I have this weird fascination with defencemen in fantasy hockey. They don’t bring the same level of production as forwards, but the elite blueliners provide such a critical edge over your opponent each week. If you’re rolling Brent Burns and Keith Yandle while your counterpart has Kevin Bieksa and Jake Gardiner you’ll nearly double his production.
Which means having a top drawer defenceman, or two, on your roster can be absolutely potent.
The problem, yes sadly there is a problem, is that in my experience the uber elite level defenceman seemingly only maintain their level of fantasy production for two or three year spurts. After which time they generally shift from a "great" to merely "good."
A couple of players that come to mind are Mike Green, Lubomir Visnovsky and Duncan Keith. Green had 73 points and 243 shots in 2008-09 followed by 76 points and 203 shots in 2009-10. His next two seasons resulted in a combined 31 points. Injuries certainly played a role in that, but Green’s level of play also declined.
Visnovsky put together an outstanding 2010-11 for Anaheim, posting 68 points and 152 shots. At the draft table he was being taken as a top five or six option, considered part of the exclusive upper tier. Since that time he’sonly amassed a total of 43 points in 108 games.
I owned Duncan Keith in a keeper league fresh off his Norris Trophy in 2010. His entire career up until that point had a distinct upward trajectory. While I didn’t expect another 69 point campaign, I reasonably projected him to be a consistent 55 plus point defenceman – in other words, elite. Since that time he has averaged only 44 points a year for Chicago (per 82 games played).
So why do these unbelievably talented, point producing defenceman seem to fluctuate their totals in recent years?
My theory is this –modern day NHL coaching is so good that eventually opposing teams adapt their defensive strategy. Coaches will employ the tactic of "make someone other than (blank) beat us tonight". If Mike Green is scorching the other team on the power play perhaps they over commit a penalty killer to stand on his point or in his shooting lane. If Duncan Keith is consistently jumping in on the rush then try to play him the shutdown forward line when possible.
I won’t pretend to know exactly what tactics are used by each team, but I’m sure they are working to institute any and all changes to prevent a defenceman beating them to the tune of 65 or more points each and every season. It takes a very special, once in a generation type of talent, like Nicklas Lidstrom, to sustain his numbers for a prolonged period.
All this came to mind while watching Ottawa's Erik Karlsson a bit this past week. He is undoubtedly a top two fantasy option at his position, and may end up there for the next decade. But my belief is that the perceived gap between him and players like Dustin Byfuglien, Alex Pietrangelo, Kieth Yandle, and Kris Letang may be larger than it is in actuality. His 78 point, 261 shot stat line from 2011-12 is still at the forefront of the fantasy world - the question is how many times will be realistically approach those kind of numbers.
He has 1 goal, 1 asisst and 14 shots through 5 games. I would expect another 55 to 60 point season from Erik, with strong power play numbers and well over 200 shots. Those are fantastic stats; however, how different are they really from the third, fourth, or fifth ranked defenceman at year's end? I think it is worth exploring the trade block if another manager presents a proposal whereby you send Karlsson for a solid forward (Galchenyuk, Duchene, Ryan) and a defensive downgrade (Yandle, Weber, Pietrangelo).
There is nothing better than a superstar defenceman anchoring your blue line core, but in my experience a player's place at the zenith of their fantasy position can be fleeting.
Onto today’s daily dosage…
Rob Klinkhammer finished with 2 goals, 2 PIMs and 2 shots on goal for Phoenix. Don't feel bad if you didn't immediately recognize his name, I had to look him up. He's 27 years old had spent the last six years bouncing between the AHL and NHL. He's been a pretty effective AHL scorer, 35 points in 35 games for the Binghamton Senators in 2011-12. In 22 games for the Coyotes last season he had 11 points.
Keith Yandle finished with 2 shots, 1 hit and 1 blocked shot. It has been a slow start to the season for Yandle who has 1 assist in 5 games. The most alarming stat from yesterday's game is he saw only 1:49 on the man advantage, with Oliver Ekman-Larsson receiving 3:37. It's possible OEL is taking the next step, which will most certainly have an adverse affect on Yandle.
Eric Staal managed a goal, 5 shots on net and 2 hits. It has been a slow start for Eric with only 3 points in 6 games. I wouldn't be worried, he has posted more than 70 points (82 game projection) for eight consecutive seasons.
21 year old Jeff Skinner had a goal and 6 shots on net. He has thrown 24 shots on goal in only 6 games. That's a pace of 328 over a full season. If he can stay healthy this could be the year he establishes himself as a top 50 option.
