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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
Kevin Shattenkirk
Blues' Shattenkirk Confirmed To Be In Saturday
Kevin Shattenkirk, D, STL
3/28/2015
News: Coach Ken Hitchcock confirmed after Friday's practice that Kevin Shattenkirk (abdominal surgery) will return to the lineup Saturday against the Blue Jackets. The Blues have officially activated him from injured reserve.
Analysis: The Blues cushioned the loss of Kevin Shattenkirk a bit by acquiring Zbynek Michalek and Robert Bortuzzo at the trade deadline, but they'll welcome the All-Star's return with open arms for the stretch run. Prior to going down with the injury, Shattenkirk ranked among the league scoring leaders from the blue line, producing eight goals and 40 points in 49 games. Expect Shattenkirk to see his usual 20-plus minutes of ice time in his first game since Feb. 1.

Lauri Korpikoski
Coyotes' Korpikoski (Mouth) Out Saturday
Lauri Korpikoski, LW, ARI
3/28/2015
News: Lauri Korpikoski (mouth) won't play Saturday against the Penguins, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: Lauri Korpikoski skipped Friday's practice due to the persistence of a swollen mouth as the result of a high stick to the face Tuesday. While he remains day-to-day with the issue, Saturday won't be his return date. Tye McGinn will likely continue to dress in his place.

Kari Lehtonen
Stars' Lehtonen Gets Start Saturday
Kari Lehtonen, G, DAL
3/28/2015
News: Kari Lehtonen will be in the crease for Saturday's game against the Oilers, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports.
Analysis: The Stars will begin a back-to-back set Friday, and with the team still trying to force its way back into the playoff picture, it's conceivable that Kari Lehtonen could get the nod again Saturday in Vancouver. However, no decision on that front will likely be made until Lehtonen takes on the Oilers in what should be a favorable matchup for the goaltender. Edmonton ranks in the bottom fifth of the league in both goals and shot attempts per game, and with Lehtonen reeling off wins in seven of his last eight games, he'll make for an easy activation Friday.

Mike Smith
Coyotes Turn To Smith In Net Saturday
Mike Smith, G, ARI
3/28/2015
News: Mike Smith will make his fifth consecutive start in net Saturday against the Penguins, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: Mike Smith has been faced with a barrage of shots recently, averaging 35 saves over the span. He's won each of the last two contests, and he'll look to make it a third Saturday. However, Smith will need to be up to the task, as he will take on a Penguins offense averaging 2.72 goals per game.

Matt Fraser
Oilers' Fraser To Play Friday
Matt Fraser, LW, EDM
3/28/2015
News: Matt Fraser (concussion) will return to the lineup Friday against the Stars.
Analysis: Matt Fraser has missed the Oilers' previous four games with the concussion, which he suffered on a hit to the head from the Leafs' Nazem Kadri in a March 17 contest. Fittingly, Kadri was handed a four-game suspension for that hit, and now Fraser will rejoin the lineup after an absence of the same length. The winger is projected to skate on the Oilers' fourth line Friday alongside Luke Gazdic and Rob Klinkhammer.

Mark Fayne
Oilers' Fayne Deemed Unavailable Friday
Mark Fayne, D, EDM
3/28/2015
News: Mark Fayne (shoulder) will not play Friday against the Stars.
Analysis: Neither Mark Fayne nor Matt Hendricks (back) will be available Friday after leaving Wednesday's 4-3 win over the Avalanche with the injuries. The Oilers called up Brandon Davidson from AHL Oklahoma City on Thursday to cover for the absence of Fayne, who has compiled eight points and a minus-21 rating over 74 games this season.

Matt Hendricks
Oilers' Hendricks Out Friday
Matt Hendricks, C, EDM
3/28/2015
News: Matt Hendricks (back) will not play Friday against the Stars.
Analysis: Matt Hendricks succumbed to the injury in Wednesday's win over the Avalanche, skating just 8:27 before leaving the contest. The winger provides toughness in the Oilers' bottom-six ranks with 205 hits and 76 PIM on the season, but his limited offense and his poor plus/minus rating doesn't make him an appealing fantasy target.

Boyd Gordon
Oilers' Gordon Out Another Game
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3/28/2015
News: Boyd Gordon (back) will not play Friday against the Stars.
Analysis: Though the Oilers will miss Boyd Gordon's skills in the faceoff circle, the center's absence will cause considerably fewer ripples in the fantasy realm. Gordon has tallied only 13 points in 68 games this season while primarily skating on the Oilers' fourth line.

Alex Stalock
Sharks' Stalock Starts Saturday
Alex Stalock, G, SJ
3/28/2015
News: Alex Stalock will start in net Saturday against the Flyers, Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area reports.
Analysis: Alex Stalock hasn't made an appearance in net since March 18, but will finally return to the net Saturday. In 17 games this season, the netminder has posted a 6-7-1 record with a 2.65 GAA and .903 save percentage. He'll receive the benefit of facing a weak offensive opponent Saturday in the Flyers, who average a middling 2.57 goals per game.

Cam Ward
Canes' Ward To Start In Net Saturday
Cam Ward, G, CAR
3/28/2015
News: Cam Ward will be in the crease for Saturday's game against the Penguins, Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
Analysis: The Hurricanes will go back to Cam Ward for a second straight game after he stopped 27 shots in Thursday's upset 5-2 victory over the Penguins. Coach Bill Peters has generally embraced a timeshare between Ward and Anton Khudobin, and seems unlikely to deviate from those plans over the final two weeks of the season. Ward's 2.43 GAA and .910 save percentage have been passable this season, but with the Hurricanes headed for a sub-.500 finish, the victories don't figure to trickle in for either of the team's goalies on a regular basis.

 
 
 
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