Blue Line Buzz: Replacing the irreplaceable
Does your team lack firepower from the blue line? Dan Pennucci analyzes the best and worst from the league's defensemen in his latest Blue Line Buzz.
To all those dealing with having to replace Erik Karlsson on their roster, you won't be able to. Karlsson suffered a 70 percent tear to his Achilles tendon in Wednesday's loss to Pittsburgh following a freak accident involving the Penguins' Matt Cooke.
Unless you're somehow able to convince an owner in your league to cough up Kris Letang or another blue liner capable of leading the NHL in shots on goal and putting up a point-per-game, you're facing the harsh fact of replacing a giant. Karlsson is about as irreplaceable as they come. Those in single season leagues will have to cut one of their first two picks, as Karlsson is likely to be ready for training camp, so he'll still carry value for those who were fortunate enough to draft him a few seasons ago in keeper leagues.
Karlsson is the latest blow for Ottawa, who are also without Jason Spezza . Craig Anderson can try to carry the team as he has been doing, but the Senators are without their two top playmakers. There has been much controversy surrounding the incident in which Karlsson was injured, primarily because the person who injured him was Matt Cooke , formerly the league's dirtiest player. Senator's owner Eugene Melnyk was slightly furious about losing his team's best player to an injury caused by a " player [who] should never be playing in this league," as reported by the National Post.
Melnyk's comments aren't without merit when you examine some of the hits laid by Cooke and suspensions levied against him in recent years, but to suggest Cooke did this intentionally is folly. It's a play along the boards and Cooke was trying to pin Karlsson against the boards when their feet got tangled. Was it on purpose? You be the judge. Cooke has changed himself as a player but he still has a reputation amongst people in the NHL. This isn't the Marc Savard hit from two seasons ago, a malicious late shot to the head. The incident with Karlsson was two players jockeying for position along the boards. If someone other than Cooke had been involved in this incident, it would be considered the accident it actually was.
Expect Sergei Gonchar to see an increase in offensive chances, not that he was lacking for them while Karlsson was on the ice. As for other options on the Ottawa blue line, expect Patrick Wiercioch to see some time on the power play as well. He has two points on the season through eight games.
Long Island Lube and Oil Change
He's back. Lubomir Visnovsky -- the defenseman that led all NHL blueliners in scoring two seasons earlier while playing with the Anaheim. The player that was an enigma of poor play and injuries last year, only to be summarily traded to the Islanders this past summer, setting off a legal battle about no-trade clauses. Visnovsky then hopped over to Europe during the lockout, but delayed his return from his native Slovakia, where he played for KHL club, HC Slovan Bratislava due to an illness with his son which required surgery.
Visnovsky is now back with the Islanders and has an impressive four points over four contests, all assists with three on the power play. Visnovsky looked like his old self during the last week of play, getting involved in numerous offensive rushes in Thursday's overtime win against the Rangers. Visnovsky might not be wild about playing for the Islanders, but he's giving what appears to be a solid effort. He's seeing close to four minutes of power-play time per game and he's not been shy about shooting either, putting up 10 shots over four games. If he's available in your league, he's definitely worth taking a flier on.
Other than Mark Streit , the Islanders don't have other defenders that can move the puck and provide an offensive spark like Visnovsky can. Sure, Travis Hamonic is a budding all-around defenseman, but he has more of a physical edge to his game than offensive flair. Visnovsky very well could get traded before the end of the season, but whatever ill will he had about suiting up for the Islanders appears to at least be put aside while earning his NHL salary.
For those owners looking to replace some semblance of the production lost by Karlsson or Enstrom, Visnovsky may be the only player available to snatch up, if he's still there, that can offer reliable offensive performance. (We're not naive enough to equate Visnovsky with Karlsson or Tobias Enstrom , but it's only been two seasons since Visnovsky led all NHL blue liners in scoring.)
Jet on the Mend
Karlsson was not the only big-scoring defensemen to go down this past week at the hand of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Tobias Enstrom of the Jets was run into the boards by Pascal Dupuis and sustained what appeared to be a significant shoulder injury, forcing him to leave the game. The Jets are still awaiting the results of an MRI on Enstrom's shoulder, but the outcome is not looking good for the team's leading scorer. Expect Paul Postma to see more offensive opportunities, but Dustin Byfuglien has returned from his nagging knee injury and will captain the Jets' power play with aplomb.
Another Leaf in the Pile
Cody Franson has been quietly productive in his 12 games this season, notching eight points including a recent stretch where he notched five assists over four games. However, of Franson's eight points, just one has come on the man advantage. While Franson has been productive of late, the most scrutinized captain in the NHL, Dion Phaneuf has shaken off his early- season slump. Phaneuf posted an assist on opening night, but then went 10 games without a point. However, Dion is back in the fold, notching five points over the Leafs' last four games, including a well-placed slap pass delivered to Tyler Bozak in Saturday's win over the Senators.
Things I Had Forgotten
Adrian Aucoin is still in the NHL. Aucoin was activated from injured reserve by Columbus for Friday's loss at Los Angeles. He's a minus-5 for the Sport Coats this season with no points through eight games. Aucoin hasn't been a relevant fantasy hockey player in most leagues for a number of years, last cracking 30 points for two consecutive seasons during his days in Calgary from 2007-2009. He once notched 23 goals back 15 years ago while playing with Vancouver. He'd been a serviceable player for Phoenix the last few seasons, but he is now one of a bevy of blue liners whom the Blue Jackets employ. Odds are Aucoin won't rake in points any more, but it's impressive for a 39-year old still be grinding away in the NHL.
It Can Only Get Better
-Through 13 games, the Colorado Avalanche do not have a goal from any of its defensemen. Erik Johnson . Ryan O'Byrne . Ryan Wilson . Nothing. In fact, through 13 games, the eight defensemen the Avalanche have used this season own a combined 12 points. Not helping matters is that Stefan Elliott is playing Lake Erie of the AHL, a defender with definite offensive upside who snagged 13 points in 39 games last season. Tyson Barrie , another budding blue liner with offensive flair, had been quiet this year prior to the team's last two games, where he posted three assists, including two in Saturday's loss to Edmonton. Odds are Barrie is one the best bets for offensive production on the Avalanche blue line. Each passing season is also making it abundantly clear that Erik Johnson likely won't hit the offensive potential he's been rumored to have. If you must employ a Colorado defenseman, Tyson Barrie is seeing 3:24 of power-play time and has a track record of producing in junior at Kelowna (WHL).
The Best Deception
Phoenix's puck-mover Keith Yandle has solid numbers on the season at first glance, with nine points and 24 penalty minutes through 15 games. These seem in line with what one would expect from Yandle, arguably one of the top 12-15 defensemen taken in recent drafts. A closer look at his numbers reveals a startling lack of consistency.
Of Yandle's nine points, six have come courtesy of two three-point games. Yandle was active Saturday, notching three primary assists in the Coyotes' 5-3 win over Columbus. His other three-point effort came on January 28 with a goal and two assists against Nashville. Subtracting those two games from Yandle's stats give you three assists over 13 games. If someone other than Yandle had produced at a similar rate, they likely would have been jettisoned from your team. Yandle's talented, but a bit more consistency from him and several other high-priced blue liners would be ideal.
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