The Backcheck: Talking Phaneuf and Crosby

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Every week, Sportsnet’s  Eliotte Friedman writes a column called “30 Thoughts” and it’s basically the NHL article I look most forward to, as it gives—you guessed it—30 tidbits about the goings on the NHL based off of info Friedman has gotten from his sources.

In the past, former TheScore.com writer Justin Bourne wrote the second article I most looked forward to, “Thoughts on Thoughts” in which Bourne picked his five favorite Friedman thoughts and elaborated.

Unfortunately for those who loving reading Hockey articles—but fabulously for Justin Bourne himself—Bourne was hired by the Toronto Marlies as their video coach and so his article has ceased to exist.

However! As is the American way, I shall not let a good idea go to waste!  So for this column, “The Backcheck,” I am going to rip off Coach Bourne and basically co-opt his idea for TheThreeFour.com’s purposes.

Each week, following Elliotte Friedman’s wonderful piece, I will go back (get it? Backcheck?) through—however many—tidbits that interested me and give my opinion on them. It may be five, like Bourne’s; it may be 1, who knows? Whatever topics need to be elaborated on shall be.

This week’s 30 Thoughts: What’s behind Crosby’s scoring surge

Since the NHL went to 30 teams, we’ve seen two teams finish top-nine in goals for — and dead last in goals against. They were the 2000-01 Maple Leafs and 2011-12 Lightning.

Entering last weekend’s games, this year’s Ottawa Senators were on-track to make it number three.

No one’s blaming Craig Anderson. He plays behind a high-risk, high-reward group that’s fun to watch, but stressful to coach. The Senators were seeking blue-line help, especially as their faith in Jared Cowenand Patrick Wiercioch evaporated.

Enter Dion Phaneuf. In an absolute stunner of a deal, the Toronto captain was the cornerstone of a nine-player trade between the Maple Leafs and Senators. He is scheduled to pair with Cody Ceci for his first game, which will be in Detroit on Wednesday night.

I’m not sure Phaneuf is going to help Ottawa get off the basement floor in terms of goals against, but he certainly is going to fit better in Ottawa than he did in Toronto.

This has been talked about ad nauseam, so there’s no need to go into it too much, but Dion should have never been the Leaf’s best defenseman. He’s not that type of player; doesn’t mean he’s not a good NHLer, but he’s not a #1 D in this day in age. Now that he’s in Ottawa, he’ll play on the second pairing as Erik Karlsson shoulders all the pressure of being the #1 D. His contract is high for a second paring guy, but Ottawa isn’t a cap team, so overpaying for one player isn’t going to kill them…right now.

The trouble for Ottawa will be in a couple years, if Phaneuf’s game slips moving him down to a 3rd pairing guy. By all accounts, Phaneuf is a Pros Pro, so here’s hoping he enjoys stepping out of the limelight, so to speak, and is productive in Ottawa.

As for the Leafs, this deal makes them worse, which is what they want for right now. How much worse? Well, they’re already in the bottom three of the league, so it can’t be that much worse, but it’s definitely going to be harder for them to win games down the stretch, putting them in good position for the draft lottery.

My only concern, as a Leafs fan, is that immediately after the trade, Leafs media started with the “Now they can make Stamkos the Captain when he signs as Free Agent” talk. Now, I recognize that is heavy fan speculation and media driven, but what I fear is that the Leafs have actually put all their eggs in that Stamkos basket.

It’s great that the Leafs have moved on from David Clarkson, Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf. With or without Stamkos next summer, those players had to go; they just didn’t work as a core group in the NHL. But I’m just real worried that the Leafs are going to make a run at Stamkos, not get him, and then have no plan B (aside from then targeting John Tavares the next summer) and be stuck with this group of fourth liners for another season.

I say that, just because of the Leafs history. Brendan Shanahan et al have, so far, made a ton of smart moves, which, as a life-long Leafs fan, is very odd to see the Leafs do. So I guess I have to give them some benefit of the doubt, but it would be very Leaf to swing and miss on Stamkos this summer and be left stuck twiddling their thumbs without anyone to put in their line-up.

Here’s the scariest thing about Sidney Crosby’s leap into the NHL’s Top 10 scorers: he’s not cheating.

Most centres are asked to play low in the defensive zone. It can help you transition to offence with speed, but it also means you have a longer skate and increases the possibility a scoring chance disappears by the time you get there. We know coaches demand defensive accountability, and no one, not even Crosby, is immune.

As he struggled to start the season, opponents wondered if the Penguins would move him higher or allow him to “blow the zone,” just to get him going. With 12 goals and 22 points in his last 11 games, no one’s worried about Crosby anymore. They’re worried about themselves against him.

I joked on Twitter the other day that Crosby might have spotted Patrick Kane 29 points and decided to really start trying on Jan. 1, to make the scoring race interesting. Obviously that isn’t the case (but wouldn’t it be awesome if it was?), but Crosby exploding into the 6th spot (as of 2/10/2016) in scoring shows how amazing Sidney Crosby is.

I’ve written that he is still the most dynamic player in the NHL, and Friedman’s point that he’s producing like this while still playing a 200ft game emphasizes that. Fingers crossed he keeps going like he is, because when he’s playing like the best hockey player in the world, all hockey fans benefit, he’s that amazing to watch…plus, my Stanley Cup final prediction will look pretty good.

What do you think?