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Blue Line Buzz: Midseason awards

by | Rotowire.com
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(all statistics through Saturday, January 11)

We've reached the Bon Jovi point of the season.

Olympic rosters, omissions and a general Sochi buzz have dominated the headlines the last week. Will the host Russia compete for the gold medal? How much will Canada's roster selections be even further micro-analyzed at the slightest hint of trouble? Can the Americans produce enough scoring to contend? Will Henrik Lundqvist play better for Sweden than he has for the Rangers? Answers to all these questions will come in time.

Several teams have established themselves as legitimate Cup contenders in St. Louis, Chicago and Anaheim while Pittsburgh earns the Obi Wan Kenobi award for the Eastern Conference.

As for on the ice, it's been a shaky season for goaltenders, as fellow RotoWire writer Jan Levine noted last week, it's the year of the backup goaltender. Look no further than the likes of Eddie Lack in Vancouver, Brian Elliott in St. Louis, the Wild's Josh Harding, Carolina's Anton Khudobin and the recent play of Phoenix's Thomas Greiss could see him earn a few more starts in the desert over Canadian Olympic team healthy scratch Mike Smith. (Save for Saturday's loss to Anaheim.)

On the blue line, though, the usual suspects are producing at expected rates, your Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban while Duncan Keith has reverted back to his 2010 form, albeit without the prolific goalscoring.

Midseason Awards

The Green Jacket: Awarded to the player with the most points and the lowest plus-minus rating.

Dustin Byfuglien took quite a while to find his stride this season, but has re-established himself as one of the league's top goal-scorers for the enigmatic Winnipeg Jets. However, among the elite scoring blue liners, Buff boasts the lowest plus-minus, edging out Karlsson with a minus-16 through 46 games. The low plus-minus rating is certainly easier to take when Byfuglien has 10 goals and 35 total points, one of four blue liners with double-digit goals through Saturday's tilts. Buff should continue producing as he is near the top of the Jets' scoring race with Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little.

New Digs Award: Awarded to the players adapting nicely to a new team.

Few players this season have seemingly enjoyed their new location more than Jay Bouwmeester in St. Louis. Rescued from the foothills of southern Alberta at the trade deadline last spring, Bouwmeester is turning back the clock and producing play that has earned him a spot on the Canadian Olympic team as Alex Pietrangelo's other half. Bouwmeester is in the midst of his strongest offensive season since he was a Florida Panther, with 28 points in 44 games for the juggernaut Blues. Of course, not having to carry the weight of a franchise on his shoulders as he did in Calgary might allow him to play with more confidence, but he's been a boon for Fantasy owners regardless. His slick skating ability and playmaking skills have allowed him to re-emerge as one of the league's better two-way defensemen.

Runner-up: Andrej Sekera, Carolina. This puck-mover had long been rumored to have the skill to produce a 30-plus point season, but was quiet during his tenure in Buffalo; his best numbers being a 29-point campaign in 76 games during 2010-11. During the summer, Sekera was sent to Carolina in a trade for Jamie McBain and has been one of the steals of the season for owners with 24 points through 43 games and a 10-plus goal season looking likely. Sekera is on one of the league's more enigmatic teams in Carolina, a squad that will score goals in bunches for a few games and then disappear. Sekera has been a beneficiary of the team's penchant to binge on scoring and has not gone too many stretches without notching at least an assist. He has just one point in his last five tilts, but that can be expected to change.

Tag Team: Awarded to the group of defenders producing the most. Defense's version of the Jennings Trophy.

Staying in St. Louis, they have an embarrassment of riches on the blue line with Bouwmeester, Pietrangelo and American Olympian Kevin Shattenkirk, all of whom are among the league's top 12 scorers from the blue line. Pietrangelo has been red-hot of late, with eight points in the last five games and goals in the past two. Shattenkirk has been steady as well and hopefully will not fall off in the second half as he did last season. This group is the highest scoring trio in the NHL while most teams boast a mere pair of productive defenders (Montreal, Phoenix, Chicago etc.) the Blues are receiving production from three solid players, one of whom was a steal in drafts. Look for the price tag on Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk to increase next season and don't overpay for Bouwmeester's numbers this year.

The Madden Award: Awarded to the player who will be guaranteed to produce when you take him out of your lineup and do nothing when you leave him in.

