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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
Ryan Wilson
Flames Ink Wilson To PTO
Ryan Wilson, D, CGY
9/3/2015
News: Ryan Wilson signed a professional tryout offer with the Flames on Thursday, Randy Sportak of the Calgary Sun reports.
Analysis: Ryan Wilson was limited to just three games as a member of the Avalanche last season, as he suffered a shoulder injury in late October that would ultimately require surgery. Prior to the injury, the 28-year-old wasn't expected to be a major part of the Avs' plans on the blue line, and he'll have an even more difficult time trying to carve out a role in Calgary's defensive corps, which may be the deepest in the NHL.

Nicklas Backstrom
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9/3/2015
News: Nicklas Backstrom (hip) skated during informal workouts Thursday morning, but is "not in a rush" to return to action, Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post reports.
Analysis: Nicklas Backstrom began skating in August following hip surgery during the offseason, and while he hasn't experienced any setbacks, he doesn't appear to have a specific target date in mind for his return. "I'm not going to be back to 100 percent before I start playing," the 27-year-old pivot remarked, "I'm not going to play on 90 percent. We'll see how it goes. We don't know yet." The uncertainty surrounding Backstrom's return has lowered his standing somewhat in fantasy rankings. While the situation should be monitored closely, Backstrom should provide some serious value if he can get up to speed quickly on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and newcomer T.J. Oshie, as he has been one of the more productive playmakers and power-play performers over the last several seasons. Don't sleep on him too long in your draft if he continues to progress according to plan.

Joe Pavelski
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News: Joe Pavelski is expected to be named the Sharks' next captain, CSN Bay Area's Kevin Kurz reports.
Analysis: Captaincy has been a delicate issue in San Jose over the last year, as former coach Todd McLellan stripped longtime leader Joe Thornton of those honors heading into 2014-15, straining the relationship between the star center and team brass. While Thornton is still around, it's clear that the 31-year-old Joe Pavelski is now the face of the franchise, after ranking fourth in the NHL in goals over the last four seasons with 161. Pavelski figures to pace the Sharks in scoring once again during the upcoming campaign, while taking on more of a leadership role in the locker room.

Keith Ballard
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Keith Ballard, D, MIN
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News: Keith Ballard (concussion) confirmed last week that he's leaning toward retirement, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Keith Ballard is still experiencing concussion symptoms from the head injury he suffered Dec. 9 of last season, and it sounds like he's leaning toward hanging up his skates rather than risking permanent health issues. The 32-year-old had previously experienced several concussions during his NHL career, likely leaving many teams disinterested in Ballard's services even if he opts to keep playing.

Andrew Copp
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9/3/2015
News: Andrew Copp is expected to compete for the Jets' fourth-line center duties during training camp, Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press reports.
Analysis: Andrew Copp, who finished up his sophomore season at the University of Michigan last spring before turning pro, made his NHL debut for the Jets in their final regular season game in 2015-16, when the team was just trying to rest its regulars in advance of the playoffs. The 2013 fourth-round pick went unused during the Jets' first-round series exit, but the size he presents (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) along with the strong leadership and decision-making he demonstrated during his time at Michigan could make him the Jets' best internal option to pivot the checking line. Holdovers Anthony Peluso and Matt Halischuk likely represent Copp's top competition for that role.

Joakim Nordstrom
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Joakim Nordstrom, C, CHI
9/2/2015
News: Joakim Nordstrom signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Blackhawks on Wednesday, Brian Hedger of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Joakim Nordstrom waited several months before agreeing to his qualifying offer, but he's at least in the fold to compete for a spot in the Blackhawks' crowded bottom-six ranks. The forward recorded no goals and three assists in 38 games with the parent club last season, so a return trip to AHL Rockford could be in the works to open 2015-16.

Tom Sestito
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Tom Sestito, LW, PIT
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News: Tom Sestito signed a professional tryout contract last week with the Penguins, Josh Yohe of DKonPittsburghSports.com reports.
Analysis: As a tough guy who gobbles up penalty minutes, Tom Sestito doesn't seem to mesh well with coach Mike Johnston's vision of rolling out four lines with scoring ability. Don't expect him to crack the Penguins' 23-man roster out of training camp, barring a litany of injuries.

Evgeni Malkin
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News: Penguins coach Mike Johnston said Evgeni Malkin is healthy heading into training camp, NHL.com reports. "[Malkin] was injured before the playoffs last year; he's in skating already," Johnston said.
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Peter Budaj
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Peter Budaj, G, LA
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News: Peter Budaj has signed with the Kings on a professional tryout contract, Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider reports.
Analysis: Peter Budaj struggled while seeing limited ice time with AHL St. John's in the Winnipeg organization last season, going 0-9-6 with a 3.55 GAA and .888 save percentage. The 33-year-old clearly seems to be on the downswing of his career, but as a veteran with 296 NHL appearances on his ledger, he could provide insurance in goal for the Kings at the minor-league level.

Markus Soberg
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News: Markus Soberg (groin) will miss the next four-to-six weeks as he recovers from surgery to repair a sports hernia, Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: A sixth-round pick by the Blue Jackets in 2013, Markus Soberg was hampered by an abdominal injury throughout much of last season, ending up with 13 goals and 17 assists in 61 games for OHL Windsor. It's unclear whether he would've been able to make the jump to Columbus this season even if healthy, but the surgery will certainly delay his progress to North American hockey.

 
 
 
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