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Blue Line Buzz: A defensive game plan

by | Rotowire.com
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(all statistics through Saturday, March 9)

No Dough(ty) Needed

Taking a quick glance at the last week's leading scorers among defensemen, one will see several expected names on the list: Montreal's P.K. Subban (more on him later), St. Louis' Alex Pietrangelo and Kris Letang of Pittsburgh have all been, unsurprisingly, raking in points lately. It's the name Jake Muzzin of Los Angeles, his three goals and four points that might make people stop and look. For instance, who is Jake Muzzin and why is he a plus-7 over the last four games?

Muzzin has been seeing close to 17 minutes per contest and has eight total points on the season in 20 games with two on the power play. If you're looking for a recent run of play to confirm whether Muzzin has been a viable option, seven of those points have come over the last seven games and he's seen an uptick in power play time. Muzzin's track record, however shows this recent burst might be the aberration (however it is worth noting that Muzzin's eight points are two less than Drew Doughty while his five goals are five more than Doughty has delivered). Muzzin's last year in junior with the Soo Greyhounds saw him snag 67 points in 64 games while his best season professionally was the 2010-11 campaign with Manchester (AHL), where Muzzin notched 31 points in 71 games. During the lockout earlier this season he grabbed 11 points in 29 games, a points-per-game pace that seems more in line with what he usually does.

Muzzin's rate of production likely will flatten out but he's getting opportunities to produce and he won't hurt your plus-minus as the Kings have figured out they are the defending champions and subsequently have been attempting to play like it. Less surprising than Muzzin's recent performance has been the re-emergence of Slava Voynov as a legitimate scoring threat from the blue line.

Poolies will remember Voynov as the frustratingly talented prospect the Kings shuttled between the AHL and NHL last season, allowing him to post 20 points in 54 games scattered over the course of the season. Given his talent level, Voynov was a savvy late round target for owners in drafts this January and he's been quietly delivering before a seven-point outburst this past week which saw him record three assists in two separate games. Voynov's a plus-11 on the season with four of his season's 16 points on the power play. Voynov has been as streaky as any other player during his brief NHL career, but he possesses a howitzer of a shot and can dish the puck. He's an excellent keeper league prospect and could make a run at 25-30- plus points in this shortened season based on what we've been seeing. The only question is whether you can cope with the ebbs and flows while Voynov is not producing.

One has to begin to wonder when the Kings' immensely talented and underachieving blueliner Drew Doughty will step up and start owning the Kings' blue line as he did as a 21-year old.

Subban Emerging As Elite

Montreal's lightning rod for media criticism and whipping boy for when things go wrong, P.K. Subban, is emphatically establishing himself as a top-five fantasy defender for next season. Many in Montreal are quick to point out when he errs (he is from Toronto after all) and the fact that he's been called “brash” by many hockey pundits borders on prejudice, but Subban can play. He can hit, shoot, lug the mail and agitate opponents. He plays with an edge that endears him to few and he's perfectly fine with that. After signing a backloaded, two-year contract in late January that will earn him close to $4 million next season following a contract holdout, he's delivered.

Some expected Subban to struggle to produce this season, while others believed he would take the next step in his development. It's the latter after over a month of Subban action as the mercurial blue liner has an impressive six goals and 15 points through 19 games with eight on the power play. The last 10 days saw Subban notch seven points over a five-game stretch and he's been remarkably consistent.

Subban gradually saw his ice time increase at the discretion of Habs' coach Michel Therrien and P.K. is occasionally prone to a mistake that will put him in the coach's doghouse, but he's immensely talented.

As for other Montreal defenders that have graced the spaces of this column, Raphael Diaz is on the shelf with a concussion and out indefinitely, not that Diaz was getting in the way of Subban's production.

Random notes and observations

Nashville stalwart and consensus top three pick among fantasy defensemen Shea Weber has found his scoring touch. Owners that used a high pick on Weber were panicking early in the season as game after game went by for Nashville and Weber's name did not appear in the box score. In fact, it was 10 games into the season before Weber notched his first point.

Weber then went another three games before notching a point again, but that lone assist put him on four-game points streak. Weber now sits with 13 points through 25 games, 12 of which have come over the last 12 games. He hasn't scored a goal in eight games, but he has five assists over the last three contests. Weber is good at hockey and this trend should continue. He's been one of the most productive players in terms of points-per-game over the last month and Weber has a slight track record of being productive.

John Carlson is another defender who alienated fantasy owners early in the season, but the American hero from the 2010 World Junior championship has seven points over his last 10 contests. The Caps seem to be finding their stride offensively and Carlson has easily eclipsed Mike Green in terms of production and on-ice talent. Green is back on the IR with a groin injury, the same injury that plagued him last season.

Veteran Dan Hamhuis has 14 points on the season, which is just two less than the 16 combined points from Alexander Edler and huge free agent signing Jason Garrison. Hamhuis is enjoying life in the Pacific Northwest and currently the only player in the top three of scoring for the Canucks without the last name Sedin. Edler obviously has more upside and Garrison has more potential to score goals, but Hamhuis has been a steady source of secondary scoring for owners that burned a late round pick on him.

Philadelphia has not had many bright spots this season with spotty defensive play, inconsistent scoring and goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov that has left much to be desired, whether the goals are his fault or not. However, veteran puck-mover Kimmo Timonen is enjoying another successful season offensively. He has seven points over the last six games and one of those contests was a shutout. Timonen has never been a goal scorer in his career but he's supplying excellent numbers to his owners.

