TORONTO - Asked about Dion Phaneuf's waning stats early in this young season, outspoken Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson pulled no punches.
"He's just got to stop listening to some of this ... drivel about (how) he's not putting points on the board," Wilson said.
"What's important to us is winning the hockey game and contributing that way; not, 'you're not scoring points.'"
Two quick thoughts on that.
First, to the shock of no one, we've heard the word "drivel" used to describe this space on more than one occasion. Part of the job, thanks.
Secondly (and much more importantly), the coach does have a legitimate point when it comes to this so-called "stats trap."
On too many occasions, it is easy to simply look at a player’s point total and gauge his performance primarily on how many goals or assists he has compiled.
As Wilson points out, numbers don’t always tell the entire story.
For evidence of that, we present Kris Versteeg.
On paper, the suggestion could be made that the former Chicago Blackhawk is off to a horrible start with just one goal and one assist in his first seven games.
Certainly, such evidence is damning.
It is also misleading.
While he has managed just 12 shots on goal thus far, Versteeg has constructed the type of scoring opportunities many of his teammates just dream about.
Alas, somewhere along the road from Chicago to Toronto, he must have peeved off the hockey Gods.
He has had at least two clear-cut breakaways and failed to covert. And when he finally did find the back of the net against the New York Rangers last Thursday, the officials waved the goal off, claiming he had knocked it down with a high stick before snapping it in.
So, what’s the deal with the rotten luck? Walk under too many ladders? Too many encounters with black cats, which are a prominent sight in the days leading up to Halloween,
“I’d be lying if said I didn’t think I was a little snakebitten,” Versteeg admitted Monday.
“I mean, I most definitely (have been getting chances). It’s not shots from the outside either. It’s been breakaways, two-on-ones ... The chances are coming.”
But they are not going in. That’s the problem.
In order to attempt to kickstart the offence, Wilson has dropped Versteeg from the first line, now putting him with Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur. Nikolai Kulemin will take his spot on the top unit alongside Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak.
“Grabo can distribute to both sides so I’m looking forward to it,” Versteeg said. “Clarkie works hard and has scored a bunch so far. It should be a good fit.
“I know what I can bring to the line — energy and playmaking and goals. It’s just a matter of finding some chemistry in here and I think we can do that.”
In times like these, when the stick gets squeezed too tightly, when the goals are coming as rarely as midweek sellouts in Atlanta, Versteeg, a native Albertan, looks to the advice of Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla for inspiration.
“I listened to Iginla say, back in the day when he scored 50 goals, the reason he scored 50 is because he can forget about the last opportunity he missed and move on to the next one. This is something I’m trying to learn and trying to do,” Versteeg said.
“If I miss a shot, I go back and think about what I could have done and then get it off of my mind and move on to the next one.”
In the end, Wilson would like to see Versteeg try a few less Battle of the Blades moves and keep things simple.
“He’s guilty of trying to do too much,” Wilson said. “(There is) a lot of one-on-one hockey when he could be using his linemates better. That’s part of the reason for the shakeup.”
Listen to the man, Mr. Versteeg. Those are wise words. No drivel there.