Dion Phaneuf And The Edmonton Oilers

Dion Phaneuf of the Toronto Maple Leafs has become the glut of trade rumours after Sportsnets Nick Kypreos tweeted that the Leafs were open to moving their team captain. Immediately the Edmonton Oilers were connected. Not only is Dion from Edmonton, but on paper he fits the bill in Edmonton for a huge hole in their lineup. So the question becomes, is Dion at $7 million for the next 7 years a good bet to make?

Since joining the league in 2005-06 with the Calgary Flames, Dion has been a polarizing figure around the NHL. Throughout his career he has been touted as one of the best and most underrated defenders in the league, and he has also been blasted as overrated and a cancer in the dressing room. He brings a lot to the table as a defenseman, he is big, mobile, has a hard and accurate shot, punishes the opposition physically, and plays both the powerplay and penalty kill. Dion is coming off a rough season in Toronto. He was the number one guy, playing the highest quality of competition, but he was getting buried (like the rest of the Maple Leafs team). Obviously then the question becomes can he have a bounce back season? At 29 and in the prime of his playing career, the most likely answer is yes.

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Phaneuf has had some incredible seasons statistically including a 60 point season in 2007-08 and 28 points in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. He has a very heavy shot which makes him a great powerplay option. For the Oilers, adding a pointman with a heavy shot would go a long way in fixing their powerplay woes. So lets compare Phaneuf with the top 4 Oiler defenseman:

Player GP G A P TOI/60 CF% CF% Rel FF% Rel QoC TOI%
Dion Phaneuf 80 8 23 31 23.1 40.8% -2.8% -1.5% 30.1%
Jeff Petry 80 7 10 17 21.3 46.7% +3.7% +2.5% 29.0%
Andrew Ference 71 3 15 18 20.8 42.9% -3.1% -4.1% 28.9%
Justin Schultz 74 11 22 33 23.0 42.9% -2.6% -2.3% 28.8%
Martin Marincin 44 0 6 6 18.9 47.5% +7.0% +4.9% 28.7%

The stats that jump out are the TOI and QoC. Phaneuf was playing heavy minutes, and was playing against the toughest competition for Toronto. He was their number one defenseman and was involved in all disciplines. He killed penalties, played heavy powerplay minutes, and was also tasked with defending the oppositions top players. The numbers tell us that he was not fully successful in this role, he lost the possession battle quite heavily. But he was playing for Toronto who as a team was second last in the entire NHL in both CF% and FF%. The Maple Leafs did not play a puck possession style of hockey. It has been documented heavily just how poor they were in this regard. So on a better team, one which focuses more heavily on a puck possession style, Phaneufs numbers would be better. 

Does He Fit in Edmonton?

Looking at these numbers we can immediately see that Phaneuf would slot right in with Jeff Petry on the top pairing in Edmonton. Which would push Martin Marincin down to some easier competition, and would give Petry a high quality defensive partner for the first time in his career. He would be on the 1PP unit with Justin Schultz, which would immediately give the Oilers a different look on the PP. As of now the Oilers have nobody that can let loose a cannon from the point, which means teams can focus on taking away passes, blocking shots, and forcing the Oilers to make poor puck decisions. With Phaneuf, the opposition would have to show some respect to his shot, meaning they would need to ensure he was covered up top which would create space down low for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall. This space would give them more options and in theory would result in a far more effective PP unit.

On the PK Phaneuf would bring a big body for shot blocking, but he is also very mobile. Lots of players who kill penalties are out there because of their shot blocking prowess, but they lack footspeed to make effective plays when there is an opportunity to clear the zone. Phaneuf has the ability to not only block shots and punish players in front of the net but he also brings mobility. This mobility will only help the PK.

At even strength the Oilers were punished night in and night out by the oppositions top lines (especially big bodied teams). Phaneuf would immediately bring a physicality that Edmonton lacks in their top 4 D. His ability to make smart plays with the puck would help the Edmonton transition game immensely. The most important factor though, is that with Phaneuf on the top pairing it immediately shifts the order down one. For Edmonton this is incredibly beneficial. Every single defender on Edmonton was playing above their means this season. They were forced into role that they weren't suited for simply because of a lack of options. With Phaneuf added to the batting order, Edmonton will have the ability to play their defenseman in roles better suited to their current abilities and give Marincin, Klefbom and Schultz time to develop.

Cost

The cost of this player would likely be dear, especially since it has been speculated that Toronto is willing to eat some salary on any deal. Something like Gagner is not going to get this deal done for Edmonton. If we start with Gagner we would likely have to add one of Klefbom/Nurse/Marincin. The best bet would be something along the lines of Gagner + Klefbom. This is a huge price to pay, but what it does is it brings in a legitimate number one defenseman, and allows Edmonton to bring Darnell Nurse along slowly. Nurse has the potential to take over that spot from Phaneuf, and it could work out well time wise. If this trade were to happen as detailed above, the Oilers could then zero in on one of the top centers in this years draft with their third overall pick. 

Worth it?

Yes. He is better suited as a 2LD, but on Edmonton he would immediately slot into the 1LD position. He would bring a lot of what the Oilers are missing on their backend, and provide a stop-gap for youngsters Darnell Nurse, Martin Marincin and Oscar Klefbom. 

Photo Courtesy of AP Photo/Kathy Willens

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