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Blue Line Buzz: Playing offense with defense

by | Rotowire.com
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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
Jonathan Bernier
Bernier, Leafs Far Apart On New Contract
Jonathan Bernier, G, TOR
7/31/2015
News: Jonathan Bernier and the Leafs met with an arbitrator for about five hours Friday, reports Sportsnet.ca. The two sides are too far apart in terms of demands to come to a deal on their own.
Analysis: Jonathan Bernier and his camp asked for $5.1 million, while the Leafs countered with $2.89 million. The Leafs' offer would represent a pay cut for the twinetender -- he made $3.4 million last season. The two sides can still come to a deal together before Sunday's arb ruling, but they seem too apart right now.

Marcus Johansson
Johansson Inks One-Year Deal With Capitals
Marcus Johansson, C, WAS
7/31/2015
News: Marcus Johansson signed a one-year, $3.75 million contract with the Capitals on Friday, James Mirtle of TSN 1050 Radio reports.
Analysis: Marcus Johansson was a solid offensive contributor for the Capitals in 2014-15, racking up 47 points (20 goals, 27 assists) in 82 games, good for fourth best on the team. He will return to his role as a top-six forward with Washington this season, and will likely continue to be a part of the Capitals' top power-play unit. The 24-year-old is a versatile winger who, barring injury, should be similarly productive this season.

Cam Talbot
Oilers' Talbot Expects Battle For Starting Job
Cam Talbot, G, EDM
7/30/2015
News: Cam Talbot expects to battle for the starting job in training camp, according to the Edmonton Journal.
Analysis: One would think that Cam Talbot is just taking the high road here. Unless he performs miserably in camp he should be the starting goaltender once the season opens. He won't have anywhere near the defense playing in front of him that he had with the Rangers, so there will be off nights, but he's still better and offers much more upside than any other goaltender on the roster.

Alex Galchenyuk
Habs' Galchenyuk Re-Signs On Two-Year Deal
Alex Galchenyuk, C, MON
7/30/2015
News: Alex Galchenyuk re-signed to a two-year, $5.6 million deal with the Canadiens on Thursday, ESPN reports.
Analysis: Alex Galchenyuk will return to the Canadiens on a contract paying him an average of $2.8 million per year. During the 2014-15 season, he played in 80 games for the Canadiens, finishing with 20 goals and 26 assists, both of which were career highs for the forward. The former third overall pick will join the likes of David Desharnais and Lars Eller as depth at center behind Tomas Plekanec. He also could see some time on the wing behind Max Pacioretty.

Jakub Voracek
Voracek Inks Eight-Year Extension With Flyers
Jakub Voracek, RW, PHI
7/30/2015
News: Jakub Voracek signed an eight-year, $66 million contract extension with the Flyers on Thursday, Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News reports.
Analysis: It isn't surprising that the Flyers opted to lock Jakub Voracek up long-term after his performance in 2014-15. He exploded last season, racking up a career-best 81 points (22 goals, 59 assists), good for fifth best in the NHL. While fantasy owners shouldn't expect the 25-year-old winger to top 80 points year in and year out, if he can continue to stay healthy, he should continue to be a top fantasy commodity for years to come. Voracek will return to his role on the Flyers' top-line and power play unit in 2015-16.

Brandon Gormley
Gormley Inks One-Year Deal With Coyotes
Brandon Gormley, D, ARI
7/30/2015
News: Brandon Gormley signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Coyotes on Thursday, Craig Morgan of FOX Sports Arizona reports.
Analysis: Brandon Gormley suited up for 27 games with the Coyotes in 2014-15, managing to tally four points (two goals, two assists) in those contests. He fared a little better in the AHL, registering 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 23 games with AHL Portland. He will get a chance to compete for a roster spot with the Coyotes in training camp.

Viktor Arvidsson
Preds' Prospect Arvidsson Hoping To Crack Roster
Viktor Arvidsson, RW, NSH
7/29/2015
News: Viktor Arvidsson could crack the Predators' roster this upcoming season, according to the Tennessean's Adam Vignan.
Analysis: In his first full season in the AHL, Viktor Arvidsson led the Milwaukee Admirals last year with 55 points, and also led the entire league with 272 shots on goal. If Arvidsson can secure himself a roster spot with the Preds, he could flourish under coach Peter Laviolette's uptempo, attacking system and provide the team some scoring depth. In deeper fantasy formats, Arvidsson is one player to keep an eye on.

Oliver Kylington
Flames' Kylington To Play In North America in 2015
Oliver Kylington, D, CGY
7/29/2015
News: Oliver Kylington will play in North America in 2015, Roger Millions of Sportsnet Calgary reports.
Analysis: The defenseman's team in Sweden allowed him to get his path to the NHL started this season, which is good news for both Oliver Kylington and the Flames. Calgary will likely let its second-round pick grow his game in the minors for a while, especially with its current depth on the blue line. Kylington has an abundance of hockey talent, but needs to put it all together to be a standout player.

Dainius Zubrus
Devils Release Veteran Winger Zubrus
Dainius Zubrus, RW, NJ
7/29/2015
News: The Devils terminated Dainius Zubrus' contract Wednesday, making him an unrestricted free agent, Frank Seravalli of TSN.ca reports.
Analysis: Dainius Zubrus had never been much of a top-flight offensive producer in his eight seasons in a Devils uniform, but he saw his scoring output completely fall off a cliff in 2014-15, as he netted just four goals and 10 points across 74 games. With the Devils looking to give some younger players an opportunity in their forward ranks and Zubrus' ice time likely to decline even further in the coming season, the team decided it wasn't worthwhile to keep him around at his $3.1 million cap hit. The 37-year-old could conceivably latch on in a depth role with another club, but no matter where he ultimately lands, an ascension to fantasy relevance probably isn't in the cards.

David Steckel
Ex-Duck Steckel Inks Deal With German Club
David Steckel, C, ANA
7/29/2015
News: David Steckel signed a contract Wednesday with the Nurnberg Ice Tigers of the German Elite League.
Analysis: The 33-year-old served as a depth forward for the Ducks at AHL Norfolk last season, producing seven goals and 23 points in 76 games. David Steckel is a veteran of 425 games, but considering his age and his impending move to Europe, we may have seen the last of him in North America.

 
 
 
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