Blue Line Buzz
The trades involving Jordan Leopold and Sergei Gonchar last week kicked off another flurry of moves involving defensemen as teams reach the quarter-way mark. The most active team has been the Dallas Stars - after trading Gonchar to Montreal, the team acquired Jason Demers and a third-round pick in 2016 for Brenden Dillon.
It's not the type of trade that will suddenly push the Stars into playoff contention (the team is currently sixth in the Central), but it certainly signals a change in philosophy. At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, not to mention a product of the rugged WHL, Dillon is physical defenseman who has second-pairing potential. Over the past two years the 24-year-old has been a mainstay on the Dallas blue line, including a very solid rookie campaign during the lockout-shortened season in 2012-13. However, Dillon's departure means that the Stars will be switching to an up-tempo mobile defense, designed the get the puck up the ice as fast as they can to one of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin or Jason Spezza.
The key cog in that change in defense-to-offense philosophy will be 2010 fifth-round pick John Klingberg, who has emerged as the clear No. 3 option behind the top duo of Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski. Through seven games Klingberg has already collected six points and averaging 23:36, which indicates the amount of confidence the coaches already have in the 22-year-old Swede. Gonchar's departure was the first sign that the Stars were going with youth over experience, but Dillon's departure means the Stars have really figured out their identity as a transitional, quick-strike team.
Jyrki Jokipakka, a 23-year-old Finn who plays a strong two-way game like many of his countrymen, and 6-foot-7 Jamie Oleksiak will form the rarely used third pairing, with the two players averaging a little over 10 minutes a night. Kevin Connauton was waived (and later picked up by Columbus) to make space, but the Stars got some bonus assets from San Jose with the extra pick and the Sharks agreeing to retain 35 percent of Demers' salary of $3.15 million. Klingberg and Demers should be one of the more sought after assets in fantasy for their potential to provide offense.
Having noted that this was a move that made sense for the Stars, it's hard to see what the Sharks are trying to accomplish. They certainly got a little younger and saved a little money in the process (even by retaining some of Demers' salary, Dillon will be an RFA at the end of the season, giving the Sharks more leverage in negotiations), but the Sharks made a promise to become a faster team after a series of playoff disappointments. Does Dillon make them faster or make their transition game any better? I don't think so.
Demers has struggled early on, but so has the entire Sharks team. To Demers' credit, he played with a lot more jump in his Dallas debut, including a bone-crunching open ice hit on Jarret Stoll. Also, remember that after a series of playoff disappointments general manager Doug Wilson promised to make the team faster, going to lengths such as altering the team's uniform to feature less stripes to lighten the load of equipment. While Dillon skates well, he doesn't have the same offensive pedigree as Demers, who scored 34 points last year, or even Justin Braun, whose career high is 17 points, though he does have seven assists in 22 games this season. That puts a lot of pressure on Matt Irwin (35 points in 111 NHL games) and rookie Mirco Mueller (18th overall pick in 2013) to generate some offense and the Sharks really only have two players that they can really depend on to play 20-plus minutes a night, and that's Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
That's not mentioning that even though the Stars also lost Kevin Connauton (88 points in 221 AHL games) to waivers, still have more quality depth to pull from than the Sharks. The list includes this summer's 14th overall pick, Julius Honka (six points in 15 AHL games) and former second-round pick defenseman Cameron Gaunce, who played a key role in the Texas Stars' Calder Cup-winning season last year. For the Sharks, their key depth consists of 27-year-old journeyman Matt Taormina, the undrafted yet somewhat promising Matt Tennyson, a reclamation project in Taylor Fedun and sixth-round pick Konrad Abeltshauser.
The other big move was the Ducks shipping Bryan Allen to Montreal for the struggling Rene Bourque. Habs general manager Marc Bergevin, who played with Allen in Vancouver, has been making it a goal to surround Carey Price with more dependable defenders, especially after trading Josh Gorges to Buffalo. Allen (age 34) joins Gonchar (40), Andrei Markov (35), Tom Gilbert (31) and Mike Weaver (36) as one of the team's greybeards and forming a group that blocks a lot of shots. This also gives blue-chip defensemen Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu a little more time to develop on their own pace. Bergevin is clearly thinking about the future with Tinordi and Beaulieu set to become RFA this summer while Gonchar ($5 million), Allen ($3.5 million) and Weaver's ($1.75 million) contracts will expire this summer.
