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Blue Line Buzz: Looking Backward, Looking Forward

Jason Chen

Consistently fires muffins. Blue Line Buzz on Mondays, Daily Puck and DFS on Sundays.

The NHL All-Star Game Ė a surprise hit this year thanks to sometimes-defenseman John Scott Ė often serves as the unofficial halfway mark of the season, a rare pause during a busy regular-season schedule for everyone to get a few extra days of rest before the stretch drive.

There are roughly 30 games left for each team, and only one squadís sitting pretty: the Capitals. With a 15-point lead over the second-place Rangers in the Metropolitan Division, the Caps are the only team that isnít really in any sort of race, be it for a division crown or playoff spot. The Kings are in a similar scenario with a seven-point lead over the second-place Sharks in the hapless Pacific Division, but theyíve won just five of their past 10 while San Joseís won eight times in the same span, making it tough to label Los Angeles the Western Conferenceís top contender.

Of course, a lot can still happen. Itís interesting to note the disparity in performance before and after the All-Star break, and while itís not easy to predict which teams will have major turnarounds after disappointing starts (Rangers, Predators, Oilers maybe?), you can bet something will happen.

Hereís a rundown of all 30 teams and how their best defensemen have fared before and after the All-Star break last year.

Tampa Bay Lightning
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 154 goals, rank 1st
2014-15 post-All-Star: 105 goals, 6th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 128 goals, 13th

The Lightning still donít look right. On top of that, Steven Stamkos remains without an extension, Jonathan Drouin may have played his final game as a Bolt, and Victor Hedmanís numbers are still on pace to fall short of last yearís. It should also be noted that Hedman posted better per-game numbers before last yearís All-Star break, and with Matt Carle no longer relevant, itís unlikely the Lightning offense will perk up in the second half.

New York Islanders
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 145 goals, 2nd
2014-15 post-All-Star: 100 goals, 10th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 127 goals, tied 14th

Itís kind of distressing to see the Islandersí offense falling down the rankings, especially considering that John Tavares has been healthy, but itís also clear that the blue line hasnít been as productive. Marek Zidlicky is clearly not the answer and Johnny Boychuk is injured, which means Travis Hamonic and Nick Leddy have to shoulder the load; while Leddy has some offensive talent, neither of those guys qualifies as a dynamo.

St. Louis Blues
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 144 goals, 3rd
2014-15 post-All-Star: 95 goals, tied 14th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 126 goals, tied 17th

The Blues have been on the hunt for offense for a while, but it does seem counterintuitive to deal Kevin Shattenkirk, the most offensively gifted of their defensemen, whose absence was felt when he missed much of the second half to injury last year. If Shattenkirk is traded, be prepared to pounce on Colton Parayko, whose emergence would likely be among the biggest reasons for such a move.

Chicago Blackhawks
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 142 goals, tied 4th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 78 goals, 25th
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 146 goals, 3rd

The good news is that even though the Blackhawksí offense fell off a cliff after the All-Star break last year, they still ended up winning the Cup. It did, however, cost them a division title. Two things that will prevent them from going all Jekyll in the second half again: Artemi Panarin, who has more than replaced Patrick Sharp, and Brent Seabrook, who is having a career season and should be a top-25 defenseman going forward. Chicagoís lack of depth on the blue line could be a concern, but that shouldnít affect Seabrook or Duncan Keith much.

Dallas Stars
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 142 goals, tied 4th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 115 goals, 3rd
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 160 goals, 1st

And this is why the Stars are an offensive juggernaut. For the better part of two seasons the Stars offense has been the most deadly and consistent in the league. Part of that is because John Klingberg has emerged as a bona fide offensive defenseman and power-play quarterback. He had just 12 power-play points the previous season, but is already up to 14 this season. The big worry is fatigue ĖKlingberg already sat out practice for extra rest once in January Ė but the team has enough firepower to keep giving him opportunities.

Toronto Maple Leafs
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 139 goals, 6th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 67 goals, 29th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 110 goals, 28th

Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner are nice building pieces and Dion Phaneuf is quietly having a solid season, but thereís no reason to believe the Leafsí offense is going to get any better, which makes them a team to avoid for fantasy owners.

