Feb 2, 2013; Toronto, ON, Canada; Former player Doug Gilmour (93) drops the puck during a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of Hockey Night In Canada as Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf (3) and Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) take part in the ceremonnial face-off as Ron MacLean and Don Cherry look on at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Is Dion Phaneuf a Number One Defenseman?

Following the Maple Leafs loss to the New York Islanders two weeks ago, Greg Brady of the Fan590 radio station in Toronto suggested on Twitter that Dion Phaneuf should be nothing more than a second pairing defenseman on a good NHL team. He also suggested that Carl Gunnarsson was the Maple Leafs best defenseman. These comments sparked a healthy debate with some of his followers.

 

I happen to disagree with Brady’s assertion, so I decided to go through every defenseman in the NHL and make a list of who I thought was clearly better than Phaneuf right now. Not who brings better value based on what they are paid or who will be better than Phaneuf in three years, but who I would take in a game over Phaneuf at this very second.

Here is what I came up with (the list is in no particular order):

Zdeno Chara
Duncan Keith
Brent Seabrook
Drew Doughty
Ryan Suter
Shea Weber
Dan Girardi
Alex Edler
Erik Karlsson
Kris Letang
Alex Pietrangelo

Honourable mentions: P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, Jay Bouwmeester, Niklas Kronwall, Ryan McDonagh, Brent Burns, John Carlson, Kevin Bieksa.

So what we have here is a group of 11 defenseman that I think are clearly ahead of Phaneuf and a group of eight honourable mentions that are probably in the same grouping as him. Surely there will be debate about players that I have left off the list, but what I think is clear is that there are only about 10-12 ELITE defensemen in the NHL and then you have a second tier of player, a 1B defenseman if you will, that would include Phaneuf. This group is probably about 20 to 30 deep expanding upon the honourable mentions that I have listed above.

Just from doing this exercise there is no doubt in my mind that Phaneuf should be a top pairing defenseman in the NHL on any team. Is he a number one on a Stanley Cup winning team? Probably not, but I think if the Leafs find another guy in that second tier to play alongside Phaneuf it would do wonders for his game and for the team. This would also drop Gunnarsson down to the second pairing where I believe he belongs.

Unfortunately, these defenseman do not grow on trees. Scanning the UFA market for 2013, there doesn’t appear to be that guy available. Kimmo Timonen might be the closest thing to it, but he is going to be 38 years old and looks to be well past his prime. One guy that is very interesting is Ladislav Smid of the Edmonton Oilers. Smid is turning 27 and has evolved into a pretty reliable defenseman. It will be interesting to see if the Oilers lock him up long term or let him hit free agency in July.

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Tags: Dion Phaneuf NHL Defenseman Rankings Toronto Maple Leafs

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