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Blue Line Buzz: Defensemen coming on strong

by | Rotowire.com
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If you have watched an NHL game on either Versus or the NHL Network the last three weeks, you have undoubtedly seen the new hockey-themed USA Prime Credit commercials with "Peggy" advertising a certain credit card company. These two commercials feature Chicago's Patrick Kane and Bruins' goalie Tim Thomas. The irony of the ads is that Thomas is the one trapped in a taxi cab with a Kathy-Bates-from-Misery type fan and is unable to pay his cab fare.

The mere opportunity for comedic gold was missed by the makers of this commercial, but you have to believe Kane wanted nothing to do with the taxi commercial after his rather unfortunate incident several summers earlier in Buffalo. The spot would have worked better if Kane had called Thomas with instructions on how to avoid paying one's cab fare. Other possibilities for USA Prime Credit commercials could include the Islanders' Rick DiPietro calling from the hospital unable to pay his most recent medical bill and Jeff Carter ringing them up from a Columbus bar complaining he can't pay his tab. The potential for these ads are quite endless actually.

With the season at its unofficial quarter pole, let's examine several notable statistics from the league:

• Florida, Toronto and Minnesota are owners of three of the league's best records.

• Edmonton, Phoenix and St. Louis are currently in position to make the playoffs in the Western Conference.

• The Florida Panthers boast one of the league's highest scoring blue lines thanks to the re-emergence of Brian Campbell and the breakout seasons of Jason Garrison and Dmitry Kulikov.

• The Islanders’ goaltending situation is about as settled as the BCS standings, although Al Montoya was strong in two recent games against New Jersey.

• First-round draft selections Ryan Miller and Roberto Luongo are seeing their playing time usurped by talented backups such as Jhonas Enroth and Cory Schneider.

• In San Jose, Marc-Edouard Vlasic has more points than Dan Boyle and Brent Burns through Saturday's contests.

• Ottawa's Erik Karlsson is only a minus-3 through 22 games, but also boasts 19 points.

Dustin Byfuglien, Cam Fowler and Mark Streit have a combined nine goals and 38 points with a total rating of minus-30.

• Big Buff has the dubious distinction of boasting the most points among defenders, 16, with the worst plus-minus, as Byfuglien sits at a minus-9 through Saturday.

Nick Leddy has more points than Tyler Myers and Alex Goligoski combined while Dan Hamhuis and Ryan Wilson have as many as Myers and Goligoski combined.

• Montreal's Josh Gorges and Ryan McDonagh each have 10 points through Saturday's games.

Travis Hamonic has just two assists through 21 games. Even further disappointing to owners that drafted him is he has as many fights as he does assists.

Erik Karlsson, Dan Boyle and P.K. Subban have combined for 197 shots and just three goals.

Jason Garrison is shooting an astounding 13.6 percent with eight goals on 59 shots.

Jordan Leopold and Steve Montador have a combined 10 goals on 60 shots.

• If you picked Phil Kessel, Kris Versteeg and Joffrey Lupul to be in the top four of the Art Ross Trophy race, you can buy my Powerball ticket tonight.

One-Adam-12

The Devils knew they grabbed a gem at the fourth overall pick with Adam Larsson when the Panthers opted for Jonathan Huberdeau at No. 3. Larsson was quiet offensively in his first month, as it usually takes rookie defenders some time to acclimate to the NHL game. Larsson recently turned 19 and has been one of the league's hottest defenders in the month of November, as the Swede has all eight of his points in 13 games and is currently riding a five-game points streak through Saturday with one goal and four assists during that span.

Larsson has seen some of his power-play time slip to teammate Mark Fayne and the Devils have been surrendering shorthanded chances to opponents often, allowing four shorties in their last 10 games. Larsson is still prone to the large defensive error, such as allowing several of those shorthanded chances, but the kid has been jumping into the play often. Saturday's goal in a loss to the Islanders saw Larsson be the fourth man into the zone and fire a slick wrist shot past Al Montoya. The Devils are freely deploying Larsson and he is well worth a pickup if you have not snagged him already. November's production seems to be more of a harbinger of his ability than his stats from the season's first month.

The Devils do not offer much else from the blue line, but Larsson appears to be an anchor in Newark for years to come.

Buffalo Bites

If anybody could predict the future, they surely would succeed in Fantasy sports and in plenty of other walks of life. When the Buffalo Sabres signed Christian Ehrhoff to a massive contract and brought in Robyn Regehr from Calgary last summer, the signs pointed to a bounceback season from the towering Tyler Myers. Myers was the subject of much debate in this column and its wholehearted endorsement. Myers' poor start earned him a healthy scratch from coach Lindy Ruff earlier this month, only to see Myers return to the lineup with his season's best game, a two-goal effort in a loss to New Jersey on November 16. The hockey gods were as cruel to Myers as they were to Lubomir Visnovky, as Myers suffered a broken wrist two games later and figures to return around Christmas.