Detroit Red Wings
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 137 goals, 7th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 94 goals, 16th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 121 goals, tied 21st

Thereís a good chance Mike Green Ė who has been one of the biggest free-agent disappointments this season Ė will end up leading the Wingsí defensemen in scoring. The days of Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski are over, and theyíve had to depend on 23-year-old goalie Petr Mrazek too much this season. Green, it bears mentioning, historically has posted better stats before the All-Star break.

Washington Capitals
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 136 goals, tied 8th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 101 goals, tied 8th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 156 goals, 2nd

John Carlson returned just before the All-Star break, and the Capsí best defenseman should continue to roll for the rest of the year. Karl Alzner is a defensive stalwart and has formed a brilliant Ď1Bí pairing with Matt Niskanen, but the intrigue remains with Dmitry Orlov, who has four goals and 17 points on the season and will challenge Carlson for most goals by a Caps blueliner.

Pittsburgh Penguins
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 136 goals, tied 8th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 81 goals, 24th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 120 goals, 23rd

The big explosion of offense may have to come next year, when Derrick Pouliot and Brian Dumoulin have a better grasp of the pro game; for now, itís the Kris Letang show from the blue line. The Penguinsí offense is showing signs of life thanks to Sidney Crosby, but outside of Letang and Olli Maatta, the rest of the defense wonít have many opportunities to collect those points.

Nashville Predators
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 133 goals, tied 10th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 93 goals, 17th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 127 goals, tied 14th

The Predators remain one of the best teams to mine for defenseman given their track record. Shea Weber and Roman Josi are both fantasy stalwarts on defense, while Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm offer some intriguing upside. Ellis has remained particularly consistent, netting at least five points in each of the seasonís first four months, and with Seth Jones having been shipped to Columbus, Ellis skated season-high minutes in January.

Calgary Flames
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 133 goals, tied 10th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 104 goals, 7th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 125 goals, 19th

The addition of Dougie Hamilton was supposed to really help the Flames move the puck out of their zone, but he hasnít lived up to expectations even though Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie have really picked it up after a slow start. The smart bet with such a talented blue line is that theyíll manage to score goals at a better pace in the second half, but Dennis Widemanís untimely suspension certainly throws a wrench into things. The key lies with Hamilton, but Bob Hartley has to trust him. The silver lining in Widemanís suspension is that maybe Hamilton will not just get more ice time, but more regular ice time.

Anaheim Ducks
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 132 goals, tied 12th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 96 goals, tied 11th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 99 goals, 30th

The Ducks remain the leagueís biggest mystery, and Bob Murray still has been unwilling to make a coaching change, opting to tweak his forwards corps instead. As long as the teamís offense remains dead last, there wonít be many opportunities for a talented blue line that also includes Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm. The bright side is that despite the teamís struggles, Corey Perry still has 20 goals and Ryan Getzlaf has 31 points. Itís a good bet they wonít finish 30th in goals over the second half, but they donít seem likely to go on a huge surge.

New York Rangers
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 132 goals, tied 12th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 116 goals, 2nd
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 140 goals, tied 6th

As is the case in St. Louis, the Rangers are trying to unload an offensive defenseman, but even without Keith Yandle, their offense should remain in pretty good shape. Without Yandle, Dan Boyle would likely assume a greater role on the power play, with top prospect Brady Skjei potentially dressing more often to give Boyle a rest. Captain Ryan McDonagh is on pace for yet another strong season, but Marc Staal and Dan Girardi are only valuable in leagues that count blocked shots.

Winnipeg Jets
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 131 goals, 14th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 92 goals, 18th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 126 goals, tied 17th

What will the Jets do with Dustin Byfuglien? That remains the biggest question for Winnipeg, as the team desperately needs him for the stretch drive, but may not be able to re-sign him in the offseason. Nikolaj Ehlers and Mark Scheifele remain the teamís future weapons, and if they can really get the offense going, thatís good news for Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba, who have combined for just 29 points.

San Jose Sharks
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 129 goals, tied 15th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 95 goals, tied 14th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 140 goals, tied 6th

Brent Burns is second in team scoring and remains the most valuable multi-category defenseman in fantasy. He doesnít score as much as Erik Karlsson Ė no defenseman does Ė but itís also worth noting that Marc-Edouard Vlasic is on pace for a career season and should be able to post his second 30-point campaign. Vlasic is still available in more than half of Yahooís fantasy leagues.

