Why Trading Phaneuf Would Be A Mistake

Darren Dreger, who is a second cousin of Dave Nonis by the way, wrote on Twitter yesterday that Dion Phaneuf may be available on the trade market.

Some may view this as good news if they're of the opinion that Phaneuf is one-dimensional and is only good for hits. Those people would be wrong, and here's why:

Phaneuf did indeed have an inconsistent 2012-13 campaign, but he also played the toughest minutes of his career, and more so than any other defenseman in the NHL. According to behindthenet.ca, Phaneuf's Corsi QoC (quality of competition) rating was a ridiculous 3.175 at even-strength. To put that in perspective, the player with the second toughest minutes, Mike Weber, had a 2.346 rating. If that's not enough to convince you of Phaneuf's grueling minutes, his offensive zone starts were at 41.3 per cent, which means he was tasked in a defensive role and still managed to put up nine goals and 28 points.

Prior to this season, Phaneuf's highest Corsi QoC rating had been 1.049, a significant decrease to what he faced last season. With the Calgary Flames, Phaneuf's QoC ratings were consistently in the negatives, and he performed well offensively (for the most part) because of it. With the Leafs, he's taken on more of a defensive role and still averages 40+ points. Before this season, Phaneuf's lowest offensive zone start percentage had been 51.2 per cent, so that's something else to consider when analyzing his season, especially defensively.

Phaneuf ranks 16th in the NHL in ice-time per game, averaging 25:22, but the majority of that is against the opposition's top lines. The 28-year-old would be better suited playing easier minutes and taking advantage of his offensive instincts. Phaneuf has done a decent job defensively, but it's by no means his strong point. And that's not his fault. He essentially holds the burden of representing the Leafs' entire defence corps with little aid in way of defensive minutes.

And that's where a top-four defenseman capable of handling tough minutes comes in play, and why trading Phaneuf would make absolutely no sense. It's fairly simple: the Leafs need another defenseman to take a share of the tough minutes, which would in turn upgrade Phaneuf's play. If Nonis turns around and replaces Phaneuf with another top-four defenseman, it's likely a lateral move at best.

Phaneuf's contract will be up next summer as a pending unrestricted free agent. His cap-hit is $6.5-million and the Leafs have managed just fine with that under the salary cap. It's a bonus, then, that Phaneuf's next contract will likely have him making slightly less, probably between the $5.5 and $6-million range. Don't be surprised if it's a $6-million cap-hit, and if it is, the Leafs should have no problem giving that up.

The following is a list from www.capgeek.com which lists all the defensemen in the NHL that are comparables to Phaneuf in terms of their contracts:

Name Age Team Salary Cap Hit
Suter, Ryan » 28 MIN $12,000,000 $7,538,462
Campbell, Brian » 34 FLA $7,142,875 $7,142,875
Doughty, Drew » 23 LAK $6,700,000 $7,000,000
Chara, Zdeno » 36 BOS $8,000,000 $6,916,667
Bouwmeester, Jay » 29 STL $6,600,000 $6,680,000
Boyle, Dan » 36 SJS $6,666,666 $6,666,667
Phaneuf, Dion » 28 TOR $5,500,000 $6,500,000
Karlsson, Erik » 23 OTT $5,500,000 $6,500,000
Green, Mike » 27 WAS $6,000,000 $6,083,333
Timonen, Kimmo » 38 PHI $6,000,000 $6,000,000
Seabrook, Brent » 28 CHI $5,000,000 $5,800,000
Markov, Andrei » 34 MTL $5,750,000 $5,750,000
Enstrom, Tobias » 28 WPG $5,750,000 $5,750,000
Keith, Duncan » 29 CHI $7,650,000 $5,538,462
Carle, Matt » 28 TBL $5,750,000 $5,500,000
E.-Larsson, O. » 21 PHX $3,500,000 $5,500,000
Wisniewski, James » 29 CLB $6,000,000 $5,500,000
Myers, Tyler » 23 BUF $6,000,000 $5,500,000

 

Among that list, only three players (Suter, Timonen, and Markov) finished with more points than Phaneuf last season (Karlsson would have notched more as well if he were healthy), Suter being the leader with a massive four-point difference. None of these players even came close in QoC rating, with Tyler Myers being the closest with a 1.835 rating (compared to Phaneuf's 3.173). With that in mind, it's fair to say Phaneuf is easily worth a $5.5-million cap-hit. 

While many are quick to point to Phaneuf's hits and booming shot, there's much more to his game than that, as shown in the underlying statistics above. With that in mind, if Nonis does indeed decide to trade his captain, he better have one hell of an off-season plan.

Follow me on Twitter @RonGuillet