Few players in the league are more maddeningly frustrating to own than New Jersey's Marek Zidlicky. His enigmatic play and penchant for disappearing for weeks at a time is tempered only by his ability to binge on points like few other defensemen. If defensive zone turnovers, questionable decisions and being out of position occasionally were measurable metrics, Zidlicky would be the first blue liner taken in many drafts. Saturday against Florida, Zidlicky redeemed himself for a few spotty plays with a blast off a set play in overtime for a game-winning goal past Tim Thomas. On Tuesday of this past week, Zidlicky showed remarkable patience while the Devils were trailing 3-2 late against Philadelphia in setting up a tying goal from Michael Ryder, not to mention bagging two goals against Chicago the week before.

Much like the Devils are learning, Zidlicky may be worth the hassle. He's one of four defenders in the league with eight goals through Saturday and has five points in the last four games and nine since December 21. That was preceded by a stretch of play that saw him notch just two assists in 12 contests. You almost have to take the fits of futility from Zidlicky, a necessary evil.

The Anti-Tyler Myers: Given to the defenseman who broke out as a rookie and eventually returned to that level.

Remember when Cam Fowler and Tyler Myers each cracked the 40-point plateau as rookies in 2009-10 and 2010-11, respectively? Personally, I remember more the years afterward drafting Myers and feeling gipped, as Fowler's plus-minus was enough to scare me away from him since the Ducks were not the juggernaut they are now. Fowler followed up that debut campaign with seasons of 29 and 11 points, making him an ideal buy-low candidate heading into this year. Fowler has delivered solid play for the Ducks and earned himself on the United States Olympic Roster thanks to 26 points and plus-13 rating through 47 games on arguably one of the league's best teams. Fowler has 12 power-play points and remains a steady option in most leagues as the Ducks' primary power-play option.

Houdini: Given to the players at the season's midpoint who has most disappeared from the collective consciousness of Fantasy owners.

Justin Schultz has had a season plagued by injuries and a lack of productivity at points, much like the Oilers themselves. He's notched three points in the last three games but has been rather quiet vis-à-vis expectations for the gifted puck-mover. Schultz had a stretch of games after returning from a groin injury that saw him post just two points in 13 games. Schultz is an ideal buy low candidate if you're willing to take the plus-minus hit and the inconsistency, just like the Oilers.

Tobias Enstrom had been a model of consistency in relative obscurity the last few seasons for Thrashers Jets. Always a steady source of assists and points, especially in terms of points-per-game, his seasons are always broken up by nagging injuries. This year, however, Enstrom hasn't missed a game, yet has 14 points through 47 contests. Enstrom is still seeing 3:29 on the power play. He's one of the most vexing players in the league. Although the Jets have a budding star on their roster in Jacob Trouba, Enstrom is the ideal buy-low candidate right now. The Jets also made a coaching change on Sunday, axing Claude Noel and hiring former Carolina coach Paul Maurice, if you believe that a change behind the bench could positively benefit a player like Enstrom.

The Kotter Awards: Given to the players whom, at the season's relative midpoint, have returned to a previous level of production, welcoming them back.

Andy Greene, New Jersey
James Wisniewski, Columbus
Duncan Keith, Chicago
Matt Niskanen, Pittsburgh

Question of the week: Which veteran has a resurgence in the second half?

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Player News
Emerson Etem
Ducks Send Etem To Press Box For Game 5
Emerson Etem, RW, ANA
5:42 PM
News: Emerson Etem isn't on the ice for pregame warmups and looks to be a healthy scratch for Monday's Game 5 against the Blackhawks, Mark Divver of the Providence Journal reports.
Analysis: Despite scoring a goal in Saturday's Game 4, Emerson Etem will surprisingly find himself in the press box, as coach Bruce Boudreau decides to go with the veteran Tomas Fleischmann. The fourth-line arrangement looks to be a very fluid situation for the Ducks, so it's quite possible that Fleischmann and Etem could have their roles flip-flopped for Game 6.

Andrei Kostitsyn
KHLer Kostitsyn Entertaining NHL Return
Andrei Kostitsyn, LW, FLA
4:13 PM
News: Andrei Kostitsyn will pursue a return to the NHL this summer, Chris Johnston of Sportsnet reports.
Analysis: The former Canadiens winger and 10th overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft has spent the last four seasons in the KHL and tallied 31 points in 37 games for Sochi HC in 2014-15. A number of organizations are reportedly kicking the tires on a one-year deal for the 30-year-old, who posted three 20-goal campaigns during his stint with the Canadiens. He likely profiles as a third-line option for most NHL squads.

