Will Dion Phaneuf Help The Senators' Power Play?

As you surely know by now, Dion Phaneuf was traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Ottawa Senators in a nine-player trade Tuesday. Since you've already read about the trade in a general sense, I will direct my comments specifically towards power play fallout.

First, we'll talk about Toronto. The Leafs for most of the season used Phaneuf as the no. 1 power play point man in the 1-3-1. Phaneuf was generally a decent zone entry option, and had good chemistry with forwards like James Van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov in executing the Leafs' favored give-and-go wide pass entry leading to rush chances (no GIF available because NHL.tv)

Let's first look at the stats for the different Leafs point options prior to the trade.

Despite many fans clamoring for more minutes for Morgan Rielly with the man advantage, his results haven't been all that encouraging. Phaneuf-led power plays recorded the most shot attempts, and he himself shoots the most, while Jake Gardiner's units (some of which overlap as Gardiner has played time on the half boards or even as the bumper) have been the best at scoring and he himself has the most points/60. 

It's important to note, though, that Rielly, especially early in the season, would play the last 20-30 seconds of some power plays, when the accompanying forwards are less talented and overall there is less structure involved. It's kind of like how one couldn't accurately evaluate a backup QB thrown into a blowout game in the NFL because of a) the personnel that likely surrounded him at that point, and b) the lack of reps in practice that week with consistent players as his passing options.

Overall, I've liked what I've seen skills-wise from Rielly, but he also makes mistakes which have led to rushes against, as well as lacking timing when it comes to entries. Those are facets of his game that should come with time, so I like the move for the Leafs in the interest of giving Gardiner and Rielly more time on the power play to develop their skills.

But back to Phaneuf, who hasn't scored many point on the power play but has taken a lot of shots. I wrote early on about how shot metrics haven't done a good job predicting power play performance of late, so I don't think Phaneuf's on-ice CF/60 or iCorsi/60 numbers mean that he's an accomplished power play talent. From watching tape, it's easy to see that Phaneuf likes to shoot early, he's not shy about it. Take a look at a couple of these attempts.

I wouldn't classify either of them as likely to produce a goal -- the second, only seconds after a clean zone entry and with no real screen, is especially wasteful. The Leafs are a team that all season has been among the top performers in terms of shots directed at the net, but haven't fared quite as well in terms of conversion to goals. Phaneuf is a big reason behind that. It's not to say that there aren't benefits to shooting for quantity and trying for screened goals, tips, and rebounds -- and with limited talent it's hard to fault them for trying it -- but the shots still need to be smart ones, and I wouldn't consider off-balance wristers or half-hearted snap shots from the boards to most often be smart plays.

So now let's talk about the Senators power play.

Nobody will be accusing the Sens of shooting too much, as they sit closer to the bottom of the league than the top in terms of shot metrics. The Sens use Erik Karlsson for virtually every second of power play time. First, he'll play on the right (his strong side) with Cody Ceci on the point, and then he'll shift to the point himself as the lone defenseman. The Sens play a vague 1-3-1 but with significant movement and not too much emphasis on having guys on their off-wings. They like to use Mika Zibanejad's speed to enter the zone frequently, something I certainly support, but like most teams, they don't appear to be too strict in terms of set entries. 

As you can see, Phaneuf becomes easily the Sens' most frequent shooter on the power play, though he doesn't put up nearly as many points as the Senators' main options. The most interesting comparison is likely Phaneuf to Ceci, since in his debut on Wednesday, Phaneuf took over Ceci's point role entirely, with Ceci only playing 22 seconds to the former Leaf's 5:04 and Karlsson's 13:02 -- that's just power play time, he played 33 minutes overall, holy hell.

While it's difficult to separate team effects out entirely when it comes to comparing two defensemen on the power play, we can get part way there. We know that Ceci's GF60RelTm, a stats from stats.hockeyanalysis.com which attempts to do just that, is 2.7, whereas Phaneuf's is -0.85. And we know that Ceci's CF60RelTm is 0.2, versus -4.13 for Phaneuf. 

In limited minutes, Ceci has actually performed very well at the point for the Senators. Though it could be a product of other players as well, Ceci's units, with Karlsson on the right, have produced better than those with Karlsson on the point. Even in a limited sample, those are surprisingly big shoes for Phaneuf to step into. 

The volume shooting that Phaneuf brings, however, could be advantageous for the Sens, who as seen above, haven't managed to get shots off at a high enough rate. If Phaneuf can find a happy medium between the excess of poor shots he seemed to be taking in Toronto for lack of better passing options, and the type of patience and deference one would expect when playing next to Erik Karlsson up a man, the Senators might be able to squeak out a few more dirty goals. Players like Zack Smith, JG Pageau and whomever else coach Dave Cameron might deploy in front of goal, will have to be aware that Phaneuf might shoot at any time, and that they have to be actively looking to screen the goalie, to tip the puck, and to look for rebounds. Tips, after all, have been the cause of the only two power play goals off the stick of Phaneuf this season. If left-boards players like Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone and Zibanejad can feed him one-timer passes into dangerous locations, then he may even score a few more. Phaneuf's average shot distance, despite some questionable choices, is actually closer to the net than another volume shooter that I wrote about recently, P.K. Subban.

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I like this trade for the Leafs' power play because Phaneuf wasn't going to be in Toronto long term and both Gardiner and Rielly have shown signs of being top options but need more reps. From exclusively a power play standpoint the trade could be beneficial for the Senators as well, though I wouldn't want to shut Ceci out of the rotation entirely without seeing if his positive numbers are more talent or variance.