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Blue Line Buzz: Good Defenders on Bad Power Plays

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci has covered hockey for Rotowire since 2002 and is the author of Blue Line Buzz since 2011 as well as being the co-author of Morning Skate. He also is a contributor to Talking Red, a New Jersey Devils blog and podcast. He is an English teacher and formerly wrote for The Coast Star in Manasquan, New Jersey where he and his sports section won several New Jersey Press Association awards. Dan Pennucci is a supporter of the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC. He's attended sporting events in six countries.

Owners that gambled can rest easy, as potential fantasy monster Drew Doughty ended his lengthy hold out and signed on with Los Angeles, inking an eight-year, $56-million contract Friday. It's worth noting that Doughty's deal is $200,000 more per-year than center Anze Kopitar is paid, as Kings' GM Deal Lombardi swore Doughty would not be the highest paid player on Los Angeles's roster during negotiations.

This week's edition of Blue Line Buzz will examine several of the league's worst power plays from last season as we pan for gold, hoping to identify a few nuggets of use for your roster; or we end up freezing next to a barren stretch of the Red Deer River in Alberta, the proverbial prospector gone bust. Several scenarios to be considered are whether the lack of production on the power play was circumstantial (I'm looking at you Pittsburgh), or just a lack of talent or less-than-ideal team philosophy (see New Jersey, Nashville). Not every team is blessed with the luxury of boasting a Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom like Winnipeg or budding talents such as Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk in St. Louis. Some teams simply don't offer much on the back end or the vast majority of their points come from one person, a la Phoenix's Keith Yandle.

Don't let a team's poor power play be the lone reason you run away from a defender. Someone needs to produce from the back end, even if it's not at a massively prolific rate.

New Jersey in Transit

I make no apologies about being a lifelong Devils' fan. I was hooked even before I attended my first game at the age of seven, witnessing Pat Verbeek and John MacLean notch hat tricks against Minnesota; all the while eagerly awaiting the conclusion of the Calgary '88 Winter Games to see savior Sean Burke arrive in New Jersey. Being a New Jersey fan, you've come to expect certain things. Martin Brodeur may allow a laughable goal during the first few shots faced, the Rangers will always be mocked by the crowd regardless of opponent and Ray Bourque will never be remembered too fondly by the Devils' fan base.

One thing to also expect from the Devils is a lack of power play goals and nominal production from defenders. Essentially, it's the curse of Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski (and to a much lesser extent, Paul Martin and Oleg Tverdovsky). Devils' GM Lou Lamoriello is now forced to wander the barren streets of Newark as penance for spurning Niedermayer and Rafalski, awaiting a dynamic puck-mover the team refuses re-sign after several productive years. The Devils performed at a 14.4-percent rate on the power play one year earlier but endured injuries to high scorers such as Zach Parise and a horrible start to the season.

You may be asking yourself, 'Who will be running the Devils' power play, and can they make an impact on my roster?' Ilya Kovalchuk will assume the point man and primary shooter duties, likely on both units, but that won't help your roster's defense. Rookie Adam Larsson, last June's fourth overall pick, has drawn comparisons to Nicklas Lidstrom and Scott Stevens; the highly-touted rookie has been featured on New Jersey's top power play unit opposite Kovalchuk, a unit that also includes Parise and Patrik Elias. It's worth noting that only Andy Greene and Paul Martin have cracked the 30-point barrier on defense for New Jersey since the 2007 season and the team has not boasted a double-digit goal scorer since Niedermayer snagged 11 in 2002-03. Larsson is the player with arguably the most upside. Mobile for his size and possessing an insanely calm demeanor for an 18-year old, he's blessed with a tremendous shot and, with teams zeroing in on Kovalchuk, Larsson will get a chance to show his talents. Rookie defenders are usually dodgy picks, and for every Cam Fowler and Tyler Myers, there are five horribly inconsistent performers. That said, Larsson's a player that new coach Peter DeBoer said likely won't see many penalty kill minutes and could have a solid rookie season, just don't expect a 50-point breakout.

Matt Taormina's another enigmatic option on the Devils' back end, but his roster spot is tenuous, uncertain as of press time.

Black Gold in the Great White North

Ryan Whitney is 28-years old, but he's been around long enough to remind owners of what several years ago was a siren beckoning, inviting owners in the middle rounds of their draft, promising a bounceback season. Essentially, Ryan Whitney is Lucy holding the football to fantasy owners' Charlie Brown. Seriously, this time Charlie Brown will get to kick the football, all you have to do is trust Ryan Whitney when he says "... look at my 38, 59 and 40-point seasons early in my career, I can do it again...."

Edmonton boasted a power play that was better than New Jersey's by one-tenth of a percent, ergo the Oilers are amazing on the man-advantage. Kidding aside, Edmonton needs more production. Whitney is the best option on the Edmonton blue line and will be given the keys to a power-play kingdom featuring dynamic young talent such as Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Litus Omark.

