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Blue Line Buzz: Bargain-bin bonanza

by | Rotowire.com
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All-Star Edition

You have to admire the NHL for being bold with their formats for the All-Star Game over the years, or as its known this year, the Tim Horton's 2012 NHL All-Star Game. This edition of the game marks the second year of the All-Star Fantasy Draft, where several captains get to pick their own team from a pool of available talent. On Thursday, Daniel Alfredsson and Zdeno Chara made some predictable selections with Team Alfredsson, co-captained by Henrik Lundqvist, loading up on Swedes and Team Chara grabbing all the available eastern European talent and scooping up his Boston teammates, Tim Thomas and Tyler Seguin.

While not perfect, this format certainly has made the All-Star game more entertaining to follow, especially last year, with the Leafs' Phil Kessel being the last girl asked to dance, brooding before saying "it's not a big deal." San Jose's Logan Couture was the last man picked this time around, earning a new Honda SUV for his pains. Previous formats for the All-Star Game have included the traditional East versus West and the old school Campbell versus Wales, and the much discussed North America versus the World (and by "world", we mean northern and eastern Europe).

However, the star of the weekend has always been the Skills Competition. Memories of Al Iafrate's booming slap shot, Mike Gartner blazing around the rink in the fastest skater competition and Owen Nolan calling his shot against Dominik Hasek always return when the skills competition is talked about. On Saturday, Zdeno Chara blasted a 108.8 mph slap shot to win the hardest shot contest, but wouldn't it be more interesting if the players busted out the wooden Sher-Woods and Kohos next year, just to see where they'd measure up without the benefit of the composite cannons they use now?

The All-Star game itself is nothing more than a free-wheeling offensive showcase devoid of checking and defense, albeit fun to watch. At least the NHL hasn't gone the route of baseball, attaching something as important as home-ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Finals to the All-Star Game.

The 12 defensemen on the NHL All-Star roster are an offensive-minded group spearheaded by Ottawa's Erik Karlsson and the resurgent Brian Campbell from the Panthers. It's nice to see an all-around talent such as the Rangers' Dan Girardi invited to the game, as most All-Star selections, and the Norris Trophy race, are determined by offensive prowess. However, Girardi had one of the more awkward introductions by TSN host James Duthie, as Duthie felt the need to remind Girardi in front of his peers and the crowd that Girardi was the only player at the All-Star Game not drafted to begin his NHL career, drawing an annoyed reaction from Girardi.

Washington's Dennis Wideman is enjoying a career season and was rewarded with a selection to the game, while Wancouver's Alexander Edler can essentially make reservations in the All-Star Game for years to come. The Canucks' defender has been highly productive this year, with 34 points through 49 games. Edler should be one of the top five defensemen off the board in next fall's drafts, especially considering his status as the Sedins' personal point man.

Out of the stable of 12 defenders on the two All-Star game rosters, only Wideman and Philly's Kimmo Timonen have been true values based on being taken later in drafts. Timomen's 31 points on the season may allow him to challenge the 50-point barrier, something he has not hit since his last year in Nashville, 2006-07, where he notched a career-best 55 points. Sure, Girardi was taken late in drafts as well, but average ice-time, leadership and strong defensive play do not translate into fantasy statistics. The Welland, Ontario native holds value in deeper leagues that reward hits and blocked shots, as he is among the leaders for defensemen in both categories.

Bargain Bin

In multi-category leagues, a defenseman's points-per-game ratio is still one of the primary statistics on which to base a player's selection. The superhuman .92 rate of Erik Karlsson would always be nice, but something between 0.66 and 0.75 is more than ideal. More so, acceptable rates of 0.50 would still give defenders a 40-point season when stretched out over a full campaign. Winnipeg's Tobias Enstrom has been outstanding of late, owner of 19 points in 30 games, while Keith Yandle's 0.58 point-per-game rate is more than adequate for most owners, as he leads Phoenix from the blue line with upstart Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Recently back from injury, the Penguins' Kris Letang has 23 points in 26 contests.

Points are still king, but players that contribute in multiple categories can be the difference between finishing in the money or just outside of it. During the 2009-10 season, when Washington's Mike Green and his fantasy owners were enjoying his 76 points in 75 games, his defense partner, Jeff Schultz, was a massive boon for owners that snagged him on waivers. Schultz is still on the Captials, unbeknownst to most owners, with five assists over 27 games this season and a plus-1. While Green was making history two seasons earlier, Schultz put up a pedestrian 23 points with a whopping plus-50, finishing the season with a plus-19 from February on and notching a plus-12 in the season's final four games before Washington's embarrassing playoff loss to Montreal. (The Capitals have since commemorated that 2009-10 first-round playoff exit with a banner reading "Regular Season Eastern Conference Champs" in Verizon Center).

