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Blue Line Buzz: Turning Leaf

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.

Three days into the NHL season and it is already over.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and 29 other teams in the league conceded that, due to a 2-0 start, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been awarded the Stanley Cup. No need to even print the playoff tickets, a task that was completed after Thursday's 2-0, opening night win over Montreal. In case you are curious, the Leafs' parade will begin at Yonge and Queen Streets, making its way around the Hockey Hall of Fame and finally concluding at the Tim Horton's outside of Air Canada Centre. Don Cherry will be following the parade route on his new bicycle, offering real-time reports on Coaches' Corner, minus the usual awkward looks thrown at him by Ron MacLean.

This week's edition of Blue Line Buzz will center on the intriguing category of penalty minutes and other more esoteric secondary statistics such as hits and blocked shots. Penalty minutes can be easy to come by based on whom you draft, but it is also one of the categories that owners may not pay much attention when selecting players. Depending on how many defensemen your league starts, grabbing one or two that are acquainted with dropping the gloves often can be massively helpful.

Streaming goons can also work depending on your league's games-played limits or weekly roster moves allotment. Notice that Anaheim is playing Edmonton, odds are high that Theo Peckham will find George Parros on the ice. Zenon Konopka and Ottawa traveling to Philadelphia, don't be surprised if he runs into Scott Hartnell or Wayne Simmonds. This strategy won't yield you any offensive production, and the penalty minutes are not guaranteed, just highly probable. Consider keeping a roster spot reserved for someone with whom you can easily cut ties if you favor the streaming strategy.

There are a handful of forwards that are multi-category contributors such as David Backes, Alexandre Burrows, Brenden Morrow and Steve Downie, proving you put anyone next to Steven Stamkos and they can grab 30-40 points. Defenders who produce across the board are harder to come by, and after the elite have gone, some are just one or two category contributors.

Through Saturday's contests, some of the league's leading defensemen scorers are as follows:

Erik Karlsson,Ottawa, 0-4-4. At minus-3, he's already on pace to equal or surpass last year's total of minus-30, but also rake in 164 assists.

Kris Letang, Pittsburgh, 0-3-3. Pittsburgh looked strong in two wins over Calgary and Vancouver. Letang is running a power play with a rejuvenated Evgeni Malkin.

Dion Phaneuf, Toronto, 1-2-3: more on Dion later, but his first point of the season was a sloppy secondary assist.

Jack Johnson, Los Angeles: 1-1-2: Looked strong in LA's two European games and snuck down low for Friday's power play game-winning goal versus the Rangers.

Keith Yandle, Phoenix: Two assists in Saturday's thrashing by San Jose. Yandle will be the team's primary offensive weapon, for what it is worth.

Detroit's Jakub Kindl has an early plus-minus lead with a plus-5 rating while his teammate Johnathan Ericsson and the Leafs' Phaneuf clock in at a plus-4, respectively.

The Land Of Hamonic

In standard leagues, Zdeno Chara is a slam-dunk pick as one of the top defenders taken, with a massive amount of penalty minutes, strong plus-minus and a guaranteed 45-50 points. P.K. Subban sees his value rise as well with the counting of penalty minutes. You can't always rely on getting two of the stars. Young Islanders' defender Travis Hamonic is one of the league's best upside plays heading into this season.

Hamonic currently has an average draft position (ADP) of 148.3, in between Roman Hamrlik and Kimmo Timonen with Sergei Gonchar and Kevin Bieksa also in the neighborhood. Few players around Hamonic are going to offer the upside and the potential for steady production in a variety of categories.

For years, the Islanders were the team that simply could not hold down its younger talent. Zdeno Chara, Roberto Luongo and the ever-present reminder that Jason Spezza should have been on their team thanks to the Alexei Yashin circus, are only several names. The Islanders are no longer a laughable franchise in terms of on-ice talent, as John Tavares leads a budding group of scorers alongside Matt Moulson, Kyle Okposo and young sensation Nino Niederreiter.

Defensively, the next Denis Potvin is not on the Island yet, but Mark Streit is the primary scorer with rising talent Hamonic on his side. Likely still available in later rounds of your draft, Hamonic quietly assembled a 26-point season with 103 penalty minutes in 62 games as a rookie during the 2010-11 season. A further look at his peripheral stats reveals an excellent balance in hits and blocked shots with 118 each last year. While the Islanders were blanked 2-0 by Florida in their season opener Saturday, Hamonic managed to rack up seven penalty minutes and three hits.

Hamonic is an excellent handcuff selection to owners that are gambling on Streit staying healthy and appears to be carving his own place on Long Island. Just 21-years old, Hamonic already has a 26-point season to his name with triple digits in penalty minutes, hits and blocked shots all while finishing a plus-4 as a rookie on a team that surrendered a more than a few goals.

