Blue Line Buzz: Trends starting to form
Yes, we're already at the quarter pole in this short hockey season. Dan Pennucci gives his analysis in the latest edition of Blue Line Buzz.
(All statistics through Saturday, Feb. 9)
A mere three weeks into the truncated season and the league has already hit the quarter pole. Most teams have played 12 games or close to it. Patterns and trends are starting to take shape, and some of them have not been ideal.
There aren't too many monstrous surprises in the standings and Montreal had been one of the league's surprise teams before they were beaten senseless by Toronto on Saturday night to the tune of 6-0 at Bell Centre. 6-0. To the Leafs. Even Phil Kessel managed to score. (By the way, Kessel has a goal in each of his last two games and likely won't have a nine-game scoreless stretch remotely close to the one on which he started the season.)
As for Edmonton, the Oilers have an absolutely lethal power play, operating at close to 26-percent. Justin Schultz has seven points on the season, with all four of his goals being power-play markers. The problem with the Oilers is that they also have to play the game at even strength. The Oilers are currently a minus-10 as a team on the season despite having one of the most exciting attacks in the league. The sheer skill this team possesses is astounding, but they've lost five straight and are currently 11th in the Western Conference. How amusing would it be if the Oilers won the draft lottery again? All 14 non-playoff teams will have that chance come June.
Tom Gilbert, Fedor Tyutin, Raphael Diaz, Andy Greene and Dennis Wideman all find themselves in the top 13 of the defensemen scoring race. Meanwhile, Tyler Myers, owner of one of the largest contracts in the NHL this season, was a healthy scratch for the Sabres in their 3-2 win over the Islanders Saturday. Myers is a minus-9 and has not registered a point since opening day.
St. Louis's power play is scoring at 36.6-percent, thanks largely to the new dynamic duo of Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, who have combined for 23 points in 22 games. 10 of those points have come on the power play. Expect these two to be fantasy gold for years to come as St. Louis is looking increasingly like prescient geniuses for getting Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart back from Colorado for Erik Johnson two seasons ago.
Those that gambled on New Jersey's David Clarkson having a repeat of his breakout season are being nicely rewarded with seven goals, 13 points and 19 penalty minutes through 11 games. However, Clarkson is also being featured in northern New Jersey commercials for a hockey equipment store where he denies service to Rangers' fans. It's a good thing Clarkson can skate and score.
Three seasons ago, Mike Green was a borderline first-round pick. Three seasons ago, Duncan Keith won the Norris Trophy. Three seasons ago, Drew Doughty was on the cusp of greatness. Both Doughty and Keith have won a Stanley Cup since then while Green has become the second greatest disappearing act in Washington after Alex Ovechkin.
This trio of players was once elite and their fall to becoming pedestrian producers in terms of numbers is something that's been baffling fantasy owners for the last two years.
Keith put up 69 points in 2009-10, the year Chicago won the Cup, a 25-point jump from the previous season while his next two seasons saw him post 45 and 40-point seasons. Those last two seasons, on their own, are productive seasons for any defenseman. But, after 2010, Duncan Keith wasn't any defenseman. He was the player to assume the mantle of perennial Norris Trophy nominee, essentially the new Nicklas Lidstrom. Keith's 2010 season is the outlier amongst his career numbers; the next year his plus-minus fell by 22 points and he put up seven goals, half of what he did in 2010. This season Keith has been below average to say the least, especially when factoring in the prolific rate at which Chicago is scoring. Keith has four points through 11 games with a minus-2 rating; however, all four points have come on the power play.
Keith still carries more value in fantasy leagues because of his name and ice presence with the Blackhawks scoring lines, but it's time to expect less from Keith, if you've not done so already. The track record is there, but it's become increasingly clear that Keith's reasonable expectation is what we saw the last two seasons. He'll be 30 when next season starts and he'll still be viable, just as a later round pick rather than the anchor of your defense most owners expected him to be.
While Keith is approaching the wrong side of 30, Doughty's statistical decline is even more staggering considering he just turned 23 back in December. To be fair, Doughty isn't the only member of the defending champs struggling, but Doughty is under more scrutiny due to the price tag he carries. Like Keith, Doughty enjoyed a monster season in 2009-2010; his second season in the NHL saw him post 16 goals, 59 points and a plus-20 rating with 31 points on the power play. Doughty has regressed mightily since that breakout season, totaling 76 points over the last two campaigns with a pedestrian 36 points in 77 games during Los Angeles's run to the Cup. Doughty seems more likely to rebound due to his age, but it's no guarantee. He has four points in nine games this season with a minus-8 rating and has the talent and potential to increase that rate of scoring. The question is, will he? I'd gamble on Doughty next season more than Green or Keith, as Doughty could yield value heading into next season.