Philadelphia Flyers
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 129 goals, tied 15th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 83 goals, 23rd
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 107 goals, 29th

Shayne Gostisbehere joined the Flyers after a month in the AHL and has since scored 22 points in 29 games, good for fifth on the team; heís already having his name tossed around in Calder Trophy talks. The Flyersí offense just hasnít been very good this year, with Michael Del Zotto in particular experiencing major regression, while Sean Couturierís offense has come along a little slower than expected. However, with Gostisbehere and a healthy Mark Streit, the Flyers should easily improve their performance in the second half. If Gostisbehere is available, he has to be snatched up right away. For all the Flyersí faults, Claude Giroux is still a monster on the power play and plenty of opportunities can be had there.

Los Angeles Kings
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 128 goals, 17th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 90 goals, tied 19th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 127 goals, tied 14th

The Kings will never be confused with one of the leagueís top offenses, but Jake Muzzin has become a legitimate top-four defenseman in his own right, anchoring the teamís second pair with Alec Martinez, and heís on pace for another 40-point season. His emergence is a big reason why Darryl Sutter no longer has to play him and Doughty on the same pair. Muzzin also has 111 shots and 111 hits going into the All-Star break, which actually puts him on par with Shea Weber.

Minnesota Wild
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 126 goals, 18th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 101 goals, tied 8th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 121 goals, tied 21st

The Wild still may trade Jonas Brodin, whose offense has stagnated in consecutive seasons; he hasnít shown enough to anchor the second pairing. Ryan Suter, who shows no signs of slowing down, could hit the 50-point mark, and defensive partner Jared Spurgeon is also on pace for a career season. Along with Mathew Dumba, the three present the most intriguing options on the Wild blue line. If the Wild can pull off what they did last season and improve their scoring after the break, Suter and Spurgeon could pile up the points even more.

Boston Bruins
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 124 goals, 19th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 85 goals, 22nd
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 144 goals, 4th

Dougie who? Over one summer, Don Sweeney has transformed the Bruins from a big slugger to one that has far more tools and is certainly a lot more nimble. Zdeno Chara continues to defy Father Time by leading all Bís defensemen with 27 points, with Torey Krugís 22 ranking second. The intrigue, however, lies with Colin Miller, acquired in the trade for Milan Lucic after scoring 19 goals and 52 points with the Kingsí farm team. Miller is currently rotating in and out of the lineup, but when heís played, heís been a fixture on the power play; if he can shoot the puck a little more Ė he has just 52 shots this season Ė he should be able to pile up some goals. Heís got a hell of a shot.

Ottawa Senators
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 123 goals, 20th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 109 goals, 5th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 135 goals, 8th

After Erik Karlsson, thereís truly not a lot to write home about. The Senatorsí captain is on pace for his first 80-point season, which would see him finish among the leagueís best in scoring, regardless of position. He comes off as a bit of a curmudgeon sometimes, but thatís what happens when youíre expected to carry a team whose next-highest-scoring defenseman is Cody Ceci, who has 13 points. Stick with Karlsson and forget the rest. Ceciís time will come, but it wonít be this year.

Vancouver Canucks
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 122 goals, 21st
2014-15 post-All-Star: 114 goals, 4th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 118 goals, tied 25th

Is a second-half bounce in the works for the Canucks? Probably not. Jim Benning has to decide whether the teamís selling or not, which casts some doubt over Dan Hamhuisís role with the club. Interestingly enough, as a head coach, Willie Desjardins has never failed to make the playoffs, a streak that dates back to 2003 with WHL Medicine Hat. Is there more Willie magic? Itís doubtful if the Canucks canít score, and that has to start with Alexander Edler, who has just 20 points on the season. For peripherals, Edler is great, but the points are just too few and far between for a No. 1 defenseman.

Colorado Avalanche
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 119 goals, 22nd
2014-15 post-All-Star: 90 goals, tied 19th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 142 goals, 5th

Patrick Roy has the Avs back to their high-scoring ways, and at the top of the list among defensemen is Tyson Barrie. Heís on pace for yet another 50-point season, and itís intriguing that he played better after the All-Star break last year, scoring 25 points in 28 games. This bodes well for a young defenseman who has plenty of talented forwards to work with; no doubt, Francois Beauchemin agrees, as he could post his best statistical season yet at age 35. Barrie, Beauchemin and Erik Johnson are the only Avs defensemen worth owning.

