There is a perception that Dion Phaneuf is a pretty good hockey player. And why not? He's captain of one of the most storied franchises in the National Hockey League. (Whatever else we may say about the Maple Leafs, let us not deny their history; we Original Six fanbases need to stick together.) Alas for the Leafs, he's not. He's no Darryl Sittler, he's no Mats Sundin, and as for Wendel Clark, I'm pretty sure #17 has, to paraphrase Jack Palance, shit bigger than Dion Phaneuf. You want me to make a Wendel Clark joke? Fuck no, YOU make a Wendel Clark joke.
People, or at least the strawman I've conveniently created, seem to think Phaneuf is a good player because he was a high draft pick, he's got a big slapshot, and he lays some big hits. That's pretty much it. Hell, Johnny Boychuk's got all those things going for him, except for the high draft pick thing. Oh, and Boychuk isn't a train wreck on defense.
Yeah, you heard me. Given a choice between Dion Phaneuf and Johnny Boychuk, I'll take Johnny and his rocket any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Don't believe me? Fine. Here's the usage chart for the Leafs' defensemen. Take note of Phaneuf's -7.3 relative Corsi. That's relative, not absolute. If you look at his absolute Corsi, that red dot grows to planetary levels of size. True, Phaneuf was deployed against the best competition the Leafs could find for him, and was deployed in a primarily defensive manner. And it's tough for a defenseman to thrive in that environment. Well, unless you're Johnny Boychuk, who managed a +8.53 absolute Corsi against the best competition the Bruins faced, in primarily defensive zone starts. Check out that happy blue dot.
Boychuk has a well-earned rep for boneheaded mistakes, it's true. He almost singlehandedly derailed the 2011 Cup run with his awful play in the Tampa Bay series. I don't mean to suggest that he's a star player. Anyone with a pulse knows that as Zdeno Chara goes, so goes Boston's defense. But while one may fairly argue how good Boychuk is, he's a net asset to the team on some level. It's harder to make that claim for Phaneuf. To be fair, he's got company; picking the best Leafs defenseman is like picking your second favorite Lannister. Still, for a captain and a multiple time all-star, and how in the name of Christ did that happen, I'd expect a player who drives play and lifts up his teammates, rather than being a drag on them.
OK, fine, I'm not a hockey player; I'm an attorney with rapidly graying hair who can barely skate. So don't take my word for it. Take the word of Phaneuf's peers, who voted him the NHL's most overrated player last year. Maybe it's got something to do with the fact that he was paid $6.5 million this year and will get another $6.5 million next year to perform his rather questionably valued services. To keep with the previous comparison, Boychuk will make a little more than half that.
Phaneuf is going to get referred to at some point in this series as Toronto's "shutdown defenseman". Don't believe the hype. He's overpaid, overrated, and oh, Nathan Horton kicked his ass.
Dion Phaneuf vs Nathan Horton Oct 28, 2010 (via hockeyfightsdotcom)