The point is this: owners in deeper leagues will be able to tolerate a defenseman that put up just six assists the final six weeks of the season if there is a bonus stat attached to it. This season, Boston seems to be the home of the NHL's plus-minus boosters, with Vancouver a close second. The Bruins' defenders are benefiting from the team's highly potent and balanced offense.

Joe Corvo has the pedigree of having been a productive player during his career and boasts 17 points and a hearty plus-14 rating presently while teammate Adam McQuaid can be a boost to those in leagues that reward penalty minutes, as he has 53 while sporting a plus-16.

Dennis Seidenberg is averaging over two shots per game with a plus-16 rating and owner of 17 points, numbers that are in line with the 30, 32 and 32 points the German has put up the last three seasons. One of the truer surprises on the Boston blue line is the career-best pace for veteran Andrew Ference. Having never posted more than 31 points in a season, with that season, 2005-06, being the only time he cracked 20. Ference has 20 points this year through 43 games and his plus-minus checks in at plus-15. If Ference is still kicking around in your league, he is well worth a look for those of you in deeper pools. Odds are Boston is not going to slow down too much, and if they do, it won't be for a long stretch. Their defensive players are benefitting highly from their team's attack, making relevant players out of defensemen usually ignored by most.

When it comes to the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers, much of the defensemen discussion is slanted toward Dan Girardi and the upstart Michael Del Zotto, whose pace has slowed considerably, putting up just two points in January. Regardless, Del Zotto is one of the team's up and coming players but hardly the surprise on the team's blue line. Ryan McDonagh's 19 points and plus-17 rating through 47 games have him on pace to crack 30 points in his first full NHL season. The promising youngster is also following Girardi's lead in the shot-blocking department with 115 blocks. McDonagh is not grabbing the power-play points, with just two of his 19 coming on the man-advantage, but his production in secondary statistics make him a valuable commodity, especially in keeper leagues.

The Hurricanes have been playing some stronger hockey under the energy and tutelage of new coach Kirk Muller and the team has several rising talents on the blue line in Jamie McBain and 19-year old Justin Faulk. Jay Harrison, not to be confused with Florda's Jason Garrison, is enjoying a solid season with 19 points through 41 games, with five points on the man-advantage. Harrison's minus-4 rating actually is not bad considering Carolina's defensive woes. In his brief NHL career, the 29-year old has already eclipsed his career total of 18 points with this season alone. Harrison could be a bargain in some leagues and his seven goals have him tied for sixth in the league amongst defenders.

Anaheim's Francois Beauchemin has a solid 18 points with a plus-1 on the season while, a few hundred miles up the Pacific Coast, Vancouver's Dan Hamhuis is in the midst of one of his strongest offensive season in years, with 23 points through 49 games. That is the same point total Hamhuis put up in 64 games last season with the Canucks. His career high is 38 points, which he registered in the 2005-06 season for Nashville. Hamhuis's numbers this season have been, for the most part, consistent and he owns a healthy 10 points on the power play. Given his plus-12 rating on a talented offensive team, Hamhuis can be a steady, albeit unspectacular, addition to your roster down the stretch.

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Player News
Gregory Campbell
Bruins' Campbell Limited
Gregory Campbell, C, BOS
11:14 AM
News: Gregory Campbell (core) will be limited at the start of training camp, the Boston Herald reports.
Analysis: As the Bruins' fourth-line center, Gregory Campbell is generally off the fantasy radar, but so far there is nothing to suggest that his minor mid-core issue will hold him back long.

Milan Lucic
Bruins' Lucic Limited In Camp
Milan Lucic, LW, BOS
11:10 AM
News: Milan Lucic (wrist) will be limited at the start of training camp, the Boston Herald reports.
Analysis: Milan Lucic is recovering from wrist surgery, so this is not unexpected, though at this stage, there hasn't been anything to suggest that the rugged winger's status for the start of the regular season is in any danger.

Patrick Kaleta
Sabres' Kaleta Cleared For Camp
Patrick Kaleta, RW, BUF
10:59 AM
News: Patrick Kaleta (knee) has been cleared for full activities during training camp, John Vogl of the Buffalo News reports.
Analysis: Patrick Kaleta missed nearly all of the 2013-14 campaign after tearing his ACL while playing with AHL Rochester last November. Now fully recovered, Kaleta will compete for a spot on the Sabres' checking line, where he'll offer fantasy players plenty of penalty minutes, but little else.

