomes a great corsi% team when trailing which Phaneuf could benefit from. When leading Phaneuf’s corsi% is 39.8% which is worse than the teams 41.2% and when trailing Phaneuf’s corsi% is 55.6% which is better than the teams 54.4%. It seems to me that the conclusion we must draw from this is that Phaneuf has been poor at protecting a lead relative to his team mates and we know his team mates have been poor at protecting a lead. Where Phaneuf excels is when he is asked to engage offensively be that when playing catch up hockey or when playing on the PP (Phaneuf’s PP statistics are pretty solid). From the first chart we know that Phaneuf has a slight bias towards more offensive zone starts (relative to his team mates) and when we dig into the numbers further it probably shows that he should be given even more offensive opportunities and given fewer defensive ones because he seems like a much better player when asked to be engaged offensively than when he is asked to be a shut down defenseman.

Acquiring a quality shut down defenseman (ideally two) this off season must be the #1 priority of Maple Leaf management and Phaneuf’s usage must shift further away from multi-purpose heavy work load defenseman to primarily an offensive usage defenseman.


This article has 10 Comments

  1. So David – who should Leafs target this off-season as shutdown d-men?

    And furthermore the current center situation is IMO not ideal and certainly do not improve the defense. Bozak, Kadri, Grabo, McC and Colborne do not make up a good center group.

    I would hold on to Kadri, Colborne and McC (mainly for the PK but he can play on the fourth line as well). Kadri is a lot better play on the second scoring line, but that still leaves a number center positions to be filled. Again who should be the target?

    1. I haven’t gotten to the point of seriously looking at the UFA list but there doesn’t seem to be a lot there in terms of high end defensive defensemen. Might be a few bottom pairing defensive guys though. I will take a look at some point.

      I agree, the center ice position needs some work. I am OK with Kadri, Grabovski and McClement but I would like one more quality center. Colborne may develop into an OK #3C but for now I think he is best on the 4th line as a winger or shifting McClement to wing if needed. Stephen Weiss is one guy I would take a look at on a reasonable shorter term contract. Boyd Gordon may be worth considering as he is reliable defensively but I’d prefer someone with more offensive ability. Dainius Zubrus might be a decent fit too. Mike Ribeiro has more offensive ability but probably costs more than I’d like to spend and isn’t as defensively capable as I’d like. There are a few more options available in the UFA market at C than on D.

      1. With the 64 million cap other players might become available. Who should the Leafs be trading for.

        Leiweke seems to be a person that accept big trades so acquire key pieces.

        1. Yeah, I think there are going to be some interesting moves made around the NHL this summer including possibly some interesting buy outs. The Leafs have some budget flexibility to hopefully be able to take advantage of some of those moves.

  2. Something is wrong with your data. Phaneuf is a Norris Nominee and All Star defender who plays against tough competition and with poor quality team mates.

  3. I don’t think you realize what you have done here. You have just developed a statistical model that measures Choking

    It will need a catchy name. Maybe Choki (like Corsi)

  4. On the tying goal, it looked like Phaneuf was just a bye stander. Waiting for something to happen. Which it did. the tying goal. He made no attempt to move the boston player from screening Rimer.

  5. Hi there David,

    Just a couple questions about the piece, which I found very interesting.

    First up, you write:
    “When the Leafs are trailing Phaneuf has 0.408G/60 (10th of 180 defensemen) and 1.02 points/60 (36th of 180 defensemen) but when trailing Phaneuf falls to 0.156 G/50 (64th of 177 defensemen) and 0.42 points/60 (137th of 177 defensemen).”

    But shouldn’t that second trailing be changed to leading? Juts slightly confusing to read.

    Next we have:
    “As you can see, when leading the majority of Phaneuf’s team mates are to the left of the diagonal line which means they have a better corsi% with Phaneuf than without.” and;

    “When trailing the majority of Phaneuf’s team mates are near or to the right of the diagonal line which means they generally have better corsi% statistics when with Phaneuf than when apart.”

    Aren’t these two statements the same despite coming from the two different charts (leading and trailing)? Should there be a correction in the second statement so that it reads the opposite, or am I in fact reading the charts incorrectly?


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