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Flames Watch: That other 'best defenseman'

The best defenseman for the Calgary Flames is a treat to watch. He’s exceptional in his own end, takes the body with consistent efficiency and commands great respect in the dressing room and around the league.

Maybe one day they’ll make him the cover boy for a video game.

We’re talking Robyn Regehr here. Come on, who’d you think this was about, Dion Phaneuf?

At my job at The Hockey News, I monitored the results of our mid-season poll called The Best of Everything in Hockey. I was surprised to see how many journalists cast top-three votes for Phaneuf in the two categories best defenseman and best hitter. Have they not been watching the Flames this year?

I have and I’m way more impressed with Regehr than the overrated Phaneuf. Regehr has long been an unheralded defensive giant in the NHL. He has taken it to a new level this season and is a big reason why the Flames are doing so well.

Phaneuf, on the other hand, is having a terrible season by his standards, yet surely will garner more votes for the Norris Trophy as top defenseman than Regehr.

After seasons of 20, 17 and 17 goals, the 23-year-old Phaneuf is on pace for just five in this his fourth season. Shorthanded units have figured out how to defend his booming shot from the power play point. So Phaneuf has resorted to speedy rushes up ice to generate offence. While his mobile bursts are impressive and create another layer of attack, the results are middling.

Defensively, Phaneuf is often a patsy facing a 1-on-1; stands around with one hand on his stick when the opposition controls his zone; waits before chasing loose pucks in the corners and along the boards so he can label the attacker; and is no better than the No. 3 hitter on the Calgary defense behind Regehr and Cory Sarich.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Phaneuf is an extremely valuable offensive asset from the blueline and I have no doubt the dice will eventually come up craps for him. But for him to be a true Norris Trophy candidate, he’ll have to stop being crappy in his own zone. 

This column also appears in the Calgary Metro newspaper.

Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can read his Top 10 list on Wednesdays and his blog each weekend.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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