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Blue Line Buzz: Heirs Apparent and Ancient Wonders

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.


The Philadelphia Flyers got the NHL buzzing once again this past week. Just a week removed from their boat race against Winnipeg, the Flyers put a damper on Jeff Carter's return to Philadelphia with a 9-2 thrashing of the Blue Jackets Saturday. (Carter was a scratch due to a broken foot). However, the lopsided win Saturday was not the story of the week, as Daniel Briere drew even the attention of the mainstream sports media Thursday night. His shootout goal gave every hockey fan the privilege of hearing pundits weigh in Friday on a sport whose existence they rarely acknowledge.

In a move no doubt inspired by Maverick's famed "I'll hit the brakes and he'll fly right by" maneuver from Top Gun, Briere gave charging Devils' goalie Johan Hedberg a snow shower, with Briere stopping both his and the puck's motion prior to dancing around the Moose for an easy goal. The play was reviewed and the NHL deemed that the puck remained in motion and thus allowed the goal to stand. More discussion of the move certainly would have occurred had New Jersey not eventually won the shootout.

Briere's goal brought up the debate regarding the interpretation and lack of enforcement of shootout rules when it comes to moves involving what appears to be a stoppage in continuous skating motion. Since the NHL has established a precedent by allowing the spin-o-rama goals to stand, there was not much wiggle room for them to disallow the Briere goal, despite it being a violation of the shootout's rules. One has to wonder why more and more players don't attempt moves like Briere's, or, if they do, will the league reinterpret the rule midseason as they did with Sean Avery's stick waving fiasco during the 2008 playoffs against New Jersey.

While the shootout certainly has some merits, it does have its faults and is still regarded as a gimmick in many circles of discussion. An ignoring of its rules in favor of allowing players to pull off audacious moves such as the spin-o-rama and Briere's Top Gun-inspired deke will do little to quell the debate about the shootout's veracity almost as much as the awarding of points in the standings to losing teams.

Heirs Apparent and Ageless Wonders

One of these years Nicklas Lidstrom is going to stop playing hockey. It may never happen in our lifetime or those of our children, but Lidstrom will no longer be an NHL player at some point in the distant future. The talented veteran posted two goals and an assist in Saturday's crushing of Anaheim and had three goals total this past week. Lidstrom's ability is nothing new to fantasy hockey poolies, but the Red Wings have taken steps to ensure the passing of the blue line throne to Niklas Kronwall and Ian White.

With the retirement of Brian Rafalski this past offseason, the Red Wings realized they had to make moves for the future; Detroit inked Kronwall to a seven-year contract extension this past week. Kronwall won't score at a pace like Lidstrom's, but he does have seasons of 51 and 37 points to his credit. This season has started a little slowly for Kronwall, with just four points through 12 games and a minus-5 rating, but the hard-hitting Swede does have impressive numbers with 30 blocked shots. Much of Kronwall's value lies in his intangibles and defensive play, but he is line to assume the mantle of scoring once Lidstrom leaves. One has to assume he'll produce more when given greater opportunities to do so.

Kronwall's teammate, Ian White, was brought in to replace Rafalski as Rafalski was once brought in to assume the role left vacant by Mathieu Schneider. White has six points through 12 games and sports a plus-4 rating; three of his assists have come on the power play. White sees 3:18 per-contest on the power play and is putting three pucks on goal per-game. White and Kronwall do not equal one Nicklas Lidstrom, but they are two solid additions to any roster. Odds are you will have to trade to acquire both of them, but these two will see a large increase in value should any injury befall Lidstrom. White appears to have found his place in Detroit after playing on four teams the two seasons prior to this one.

Pacific Woes

While Alexander Edler and Sami Salo (who is currently nursing a groin injury) are enjoying time spent on ice with the Sedin twins, last year's plus-minus machine, Kevin Bieksa, is giving his owners a shadow of his offensive production from two seasons earlier when he notched 41 points. Recently signed to a five-year, $23 million contract, Bieksa is off to a disappointing start with three assists and a minus-8 rating in 14 games. Bieksa is fourth on the team in power-play ice time through Saturday, averaging 1:40, but second overall with 22:47 per-game. The concern presently is his plus-minus rating, as Bieksa notched 22 points last season, definite regression, but he was at least on the ice in scoring situations. It appears that Bieksa's higher scoring seasons of 42 and 43 points may be the aberration. As far as Bieksa bouncing back this season, it may not happen. He'll need an injury on the team to Edler or Salo to secure more offensive opportunities and even Dan Hamhuis is seeing more power-play time than the $23 million man.