Conversely, teammate Jordan Leopold is having another solid season with nine points and five goals through 23 games and a plus-5 rating. Ehrhoff isn't quite living up to his contract, but has respectable numbers with two goals and 13 points, including six during the month of November. With Myers out of action, Marc-Andre Gragnani should see an expanded role as he already receives 3:48 of power-play time per contest with eight points in 21 games. He has been quiet of late with two assists in the last six games, but his name is worth remembering, as Gragnani is a power-play specialist of sorts.

One has to wonder how Myers will play upon his return to action, as it can't be any more frustrating for owners than the opening of the current NHL campaign.

Cook County Assessor's Office

Nick Leddy has been producing at a steady rate (16 points in 24 games) but the high-priced talent on the Chicago blue line is starting to be more consistent offensively. Duncan Keith has been active of late with 10 of his season's 16 points in the last nine games including back-to-back two-assist contests during the extended Thanksgiving weekend. Keith started much too slowly for Fantasy owners hoping for a repeat of his 2009-2010 season, but the Winnipeg native has come on strong the last three weeks. Of Keith's recent outburst, five of the 10 points have come on the man advantage, which tends to happen when your playmates are Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. We should expect this consistency from Keith over the season, as he's showed it before, but now may be the time to jump in and grab the former Norris Trophy winner.

Corving a Niche

Boston moved quickly this offseason to add a defender that would provide an offensive spark, an end they hoped last year's trade for Tomas Kaberle would have achieved. Kaberle proved to be invisible during the team's Stanley Cup run and the Bruins brought in journeyman Joe Corvo. Corvo's numbers are serviceable with nine points on the season, but just one assist in the last five games. Corvo has yet to light the lamp for Boston, but he is seeing 3:57 of power-play time per contest and averaging over two shots per game. He is the only other defender with offensive acumen on the team's blue line after Zdeno Chara as Dennis Seidenberg appears to be able to hit the goal, but not get the puck past the goalie.

Corvo has a track record of being productive, as the veteran had 23 of his 40 points on the power play last year with Carolina and has cracked the 10-goal mark four times in his career and registered 35 or more points five times. He will not hurt your plus-minus (along with every other play on Boston's roster) and Corvo should be seeing his name on the scoresheet more often; he has six of his nine points in November.

Saturday's hit by Montreal's Max Pacioretty on Kris Letang was a textbook example of the lateral hits to the head the league is hoping to eliminate. No penalty was called on the play, but Pacioretty was given a three-game suspension from the league on Monday. Pacioretty has no prior record and Letang returned to the game, eventually scoring the overtime winner.

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Player News
Cody Eakin
Eakin Agrees To Four-Year Extension With Stars
Cody Eakin, C, DAL
8/28/2015
News: Cody Eakin agreed to a four-year, $15.4 million contract extension with the Stars on Friday, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports.
Analysis: The 24-year-old was a solid producer for the Stars in 2014-15, registering 40 points (19 goals, 21 assists) in 78 games with the team. He will likely return to his role centering the Stars' third line this season, and should produce similarly barring significant injury.

Elias Lindholm
Lindholm Signs Two-Year Extension With Hurricanes
Elias Lindholm, C, CAR
8/27/2015
News: Elias Lindholm signed a two-year, $5.4 million contract extension with the Hurricanes on Thursday.
Analysis: Elias Lindholm was a solid contributor in his first full NHL season in 2014-15, registering 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists) in 81 games with the team. He will return to his role as a top-six forward with Carolina this season, and should have a great shot at improving upon his offensive numbers from a year ago as he continues his development as an NHL forward.

Patrik Berglund
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8/27/2015
News: Patrik Berglund aggravated a dislocated right shoulder while working out and is set to undergo surgery Friday, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. He'll require at least four months of recovery time.
Analysis: Patrik Berglund first dislocated the shoulder in 2013-14, and required surgery last offseason to address the issue. The center was able to recover in time from that procedure to play on Opening Night last season, but given how late in the offseason calendar the setback occurred this time around, it looks like Berglund won't take the ice again until the calendar flips to 2016. His extended absence could allow prospect Robby Fabbri to claim third-line center duties out of training camp, with veteran Scott Gomez also in the mix if coach Ken Hitchcock prefers a more experienced option for that role.

