Bryan Murray shocked the NHL and fans of the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs when he made a 9-player trade centred around Dion Phaneuf on February 9th. There were many layers to the move, and it can be said that both teams benefitted from it. At the end of the day though, I don't think anyone was questioning whether Ottawa's defense improved for the time being.
Now that we are 16 games into the Phaneuf era (still sounds weird), what kind of impact has he made on the team and other players performances?
Let's first look at Phaneuf himself before looking at teammates. In the 16 games, he has one goal and six assists, which is a 36 pace over the course of a full season. While that may seem pedestrian, that would actually be his highest point per game mark since 2012/13. Furthermore, after Erik Karlsson, the next highest scoring defenseman on Ottawa is Cody Ceci with 20 points, so the bar for offensive defensemen is extremely low. Adding at least a bit of offense to the blueline has been a help.
Two of Phaneuf's assists came on the power play, and he has given Ottawa another option on the point along with Karlsson. Let's take a look at how the Senators power play has changed since his arrival:
(stats courtesy of the great Corsica.hockey)
So obviously the power play numbers don't look too impressive since he got here. However, it's not like we can pin blame only on Phaneuf for not improving the power play. Before the trade Ottawa's shooting percentage on the power play was average at 14th in the league, and since then they haven't been generating as many chances, but they also haven't been converting as many, ranking 19th in SH% since February 9th.
There's a bit of bad luck involved with Ottawa's power play of late, but there still needs to be improvement. It's a very small sample of 43 minutes so I hesitate to make conclusions, but Phaneuf has been average to sub-par at generating chances on the man advantage. His CF60 sits at just 50.27, ranking ninth on the team. For reference, Mika Zibanejad is first over that time span at 88.63. Surprisingly he has only been on for two power play goals, but it seems like it has been more than that.
While his power play numbers have been nothing to write home about so far, I would still like to keep him on unit one or two because he does bring a certain element that Ottawa has lacked in the recent past---a second offensive weapon from the backend. When I began writing this article I expected to see Phaneuf have great power play numbers, but it just hasn't been the case so far. But those are the two key words: so far. I'd like to see what he can do in a larger sample with Ottawa.
As for the rest of his game, it has been a mixed bag. Disregarding Shane Prince and Patrick Wiercioch (who have hardly played since February 9th), Phaneuf ranks ninth on the team in corsi at even strength. He's actually been a very average player at 5 on 5, since his his corsi against is only four more than his corsi for, meaning it's a wash and essentially 50%. Furthermore, his corsi relative is at +0.64%, meaning he has been quite average.
His GF% is slightly below average at 47.62%, but he's only been on for 10 goals and 11 against, showing that we're still dealing with limited data. However, it isn't great to see that his xGF% (what his GF% should be, essentially) sits at 44.87%. Some of his play cannot necessarily be traced back to bad luck as well, since his PDO is 101.99.
If there's one clear positive that I found is that he has taken three penalties, but drawn five. He's one of only seven Senators to have a positive penalty differential since the trade. That probably won't last long, but since Ottawa has been a team that has lacked discipline in the last few years, they could use some help with calls going their way.
When we look at how this trade has affected Cody Ceci, there are certainly some more positives. I still find it strange that this deal was made because they had to find a partner for Ceci considering that he is still very much a work in progress. He is by no means a top-four defenseman yet, but he does have some potential. Nevertheless, it looks like his play has improved over the past month.
Here are some numbers before and after the trade:
|Ceci Before Trade:||42.26||-6.67||41.15||47.83||43.22||0.95||101.82|
|Ceci After Trade:||49.89||0.99||44.13||71.43||53.5||0.72||106.28|
It's clear that the results have been much better since Phaneuf came to town. The only thing that got worse for Ceci is his points per 60, which seems strange. It's encouraging to see his possession numbers hovering around 50%, because competence is all that Ottawa needs right now. The Phaneuf/Ceci pairing has been getting some praise in the media, and now I can understand why...Ceci has a whopping 106.28 PDO in the past month and change, which is by no means sustainable. In fact, the second pairing's PDO as a whole is even higher at 107.02.
The 71.43% GF% is also jaw-dropping, but that will come down eventually. Even though these are unrealistic long-term numbers, I found it interesting that the xGF% for him was still very high at 53.5%. I think this stretch of results from Ceci is a blend between luck and playing with Phaneuf, but there's no doubt that Phaneuf has made an impact on him.
Plus we don't know what is being done behind closed doors, as hopefully Phaneuf is trying to help Ceci off the ice as much as he can. The reality is, there is a lot that goes on that we do not know about. As much as we make fun of intangibles in the game, they do exist, and maybe playing alongside a veteran defenseman is all that Ceci needed.
Now, let's not get too carried away with ourselves here either. The pair have a 48.8 CF% in 186 minutes together, which needs to be a bit better. This season Ceci's CF% away from Phaneuf is also a measly 43.2%, so I'd like to see more progression from him. Yes he played with guys like Mark Borowiecki and Jared Cowen, but their possession numbers weren't actually as bad as Ceci's.
It remains to be seen whether or not Ceci's performances of late are for real, or if he is being propped up by Phaneuf. Either way, if Ottawa can get both of them to be about average possession players next year, that is a big boost for them. The thing is, they don't necessarily need another top-end defenseman, they just need competency.
That is what Phaneuf has brought so far, and he has made Ceci look competent for the first time as well. While he most definitely is not worth the $7 million cap hit, he has been just fine. Evaluations of the trade all depend on what Ottawa does next---if they acquire another defenseman and Phaneuf improves just a bit more, then we're in business.