Chicago Style

This column may be a little late to the party on Chicago's Nick Leddy, but with him playing in the Second City, it's fashionable to arrive later. Leddy has been the Blackhawks' most productive defender with eight points through 13 games and a plus-3 rating. Of concern to those wondering about Leddy's production continuing is his mere nine shots on goal and one power-play point on the season. Leddy saw a bump in ice time last week when Duncan Keith was sidelined for two games due to a hand injury. The youngster grabbed one assist in those two games along with a forgettable minus-4 rating in Friday's contest against Tampa Bay. Leddy has shown the ability to produce this season, but he is just 20-years old.

Leddy is the only Chicago defenseman to score a goal this season and with Brian Campbell enjoying life in Florida, Leddy is seeing more ice time in offensive situations. Chicago appears confident in deploying Leddy freely, just monitor his ice time and don't be surprised when a small dip comes. Rookie defensemen are enigmatic.

Bueller, Bueller?

No one in Raleigh appears willing to contribute consistently from the back end. After a strong start, Joni Pitkanen has fallen off much, with just one assist in the last seven games through Saturday. Newly signed Tomas Kaberle is doing as much for the Hurricanes as he did for the Bruins during the Stanley Cup Playoffs; Kaberle sits with two assists and no goals through 13 games along with a minus-2 rating. On the heels of a 30-point rookie campaign, Jamie McBain was expected to take the next step in his development and production, but the 23-year old has just three assists and a minus-5 rating. McBain also was a healthy scratch for several contests this season. Tim Gleason has four points and a plus-6 rating and Bryan Allen has just three assists through 13 games. Despite the fact that Carolina boasts dynamic forwards with the likes of Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner, their defense is woefully unproductive, with just 24 points from seven players. (All statistics are as of Saturday, Nov. 5).

The Devils are mired in dire financial woes and appear headed for bankruptcy, while the team's blue line is producing points at roughly the same rate the club is making money. Through 12 games, New Jersey's seven defenders have totaled 13 points and boast a plus-minus rating of minus-13 as a group. Andy Greene is the lone player with a plus rating and he is tied for the scoring lead with four points while teammate Mark Fayne is the only defender to tickle the twine. As far as New Jersey defensemen worthy of rostering, rookie Adam Larsson is the only one with a semblance of offensive upside. The fourth-overall pick in this past June's draft isn't exactly on a Tyler Myers or Cam Fowler rookie scoring pace, as he has just two assists. The positive of those numbers is that those two points have come in the last three games and Larsson is seeing a regular power play time alongside Zach Parise, Patrik Elias and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Shockingly, New Jersey is not alone in massively underproducing from the blue line, as the Minnesota Wild also feature a combined 13 points from eight players. Marek Zidlicky, a regular shoe-in for 40 points, is off to a slow start with just three assists in 13 games and two helpers over a six-game span as of Saturday. While owners that drafted Zidlicky are frustrated presently, despite his track record, his teammate, Jared Spurgeon, a slick-skating 21-year old, has as many points as Zidlicky and is currently owned in just six-percent of leagues. Spurgeon is seeing 3:02 per-game on the power play through Saturday and has one of his three points on the power play. Outside of Spurgeon and Zidlicky, there is little upside with any other Wild defender, although Zidlicky and Spurgeon are hardly breaking the bank.

One commonality with all three of the aforementioned teams, is that their power plays are currently operating under 14-percent for the season. Each team boasts one or two players worthy of consideration in deeper leagues while Spurgeon, Larsson and McBain are certainly worth noting in keeper leagues. Larsson is owned in 33 percent of leagues while McBain is seemingly more popular, with a 44-percent ownership rate. (Worth noting: McBain was a healthy scratch for Sunday's loss to Dallas). While these teams are nowhere near consistently productive from the back end, you can't write off every player on their roster. Greg Zanon and Anton Volchenkov will not score much, but there are some finds to be had if one looks a little closer.

Contact Dan Pennucci at pennucci42@comcast.net and follow him on Twitter @DVNucci42

Question of the week: Who will lead defensemen in scoring come season's end? Goals?