J.T. Miller
Rangers' Miller Slots As Center
J.T. Miller, C, NYR
10:23 AM
News: J.T. Miller will be used at the center position during the team's training camp this month, reports Andrew Gross of The Record.
Analysis: With the summer amnesty buyout of Brad Richards and an already glaring depth issue at the position, it's no surprise that head coach Alain Vigneault will look to plug a hole with depth from the wing. The still just 21-year-old J.T. Miller has solid potential, but just five goals and 10 points through 56 career games in the NHL. Nonetheless, being tabbed as a center gives him an inside track to make the team on opening night.

Dion Phaneuf
Leafs' Phaneuf Moving To Left Side This Season
Dion Phaneuf, D, TOR
10:21 AM
News: Dion Phaneuf will move to the left side of the ice for the upcoming season, Mark Masters of TSN reports.
Analysis: Given Dion Phaneuf's standing as a left-handed puck handler, the move across the ice should actually prove beneficial for the veteran blueliner, whose defensive prowess has slipped as he's aged. In addition to transitioning to the left side, Phaneuf also figures to see more relief with the offseason additions of Roman Polak and Stephane Robidas, who should help preserve the 29-year-old for the rigors of an 82-game season. Even if Phaneuf notices a reduction in minutes, he should still offer 30-to-40 point potential to go along with a bevy of hits, blocks and penalty minutes.

J.P. Anderson
Anderson Has Loss In SJ Prospect Game
J.P. Anderson, G, SJ
10:19 AM
News: J.P. Anderson started in net for the first of two Sharks' prospects games, allowing three goals in the loss to Anaheim.
Analysis: J.P. Anderson is on the training camp roster for the Sharks, but looks like he'll be on the outside looking in this season, with Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock locks for the NHL roster.

Jamie McGinn
Avs' McGinn Still Recovering From Back Surgery
Jamie McGinn, LW, COL
10:13 AM
News: Jamie McGinn isn't completely recovered from offseason back surgery and could be limited in training camp, Mike Chambers of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: Jamie McGinn re-upped with the Avs on a two-year deal in June, and it's likely the team knew about the procedure before bringing him back in the fold. The Avs haven't issued a rough timetable for when to expect McGinn back at full strength, but his injury puts the club in somewhat of a rough spot with several of their other forwards banged up in the early going. If McGinn recovers well as camp progresses, he'll likely occupy a spot on the third line entering the 2014-15 campaign.

Jarome Iginla
Second-Line Role Likely Awaits For Avs' Iginla
Jarome Iginla, RW, COL
10:05 AM
News: Avs coach Patrick Roy said he's tentatively planning to use Jarome Iginla as the second-line right wing this season, Adrian Dater of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: Roy revealed his projected top-six forwards at Thursday's training camp session, slotting Jarome Iginla next to Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene. That trio would be good enough to qualify as the top line for most teams, but the fact that they'll likely match up against lesser competition should only further aid their productivity. Iginla may be transitioning to a new squad after signing a three-year deal with the Avs in the summer, but expect him to make a run at another 30-goal season to go along with a magnificent plus/minus rating.

Stephane Robidas
Leafs' Robidas (Leg) Not Yet Ready For Contact
Stephane Robidas, D, TOR
10:00 AM
News: Stephane Robidas (leg) has yet to receive clearance for contact drills during training camp, TSN's Mark Masters reports.
Analysis: Stephane Robidas is still on the mend from the broken leg he suffered with the Ducks in the postseason, but the expectation is that he'll be at full health for the final two preseason games. Following the offseason trade of Carl Gunnarsson to the Blues, Robidas could be asked to join Dion Phaneuf on the team's top defensive pairing.

John Mitchell
Avs' Mitchell Dealing With Migraines
John Mitchell, C, COL
9:56 AM
News: John Mitchell's participation in training camp could be limited in the early going while he deals with migraines, Adrian Dater of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: The Avalanche have already announced that the migraines aren't related to the Apr. 11 concussion the center suffered, knocking him out of the remainder of the postseason. While that sounds like a bit of fortunate news, John Mitchell could still be held out of the team's first few preseason games as a precaution. Mitchell is likely poised to open the regular season as the team's third-line center.

 
 
 
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