Should the Leafs buy out Dion Phaneuf this summer?

The Fan 590, in its efforts to incite reactions out of Torontonians rather than educate, asked this question on its sports radio station today:

Our answer is unequivocally “no”. Dion Phaneuf took some heat in our comment threads for his play against the New York Rangers. One commenter referred to him as a “better version of [Brett] Lebda”.

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Most defencemen are better versions of Brett Lebda, of course, but that’s not really the question asked. Phaneuf is paid $6.5-million over the next two seasons and is hardly a buy-out candidate. While he may not be worth every penny on his deal, he’s the best defenceman on Toronto and he doesn’t play a position the Leafs can afford to give up good players.

Consider the following about Phaneuf’s play so far this season:

-Dion Phaneuf leads the NHL in ice-time after five games. According to, he has played 81.6% of his 89.92 minutes at even strength opposite Mike Koskta, a 27-year old career AHLer who has played five NHL games, most of them paired with Dion Phaneuf. That’s a little over 73 minutes of play next to a minor-leaguer.

-Despite this, Phaneuf’s puck-possession stats are not to dissimilar to last season. The Leafs are slightly losing on the shot clock with Phaneuf on the ice this season, but that’s partly because he’s faced the toughest Quality of Competition among all Maple Leafs defenders and only Carl Gunnarsson has started a lower percentage of shifts in his defensive zone.

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-Phaneuf has been taken off of Gunnarsson’s pairing. The two were an effective shutdown unit last year, treading water in tough, tough minutes and allowing Jake Gardiner to display his skills offensively. This season, Gardiner and John-Michael Liles are getting tonnes of offensive zone starts against fairly weak competition, thanks to the load shouldered by Phaneuf.

-People may point to Phaneuf being a minus-8 this season. Phaneuf has gotten some awful puck luck this season: his teammates are shooting just 4.26% when he’s on the ice (the NHL median should be about 8%) and Leafs goaltenders are stopping just 82.7% of pucks when he’s on the ice. Add those two numbers together, and Phaneuf’s PDO is 869, one of the lowest in the NHL among regular defenders. (Click here for a more thorough explanation about PDO. Both percentages are far too low to last very long)

I don’t know what fans expect out of Dion Phaneuf. When he came into the NHL, he scored 20 goals (in a season where powerplay opportunities were elevated coming out of the 2004-05 lockout) and registered several highlight-reel hits in Calgary. What they didn’t show you was how Phaneuf was often out of position during his time with the Flames, and only when he stopped attempting the big collision did he mature as a defenceman and become a rock for the Leafs. He’s a player Toronto has been able to send out in every situation for the last two-and-some seasons. missing just 16 games.

He’s not a buy-out candidate. The Leafs have trouble on defence, but that’s a result of having too few defencemen like Dion Phaneuf, not too many. He’d be a top-pairing guy on most NHL teams and would surely be scooped up on the free agent market at a price similar to what he’s making now.

For Toronto to solve their defence problems, they’ll need to find somebody who can partner up with him or Carl Gunnarsson routinely, so that one pairing isn’t forced to hold onto the teams’ defensive burden.

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  • The problem with this logic is there are too many overpaid leaf players. Phaneuf is clearly not the first player to be bought out (Liles or Komisarek are ahead of him on defence). But don’t confuse the fact that Phaneuf’s contract does the leafs no favours in that along with Komisarek’s and Liles contracts, it forces Carlyle to ice AHL player (kostka) and have those players play 30 minutes a night. The problem is less so cap space and more term/roster spots especially given Komisarek’s NMC. And that will preven adding this “veteran” defender unless through trade as UFA acquisition till now has been unlikely.

    The point is Phaneuf is not worth 6.5M but Phaneuf is not a buy out candidate. That said, when it comes down to resign Phaneuf he needs to take a pay cut. That would be a good story to blog on when that time arises.

  • I think people put too much stock into plus minus as a stat. Of course Dion Phaneuf is going to be on the ice for most goals against because he plays the most out of anyone in the league. Also adding in the lack of production from the Kessel line and that will equal a low plus minus. I honestly do not know what Leafs fans want sometimes. The two players who most seem fed up with are the only two players who I could see as very important contributors on a Stanley Cup team that we currently employ. (Exception being Grabovski) Is there anyone else on this team who we think could do the jobs these two do? I think its time Leafs fans simmer down and look at our team realistically. We have a below average roster and an average farm system. We aren’t going anywhere quick and we have two young studs who are both young, Phaneuf being 27 and Kessel 25. The ONLY way we should even think of getting rid of both is if management decides to blow it up and rebuild a la “Pittsburgh model.” Finally, why on earth would we buy Phaneuf out? Even if he was useless, which he wasn’t, there’d be a team willing to take a risk on him. Why buy him out when realistically you could get a decent return on a top 20 Dman in this league?