Fantasy line of the game: Shane Doan just turned 37 on October 10th, but apparently he's still fantasy relevant. He finished with 1 goal, 1 assist and 6 shots on net. He is a nice source of shots and the occasional streak of strong goal totals. I would keep your expectations modest: 45-50 points and 200-220 shots.
Fantasy bust of the game: Jordan Staal had only 1 shot on net, adding 2 PIMs and 2 hits. In 6 games he has only 1 assist. It is officially time to start worrying about Staal offensively. He can be a very effective two way centerman, but the point production he flashed at times in Pittsburgh has not carried on for Carolina. The prevailing theory was that increased opportunity would spur on his numbers - it hasn't happened yet.
Los Angeles (3) vs. Florida (0)
The Kings Dan Carcillo and Jordan Nolan aren't necessarily know for their offence, but both had a goal and an assist last night. Carcillo's career high is only 24 points, back when he was playing in Phoenix.
Justin Williams has long been one of my favourite fantasy assets. As a Hurricane he went through a couple of injury plagued seasons that seem to have him improperly labelled as "risky". He hasn't missed a game the last two full years. Last night he chipped in with a goal and six shots on net. Though his point totals will never be eye popping (50-60) he makes up for it with a positive plus minus and upper tier shots (230-250)
Jacob Markstrom started his fifth game for the Panthers, stopping 26 of 29 shots. He now has a not so impressive 3.46 goals against average and .886 save percentage. Neither him nor Tim Thomas have been overly impressive thus far. I'd recommend avoiding their goaltending altogether if possible.
Fantasy line of the game: Former Leaf back p goaltender Ben Scrivens started his first game for the Kings, finishing with 20 saves to earn both a shutout and the win. Los Angeles is one of the most defensively adept teams in the NHL, so while Ben will play sparingly, his average numbers should remain strong.
Fantasy bust of the game: It was a tough night for the Panthers in general, but Soctt Gomez managed to go minus 3 with 1 shot and 1 hit. He skated over 15 minutes in the game, with 1 minute on the power play. My expectations for him are very limited, although if he can maintain this level of ice time he may be worth a quick look in very deep leagues.
New Jersey (0) vs. Winnipeg (3)
Cory Schneider played outstanding in the loss, stopping 32 of 34 shots, with a number of saves being of the acrobatic variety. There is no doubt in my mind that Cory is one of the most talented goalies around. However, we may not see this talent reflected in his fantasy numbers in 2013-14. The Devils are going to have a difficult time scoring all season, feeling the effects of losing Kovalchuk, Parise and Clarkson in a calendar year.
Al Montoya posted a 24 save shutout in his first game of the season. There is a chance for him to steal some starts early on, but I wouldn't expect him to challenge for the starting job at this time.
New Jet Michael Frolik posted 2 assists, giving him 5 points in the first 6 games. He has shown glimpses of offensive potential throughout his career as both a Panther and Blackhawk. The one disconcerting number from last night was Frolik's power play time, which was a measly 15 seconds.
Fantasy line of the game: What an absolutely dominant night for Evander Kane. He ended the game with 2 goals, plus 2, 8 shots, and 5 hits. Most excitingly though he played over 20 minutes, with 2 minutes shorthanded and almost 3 on the man advantage. This speaks to the coaching staff's growing confidence in Kane, which will result in more scoring opportunities for the 22 year old.
Fantasy bust of the game: Mark Scheifele was a trendy waiver wire grab in week one, but has done little since on the score sheet. Last night he managed only 1 shot while skating just over 14 minutes. The good news is he is still receiving plenty of power play time (3:13), meaning he'll have a chance to turn it around. He has 2 points through the first 6 games.
Ottawa (1) vs. Anaheim (4)
Corey Perry had 2 goals and 5 shots last night while playing a massive 7:48 on the power play. Perry has started the year well, with 6 points and 14 shots through the first 5 games. He really is a one of a kind fantasy asset, as no one else consistently hits 65-70 points, 110-120PIMs and over 250 shots.
Fantasy line of the game: Ryan Getzlaf had started the year a bit slowly, but put that behind him last evening with 1 goal, 1 assist, plus 3 rating and 3 shots. Ryan often slides down draft boards because of his lack of shots. If your league counts hits and/or PIMs he should be moved right back up, there aren't many players with a more complete fantasy game than Getzlaf.
Fantasy bust of the game: Erik Karlsson finished the night minus 3, with 4 shots. It's a nice sign that he is shooting the puck, but his 2 points in 5 games is likely a bit low considering where poolies would have had to draft him.