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Blue Line Buzz: Still Waiting

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.

This week's spin around the league will look at players who can have some value in leagues which utilize secondary categories such as hits, blocked shots, penalty minutes and plus-minus as well as examining big-name defenders who have yet to score a goal.

Radko Gudas: Not a Bond Villain

One of the names catching the attention of many hockey fans is that of Radko Gudas, the towering defender for the upstart Tampa Bay Lightning. A bruising 23-year old who has four points, Gudas is proving to be quite a valuable player in leagues which count secondary statistics, with 55 penalty minutes, 42 hits and 27 blocked shots. 22 of those penalty minutes are concentrated from last Sunday's game against Florida, but that still leaves quite a few from the rest of his contests. Gudas has three points in the last four games and has seen an uptick in power play time, from none in the season's first few contests, to 1:41 over the Bolts' recent contests. Gudas will not be one of the league's most productive players in terms of points, but the secondary production will make him an invaluable asset as long as he is healthy.

Aggressive Orcas

Kevin Bieksa has a pedestrian six points for Vancouver under new coach John Tortorella. The Canucks have two blueliners who will put up impressive numbers in Jason Garrison and Alexander Edler, three when you count Dan Hamhuis, so, where does Bieksa's value lie? The veteran is a plus-9 through 16 games with no goals or power-play points, but is he worth considering in deeper leagues depending on scoring systems. His upside is limited and his 2011-12 44-point season is looking like a while ago, but he has a healthy amount of hits and blocked shots, (30-24-54). Those in deep leagues that count secondary statistics can get some use out of Bieksa, who won't see himself in as many offensive situations. He's a veteran almost guaranteed to play 23 or more minutes per game and will chip in with the occasional assist. He is still seeing 1:47 per-contest on the power play, so there's a chance for his numbers to go up, just don't expect a monster season. Take the steady production from the secondary categories and be pleased.

Not far behind Bieksa is his teammate, Edler. Edler has a modest five points in 10 games but has struggled since returning from a brief three-game suspension for a check on San Jose disappearing act Tomas Hertl with no points in four contests. Edler has much more offensive upside than Bieksa at this point in the veteran's career, but those in leagues which reward secondary statistics may want to look at Edler as a possible target via trade; his 21 hits and 34 blocked shots are a nice bonus to the offensive numbers he potentially can offer.

Rising Star in Big D?

Brenden Dillon is leading all Dallas blue liners in points with six through 12 games while Jordie Benn, Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas all sit with more points than Alex Goligoski and the player formerly known as Sergei Gonchar. Dillon's six points are two less than he had all of last season and the bruising defender owns 50 total hits and blocked shots. Dillon's a name that people will need to know in leagues which reward secondary statistics. He also has 15 penalty minutes, but it is worth noting that Dillon has seen his just one minute total of power play time this season, yet he's still managed more points than Goligoski and Gonchar.

-Not that you needed more of a reason to be enamored with Toronto's Cody Franson, along with his nine points (seven on the power play), Franson is delivering hits at a rate of almost three per game (41 in 14 contests) with 23 blocked shots. (Of interesting note, Franson has three more hits than Toronto whipping boy Dion Phaneuf).

It Gets Better

The New York Rangers have finally played a home game in the shiny new Madison Square Garden, a revamp that has drawn a few critics, but it's two of their young defensemen that have been the subject of some frustration from fantasy owners. Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh were expected to further develop offensively this season under new coach Alain Vigneault, whose Canucks always had several productive blue liners. Girardi has no points through 12 games but has a decent amount of hits and blocked shots, giving him some value in deeper leagues, but one has to wonder when the points will start coming for a player regarded as one of the league's rising all-around defenders.

Girardi's teammate, Ryan McDonagh has been less frustrating to own than Giradi, especially in the last week, as the Team USA hopeful collected three points, two on the power play, for the struggling Rangers. McDonagh has a modest 13 shots on goal through 12 games but is seeing his share of power play time with 1:13 per game and snagged the first power-play goal of his career Tuesday against the Islanders.

Still Waiting For a Goal

Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg: Big Buff was one of the first defenders taken after the elite blue liners were gone, mostly on the guarantee that he'll be one of the top goal scorers from the back end come April. Through one month and 14 games, there are no goals for Byfuglien. He has nine assists and almost four shots on goal per game, but this could be concerning given Buff's track record of scoring. This also makes Byfuglein an excellent buy-low candidate. Winnipeg isn't the most dynamic offensive team, but Byfuglien is the team's weapon on the blue line.

Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis: Never a big scorer in his career, the likely American Olympian has a three-game points streak and sits with an impressive seven points through 10 games, including five on the power play. The goal totals won't be huge by the end of the year, but he's on pace for another 40-plus point season with the prolific Blues power play.

Mike Green, Washington: Of all the defenders on this list, it's Green who is one of the most surprising names considering his track record and how lethal Washington's power play can be. Green has a handful of assists, seven, and is still producing on the power play, but this is the only defender since Al MacInnis who cracked 30 goals. We've seen Green disappear for stretches, as evidenced by the 2011-12 season and the first half of last year's lockout-shortened campaign, but one has to believe he'll get going. Right? He was one of just four defenders to crack double-digit goal totals in last year's 48-game season. Like Byfuglien, Green is a buy-low candidate especially considering Washington is operating at 24.4-percent on the power play, good enough for fifth-best in the league.

Duncan Keith, Chicago: Keith's numbers have been regressing the last several seasons, but he's still one of the league's better all-around defensemen.  However, the 14 goals he scored in the 2009-10 season are long gone. The last three seasons he has scored a total of 14 goals and sits with a healthy eight assists through 13 games for one of the league's better teams. The points will be there for Keith, but not as an elite goalscorer from the back end. He plays close to 25 minutes per game with 3:44 on the power play. The totals he'll put up at season's end could mirror more closely the totals a player like Minnesota's Ryan Suter puts up; quite a few assists and a handful of goals. Keith's still a valuable fantasy option, but let another owner gamble on him in the future as one of their top defenders.

Ryan Suter, Minnesota: If your league uses a time-on-ice category, as most ESPN leagues do, Suter is rather far ahead of his competitors, averaging 28:55 per-contest heading into Friday's games. Suter also has not lit the lamp yet this year, but has seven assists through 13 games with four of those on the power play. Suter has never been a big goal scorer in his career, but his numbers are consistent, clocking in around 38-45 points yearly. Last season's 32 points in 48 games translated close to 60 points over a full season. Suter isn't a player to worry about with him having not scored goal yet, the assists will be plenty for Suter, more than justifying his draft position.

Other notable defenders yet to score a goal: Cody Franson (Toronto), Jay Bouwmeester (St. Louis), Kevin Bieksa (Vancouver), Justin Faulk (Carolina), Brian Campbell (Florida).

Question of the week: What country will have the most impressive blue line in Sochi?

Comments, questions and suggestions for future articles are welcomed. Contact Blue Line Buzz.