  • Ayodele

    A top pairing defenseman should put up decent-to-good numbers against top players, or else he is not a top dman. Phaneuf probably should not be bought out, but, he also likely is not skilled enough to be a top pairing defenseman. The Leafs are so thin that they need him to play top minutes. Phaneuf would be most effective playing 20-22 minutes as a number 3/4 dman on a good team, making around $4.5M.

    • goodoldcanadianboy

      Did Dion Phaneuf not put up 12 goals and 44 points last year and make an all-star team last year? Does Dion Phaneuf not have 313 points in 557 games for his career? How is he not skilled enough to be a top Dman? He consistently plays against the opponents best players and is usually up to the challenge more often than not. Of course players are going to have bad games, but in the case of Dion Phanuef that isn’t nearly as often as people think. Because he has the C on his chest and because the team doesn’t win people want to put the blame on him. The fact is Dion Phaneuf is a top Defenceman and would be at least a #2 on just about every team in the NHL. The fact he is making 6.5 million is a rather moot point. I would rather over pay and have him than try and undercut him and risk losing him. (See: Subban)And of course the Leafs are thin on D, if you employ Mike Komisarek than you are automatically 1 defencemen short for most of the game. I still think the fans and media need to take into consideration his career as a whole before deciding he should be bought out based on 5 games IN A LOCKOUT SEASON which is a small sample size to begin with. I also feel like people who were blaming him for last seasons collapse should get their head examined. Last time I checked Dion Phaneuf didn’t play goalie because of the two that did, one was really inconsistent and usually bad and the other was being forced to play a style he couldn’t play and likely had a concussion.

    • goodoldcanadianboy

      I agree with this. He is too valuable to the team to buy out but is over his head in the current role with the current team mates.

      I see him more like Campbell on the Panthers who is technically a #1 but gets easy minutes. He is not put in hard defensive roles (either PK or against top talent) but is given easier roles. This is how Phaneuf could be used more effectively because his defensive game is not sufficient. Sure he can stop most defenders but gaps in his game make that role better suited for willie mitchell type player.

      Also, I’m not sure why people are sensitive about Phaneuf here. Like Phaneuf, Campbell was an all star but their coach uses him for offensive production rather then to shutdown other players. And like Campbell, Phaneuf is overpaid. This is not a disrespect to Phaneuf or Campbell, this is simply using players skill to best support the team. ANd in Phanuef’s case it is for offensive production against weaker competition (PP but no PK). This maximizes the leafs chances.

  • Ayodele

    Does anyone actually watch Leaf games, or simply follow stats. Every game you can see Phaneuf out of position, standing still, no sense of urgency. He has no hockey sense, for that reason forwards are getting behind him 2-3 times per game. He leaves his position when in his own end, chasing the puck like a novice hockey player. These are mistakes that any of your top 6 d-man cannot make in the NHL, let alone a number 1 guy and your captian!
    If Phaneuf were paid as a 6th d-man, say $2.5 mil…one might overlook his shortcomings, but at his current salary as well him being captian of this group of mis-fits, it is unacceptable.

  • Ayodele

    So there I was Saturday night at the bar ignoring the TV and furiously updating my phone to see what Phaneuf was doing. I’m against trading OR worse buying out Dion but I’m doing it wrong. Thanks Greg

    • goodoldcanadianboy

      Let’s focus on Morgan Reilly playing with Dion first. Don’t count your fish before they’re in the barrel bud, however I like your ability to dream sir.

  • frankiology

    6.5 mil, wears the ” C ”
    The plus minus stat is a really tough stat to analyze.
    But considering the current plus minus stat of Dion Phaneuf, he’s definitely due to have his minutes cut, maybe just to even things out, get a better understanding of plus minus and average minutes within the entire squad and if Phaneuf’s minus continues to plunder, I’m sure the proof will be in the pudding.
    But if the squad as a whole is averaging minus rating then Carlyle will have to go with the players who are less likey to get scored on and give them more minutes.
    Why does a situation have to be so vague?

    • frankiology

      Decreasing his work load makes A WHOLE LOT more sense than a trade or buy-out.

      Most people seem to neglect the intangible when it comes to elite maple leaf talent – the fans.

      As soon as a move like that happens – it’ll get over analyzed by hateful and sour fans, and the MSM will remind us how terrible this franchise is.

      Not to mention any future elite players are going to get the EXACT same microscopic treatment.

      It’s not the team that makes being a Leafs fan so hard, it’s the other Leafs fans.