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Finding Pronger in Phaneuf

Dion Phaneuf was –3 last night. He was on the ice for 4 out of the 5 goals. He made a lazy play with his stick that led to a Mike Richards goal; he got unlucky when a slap shot from the point ricocheted off his skate into the net; he got caught up ice in the offensive zone leading to a 2 on 1; and he just got blatantly beat by Briere.

As of today, Phaneuf ranks 217th in the league among Defensemen with a +/- rating of –5. The irking fact about that stat is the fact that it is NOT out-of-the-ordinary for Phaneuf. If Nick Lidstrom was –5 at this point in the season, you could still bank on the fact that he would finish the season over +30. But Phaneuf has not been more than + 10 in his career since 2007-2008 when he was +12 (interestingly enough, over his career of 411 games Phaneuf is also +12).

Ironically, Phaneuf’s counterpart on the Flyers in the game yesterday, Chris Pronger, just happens to be one of the best +/- players of all time. In 1109 career games, Pronger is +176. Pro-rate Phaneuf’s stats to the same number of games. He falls short by almost +150. But it’s not just the +/- that sets the Flyers Assistant Captain apart.

Pronger is a General out there. On the ice. On the bench. His stick can break up perfect passing plays. He can throw bone-crushing, jaw-dropping hits. His shot from the point is deadly. He owns the ice in front of the net. He can command a powerplay as well as anyone. And his style of play has a tendency to invoke a sense of fear in opponents.

Is it just me, or is Pronger not the poster boy for what Phaneuf should try to become?

Phaneuf has all the tools to become just that. The size, the skill, the attitude, the leadership. Phaneuf, however, is struggling to make the transition from a solid offensive defenseman with average defensive prowess to an elite blueliner at both ends of the rink. Bridging that gap is more mental than physical. What separates Pronger from Phaneuf is his ability to select the right course of action in any given situation. That kind of ability innate more than anything else.

From a coaching standpoint, the only option Ron Wilson really has is to make Phaneuf watch Pronger tapes all day and pray that some of that genius rubs off on Dion. Not much else he can do other than maybe giving his captain a t-shirt that says “What Would Pronger Do?”

Filed in: NHL Teams, Toronto Maple Leafs, | KK Members Blog | Permalink
  Tags: chris+pronger, dion+phaneuf, nick+lidstrom, ron+wilson

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