Defense wins championships.
In fantasy sports, thatís no different, especially in leagues that count defensive scoring, such as RotoWireís experts league, in which yours truly is
going to win competing. Players taken in the first round are usually forwards, although in some cases an owner may wish to lock things down with an elite goalie first. Itís usually in the middle rounds, when the elite scoring defensemen have already been taken, that owners realize that theyíve left a gaping hole on their team.
But there are quite a few elite defensemen, like Drew Doughty, who donít put up as many points as youíd think. Though heís a perennial Norris Trophy candidate, he hasnít finished inside the top 10 in scoring among defensemen since his sophomore season in 2009-10. Heís managed between 40-to-46 points each year since then, which still puts him in the top 25 annually, but itís still not quite the kind of dominance youíd expect. Fantasy sports isnít quite like real life -- shocking, I know.
Then thereís just the inherent unpredictability of scoring races. Of the top 10 scoring defensemen from the 2013-14 season, only Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban returned to the top 10 last season. Tyson Barrie, Roman Josi, John Carlson and Dennis Wideman were some of the newcomers who went very late or otherwise undrafted in leagues.
Theyíre also tough to gauge because you have to know the way theyíre used. While Karlsson has the green light to rush whenever he wants in Ottawa, a team without that kind of talent may ask its defensemen to hang back. In St. Louis, Alex Pietrangelo may be the better all-around defenseman and draw the oppositionís top forwards, but thereís no denying that Kevin Shattenkirk has a much higher fantasy value as the premier power-play quarterback.
A good defenseman with a poor goalie can hurt, too. Oliver Ekman-Larsson led all defensemen with 23 goals, but finished with a minus-18 rating as well (thank you, Mike Smith, for tanking my team).
Below are my top 25 defensemen, taking into consideration that goals usually carry a little more weight than assists by a 3:2 ratio, but also factoring in some standard categories: shots on goal, power-play points and penalty minutes.
Overall top 25:
1. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa
2. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh
3. Brent Burns, San Jose
4. Mark Giordano, Calgary
5. Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis
6. P.K. Subban, Montreal
7. Shea Weber, Nashville
8. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg
9. Tyson Barrie, Colorado
10. Mike Green, Detroit
11. Roman Josi, Nashville
12. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay
13. John Carlson, Washington
14. Keith Yandle, NY Rangers
15. Dougie Hamilton, Calgary
16. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona
17. Duncan Keith, Chicago
18. Justin Faulk, Carolina
19. John Klingberg, Dallas
20. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles
21. Aaron Ekblad, Florida
22. Torey Krug, Boston
23. Mark Streit, Philadelphia
24. Sami Vatanen, Anaheim
25. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis
Five power-play specialists:
Cody Franson, Buffalo -- Franny was turning into a legitimate top-four defenseman with the Leafs (32 points in 55 games) until a trade back to Nashville hurt his stock so badly (a playoff healthy scratch), it took him more than two months to get signed. On even strength, heís not very impressive, but thereís no denying he brings a lot of value to the power play (17 points), and heíll get plenty of time there.
James Wisniewski, Carolina -- The offensively gifted Ducks had a surprisingly anemic power play last year, ranked third-worst in the league, but Wiz still managed to score 15 points with the man advantage, second only to Sami Vatanen (24th on my list). Faulk will continue to do the heavy lifting, but Wiz will see a lot of time on the power play. Heís only two years removed from a 51-point season.
Christian Ehrhoff, Los Angeles -- Now that Slava Voynov is definitely not coming back, Ehrhoff steps in as his replacement on the power play. Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin are good players, but Ehrhoff is a little more dynamic and will probably siphon power-play time from both of them. He needs to stay healthy, though.
Marek Zidlicky, NY Islanders -- He didnít quite pan out in Motown, but he can still play. I think Jack Capuano prefers to use Johnny Boychuk more in a defensive role, which means Zidlicky will get Boychukís and Lubomir Visnovskyís minutes on the power play. The Isles will score a lot, and Zidlicky will benefit.
