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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
Kimmo Timonen
Flyers' Timonen Unlikely To Play This Season
Kimmo Timonen, D, PHI
12:46 AM
News: Kimmo Timonen (blood clots) in leg confirmed Thursday that the chances of him playing this season are "really slim," Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Analysis: Though he didn't announce his retirement as some expected Thursday, Kimmo Timonen acknowledged that the blood clots in his lungs and right leg will keep him out multiple months, putting his career in jeopardy. Timonen will have to wait until January to see if his medical tests reveal any dissipation from the blood clots, but it sounds entirely possible that we've seen the last of the respected defenseman in the NHL. Even in the deepest of leagues, it's tough to justify stashing him on the bench until he returns to health, since it's certainly far from a given that that will happen by the end of the season.

Darcy Kuemper
Wild And Kuemper Negotiations Stalled
Darcy Kuemper, G, MIN
12:06 AM
News: Other than a couple of text messages, the Wild and Darcy Kuemper have not had substantial negotiations over a new contract and he may not report to training camp, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: With Josh Harding out several months with a broken foot, the Wild would appear to be highly motivated to sign Darcy Kuemper. However, the two sides are having a dispute about his guaranteed status on the NHL roster and Kuemper's agent has said he's exploring playing overseas. The Wild are offering a two-way deal while Kuemper wants a one-way deal. With Kuemper's status in doubt, the Wild have reached out to Ilya Bryzgalov about coming to training camp. It's still possible Kuemper could sign at the last second, but his status for the NHL season remains uncertain.

Josh Harding
Wild's Harding Suspended For Off-Ice Injury
Josh Harding, G, MIN
9/18/2014
News: Josh Harding (broken foot) has been suspended by the Wild since he suffered a broken right foot while kicking a wall after an off-ice altercation with a teammate, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: He won't be paid a prorated portion of his $2.1 million salary and he won't count against the Wild's salary cap while suspended. Josh Harding is expected to miss at least two to three months with the broken foot and it's assumed his suspension will end when healthy.

Derek Roy
Preds' Roy Enjoying New Linemates In Camp
Derek Roy, C, NSH
9/18/2014
News: Derek Roy has been skating with Craig Smith and Colin Wilson so far in training camp, the Tennessean reports. "They're both good players with the puck and real smart," Roy said of his new linemates. "Smitty's an offensive dynamic with a great shot. Colin is a great passer and has great vision around the ice. I'm looking forward to playing with those guys and seeing where it goes."
Analysis: With Mike Fisher out until at least late November with a ruptured Achilles, new coach Peter Laviolette has to decide who will be centering his top two scoring lines. At this stage, Derek Roy appears to be right in the mix, while Mike Ribeiro and Olli Jokinen - the Preds' two other free agent acquisitions earlier this summer - will also get a look. A second line of Wilson-Roy-Smith seems like a pretty decent second line possiblity, assuming the trio shows some chemistry together. However, it's still just the first week of camp, and there's sure to be a lot more line juggling to come, so don't assume anything is written in stone just yet.

David Perron
Perron To Open Camp On The Right Side For Edmonton
David Perron, LW, EDM
9/18/2014
News: David Perron will open up training camp playing right wing, according to the Edmonton Journal.
Analysis: David Perron is slated to play on a line with Benoit Pouliot and rookie Leon Draisaitl. This line could be broken up however if Draisaitl doesn't make the team out of camp. The Oilers don't have another playmaking center on the roster so Perron's offensive numbers could take a dip this season.

Nail Yakupov
Oilers' Yakupov To Start On Third Line
Nail Yakupov, RW, EDM
9/18/2014
News: Nail Yakupov will open up training camp on the third line, according to the Edmonton Journal.
Analysis: Nail Yakupov played mainly on the right wing last season but will be moved to the left side this season playing on a line with Mark Arcobello and Teddy Purcell. This is obviously not good for fantasy owners but this is also not written in stone. A productive camp could see Yakupov bumped back up to the second line.

Johnny Oduya
Blackhawks' Oduya (Foot) Cleared For Training Camp
Johnny Oduya, D, CHI
9/18/2014
News: Johnny Oduya (broken foot) has been cleared for full activity during training camp, Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
Analysis: Johnny Oduya suffered the broken foot in the Blackhawks' Game 7 loss to the Kings in the Western Conference Finals, after it was struck by a shot from the opposition. A summer of rest allowed the foot to heal without too many complications, and he should be on track to reprise his role on the second pairing with Niklas Hjalmarsson when the new season begins.

Ryan Johansen
Jackets Receive New Offer From Johansen's Agent
Ryan Johansen, C, CLB
9/18/2014
News: Ryan Johansen's agent, Kurt Overhardt, has sent a new two-year contract proposal in to the Blue Jackets, Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: The two sides were reportedly about $3.5 million per year apart when Ryan Johansen left camp, so while this latest offer likely didn't close the gap much it's encouraging to see that there's at least some movement.

Rich Peverley
Stars' Peverley Cleared To Work Out
Rich Peverley, C, DAL
9/18/2014
News: Stars GM Jim Nill said that Rich Peverley has been cleared to work out, but not to go on the ice, according to Mark Stepneski of NHL.com.
Analysis: Earlier this summer Rich Peverley was told he should be able to play this season, which had previously been in question after he suffered a cardiac incident during a March 10 game against the Blue Jackets. There is not yet a timetable for his return.

Dustin Byfuglien
Jets Confirm Byfuglien To Open Season As Forward
Dustin Byfuglien, RW, WPG
9/18/2014
News: Jets coach Paul Maurice reiterated Thursday that Dustin Byfuglien would "start and finish" training camp as a forward, Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun reports.
Analysis: This was to be expected after Dustin Byfuglien played exclusively at forward when Maurice replaced Claude Noel as coach in January, and it should only help Big Buff's fantasy value in leagues where he retains eligibility as a defenseman. Byfuglien racked up 10 goals and 12 assists over 32 games on the wing last season, scoring at a rate actually lower than what he provided at the blue line. However, with a full offseason to prepare for a role at forward, Byfuglien stands a good chance at boosting his per-game point totals, but perhaps only if he's able to land a spot on the first or second line.

 
 
 
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