Comparables: Dion Phaneuf

Comparables is a series where we take the statistics of some of the young, up-and-coming players in the league and compare them to other players with a similar background to give us an impartial career projection.

I’ve run this series twice in the past, looking at Matt Stajan and Andrei Kostitsyn, and today’s subject is Calgary Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf. We’ll start by looking at the profile we’ll use – please note that all results have been prorated over 82 games, both with Phaneuf and with the list of comparables.

  • Dion Phaneuf
  • 6’3” – 205lbs – First round pick
  • 20: 82GP – 20G – 29A – 49PTS
  • 21: 82GP – 18G – 34A – 52PTS
  • 22: 82GP – 17G – 43A – 60PTS
  • 23: 82GP – 11G – 37A – 48PTS

Phaneuf is not an easy player to find comparables for. He combines offensive ability with a physical edge, and he emerged as an incredibly useful NHL player in his rookie season. Not many players over the last 20 years can boast that particular skill-set. Nevertheless, there are two players who come close.

  • Roman Hamrlik
  • 6’2” – 208lbs – First round pick
  • 20: 82GP – 21G – 19A – 40PTS
  • 21: 82GP – 16G – 49A – 65PTS
  • 22: 82GP – 12G – 29A – 41PTS
  • 23: 82GP – 9G – 34A – 43PTS
  • Rob Blake
  • 6’3” – 222lbs – Fourth round pick
  • 20: 82GP – 13G – 37A – 50PTS
  • 21: 82GP – 10G – 19A – 29PTS
  • 22: 82GP – 17G – 46A – 63PTS
  • 23: 82GP – 20G – 47A – 67PTS

Of interest: both Hamrlik and Blake were essentially finished developing as offensive defencemen by the time they turned 25; Blake would never put up more points than he did at age 23, and Hamrlik never surpassed the totals he posted at the age of 21. This isn’t to say that their development stopped; it’s reasonable to suggest that both tightened up their defensive game as their careers continued on. Offensively though, they were finished.

I don’t think either is an ideal comparison for Phaneuf, but in this instance I lean towards Blake. Hamrlik had already played two seasons by the time he turned 20, and aside from one season his offence was fairly strictly confined to the 40-point range. Blake meanwhile was not as highly touted in his draft year (70th overall) but aside from that he’s a rather good comparison, allowing for the fact that he suffered an injury in his 21-year-old season that knocks his offence down in that year. If we accept that year as an aberration, he’s a touch better offensively than Phaneuf is over the same time span.

Questions for the comments section:

  1. Does Blake seem like a reasonable comparison for Phaneuf?
  2. If Phaneuf went on to have Blake’s career, would that mean he’s met, exceeded, or fallen below the expectations of Flames’ fans?

Comments (15)

  1. I don’t think many could complain if he went on to have a Blake like career. I think that he does a few things that Blake is not capable of, such as the end to end rushes and the open ice hitting, however he lacks the solid, night in night out reliability that Blake has been counted on for a decade plus.

  2. Meatloaf?

    Pair of Dice, buy the dash bored lights

  3. I guess there’s two parts to this, at least for me. First, comparing offensive totals between era should always be done with an eye to league wide scoring. So:

    90/91 – 6.91
    91/92 – 6.96
    92/93 – 7.23
    93/94 – 6.48

    4 yr. average – 6.90

    05/06 – 6.17
    06/07 – 5.89
    07/08 – 5.57
    08/08 – 5.83

    4 yr. average – 5.85

    That’s roughly an 18% percent difference, so Blake’s higher totals might be a bit misleading. If you normailze the years that the two put up their best numbers, Phaneuf’s 07/08 was likely better than Blake’s 93/94. Of course, Blake put up .75 ppg in 01/02 when league scoring for the year was 5.24 gpg. That was likely his most productive season if we normalize things.

    The second part is defensive prowess, and that’s the important part. If Phaneuf stalls at 50ish points a season but develops into a EV player worthy of his paygrade (number one or one-a D man on the merits), people will be happy. Otherwise? No, I don’t think so. The comparison to Blake is hard because we’d only know anecdotally whether he played the other team’s first line night after night. No Gabe Desjardins making things easy for us back in the early ’90s ;-)

  4. Phaneuf isn’t a Blake, he’s not even a Bieksa.
    It amazes me how overrated Phaneuf is, and how underrated Bieksa is. No GM in the NHL takes Phaneuf over Bieksa.

  5. No team takes Phaner over Bieska? You are delusional.

  6. wow that BC grass must be good if you actually meant that. No GM would take Phaneuf over Bieksa. Yikes ! I mean Bieksa is underated but my god. Thats like saying No GM would ever take Roberto Luongo over Jonathan Quick lol

  7. I would take Tom Gilbert over Dion Phaneuf.

  8. There’s another player who Phaneuf often reminds me of:

    Brian McCabe
    6′ 2″ – 220lbs – Second Round Pick
    20: 82GP – 7G – 16A – 23PTS
    21: 82GP – 8G – 20A – 28PTS
    22: 82GP – 4G – 20A – 24PTS
    23: 82GP – 8G – 17A – 25PTS (actual GP: 69)

    First of all, please note that I don’t mean this as a slight, and I am obviously aware that the offensive production wasn’t there at the early stages of McCabe’s career like it was these other players. He did, however, eventually rack up some very impressive offensive numbers, peaking at 68PTS with the Leafs in 05/06.