Yannick Weber, Vancouver -- The Canucks retained him only because heís the only one on the team with a respectable point shot from the right side, and even though the teamís best players are on the wrong side of 30, the Sedins (50 combined power-play points) can still do a lot of damage with their puck cycle. Weberís five power-play goals tied for second on the team last year. Ben Hutton is a threat, though.
Dougie Hamilton, Calgary -- Maybe he wasnít wanted in Boston, but heís certainly wanted in Cowtown, where heíll be part of the deepest defense in the West. It looks like Dougie will start with Mark Giordano, which can only be good, and the 22-year-old is just scratching the surface coming off a 42-point campaign.
John Klingberg, Dallas -- Most defensemen have a tougher time in their second season, but nothing about Klingbergís play or skill indicates that he wonít improve on his 40-point rookie season. The kidís brilliant, and he has Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn to pass to.
Mike Green, Detroit -- The Wings have been coveting a right-hand shot, and Green is a great fit. A change of scenery should do him well, and if heís paired with the ultra-dependable and underrated Danny DeKeyser, he should be able to create a lot of chances.
Adam Larsson, New Jersey -- The Marsh is usually where offense goes to die, but thereís a new regime in town, and the former fourth overall pick is finally coming into his own after spending time in the minors over the past two seasons. (He needed it.) Heíll form a nice 1-2 punch with Damon Severson. The team still doesnít look like itíll score much, but also has Cory Schneider to keep opposing goal totals low.
Dion Phaneuf, Toronto -- The only lefty on this list, Phaneuf prefers to play the right side to utilize his one-timer, but delivered a surprisingly low three goals last year. He wonít reach 50-to-60 points like he did in Calgary, but 10 goals and 35 or 40 points isnít out of the question. Mike Babcock will get on his case to play the right way.
Zdeno Chara, Boston -- I canít see Chara cracking 40 points again. Heís 38 years old and had a knee injury last year. The Bruins desperately need him, and even though heís still an imposing presence, his ice time and output are trending the wrong way.
Dennis Wideman, Calgary -- Heís still a good contributor on the power play, but heíll be a victim of a roster squeeze with Giordano, Hamilton, Kris Russell and T.J. Brodie (when he returns from injury). He also set career highs in his age-32 season, and heís unlikely to top those.
Johnny Boychuk, NY Islanders -- Boychuk averaged nearly half a point per game (0.49) over the course of the season as a whole, but he scored just 10 points in 33 games (0.30 ppg) down the stretch. Zidlicky takes the o-zone minutes.
Dan Boyle, NY Rangers -- Heís one year older than Chara and likewise trending in the wrong direction. Keith Yandle should take most of the power-play duties.
Jason Garrison, Tampa Bay -- A few are pegging him to enter double-digit totals in goals again, but I donít see it. He has a heavy shot, but he doesnít use it nearly enough and doesnít have the mobility to create a shot for himself. Heís more of a rugged defender first and shooter second.
Five young guns:
Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo -- Heís the future on the Sabresí blue line, and Dan Bylsmaís expecting big things. With Josh Gorges and Zach Bogosian questionable to start the season, heís looking at big minutes right out of the gate.
Brandon Gormley, Colorado -- A forgotten first-round pick, Gormley and Stefan Elliott swapped places after both needed a change of scenery. Gormley was a point-per-game defenseman in his final two seasons of major junior, and the word is heíll start the season with Barrie. Patrick Roy + QMJHL kids = success.
Matt Dumba, Minnesota -- Heís a bit of a swashbuckler, but the Wild need some of his spark from the blue line. Dumba scored eight goals and 16 points in 58 games with the Wild and added another 14 points in 20 games in the AHL. The Wild have enough safe guys like Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin; turn someone like Dumba, who could go end-to-end, loose.
Ben Hutton, Vancouver -- He hasnít officially made the team, but heís been arguably the Canucksí best defenseman this preseason. Huttonís big, poised with the puck and a good skater. He didnít come exactly out of nowhere, either, as a former Hobey Baker nominee who scored 24 goals over his final two years at Maine. He still might get cut due to the numbers game, which sucks.
Dmitry Orlov, Washington -- He was limited to just three AHL games last year due to complications with wrist surgery, so itíll be interesting to see how he responds. Before that, however, Orlov was a highly touted defenseman with good offensive skills.