Whitney posted an impressive 27 points in 35 games last season and somehow finished a plus-13 on Edmonton, but those that had the experience of drafting him in years prior know that a .77 point-per-game pace is unreasonable for most defenders, let alone Whitney. There have also been some issues regarding the health of Whitney's ankle as he has not played this preseason; there has been an injury concern with Whitney throughout his career. Buyers need to be wary with Whitney and not pull the trigger on this siren too early.

Cam Barker is an intriguing pick on the Oilers' blue line; he of the 40-point campaign from 2008-09 only to be followed up with consecutive 21 and five point seasons. Barker is a low-risk pick if you draft him at all, but there can be some reward if he finds his offensive game. He should see some power play time, but you won't lose much if he doesn't pan out, so don't be afraid to take a flier on him late in your draft or snag him off waivers. The one thing we can basically guarantee about Edmonton's blue line is that Theo Peckham won't be running the point on the man-advantage.

New World in Columbus?

The Blue Jackets added James Wisnewski at a rather high cost, six years for $33 million, in order to boost production out of their defenders and complement the talents of Rick Nash and newly acquired Jeff Carter on the power play. Wisnewski will be drafted earlier than he probably should be on the strength of last year's 51-points, posted between the Islanders and Montreal, 29 of which power-play points. We're not saying Wisnewski won't be a complete bust, but 51 points on a team that doesn't score too many goals could be a reach. If you draft him, make sure he's a head above the rest of the available talent pool. Even further intriguing on the Columbus blue line is the presence of Grant Clitsome. Poolies jumped on him late last season as he registered outstanding numbers, with 19 points in a mere 31 games following his NHL call-up.

Wisnewski hit his ceiling, while Clitsome showed owners that he can produce at the NHL level and will see extended action on the team's top power play unit until Wisnewski returns from his season-opening eight game suspension. Clitsome had four goals on 50 shots last season and 10 of those 19 points came on the man-advantage. A full-season projection using the rate at which Clitsome produced last season puts him close to 50 points. Don't expect production at that clip this season from Clitsome, but don't expect him to fall off entirely (RotoWire's projections call for a 6-26-32 stat line). It's worth noting that Clitsome is 26 and last year was the first time he produced at a high rate, with 34 points in 63 professional contests between the NHL and the AHL.

Sunnier Times in Florida?

The Panthers were the worst power play in the league last season at 13.1 percent, even worse than New Jersey's, and are under the impression that acquiring Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski will fix that issue. Jovanvski's best offensive days are behind him as he does his 'swallow back to Capistrano' routine, returning to the club that drafted him. Campbell will no longer be overshadowed by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook in Chicago and could have a solid season, but the upside is gone. After signing his salary-cap crippling contract with the Blackhawks in 2008, Campbell rewarded owners with a 55-point campaign. The downside is that during the next two seasons he missed a total of 31 games and posted 65 points, definite regression. Campbell is a decent option late in your drafts provided you don't expect too much from him.

While the Panthers aimed to appeal to the golden-aged retired population of the south Florida area, they still boast several talented youngsters; namely winger Michael Frolik and 20-year old defender Dmitry Kulikov. Soon to turn legal drinking age, Kulikov is a breakout candidate on a team that doesn't garner much offensive attention. He's a first-round pick from the 2009 draft and boasts the most upside on the team. Kulikov's shown the ability to move the puck and has a strong shot, so surpassing last year's 26-point season seems highly likely with 30-35 points a likely stat line.

No Blues in Nashville

The Predators' power play clocked in at a 26th-ranked 15.2 percent last season and they were only playoff team in the league's bottom five in terms of power-play production. Nashville's team-first, defensive philosophy is at the heart of their success and the team's poor man-advantage production can be attributed more to their lack of impact forwards rather than points from the blue line. For a team that struggled offensively, Nashville boasted two productive defenders in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Weber is a member of the fantasy elite when it comes to blue liners, with 55 goals the last three seasons while Suter averaged 40.3 points the last thee campaigns. Nashviile has clearly demonstrated their blue liners can produce despite paltry power play performance from their forwards.

March of the Penguins

Pittsburgh is the only team on the list of the poorest power plays because of a purely circumstantial situation last season. A team decimated by injuries and forced to rely on role players tasked with being productive scorers, the Pens' inability to score goals was at the heart of their blowing of a 3-1 series lead against Tampa in last year's first round. When you lose Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to injuries, your goal scoring will be affected.

The Pens still boasted several higher scoring defenders, as Kris Letang delivered a huge season with eight goals and 42 helpers, while Alex Goligoski was the in the midst of a breakout season before being dealt to Dallas at the trade deadline in a deal for James Neal. The Penguins still aren't lethal on the power play and the lingering question of Crosby's return clouds the situation. Regardless, Letang is a wholly endorsable option for your blue line and you can expect former Devil Paul Martin to chip in his requisite 25-30 points as well.

None of the aforementioned defenders can be expected to anchor your blue line's production, with the exception of Shea Weber (contract year) and Letang, but they can provide depth and allow you to find some production in places regarded as wastelands for blue liners. Be certain to examine the power-play ice time these players are receiving and alongside whom they're skating. Happy hunting.