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Blue Line Buzz: Playing offense with defense

by | Rotowire.com
  •  

While the Nashville Predators are never going to be mistaken for a high-flying, wide-open offensive juggernaut, the Preds are proving themselves to be one of the Western Conference's most formidable teams. Pekka Rinne has been providing outstanding goaltending and the team is getting the scant scoring they need from Patric Hornqvist, Martin Erat and Craig Smith, save for Smith embarrassingly missing an empty-net goal last week. The backbone of this team though is the duo of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Certainly it's not a revelation to tout the Fantasy virtues of Weber and Suter, but if you're a Nashville fan, you want these two signed to long-term deals as quickly as possible; the Predators have already locked up Rinne.

Suter and Weber are one of the NHL's most productive defensive pairs and proved as much last week. In four games, Weber and Suter combined for 11 points and a plus-17 rating. Through Saturday's games, Weber leads all NHL skaters with a plus-19 and Suter is third at a mere plus-15. The duo boasts 27 points on the season, which is third in the league to Florida's Brian Campbell and Dmitry Kulikov (32 points) and the Ottawa pair of Erik Karlsson and Sergei Gonchar (31 points). Also music to the ears of Fantasy owners is the fact that Weber and Suter are third and fourth on their team in overall points, with just Smith and David Legwand ahead of them. While you can’t expect this deluge of production nightly from Weber and Suter, it's reassuring to see how vital a part of the team's attack those two defenders are, as both are among the team leaders in assists.

Another Oil Change

Cory Potter likely drew the ire of Fantasy owners that pounced on him following his breakout performances in early November, as the defender hit the skids with six pointless games through last Thursday. Those same owners will now receive nothing from Potter for the next month as he is due to miss at least that much time with an ankle injury. Edmonton's blue line has been a rotating door this season with Cam Barker squandering any chance to produce and Ryan Whitney once again proving himself the least durable player this side of Rick DiPietro. (Whitney is due to start practicing soon, however).

The Oilers continue to be one of the season's surprises and turned many heads Saturday night with a 9-2 thrashing of the NHL's best team, Chicago. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doled out five assists while Taylor Hall posted his second-career hat trick in this emphatic performance. Someone from Edmonton's makeshift blue line must have benefited, correct? Jeff Petry posted three assists and finished a plus-5, but he had just one helper in 11 games prior to Saturday. It appears that Tom Gilbert has once again entered the discussion for the Oilers.

Saturday was Potter's first game out, and Gilbert received 3:46 of power-play time, finishing the contest with a goal and three assists, with three of those points coming on the power play. Gilbert has 10 points on the season with seven in eight November contests. Gilbert appears to be the next person in line to run the Oilers' power play and he has a track record of producing, having averaged 33.75 points the last four seasons with a career-best of 45 in the 2008-2009 campaign. The veteran is owned in just 20 percent of leagues and Edmonton has a set of dynamic young forwards that should allow Gilbert to get assists simply by accident. If you're looking for a quick fix, Gilbert could be your man.

The Royal We

Jack Johnson continues to lead the Kings from the blue line with four goals and nine points through 20 games. The budding talent has three power-play goals and four assists on the man-advantage, making up a whopping 77 percent of his season's points. Johnson's more heralded teammate Drew Doughty sports seven points on the season with five on the man-advantage. The talk amongst Los Angeles defenders again centers around rookie Vyacheslav Voynov, as the highly productive Russian is back with the big club while Alec Martinez tends to a shoulder injury.

All Voynov did was grab a goal and an assist in the Kings' win over Anaheim last Thursday, however, Voynov was quiet in the Kings' other two games last week. Voynov is certainly one of the most vexing players for owners, as we are excited about what he can offer, but his roster spot on the big club seems tenuous at best. Voynoy has five points in eight NHL games, but he is not receiving much power play time with the first unit. Johnson and Doughty are hardly going to be usurped on the power play and the Kings already showed themselves willing to pass on keeping Voynov in the NHL earlier this season when Doughty returned from injury. Martinez appears close to returning to practice and you have to believe that the Kings will option Voynov back to their AHL affiliate in Manchester, where Voynov has three points in eight games. In shallow leagues, Voynov offers little comfort to owners but those in deeper leagues may want to roster him and await the official word on his status. Odds are Voynov will not spend the entire season in the AHL and another call-up should be imminent, as you can't find defenders that will produce at a clip such as Voynov's every day. He's well worth holding onto if you can afford the roster space.

Escape From Ohio

While Kris Russell will hardly be mistaken for Kurt Russell's iconic Snake Plissken character, Russell will feel the same sense of freedom as he was able to escape the sinking ship that is the Columbus Blue Jackets. When the St. Louis Blues canned Davis Payne and tabbed Ken Hitchcock as their new coach, one of Hitch's first moves was to trade for Russell, whom he had coached while at the helm of Columbus.