Scott Gomez
Gomez Signs PTO With Blues
Scott Gomez, C, NJ
8/27/2015
News: Scott Gomez accepted a professional tryout offer with the Blues on Thursday, Andy Strickland of FOX Sports Midwest reports.
Analysis: After failing to garner a contract in free agency for the second straight offseason, Scott Gomez will again head to training camp on a PTO, as he did last season in New Jersey. Though he wasn't able to crack the Devils' Opening Night roster, he continued to work out with the team after the tryout period ended and was eventually signed to the team when injuries opened up an opportunity in late November. Gomez would end the season as one of the more productive contributors on the offensively challenged Devils, finishing third on the team with 34 points. The Blues boast a far deeper roster of forward talent, but with the news surfacing after Gomez's signing that Patrik Berglund would miss at least four months following shoulder surgery, an opening on the third line could exist for the 35-year-old.

Max Pacioretty
Habs' Pacioretty Still On Schedule With Rehab
Max Pacioretty, LW, MON
8/27/2015
News: Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said recently that Max Pacioretty (knee) remains on schedule in the rehabilitation process, Arpon Basu of LNH.com reports.
Analysis: Max Pacioretty sustained the knee injury while working out in Florida in early July, and was given a projected recovery timetable of 10-to-12 weeks. Given the length of the timetable, Pacioretty is expected to sit out all of training camp, and while his availability for the Oct. 7 regular-season opener in Toronto remains possible, he'd likely be subjected to limited minutes in the early going as he looks to build endurance. Once back to full health, Pacioretty should reemerge as the Habs' most dangerous offensive option after he potted 37 goals and a career-high 67 points in 2014-15.

Ladislav Smid
Flames Expecting Smid Back For Training Camp
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8/27/2015
News: The Flames' front office believes Ladislav Smid (neck) will be ready to skate during the team's first on-ice session at training camp in September, the Calgary Sun reports.
Analysis: Ladislav Smid's season came to an end last January when he required surgery on his neck, but his communication with the Flames to this point in the offseason suggests he has recovered well from the procedure. If healthy, Smid will compete in camp with Deryk Engelland for a spot as Calgary's sixth defenseman.

Sidney Crosby
Pens' Crosby Likely To Play Next To Kessel
Sidney Crosby, C, PIT
8/27/2015
News: Coach Mike Johnston said earlier this week that Sidney Crosby is expected to play next to Phil Kessel to begin training camp, CBS Sports reports.
Analysis: The Penguins have cycled in a number of right wingers next to Sidney Crosby throughout his career, and while Patric Hornqvist proved capable in that capacity last season, he's not nearly as prolific at finding twine as Kessel, a five-time 30-goal scorer. With his health concerns beginning to fade away after missing only seven games over the last two seasons, Crosby once again looks like a reasonable choice at No. 1 overall in fantasy drafts, even after scoring only 28 goals in 2014-15, his lowest total in any year he's suited up for at least 60 contests. Crosby probably won't come close to approaching the 51-goal peak he reached in 2009-10, but a slight uptick in his anomalous 11.8 shooting percentage coupled with the likely increase in assist opportunities with Kessel blitzing the net could make a return to 100 points conceivable.

Mike Richards
Charges Announced For Ex-King Richards
Mike Richards, C, LA
8/27/2015
News: Mike Richards was formally charged with possession of a controlled substance while entering Canada stemming from a June 17 border stop by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Manitoba, Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports reports.
Analysis: The Kings determined the incident gave them just cause to release Mike Richards for a "material breach" of his 12-year contract, a decision that prompted the NHL Players Association to file a grievance. The nature of the border stop likely won't affect the outcome of that legal battle, as both the NHLPA and the Kings were aware of the circumstances surrounding the incident. Currently a free agent, Richards is able to sign with any team while the grievance remains underway, but his steep decline in performance over the last few seasons coupled with this ongoing dispute probably has few organizations interested in his services.

Kyle Okposo
Isles Begin Contract Talks With Okposo
Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI
8/26/2015
News: Kyle Okposo and the Islanders have begun talks on a new contract, according to Islanders Point Blank.
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8/26/2015
News: Sami Aittokallio has re-signed with the Avalanche on a one-year, two-way contract, General Fanager reports.
Analysis: Sami Aittokallio appears to be the clear No. 4 goalie in the Colorado organization behind Semyon Varlamov, Calvin Pickard, and Reto Berra, so it's somewhat surprising he elected to commit for another year rather than bolt for Europe. Even so, Aittokallio's contract does at least include a clause for him to play overseas if he isn't guaranteed a roster spot with the Avalanche, potentially opening the door for him to leave the club if he's assigned to the AHL out of training camp, as expected.

 
 
 
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