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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
Alex Biega
Biega Signs With Canucks
Alex Biega, D, VAN
7/1/2015
News: The Canucks re-signed Alex Biega to a one-year, two-way contract Tuesday, the Province reports. The deal is worth $600,000 at the NHL level.
Analysis: Alex Biega, who notched a goal in seven games with the big club in 2014-15, spent most of the season with AHL Utica, where he recorded 19 points in 62 games. The 27-year-old is thus slated to reprise his role as a depth blueliner for the Canucks' organization.

Drew Stafford
Jets Retain Stafford
Drew Stafford, RW, WPG
7/1/2015
News: Drew Stafford signed a two-year, $8.7 million deal to remain with the Jets on Tuesday, Sportsnet.ca's Elliotte Friedman reports.
Analysis: The 29-year-old Drew Stafford, who was acquired from Buffalo in February, finished up the 2014-15 season with 18 goals and 43 points in 76 games overall, but his production picked up with the Jets (19 points in 26 games), earning him a nice two-year payday with the team in advance of free agency. He'll likely be ticketed for a second- or third-line role this coming season.

Dougie Hamilton
Flames' Hamilton Signs Six-Year Deal
Dougie Hamilton, D, CGY
7/1/2015
News: Dougie Hamilton signed a six-year, $34.5 million deal with the Flames on Tuesday, Yahoo! Sports reports.
Analysis: Dougie Hamilton came over from Boston in a trade last week, and it appears he's viewed as a key part of the Flames' future. The 22-year-old, who showed flashes of promise as a member of the Bruins, notched 42 points in an average of 21:20 of ice time per game last season.

Martin Jones
Sharks, Jones Reach Agreement On Three-Year Deal
Martin Jones, G, BOS
6:41 PM
News: Martin Jones signed a three-year, $9 million contract with the Sharks on Tuesday, Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area reports.
Analysis: Martin Jones has been a member of three different teams within less than a week, but in agreeing to the new contract, it appears he's finally settled on a permanent home. At a $3 million cap hit, Jones will be almost twice as expensive as holdover Alex Stalock ($1.6 million), but both goalies should have a legitimate chance at fighting for the No. 1 job. With the Sharks bringing in a new coach in Peter DeBoer, Stalock doesn't figure to be shown any loyalty as the incumbent, which should allow for the better of the two goalies in training camp to rise to the top of the depth chart to begin the season.

Craig Cunningham
Cunningham Re-Signs With Coyotes
Craig Cunningham, LW, ARI
6:06 PM
News: Craig Cunningham re-signed Tuesday with the Coyotes on a one-year, two-way contract.
Analysis: Though the Coyotes declined to tender a qualifying offer a day earlier to Craig Cunningham, a restricted free agent, it didn't take long for the team to find common ground with the winger on a new deal. The two-way deal will allow the Coyotes to demote Cunningham to AHL Portland without having to go through the waiver process, but given the lack of existing forward talent on the parent club's current roster that might be a moot point. The 24-year-old, who has recorded seven points in 53 career NHL games, could stick with Arizona for the bulk of the season.

Patrick Wey
Caps Prospect Wey To Retire
Patrick Wey, D, WAS
5:49 PM
News: Patrick Wey has elected to retire after suffering two successive concussions with AHL Hershey last season.
Analysis: Patrick Wey's two-year, entry-level contract with the Capitals was set to expire July 1, and though he likely could have earned another contract with some organization, he decided to put his health at the forefront. The 24-year-old, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Capitals in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, previously appeared in nine games for the parent club in 2013-14.

Lauri Korpikoski
Coyotes Send Korpikoski To Edmonton
Lauri Korpikoski, LW, ARI
5:25 PM
News: Lauri Korpikoski was traded to the Oilers on Tuesday in exchange for center Boyd Gordon.
Analysis: Lauri Korpikoski was often miscast as a second-line player during his time with the Coyotes, but he should settle into a more natural third- or fourth-line role with Edmonton. The winger recorded six goals and 21 points in an injury-plagued 69 games in the desert last season.

Boyd Gordon
Oilers Ship Gordon To Arizona
Boyd Gordon, C, EDM
5:18 PM
News: Boyd Gordon (back) was traded to the Coyotes on Tuesday in exchange for forward Lauri Korpikoski.
Analysis: Boyd Gordon annually ranks as one of the best performers in the faceoff circle, as illustrated by his 55.9 percent winning rate in 2014-15. However, that's about where his fantasy value begins and ends, as he's never been a big scorer or hitter, even by the standards of a fourth-line player. Additionally, his plus/minus rating remained a regular risk during his tenure with a bad Oilers team, and that figures to remain the case in 2015-16 with the Coyotes projected to be one of the league's worst units.

Mike Richards
Report: Border Stop Why Kings Terminated Richards
Mike Richards, C, LA
5:13 PM
News: Mike Richards had his contract terminated by the Kings on Monday after he was allegedly stopped by police June 17 and questioned about illegal presciption drugs near a Canadian border crossing, according to a report from TMZ Sports.
Analysis: Mike Richards reportedly wasn't charged with a crime during the police stop, but was asked about the prescription painkiller Oxycodone. It's not clear from the report if Richards was even carrying the drug in question at the time, though the Kings evidently determined from the evidence that the incident represented a "material breach" of the forward's contract with the team. The Kings were thought to be pursuing a buyout of the remainder of Richards' 12-year, $69 million contract, so the timing of the report will likely lead the NHLPA to investigate the situation closely. Regardless of the outcome, Richards is officially an unrestricted free agent and will be free to sign with any team.

Bryan Lerg
Sharks Re-Sign Lerg
Bryan Lerg, LW, SJ
4:59 PM
News: Bryan Lerg re-signed with the Sharks on Tuesday to a one-year, two-way contract, Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports reports.
Analysis: The 29-year-old Bryan Lerg had an impressive NHL debut with the Sharks in April, scoring a game-winning goal on a team-high eight shots against the Oilers, but he isn't expected to parlay that performance into a meaningful role during the upcoming season. Instead, he's likely to open with AHL Worcester, where he registered 13 goals and 41 points across 68 games in 2013-14.

 
 
 
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