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If nothing else, Dion Phaneuf knows how to make a first impression.
Think back to when Phaneuf burst onto the season as an NHL rookie. He scored 20 goals during his first season in 2005-06, which still stands as a career-high, and he enjoyed 50 and 60-point seasons in the next two years. During his first three seasons (2005-06 to 2007-08), Phaneuf collected 159 points, tying him with Brian Rafalski for sixth-most among defensemen. No other blueliner was even close to his 54 goals during that same span.
Between that scoring prowess and such a tendency to throw hard hits that his last name became a Kronwallian verb, it seemed like Phaneuf was destined to be the next Scott Stevens or Chris Pronger, or maybe the next Rob Blake.
… That’s not how things turned out, of course.
Phaneuf’s been known as much for a shaky contract as anything else lately, which is part of the reason Blake was able to get the Ottawa Senators to eat 25 percent of his salary to make a trade happen.
[Trade: Senators send Phaneuf to Kings.]
At the time, it was a puzzling deal, with the main takeaway being that the Senators get to save money while the Kings hope to rejuvenate Phaneuf. So far, that rejuvenation has been remarkable, even if small sample size red flags pop out so much, they practically poke you in the eye.
Still, it’s been a cool, under-the-radar story. Through four games, Phaneuf already has three goals for the Kings. All three have come on the power play; Phaneuf scored in his debut for L.A. and also found the net last night, helping them carve out a 4-3 win against the Jets.
[A deeper look at debuts for Phaneuf, Marian Gaborik.]
Let’s watch all three of his Kings goals.
Phaneuf’s goal in his Kings debut is the anomaly, as he saw an opening for something of a backdoor goal, which isn’t really what you picture if you hear “Phaneuf power-play goal.”
His past two goals have been to type, with slappers from both points getting the job done:
Even skeptics would probably admit that Phaneuf can still fire the puck, so maybe the Kings will find a nice use for one of his enduring strengths.
Again, there really couldn’t be enough signs that this is a brief surge of luck.
Phaneuf has scored his three goals on 11 SOG, which translates to a 27.3 shooting percentage. He brought a 3.5 shooting percentage (in 53 games) with him from Ottawa, and his career average is 5.7 percent.
(You can stretch this out further to absurd PDO numbers and others, if you want to go exploring.)
The most interesting question will come down to how much value Phaneuf can bring to the Kings.
So far, his possession numbers are shaky, much like they were in Ottawa. He’ll get a chance to improve over the long haul, especially if he remains tethered to a solid middle pairing blueliner like Alec Martinez. Phaneuf has spent more even-strength time with Martinez than he has with any other King, Jonathan Quick included, according to Natural Stat Trick.
This brief but compelling surge is actually reminiscent of some other trades for the Kings. As you may recall, both Vincent Lecavalier and Jarome Iginla enjoyed brief-yet-notable surges in their swan songs in L.A.
Of course, the stakes are higher with Phaneuf. Even at a discounted rate, his $5.25 million cap hit is frightening, especially when you realize that it runs through 2020-21.
One must grade the trade with Marian Gaborik‘s also-challenging contract in mind, making this all a bit convoluted. If one were to wager, it seems most likely that this move will be remembered as a costly, creative, and somewhat confusing lateral move.
But, hey, at least it the first chapter has been captivating.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.