    Mostly, it’s their playing style that strikes me as similar. Both Phaneuf and McCabe have good offensive presence, both on the pp and at es (although I haven’t done the statistical analysis to back this). They’re both also big, bruising defensemen, and both occasionally suffer from poor defensive play at times. This is sometimes caused by poor positioning, looking for big hits at inopportune moments, or simple errors.

    Another point of interest is that McCabe actually played all 82 games in all three of his first seasons. This must be a rare feat for young d, and is another way that he is similar to Phaneuf who only missed 3 games in his first three seasons. Hamrlik missed 52 and Blake 43 at the same respective points of their careers, which must be closer to normal for young, highly physical defenders.

    Being fairly familiar with all four players, I’d suggest that what is most obscured by these boxcar numbers is their differing abilities to defend in their own zone. Would anyone disagree with the rough ranking of McCabe < Phaneuf < Blake < Hamrlik? IMO, Hamrlik is head and shoulders above the rest. His plus minus numbers don’t seem to bear this out, especially early on in his career, but those were some pretty terrible teams in Tampa. The only year that he was with the Bolts that nhl.com has stats for, he was a -18 on a team that was -79.

    (One final note: when was the last time the Oilers pulled off a robbery like this trade in `97: Hamrlik and P. Comrie for Marchment, Steve Kelly and Jason Bonsignore? Ah, the good old days of the late 90s…)

  9. obviously contracts are also a part of a players trade value so I guess that enters into a discussion of relative ‘worth’ of Bieksa, Gilbert, Phaneuf

    but Phaneuf is 4 years younger than Bieksa, 2 years younger than Gilbert and that is pretty relevant in comparing D to this point even accepting the original authors premise that the offence might max out…the other parts of the game are still rounding out

    regarding McCabe, we might accept that Phaneuf is in that ‘family’ of defenceman, but as the above numbers show, Phaneuf’s offence at ages 20-24 is so different than McCabes I don’t think it makes him a comp in this sense.
    Blake is always one I have thought reasonable and the Hamrlik one is new to me but interesting (especially as he was Phaneufs first mentor/partner)

    at any rate I couldn’t complain if Phaneuf had a Blake career , Blake was a hell of a Dman for a few years there , briefly mentioned with the likes of Pronger, Niedermayer etc, although he didn’t sustain at that elite level for as long as they have

  10. Robert Cleave:

    I love the comment, and that’s absolutely a fair point. The other item to consider is power play vs. even strength scoring; we don’t even know that because the league doesn’t have records going that far back.

    The biggest thing I got by looking at different names was that I don’t think we should expect to see an uptick in Phaneuf’s offensive game. I think we’re more likely to see him round out his defensive game while continuing in the 45-60 point range. Which is actually pretty good for the Flames, if things work out that way.

  11. I like Bieksa and I like Gilbert, and I think both are underrated.

    But Phaneuf’s offensive game at such a young age is pretty unique and ignoring other things (contract, for instance) I think he’s got to be viewed as head and shoulders above those two.

  12. Andrew W:

    I see what you’re saying, but because the offence came so much earlier I’d guess that Phaneuf’s defensive game comes into form well before McCabe’s. It’s probably in Phaneuf’s favour that his performance in his early 20′s is comparable to McCabe’s in Toronto.

    I’ve always liked Hamrlik, although the Oilers did fairly well in the trade that ended with him going out of town (Brewer, Winchester and Green, IIRC) and that trade led to the Oilers other great trade steal from recent memory: Brewer, Lynch and Woywitka for one Chris Pronger.

  13. At The end of the day, being a Flames fan, if he’s compared to the “likes” of a Rob Blake….meh, I wouldn’t be disappointed that’s for sure. I guess only time will tell, seeing as d-men supposedly get better with age, then the future is looking good, this year( so far) his defensive game is better then last year, I’m not gonna bother looking up the complex ( corsi ratings/ d zone draws …etc) stats, but going from what I have witnessed watching him play to this point. Good article JW.

  14. Phaneuf ,at his age, is miles better than any of them , and he is only going to get better as the years progress – tremendous upside that few can match . Gilbert will be lucky to stay in NHL if he doesn’t start to be more physical – as his offensive stats are also plummeting !! Bieksa is no Phaneuf offensively and never will be . Any GM would love to have Phaneuf on their team over any you people seem to be trying to compare him to .

  15. Hamrlik is an interesting comparison. I think Phaneuf really misses having Hamrlik beside him on the point in Calgary.
    It was one of the ooops of the Flames GM, trading for Aucoin and not re-signing Hamrlik.

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