Vladimir Sobotka
Blues Hopeful For Sobotka Return
Vladimir Sobotka, C, STL
3:58 PM
News: Blues GM Doug Armstrong said that the team should know by the end of May whether or not Vladimir Sobotka will rejoin the Blues next season or remain in the KHL, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Analysis: After failing to find common ground on a contract with the Blues last summer, Vladimir Sobotka bolted for Russia, where he received a lucrative three-year deal with the KHL's Avangard Omsk worth around $12 million. Playing a feature role for the squad, Sobotka tallied 38 points in 53 games, but could be hungry for a return to the brighter lights of the NHL. Though his contract with Avangard Omsk contains an out clause, Sobotka would likely have to be willing to accept a downgrade in pay, as he would owe the Blues one season at a $2.7 million salary due to a previous arbitration ruling.

Corey Crawford
Blackhawks' Crawford Draws Game 5 Start
Corey Crawford, G, CHI
3:47 PM
News: Corey Crawford will be in the net for Monday's Game 5 in Anaheim, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: If not for Corey Crawford's stellar play in the two games in the series that went to overtime, the Blackhawks' postseason likely would have come to a conclusion. In the four-game series, Crawford has notched a .934 save percentage to prop up the Blackhawks' top four defenders, who have been forced to log heavy minutes.

Frederik Andersen
Ducks' Andersen Getting Nod For Game 5
Frederik Andersen, G, ANA
3:41 PM
News: Frederik Andersen will be in the crease for Monday's Game 5 against the Blackhawks, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: Though the .875 save percentage Frederik Andersen posted in Saturday's Game 4 double-overtime loss was his lowest mark of the postseason, coach Bruce Boudreau only appears to be pondering changes to his forward and defensive ranks for Game 5. Andersen has been dynamite on his home ice during these playoffs, going 6-1 while allowing no more than three goals in any match.

Mats Zuccarello
Zuccarello Traveling With Rangers
Mats Zuccarello, RW, NYR
2:17 PM
News: Mats Zuccarello (upper body) made the trip to Tampa Bay on Monday, but won't play in Tuesday's Game 6, Andrew Gross of the Bergen Record reports.
Analysis: Mats Zuccarello is still considered day-to-day and has yet to join the team for a full contact practice. As such, he'll be forced to remain out Tuesday, but he could return later in the playoffs if the Rangers are able to stave off elimination.

Sam Carrick
Toronto's Carrick Signs One-Year Deal
Sam Carrick, C, TOR
11:39 AM
News: Sam Carrick signed a one-year deal with the Maple Leafs on Monday, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Sam Carrick spent the bulk of the year in the AHL, where he registered 27 points and 112 penalty minutes in 59 games. He also made 16 appearances for the Leafs, recording one goal and one assist.

Brad Richards
Blackhawks' Richards Sets Up Kane In Game 4 Win
Brad Richards, C, CHI
12:58 AM
News: Brad Richards assisted on Patrick Kane's game-tying power-play goal in Saturday's double-overtime victory over the Ducks in Game 4.
Analysis: Brad Richards has recorded a point in each game of the series thus far, giving the Blackhawks the offensive presence at the second-line center spot that was sorely missing during the past postseason. The 35-year-old submitted a mediocre regular season, but if he can remain productive for just a few more games, he'll be well worth the investment the Blackhawks made.

Brent Seabrook
Blackhawks' Seabrook Nets Game 4 Goal
Brent Seabrook, D, CHI
12:56 AM
News: Brent Seabrook tallied a goal in Saturday's Game 4 triumph over the Ducks.
Analysis: It was an effective all-around game for Brent Seabrook, who finished with four shot attempts, four hits, and six blocks across 32:03 of ice time. With coach Joel Quenneville showing little trust in fifth and sixth defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Kyle Cumiskey, Seabrook should be poised to log big minutes for the remainder of the postseason.

Valtteri Filppula
Bolts' Filppula Pots Game-Winner In Game 5 Sunday
Valtteri Filppula, C, TB
5/24/2015
News: Valtteri Filppula scored the game-winning goal in Game 5 Sunday against the Rangers.
Analysis: It was the third goal of the postseason for Valtteri Filppula, who has racked up four points in his last three games. Skating with Steve Stamkos, Filppula is having a decent postseason, notching 10 points in 18 games. He doesn't shoot much, but when he does, it can be lethal. Filppula's struck twice on the power play this postseason and is averaging 20:30 of ice time, making him a reliable scoring option who has helped Tampa Bay grab a 3-2 stranglehold on their series against the Rangers.

 
 
 
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