Russell has averaged 22 points the last three seasons with 14 total goals over that span. Still 24 years old, Russell has a healthy four goals and one assist on the season, but even more impressive is the fact that he has two goals in four games since his November 12 trade to St. Louis. The Blues have no shortage of offensive talent on the blue line with Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo, but Russell appears to add another source of offense for the Blues. Russell won't be among the league leaders come season's end, but you could do much worse than adding him in deep leagues.

Shattenkirk is sitting with a solid 12 points in 19 games while Pietrangelo is seeing the points come at a slower pace, with just seven points on the season and a mere two assists in the past eight games. Russell was traded for with the intent of St. Louis planning to get production out of him. We're not saying he will outproduce Pietrangelo at season's end, but Russell is going to get his points.

Coat Check

The Columbus Blue Jackets, essentially the doormat of the league, are not a Fantasy wasteland of blue line talent. James Wisniewski, he of the $33 million contract this offseason, has been quietly productive since missing the first eight games of the season due to a suspension stemming from an illegal hit in the preseason. Wisniewski sports a goal and six assists in 11 games and the requisite minus rating that accompanies any Columbus player (he is a minus-9 through Saturday). Columbus is not going to win many games this season, but Wisniewski appears to be earning a fraction of his salary with his recent run of play. The high-priced defender snagged a goal and an assist in Saturday's win over Nashville and has three points in the last four games. Play Wisniewski at your own risk, just be aware of the plus-minus albatross and the fact that he is on Columbus.

A subject of this column earlier in the season, the Jackets' Grant Clitsome is off to a solid start save for his minus-7 rating. Clitsome boasts three goals and 10 points through 18 games, putting him on a pace for over 40 points. Four of Clitsome's 10 points are on the man-advantage and he has five points in six games during November. If you can afford the plus-minus hit, make a play for him.

Jet Fuel

Dustin Byfuglien has been the brunt of many jokes this season, most stemming from his weight and his uncanny ability to operate a boat while under the influence, so it is a good thing there aren't many lakes in Manitoba. Buff is heating up during November with four multi-point games and five points during three games last week, all coming in wins over Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. Of his season's 14 points, 10 have come in November. Also of welcome note to Byfuglien owners is the fact that he is currently second among all NHL defensemen in penalty minutes with 34, second only to Edmonton's Theo Peckham, who is hardly the scorer Byfuglien can be. Winnipeg is finding their scoring touch with 15 goals the last three games and Byfuglien is benefitting with Tobias Enstrom out of the lineup.

Feeling Shame

Speaking of league leaders in penalty minutes, Sheldon Souray is third on the list for defensemen with 33 PIMs to go along with his 13 points and plus-9 rating while Zdeno Chara (2-12-14 +12) and Dan Boyle are the only other defenders with more than 10 points and 20 PIMs. Those looking for cheap goon points on the back end should check out Peckham, Shane O'Brien, Sheldon Brookbank, Andy Sutton and Florida's Erik Gudbranson, although fans in the stands may have more points on the season than this group of pylons.

Power Up

The league leaders at the quarter pole of the season for power-play points by defenders are loaded with players most would expect. Brian Campbell leads the way with 11 power-play points followed by Alexander Edler with 10, Kris Letang and Erik Karlsson with nine and a handful of other players with eight power-play points. What is surprising is the percentage of power-play points several players boast; Erik Johnson has nine points on the season with eight on the man-advantage and Chris Pronger sports eight of his 12 points on the power play. Of note for Pronger is his impressive 12 points in just 13 games. Chicago's Nick Leddy is showing little signs of slowing down, as he has 15 points through Saturday, but with just three power-play assists on the season. The Islanders are receiving solid production from Mark Streit with 11 points through 17 games, but the Swiss master also hangs a Columbus-esque minus-12 rating around his owner's necks.

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Player News
Dan Ellis
Ellis Inks Deal With Washington
Dan Ellis, G, FLA
7/4/2015
News: Dan Ellis signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Capitals on Saturday, Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post reports.
Analysis: The 35-year-old will provide Washington with additional goaltender depth at the AHL level, but likely won't get asked to make many NHL starts in 2015-16, as he'll probably slot in as the Caps' fourth string goaltender behind Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer, and Justin Peters. However, Dan Ellis was solid when called upon by the Panthers last season, going 4-3-1 with a 2.35 GAA and a .914 save percentage in eight games with Florida.

Jamie McBain
McBain Re-Signs With Kings
Jamie McBain, D, LA
7/4/2015
News: Jamie McBain re-signed Friday with the Kings on a one-year, two-way contract, Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times reports.
Analysis: With Slava Voynov's status uncertain for 2015-16 following his jailing for domestic violence as well as an Achilles injury, Jamie McBain could have a shot at settling into a regular role on defense for the Kings. He provided better-than-expected results as a fill-in last season when injuries compromised the Kings' depth, contributing three goals and nine points in 26 games while seeing limited ice time.