Turning Leaf

Weclome back, Dion Phaneuf. The much-maligned 26-year old is under the type of scrutiny that would cripple the average defender. Cursed with wearing the "C" in Toronto, only Roberto Luongo in Vancouver is more at fault for anything that goes wrong with their team. With the harshest critics in hockey, Leafs fans, watching his every move, Phaneuf announced his presence with authority in Thursday's 2-0 win over Montreal. The former Flame factored in both Toronto goals, snagging the second one on a scorcher off a one-timer that Habs netminder Carey Price still hasn't seen. It has not been a matter of ability for Phaneuf the last two seasons, but it seems he finally has his head back on straight. You have to wonder if Elisha Cuthbert saw Toronto's game the other night, because we haven't seen much of her, mercifully, since 24 ended.

When healthy and playing with confidence, Phaneuf can change the course of a game, as witnessed by his insurance goal Thursday, a bone-jarring hit on Jaroslav Spacek and Saturday's leveling of Stephane Da Costa in the frantic win over Ottawa.

Phaneuf is currently the 15th defensemen with an overall ADP of 84.5. Phaneuf's career years, during his early 20's, saw a 20-goal season his rookie year followed up by consecutive 50 and 60-point campaigns with an average of 124.3 penalty minutes, buoyed by a 182-minute total in 2007-08. Phaneuf finished last season strong for the Leafs with 15 of his season's 30 points from late February until the end of the year.

Phaneuf likely isn't a surprise pick to anyone in your league, as he gained as much notoriety for his dating of Ms. Cuthbert as he did for the acrimonious manner in which he was dealt from Calgary. All signs point to him turning into the player he was several years ago and it is scary to think he is still just 26 years of age. Those in leagues that reward further peripheral stats such as hits and blocked shots will no doubt notice Phaneuf's combined total of 207 in those categories from one season earlier.

Burning For You

Speaking of Phaneuf's old squad, Calgary is aiming to bounce back from a rough campaign, but had an unfortunate season opener Saturday, as they were topped by Pittsburgh, 5-3, after trailing 4-1 entering the third period. As for the blue line situation in the Saddledome, Jay Bouwmeester is still there, but he's failed to live up to any semblance of the expectations accompanying the massive contract he signed with the Flames in 2009.

The upside is gone for Bouwmeester, but he is not a bad addition very late in your draft, (current ADP: 181.1, if the rest of the talent pool has an equal lack of upside. The Flames do boast a rising blue liner in Mark Giordano, currently with a 118.1 ADP, and for good reason. Giordano did not snag double-digit goal totals last season, but had a strong presence on the power play with 25 of his season's 43 points coming on the man-advantage. Giordano also posted a healthy 67 penalty minutes last year with 140 hits and an impressive 193 blocked shots. Players such as Giordano offer much more than point production, and he registered 81 penalty minutes in 2009-10. In Saturday's loss to Pittsburgh, he notched an assist along with five blocked shots.

Beyond the Sea

Selected to Canada's Olympic team in 2010 as Duncan Keith's other half, Brent Seabrook has quietly assembled several strong campaigns for the Blackhawks. The 26-year old has registered over 200 hits in each of the last two seasons with over 150 blocked shots each year as well. His penalty minute totals, average of 53 the last two seasons, are not gaudy, but probably because he is a smart player. Factor in his presence on a strong team that can't possibly play worse than last year and his 48-point campaign, and Seabrook offers value with an ADP of 122.5, going after Jack Johnson, Niklas Kronwall and Cam Fowler among others. His production and solid penalty minute totals can easily justify a selection around those players.

Can't Touch This

Speaking of players whose upside is essentially gone (see Bouwmeester, Jay), a trip to Washington is in order to examine Roman Hamrlik. 37-years old entering the season, Hamrlik registered a 34-point season with 81 penalty minutes one year earlier for Montreal. His high-scoring days are done, but when aiming to fill out your roster with a player than can give you 30-35 points with a healthy amount of penalty minutes, Hamrlik can be a heady addition to your squad; currently, statistics show he can be had late, with an ADP of 151.8. Going directly after him is Sergei Gonchar, who does not offer much in the physical categories. You are not going to receive many "nice pick" comments from other members of your league with Hamrlik, but late in your draft, you can do much worse than adding a veteran that will produce in multiple categories, as he's averaged 31.8 points and 65 penalty minutes the last five seasons.

Early in the season, it is important to pay attention to who is receiving unexpected power-play time and always examine game logs when checking out penalty minutes. Some players will see their sin bin totals inflated by a bench-clearing brawl providing an overwhelming majority of their total, yet with not much else in other contests.

You can e-mail Dan at Pennucci42@comcast.net and follow him on Twitter: @DVNucci42.

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