The Ducks lose a little bit of defensive depth but certainly get faster. On a team that's pretty loaded up front, they're counting on Bruce Boudreau to light a fire under Bourque, but is it really necessary? The Ducks blue line is banged up with Mark Fistric and Ben Lovejoy sidelined, relying on rookie Josh Manson to help shoulder the load. The Ducks, however, are an offensive team under Boudreau, which means that Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm and Cam Fowler remain viable pickups.
Frank Corrado has played just 11 games in the AHL this year after getting hurt in the preseason, but he's got some big shoes to fill in Vancouver now Dan Hamhuis is sidelined for months. Defensive depth, which was one of the Canucks' greatest strengths up until a few years ago, is now sorely lacking. Kevin Bieksa has been the emotional heart and soul of the Canucks defense this season, but it's difficult to believe he's at 100 percent. Depth players Ryan Stanton and the hard-shooting Yannick Weber are pulling their weight, but there's not much help behind them asides from Corrado and Bobby Sanguinetti. This means that Alexander Edler and Christ Tanev have to really step up in a big way at both ends of the ice. Edler, in particular, has looked like an elite defenseman some nights but practically invisible in others. Edler has eight points in 20 games but should crack the 40-point barrier this season, making him a valuable fantasy asset especially with his power play opportunities.
Detroit's Brendan Smith also went down with an injury, but rather than calling up a veteran defenseman the Wings have elected to bring up 21-year-old Xavier Ouellet. The former QMJHL star is a fantastic puck mover who has already acclimated himself well in the pros despite being slightly undersized at just 6-foot-1. A second-round pick from 2011, Ouellet and Ryan Sproul are two of Detroit's top prospects in the minors. The Wings are going to shield Ouellet a little and he's averaging just 15 minutes of ice time per game. Interestingly enough, on a team that lacks right-hand shots, the Wings still elected to call up lefty Ouellet over righty Sproul, who is struggling in the AHL so far. Smith's injury also means that Danny DeKeyser and Jonathan Ericsson will be featured much more prominently, particularly on the penalty kill, giving them value in leagues that count blocked shots.
The most significant call-up this week, especially for owners looking for some offensive help on defense, is Chicago's Adam Clendening. A second-round pick from 2011, Clendening has scored at every single level without missing a beat. In his freshman year with Boston University, he led the team's defensemen with 26 points, and in his first season of pro hockey, scored 46 points in 73 games with Chicago's AHL affiliate in Rockford, including 37 assists that led all AHL defensemen. His NHL career is just two games young, but he is definitely Chicago's future top option on the power play with his ability to skate, pass and shoot, supplanting Duncan Keith in that particular role. He played over 19 minutes in a 7-1 drubbing over Edmonton on Saturday, but his average will be less than that since Joel Quenneville doesn't seem to trust his young defensemen all that much (see Leddy, Nick).
The aforementioned Klingberg, with another two-point effort against LA, is now on a four-game point streak during which he's collected two goals and four assists. It's quite remarkable how quickly Klingberg has been able to adapt to the NHL and while skeptics will argue that he'll cool off significantly, it's hard to deny the amount of talent this kid possesses.
Calgary's Dennis Wideman has always been known to be a one-dimensional player, so when he doesn't score he doesn't carry much value. Fortunately for him, he's starting to find the score sheet again with three goals in his past two games. Mark Giordano still reigns supreme but Wideman could be a good hot streak play.
Niklas Kronwall was a league-worst minus-6 last week, including poor efforts to Original Six rivals Toronto and Montreal. He is still Mike Babcock's most trusted defenseman, but asking the 33-year-old to replicate his 49-point season last year while providing a strong defensive presence may be too much to ask.
Before the season, Mark Barberio was a name to remember. Originally drafted in the sixth round in 2008 by Tampa, Barberio was an elite scorer in the AHL with 103 points in 147 games from 2011-13. He has just 10 points in 57 games and zero in six games this year. He's drawn into the lineup in place of 35-year-old Eric Brewer, but he needs to score to be effective.