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Blue Line Buzz: Blue Line Disappointments

Dan Pennucci

Dan is a former sportswriter and English teacher. He has been covering hockey for Rotowire since 2002. Supports the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC.

The #Lumbus dream ended in heartbreak on Saturday night. The Columbus Blue Jackets, the team that was never supposed to be even remotely near the playoff hunt saw their faint glimmer of hope extinguish when the Minnesota Wild secured a 3-1 victory in Denver over the Avalanche, and subsequently the eight seed in the Western Conference playoffs. The Blue Jackets took care of their own situation with a 3-1 comeback victory over Nashville, getting late goals from Brandon Dubinsky and Jack Johnson to get the win.

The Columbus story took on a life of its own the last two weeks as the Jackets' improbable run toward the postseason, going 8-2 over their final two games and creating a Hart Trophy candidate out of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Yes, the Sergei Bobrovsky who won 28 games as a rookie with Philadelphia and was relegated to backup duty when the Flyers signed Ilya Bryzgalov and eventually cast off to Columbus, where he struggled early in the season.

We're not endorsing Bobrovsky as an early-round pick for this fall's drafts, but it's a remarkable comeback story and the hilarious irony of the situation is that Philadelphia struggled with goaltending as they missed the playoffs. Even more ironic is that the Flyers believe Steve Mason, Bobrovsky's former backup, could be the answer in Philly after acquiring him for essentially nothing at the trade deadline. (After all, Mason stopped 43 shots in Saturday's season-ending 2-1 win over Ottawa)

Philadelphia, and their New Jersey Turnpike rivals, the Devils, can be considered some of the season's bigger disappointments, but they weren't the only two playoff teams from last season to miss this year's playoffs. Phoenix and Nashville failed to secure a playoff berth as well, with the Predators failing to 14th in the Western Conference. In all, four teams who advanced past the first round last season are not in the running for Lord Stanley.

Individually, a number of early-round draft picks failed to live up to their price tags while late-round values such as Pascal Dupuis, Jakub Voracek and Andrew Ladd likely found themselves on rosters that finished atop or close to the top of leagues. Pekka Rinne, one of the first netminders off the board played well early in the season before falling off, even though Nashville's roster from last season was largely unchanged except the loss of one of the league's best defensemen in Ryan Suter.

Suter went on to Minnesota and finished the season as the league's No. 3 scorer among defensemen, notching four goals and 28 assists, a career-best in terms of points-per-game. Suter certainly was not a disappointment, but plenty of other defensemen were.

Drew Doughty, Los Angeles: Three seasons ago, Doughty grabbed 16 goals and 59 points along with an Olympic gold mdeal. His points-per-game ratio has fallen steadily since the 2009-10 season and his 22 points this year were certainly less than owners had hoped for. His price tag was still high enough and his potential is still a driving force in why owners selected him early, but Doughty's drop has caused much concern. Doughty is still a more than viable option for next year, but not as the player to anchor your roster's blue line.

Michael Del Zotto, New York Rangers: MDZ emerged as a legitimate rising star on Broadway after a 41-point, plus-20 campaign one year earlier. He was expected to duplicate or add to those numbers. He finished his season with three goals and 21 points in 46 games. Those aren't bad numbers when they pro-rate out to a full season, but owners had been expecting more. He could be a legitimate value next fall if he slips in drafts, as one expects him to.

Mike Green, Washington: Yes, Green re-established himself as a legitimate top-five defenseman with his and his teammate's run to the final Southeast Division title ever. However, it took Green a good two-thirds of the truncated season to wake up and remember he was the player that registered consecutive point-per-game or better campaigns from 2008-2010. 18 of his season's 26 points have come since March 30, a span of 15 games as well as nine of his 12 goals. Many owners had likely given up on Green reverting back to his old form.

Justin Schultz, Edmonton: The Kelowna native finished his rookie season with an impressive 27 points and a minus-17 rating capped off with a four-point effort on Saturday in the Oil's overcompensating 7-3 win over Vancouver's B team. 27 points as a rookie is quite solid, but Schultz was one of the top defenders taken in drafts this past January based on the way in which he lit up the American Hockey League during the lockout, leading the entire league in scoring. Schultz endured a 13-game stretch from late February to March that saw him produce just two assists. This was followed by a five-game scoring drought in April.

Schultz's points tended to come in bunches with three separate five-point binges interspersed between the stretches of futility. Much of the struggles Schultz endured coincided with Edmonton's inability to play consistently solid hockey. The Oilers are expected to improve next season, but this is a team with holes on defense and scoring issues despite a bevy of insanely talented players. Expect Schultz to go a few rounds earlier than he should next season. He's a player many would love to have on their roster, let them take the early plunge, but don't pass if him up if the value is right.