Derek Smith
FA Smith Heads To Arizona On A Two-Way Deal
Derek Smith, D, ARI
7/4/2015
News: Derek Smith signed Friday with the Coyotes on a one-year, two-way contract.
Analysis: Derek Smith played in Switzerland last season for Zurich, recording five points and four PIM over 25 games. The 30-year-old will function as organizational defensive depth at AHL Portland.

Eric Selleck
Coyotes Re-Sign Selleck
Eric Selleck, LW, ARI
7/4/2015
News: Eric Selleck re-signed Friday with the Coyotes on a one-year, two-way contract.
Analysis: Eric Selleck will more than likely return to AHL Portland this season, after accruing eight goals and 23 points with them over 74 games in 2014-15. The 27-year-old isn't likely to be near the top of the list for the Coyotes as a potential forward call-up.

Cory Conacher
Former Senator Conacher Heads To Switzerland
Cory Conacher, LW, VAN
7/4/2015
News: Cory Conacher signed a contract Thursday with SC Bern of the Swiss Elite League, David Pagnotta of TheFourthPeriod.com reports.
Analysis: After flaming out with a number of NHL clubs over the last two seasons, Cory Conacher will now try to recoup some value over in Europe. Conacher is still just 25 years old, so the door is hardly closed for a return to the NHL down the road.

Andrew Ebbett
Ex-Penguin Ebbett Headed To Switzerland
Andrew Ebbett, C, PIT
7/4/2015
News: Andrew Ebbett signed a contract Thursday with SC Bern of the Swiss Elite League, David Pagnotta of TheFourthPeriod.com reports.
Analysis: Andrew Ebbett split his action between the Penguins and their AHL affiliate at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season. Seeing light minutes with the parent club, he finished with a goal and six points in 24 games, but scored at a point-per-game clip with the AHL club. He'll have a chance to shoulder a large offensive burden with Bern, and if he performs well enough, he could earn himself a one-way NHL deal if he elects to return to North America next season.

Cody Bass
Bass Inks One-Year Deal With Predators
Cody Bass, C, CHI
7/4/2015
News: Cody Bass signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Predators on Saturday, Adam Vingan of The Tennessean reports.
Analysis: Cody Bass, who registered 14 points in 61 games with AHL Rockford in 2014-15, was signed by the Predators on Saturday in order to provide the team with some depth at forward at the AHL level in 2015-16. He will likely spend most of his time with AHL Milwaukee next season.

Andrew MacWilliam
Jets Ink MacWilliam To Two-Way Deal
Andrew MacWilliam, D, WPG
7/4/2015
News: Andrew MacWilliam signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Jets on Friday, Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun reports.
Analysis: The Maple Leafs didn't tender Andrew MacWilliam a qualifying offer after he split time between AHL Toronto and the parent club last season, appearing in 12 games at the latter and recording no goals and two assists. The 25-year-old will provide the Jets with organizational defensive depth from the left side.

Ryan O'Reilly
Sabres' O'Reilly Extended For Seven Years, $52.5M
Ryan O'Reilly, C, BUF
7/3/2015
News: Ryan O'Reilly's contract extension with the Sabres will be for seven years and $52.5 million, Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada reports.
Analysis: The $7.5 million annual average value on the deal makes Ryan O'Reilly one of the game's highest-paid players. The Sabres and O'Reilly structured the contract in an atypical fashion, as the salary for each season is only $1 million, with the remainder of the money coming in the form of a signing bonus. It's a steep price to pay for Buffalo, but one the franchise deemed necessary in order to continue its overhaul of one of the league's weakest forward corps. It's worth noting that O'Reilly has scored over 20 goals just once in his career, and the Sabres' previous big money signings - including Christian Ehrhoff and Cody Hodgson - haven't panned out at all. Still, O'Reilly figures to get a lot of ice time in Buffalo and should provide some decent fantasy value.

Joel Ward
Sharks Sign Ward To Three-Year Deal
Joel Ward, RW, SJ
7/3/2015
News: Joel Ward signed a three-year, $9.825 million contract with the Sharks on Friday, CSN Bay Area's Kevin Kurz reports.
Analysis: After the Capitals replaced him with Justin Williams on the first day of free agency, Joel Ward ended up finding a home on the West Coast, where he'll join a veteran forward corps. Ward skated primarily on the third line with the Capitals in 2014-15, notching 19 goals and 34 points in 82 games. Historically, Ward has saved his best work for the postseason (14 goals, 21 assists in 53 playoff games), where the Sharks have infamously failed to come up in the clutch in recent seasons. The 34-year-old Ward probably isn't alone going to get them over the hump or even back in the playoffs, but he'll at least provide the Sharks with a serviceable third-line sniper.

 
 
 
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