Whatever Happened To Dion Phaneuf’s Offence?

Dion Phaneuf burst on to the NHL scene in 2005-06 as part of one of the richest rookie classes in NHL history. Thanks to the NHL lockout, there were two years’ worth of rookies entering the league, and Phaneuf was one of the gems – along with Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Henrik Lundqvist.

With the way things have gone lately, it’s easy to forget what a start Phaneuf had.

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As a 20-year old rookie, Phaneuf recorded 49 points and scored 20 goals, still a career-high. That goal total made him the third-highest scoring rookie defenceman in league history. Phil Housely scored 19 as a rookie, Denis Potvin and Raymond Bourque each tallied 17, and even Bobby Orr scored just 13 in his rookie year. That’s hallowed company.

The difference is that those players all progressed. Housely scored 31 goals as a sophomore, Bourque put 27 pucks in the net, Potvin would score 31 goals two years later, and Orr developed into the greatest offensive defenceman in the history of the game. Phaneuf went from 20, down to 17 over two seasons, down to a dozen, and has managed just a single goal this season.

What happened? In a word, shooting percentage. The following chart shows the difference between the phenomenal start to Phaneuf’s career and his current struggles:

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Seasons GP Goals Shots Shots/Game SH%
2005-08 243 54 735 3.02 7.35
2008-11 196 24 610 3.11 3.93

As the table shows, Phaneuf is shooting as much as he ever has – a little more, even – but that’s not enough to compensate for the fact that his shooting percentage has been slashed in half.

Also of interest is the dramatic shift in where Phaneuf’s scoring from:

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Seasons EV/SH Goals PP Goals Total Goals
2005-08 15 39 54
2008-11 15 9 24

Why has Phaneuf’s power play scoring been slashed by 75%? To tell the truth, I really don’t know. It’s not like Calgary’s power-play was anything special when Phaneuf was breaking into the league.

I also can’t answer whether Phaneuf will end up looking like the player he started out as, the player he has now, or something in the middle. I’d guess the latter, and while that’s hardly the best case scenario it does represent something substantially better than what Phaneuf’s doing right now. Even if Phaneuf can just get back up to his career average shooting percentage, it would represent a six-fold increase on his goal total so far this season.

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