Roman Josi, Nashville: Tasked as one of the players expected to replace what turned out to be irreplaceable in the Hockey Tonk, Josi received every opportunity to fill Ryan Suter's skates, but he disappointed owners and teammates alike. Shea Weber shook off his rough start to finish strongly, but Josi was expected to produce more than the 18 points he notched in 48 games. A closer look at his numbers reveals even more frustration for owners, as 12 of his season's 18 points came in five games, leaving six points from the other 43.

Next fall's Top 10 defenders:

1. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa: He must be from the same cyborg factory in Sweden where Nicklas Lidstrom was manufactured. After having his Achilles' Tendon sliced in early February, Karlsson returned for the Sens' final three games where all he did was put up four assists in three games with 16 shots on goal. Karlsson is a generational player and will provide across the board value, especially in leagues that reward shots on goal. Be ready to burn a late first-round pick on Karlsson.

2. P.K. Subban, Montreal: You'll have to draft Subban not much after Karlsson if you want him. This past season was possibly the last you'd have been able to get him at a value. With 11 goals and 38 total points in 42 games, Subban established himself as elite. He hits, he produces on the power play and he's just hitting his stride.

3. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh: One of these years he will stay entirely healthy. This season was not one of them but he finished decently in the 35 games he played, putting up 38 points with a modest five goals, finishing out with a seven-game points streak (2 G, 8 A). Unlike Karlsson and Subban, Letang has the bonus of an elite corps of forwards to whom he can dish the puck. He's UFA next summer, but he's one of the few defenders worth a second-round pick.

4. Zdeno Chara, Boston: Yes, his numbers were down this season with "just" 19 points in 47 games, but if you're in a league that rewards secondary categories such as shots, plus-minus, hits and penalty minutes, few are as valuable as Big Z.

5. Mike Green, Washington: Yes, he's listed as a disappointment above. But, the last month of the regular season showed Mike Green can still be Mike Green, finishing the season with 18 points and 12 goals over the last 15 games. Like Letang, he has elite forwards on his power play and he's the only defender not named Karlsson or Lidstrom to post a point-per-game season in era spanning the lockout before the most recent lockout.

6. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix: Not a typo. OEL is going to win a Norris Trophy. He's more consistent offensively than teammate Keith Yandle and a budding star of a two-way defender. He finished this season with three goals and 24 points on a streaky Coyote team but he's already cracked double-digit goals in his young career. Get in on him early next season after your leaguemates undoubtedly take bigger names before OEL.

7. Shea Weber, Nashville: Seems he like he did miss Ryan Suter in Nashville this year, at least for the first 14 games, where he grabbed just two assists. After that stretch of futility, it was typical Weber with 26 points in 34 games along with a boatload of hits and shots. He's still elite.

8. Ryan Suter, Minnesota: You'll be able to get Suter later than this on account of him not being a huge goal scorer. His 32 points in 48 games were a career-best in terms of point-per-game and good enough for third on this season's defensemen scoring list. He's never cracked double-digit goals, but his assists numbers the last four seasons have been remarkably consistent. After four points in the season's first 10 games, Suter put up 28 in 38 contests, even ending the campaign on a five-game scoring drought.

9. Justin Schultz, Edmonton: He'll go much earlier than this given the hype that is certain to be surrounding Edmonton again heading into next season. He's a remarkably skilled player with a collection of teammates who are also remarkably skilled. He was plagued by inconsistency when the Oil unsurprisingly struggled.

10. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg: It's not a sexy pick, but few have the potential to be an impact player when healthy than Byfuglien, especially in multi-category leagues that reward hits, penalty minutes and shots on goal.

Other candidates in no particular order: Alexander Edler (Vancouver), Andrei Markov (Montreal), Nicklas Kronwall (Detroit), Slava Voynov (Los Angeles), Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis), Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis), John Carlson (Washington), Michael Del Zotto (Rangers).

Keeper league candidates: Justin Schultz, Erik Karlsson, Dougie Hamilton (Boston), P.K. Subban, Jonas Brodin (Minnesota), T.J. Brodie (Calgary), Griffin Reinhart (Islanders…a few years off), Justin Faulk (Carolina) and many, many others.

Question of the week: Which defenseman will emerge as a legitimate force from this season's playoffs?

Comments, questions and suggestions for future articles are welcomed, contact Blue Line Buzz. Follow Dan Pennucci on Twitter @dpennucci

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