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Player News
Brad Boyes
Panthers' Boyes Placed On Waivers
Brad Boyes, RW, FLA
10:18 AM
News: Brad Boyes was placed on buyout waivers Tuesday, Bob McKenzie of TSN reports.
Analysis: Brad Boyes will be subject to waivers and will likely be bought out of the remaining $2.5 million on his contract for next season. It's somewhat of a puzzling move, as Boyes recorded a respectable 38 points in 78 games last season. His $2.5 million salary for 2015-16 isn't overly crippling for a team well below the cap, and he's actually set to make less next season than he did in 2014-15.

Sam Gagner
Flyers Say They'll Keep Gagner
Sam Gagner, C, PHI
10:14 AM
News: Sam Gagner has been informed by the Flyers that the team intends to keep him on the roster, CSN's Tim Panaccio reports.
Analysis: Sam Gagner was acquired via trade over the weekend, and the initial expectation was that he would be bought out by the Flyers. However, the team said Tuesday that it intends to hang onto Gagner, and neither a buyout nor a trade is in the works.

Martin Jones
Bruins Deal Jones To San Jose
Martin Jones, G, BOS
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News: Martin Jones was traded to the Sharks on Tuesday in exchange for a 2016 first-round pick and Sean Kuraly, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Martin Jones, who spent last season with the Kings, was acquired by the Bruins just four days ago. He appeared in 15 games in 2014-15, going 4-5-2 with a 2.25 GAA and .906 save percentage.

Jesse Blacker
Panthers Part Ways With Blacker
Jesse Blacker, D, FLA
9:42 AM
News: Jesse Blacker wasn't tendered a qualifying offer by the Panthers on Monday and will become an unrestricted free agent, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports.
Analysis: Acquired from the Ducks in December, Jesse Blacker spent all of his time in the Panthers organization with AHL San Antonio, where he recorded 18 points across 40 games. The 24-year-old possesses some pedigree as a former second-round selection in 2009, so he'll still likely draw interest in free agency from a number of clubs.

Brandon Saad
Hawks, Saad Apparently Further Apart On New Pact
Brandon Saad, LW, CHI
9:19 AM
News: Brandon Saad appears to be further apart from signing a new contract with the Blackhawks, Score 670 AM in Chicago reports.
Analysis: Hawks' general manager Stan Bowman has said that he wanted to get Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger, both restricted free agents signed by Wednesday, the start of NHL free agency. The Blackhawks want to sign Saad to a two-year contract at about $2.8 million per year while Saad's side is apparent looking for a long-term deal worth about $4 million per year. Despite the apparent discrepancy with the dollar numbers, Saad should re-sign with the Hawks. Saad's numbers for 2014-15 of 23 goals and 29 assists were slightly better than his first full NHL season in 13-14 of 19 goals and 28 assists. But it was his post-season numbers of eight goals and three assists along with his all-around play in the Stanley Cup playoffs that have people raving that the Blackhawks will re-sign the restricted free agent. With the expected departure of Patrick Sharp from the Blackhawks, Saad could be in for a big 2015-16 season.

Alexander Semin
Canes' Semin Placed On Waivers
Alexander Semin, RW, CAR
9:15 AM
News: Alexander Semin was placed on unconditional waivers Tuesday, and the Hurricanes are expected to buy out his contract, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Alexander Semin will be subject to waivers, and if he clears he'll be bought out by the team Wednesday afternoon. The 31-year-old has three years remaining on the five-year, $35 million extension he inked with Carolina in March of 2013. Semin tallied only six goals and 13 assists in 57 games this past season.

Matt Lindblad
Bruins Let Go Of Lindblad
Matt Lindblad, C, BOS
8:11 AM
News: Matt Lindblad wasn't tendered a qualifying offer Monday by the Bruins and will become an unrestricted free agent, Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com reports.
Analysis: Matt Lindblad appeared in two games for the big club during the past season, but he was viewed as strictly a depth player by the organization. There's a chance that the Bruins could still re-sign him, though it's likely he'll try to find an opportunity with another club that might offer a clearer path to ice time.

Michael Leighton
Leighton Re-Signs With Blackhawks
Michael Leighton, G, CHI
7:49 AM
News: Michael Leighton signed a one-year contract with the Blackhawks on Tuesday, ESPN Chicago reports.
Analysis: Michael Leighton hasn't played in the NHL since 2012-13, and he'll likely just provide organizational goaltending depth in the AHL. He had a .920 save percentage and 2.26 GAA in 42 AHL appearances last season.

Andrej Sustr
Lightning Re-Sign Sustr For 2 Years
Andrej Sustr, D, TB
7:22 AM
News: The Lightning re-signed Andrej Sustr to a two-year, one-way contract.
Analysis: Andrej Sustr received a qualifying offer over the weekend, and it didn't take long for the two sides to reach an agreement. He'll likely open 2015-16 as part of Tampa Bay's third defensive pairing, coming off a 13-point season (all assists) in 72 appearances. Sustr's two-year contract is worth $2.9 million, according to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun.

Zac Rinaldo
Rinaldo Traded To Bruins
Zac Rinaldo, C, BOS
12:47 AM
News: The Flyers traded Zac Rinaldo to the Bruins on Monday for a third-round draft choice in the 2017 NHL Draft, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Zac Rinaldo, who tallied one goal and six points to go along with 109 penalty minutes in 58 games for Philadelphia this past season, adds depth and grit to the B's forward mix, but he's presumably ticketed for a fourth-line/agitator role that limits his fantasy utility to PIM-heavy formats.

 
 
 
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