As for Mike Green, you have to believe that he is prime buyout candidate for the Capitals this offseason; Green will have a cap hit close to $6.1 million next year, according to Cap Geek. The salary cap is going down next season and it's hard to imagine Washington buying out the Average 8 rather than Green. Green was invisible last season after returning from a bizarre leg injury suffered in November, posting a mere one assist in the season's final 22 games. However, Green is showing a few signs of turning this disturbing trend around, as he has six points through 12 games currently with three points in the last five games. Green put together two point-per-game seasons from 2008-2010, numbers almost unheard of by defensemen, but he's a shell of himself to say the least. Washington is in utter disarray as they adapt to new coach Adam Oates, but if Green can find anything resembling his past production, he'll be a value. Expecting anything more than a point every two or three games from Green is folly.
These three players are still going to be effective defenders for their team, (at least Keith and Doughty) but in terms of numbers, owners have to forget the past and realize that the ceilings of these players have already been established. Use them accordingly.
Andy Greene, the Anti-Marek Zidlicky
When Andy Greene signed with the New Jersey Devils in 2006 as a free agent out of Miami University, there was an expectation that the Trenton, Michigan native had an offensive flair to his game. He was a Hobey Baker nominee for the Redhawks and the Devils looked again like they were getting another quality U. S. college hockey product. His first three seasons saw him trying to establish a place in the lineup or missing time due to injury, but in the 2009-2010 season Greene broke out with 37 points, making it appear as if the Devils would finally be on their way to replacing a semblance of the blue line production they lost after letting Brian Rafalski and Scott Niedermayer walk away.
Greene followed up that breakout campaign with one of the worst seasons a defenseman has had in recent memory, finishing a minus-23 as New Jersey missed the playoffs for the first time since the 1995-96 season. Greene's 37-point season appeared to be an anomaly, as he battled injuries last season, playing just 56 games and posting 16 points.
The first six games of the current season showed Devils' fans and the rest of the league that Greene might be best served as a minute-eating defender put on the ice to stop the opposition. The last five games however, are making Greene look like a low-rent version of Erik Karlsson.
Greene has eight points over the last five tilts including consecutive two-point games for the Devils. Worth noting about Greene's recent run of production is that five of those points have come on the power play, including one of his two goals with the other being a shorthanded tally. Greene had two primary assists in Saturday's win over Pittsburgh, including a perfectly placed slap pass to Stefan Matteau in front of the Penguins' goal.
Despite his recent run of play, Greene is still entrenched on the team's second power-play unit featuring Steve Bernier, Bobby Butler and Adam Henrique at forward while Ilya Kovalchuk and Marek Zidlicky are running the point on New Jersey's first power-play unit. Zidlicky has zero points in the last six games, but it certainly hasn't been for a lack of trying or opportunity. Zidlicky led the Devils with six shots on goal in Saturday's win, yet has no goals on the season and a paltry four assists on the year.
Zidlicky is averaging almost two minutes more per-game of power play time than Greene is despite Greene's higher rate of production. Andy Greene is the safer play on the New Jersey blue line these days, not Zidlicky, especially considering the team's power play has converted six of its last 16 chances.
Waiver Wire Work
Simon Despres, Pittsburgh: While he's not Kris Letang, Despres has been quietly productive on one of the league's most prolific offenses, with five points in 10 games. He's entrenched on the team's second power-play unit and has four points over the last six games. Despres was productive in both junior and the AHL, and turned 21 last summer.
Brent Burns, San Jose: Yes, a perennial double-digit goal scoring defenseman may be available on your waiver wire. Burns returned to the lineup for Saturday's shootout loss to Phoenix from a lower body injury. Burns played 20:38 with one shot on goal in the loss and he figures to jump right in to San Jose's struggling power play. He has never been shy about firing the puck and can have his usual offensive impact provided the Sharks' skaters find the scoring touch that they displayed the season's first week.
Sheldon Souray, Anaheim: Souray is a plus-10 with seven points through 11 games. No, it's not a typo. Souray appears rejuvenated in the California sun with two power-play goals. He started quickly last season as well, but Anaheim has more offensive weapons that Dallas. Caveat Emptor.
Slava Voynov, Los Angeles: The youngster with the booming slap shot has two points in the last three games. He's seeing power-play time and has the potential to produce steadily, just expect a few bumps from this talented prospect.
Until next week, keep your head up, feet moving and stick on the ice.
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