I’m not a huge poker player, but I know how unexcited many players are when their best hand is a pair. The same could be said in fantasy hockey, where fantasy owners may be scared off by the presence of one defenseman on a particular team and how it may affect the value of another defenseman on the same team. But can that same presence actually help the value of said defenseman (men)? Since I was struggling to find a subject for this week’s blog entry, I decided to follow-up on one of the more profound comments from my most recent article on keeper leagues in putting this theory to the test. In breaking effective writing principles on conclusions, I’ll provide you with the answer first: in some cases, yes; in other cases, no.
First-half surprise Dustin Byfuglien has not scored a goal in 11 games, which is why Tobias Enstrom’s injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. Buff still happens to lead all blueliners with 16 goals and is tied with a whole bunch of other d-men with six power-play goals. Buff is also the runaway leader among d-men with 221 shots on goal, many of which have to come from crisp Enstrom passes. It’s not a surprise, then, that Enstrom is fourth among NHL d-men with 33 assists this season. Here is one situation where one d-man clearly benefits from the other, so Big Buff owners will be elated when his little buddy Enstrom returns from a broken finger in another week or two. Eventually Zach Bogosian will factor into the equation, but the 20-year-old d-man is probably still another year or two away from fantasy prominence.
John-Michael Liles and Kevin Shattenkirk have provided the Avalanche with something that they haven’t had over the past few seasons: scoring from the blueline. Liles started the season with guns-a-blazing with 11 assists in his first nine games, only to see his value cut into by the callup of Shattenkirk. Surprisingly, Liles is the more consistent option, as Shattenkirk has been on nine and five-game point streaks this season along with a nine-game point drought. Shattenkirk has all the makings of a future power-play QB, and he has already cut into Liles’ power-play numbers (only 14 of his 35 points have come with the man advantage). However, this situation could also work the other way, as Shattenkirk may not necessarily have a clear path to elite power-play numbers with the presence of Liles.
The Red Wings are a perfect example of a team in which two power-play QBs can coexist. Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski both play a similar game: heavy assist totals (33 and 30, respectively) with modest shot on goal totals (104 and 65, respectively). Both d-men serve to feed passes to Wings’ snipers like Johan Franzen, who busted out for five goals on Wednesday. In case you’re wondering, the Wings’ top two d-men combined for four assists in Franzen’s memorable game. Lidstrom may currently hold the higher point total (44 points in 50 games), but Rafalski has kept pace with him on a point-per-game level (34 points in 39 games). A valid argument could be made that this duo is still the strongest in the league.
Kris Letang is having a banner year (41 points and +21 in 51 games), but the absence of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is starting to take a toll on his numbers (only one point in seven games before Wednesday’s game). The Pens’ power play was ranked seventh in the NHL over January (22.2% conversion), so there hasn’t been a major dropoff with the two stars out of the lineup. Eventually Alex Goligoski could factor into the equation a little more, but Letang has almost double the assists of Goligoski (34 to 18) and over 50 percent more shots on goal (148 to 85). Paul Martin, who is still owned in many leagues in spite of numbers that have not met preseason expectations, seems to be more of a second-unit power-play guy who seems averse to shooting the puck (64 SOG this season).
Keith Yandle is starting to receive more and more attention as the NHL’s leading scorer among defensemen (45 points). His ten-game point streak was snapped with a zero-point, -4 effort against Vancouver on Wednesday, a game in which Yandle did not prove himself to be the strongest shutdown defenseman around. A burning question for the future would be how much first-round pick Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s presence will impact Yandle. OEL seems to play a similar game to Yandle, although his game is nowhere close to the level of Yandle’s right now. Yandle is probably the better option over the next season or two, while OEL could start to impact Yandle’s point totals beyond that and once he becomes acclimatized to the North American game.
The Alexander Edler injury would cripple many other teams, but not the Canucks, who boast arguably the deepest corps of d-men in the league. Edler and Christian Ehrhoff formed a nice 1-2 combination on the Canucks’ first-unit power play, but it looks like Edler’s short-term replacement on the point will be forward Mikael Samuelsson, who scored a goal and an assist on the power play in Tuesday’s win over Dallas. Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis should form a solid second power-play unit for the Canucks, but don’t expect this unit to see a ton of icetime. The Canucks’ third-ranked power play is all about Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin, who take long shifts and only provide the second unit with about 30 seconds on a full two-minute man advantage. Sami Salo is expected to go on an AHL conditioning stint soon, so he could ultimately find his way onto the first unit with his cannon shot.
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