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The trade deadline is looming, so expect the next few fantasy columns to be especially trade-heavy. The wave hasn’t really rolled in yet for the NHL, however, so it’s mainly the Dion Phaneuf – Marian Gaborik swap to consider.
That said, there’s another development today that brings back memories of this column about Brent Burns, Dustin Byfuglien, and the D/RW designation. So let’s get into those two developments.
Phaneuf: Better in fantasy?
Look, in reality, Dion Phaneuf isn’t very effective any longer. There might be flashy hits and powerful shots, but the bad tends to outweigh the good. Maybe the Kings will put him in a more nurturing environment, yet to my eyes, this seems like an expensive “name” acquisition that probably won’t move the needle a whole lot on the ice.
This is the chart I referenced for the trade, via this handy tool from CJ Turtoro using Corey Sznajder’s data
… but if you need more charts and other infographics:
That only matters so much in fantasy terms, aside from the notion that it might not mean much of a boost for, say, Jonathan Quick.
I’ve often liked Phaneuf as a depth defenseman in fantasy, however, at least in leagues with robust stats and now that his stature in the league has really dropped. Yahoo’s profiles can be quite useful in spotting “multi-tool” players the quickest, and you can see that with Phaneuf.
With three goals and 16 points, Phaneuf isn’t likely to jump out at you in leagues with simpler stats. Instead, he excels in racking up peripheral stats: so far in 53 games, Phaneuf has 34 PIM (100 last season), 108 hits, and 114 blocked shots. With 86 SOG, Phaneuf can check a lot of boxes.
Consider this: Phaneuf ranks among just 12 players (not surprisingly, all defensemen) with at least 100 hits and 100 blocked shots this season. Interestingly, Brayden McNabb – the useful blueliner the Kings lost to Vegas in the expansion draft – is also in that group.
So, Phaneuf is unlikely to blow you away at this point in his career. Still, if you’re in the right league, he can have some use in a “quantity over quality” sense.
Now, as far as Marian Gaborik goes? Meh.
Burns at forward?
Injuries are stacking up for the San Jose Sharks, which is opening the door for Brent Burns to return – at least briefly – to the forward position.
The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz reports that Burns is lining up with Joe Pavelski and Timo Meier, so he’s not exactly roughing it, either. Meier is also getting some reps on the Sharks’ top PP, so he could be worth a short-term add depending upon how deep your league is.
In a Fear the Fin article that hasn’t aged well – though it must be mentioned that Burns’ defensive work has increasingly come into question lately – “The Neutral” argued back in 2014 that Burns was better off as a forward. While Burns has obviously paid off on defense for the Sharks (and his checking account), it’s worth remembering that Burns was an absolute force at forward, and he might actually become more valuable during this experiment:
But we do know how dominant he is up front and the impact Burns can make on the wing is undeniable. Only Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Max Pacioretty, Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Toews scored more 5-on-5 goals per 60 minutes than Burns did during his season-and-a-half at wing. Only twelve total forwards, all of them superstars except for Sidney Crosby comfort goat Chris Kunitz, averaged more points per 60. It isn’t merely about the individual scoring stats either; Burns’ impact on both even-strength offense and puck possession, as well as the additional marginal effects of moving players like Pavelski into roles they can crush, significantly improved the entire team in every conceivable category.
One area where Burns may really thrive is quality of chances. Despite firing a ridiculous 242 SOG in 57 games, Burns only has nine goals this season, a shooting percentage of just 3.7. Some of that comes down to an early-season slump, but it stands to reason that Burns was probably taking some lower-quality shots as a blueliner. Burns being closer to the net could mean higher-danger chances, and real headaches for goalies.
Even with an optimal lineup in mind, you wonder if this experiment might be something the Sharks consider revisiting in certain situations, like when they badly need a goal. Naturally, even that hinges on personnel, as a healthy team might be better off with Burns on the blueline, even in those situations.
The one potential downfall could be that, if he gets a longer run as a forward, his ice time might go down. Then again, with the Sharks’ injuries in mind, that might not be much of a worry. In the last two games, Burns logged 28:16 and 29:49 TOI.
Keep in mind that it would take a while for Burns to regain that fun RW/D designation even if the Sharks stick with him. Still, the mere possibility of that happening again is pretty entertaining for us fantasy dorks.
Maybe we’ll get Dustin Byfuglien back at forward, too, this season?
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.