Montreal Canadiens
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 118 goals, 23rd
2014-15 post-All-Star: 96 goals, tied 11th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 133 goals, 9th

Take that 2015-16 pre-All-Star rank with a grain of salt, because after a hot start, the Habsí offense has sputtered and is unlikely to finish anywhere near the top 10 for the rest of the season. The thing about the injured Carey Price is that he allows the team to concentrate on offense when heís on the ice; without him, P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov need to take care of their own end first. Itís been a disaster in Montreal for the past few months, and things donít look like theyíre going to turn around, especially with Price looking like he may be on injured reserve for a little longer. Subban may be worth trading if a nice return is available; despite being the consensus No. 2 defenseman going into the season, heís been leapfrogged by quite a few players.

Columbus Blue Jackets
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 109 goals, 24th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 118 goals, 1st
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 131 goals, 10th

John Tortorella is where offense goes to die, but what choice does he have with Sergei Bobrovsky on the shelf besides outscoring the other team? Columbus was one of the best teams after the All-Star break last year due to its stellar goaltending (Bobrovsky went 14-2-1), but that wonít happen this year. The one defenseman who should be owned in fantasy is Seth Jones, who has six assists in 10 games. His plus-minus wonít be pretty, but if any Jackets defenseman scores, itís probably going to be Jones. Wait until next year for Ryan Murrayís breakout season, and leave Jack Johnson and David Savard on the waiver wire.

Edmonton Oilers
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 106 goals, 25th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 87 goals, 21st
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 118 goals, tied 25th

Itís still pretty amazing that with all that talent, the Oilers still have trouble scoring, but that should change soon. Even with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (hand) out of the lineup, theyíre a good bet to be one of the better offensive teams in the league after the All-Star break, thanks to Connor McDavid, who is expected to return from his collarbone injury Tuesday. Oscar Klefbom would be the guy to target, but heís still rehabbing a broken finger, while Darnell Nurse is still learning the nuances of the game and will be limited offensively given his minutes and role. Griffin Reinhart is another intriguing prospect, but doesnít have the same offensive ability.

New Jersey Devils
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 105 goals, 26th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 71 goals, 27th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 112 goals, 27th

Four Devils defenseman have between 10 and 15 points, but only three are worth tracking: Adam Larsson, Damon Severson and John Moore. Apologies to David Schlemko, but heís had trouble finding a regular role in the NHL and only managed to establish himself at 28 years old. Larsson, Severson and Moore offer the most upside, but the Devils are still waiting for one of them to emerge as the No. 1. The smart moneyís on Larsson, but given how slowly heís progressed (not exactly a criticism), itís best to just avoid this crew altogether. An offense led by Michael Cammalleri, Lee Stempniak and Kyle Palmieri just isnít worth the risk.

Arizona Coyotes
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 102 goals, tied 27th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 63 goals, 30th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 130 goals, tied 11th

Nothing against John Scott, but itís a travesty that Oliver Ekman-Larsson wasnít named an All-Star. Heís one of the leagueís best two-way defenseman and currently leads the Coyotes with 34 points. The Arizona offense has vastly improved this year not because Dave Tippett finally gave the green light, but because prospects Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Tobias Rieder have all been scoring consistently. The more scoring options OEL has, the more points heíll pile up.

Florida Panthers
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 102 goals, tied 27th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 96 goals, tied 11th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 130 goals, tied 11th

Aaron Ekblad could be a fantastic keeper, but donít expect astronomical numbers. He doesnít have the same skillset as some of the more refined offensive defensemen, but heís still good at moving the puck, and like OEL in Arizona, Ekbladís got plenty of weapons up front. Other than Ekblad, however, the Panthers donít have much to offer. Brian Campbellís best seasons are clearly behind him, and his main purpose is to eat up whatever minutes are left behind by Ekblad.

Carolina Hurricanes
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 95 goals, 29th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 88 goals, tied 20th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 123 goals, 20th

Can the Hurricanes keep this up? Bill Petersí squad has surprised everyone with their recent success, even if it hasnít dampened any trade talks involving Eric Staal or Cam Ward. Justin Faulk is one of the leagueís best offensive defenseman and worth a spot in every fantasy lineup, but keep in mind that the plus-minus may not look very good. Other than Faulk, Noah Hanifin is the only other player worth mentioning and the best bet to get an increased role down the stretch, especially if Ron Francis trades John-Michael Liles.

Buffalo Sabres
2014-15 pre-All-Star: 83 goals, 30th
2014-15 post-All-Star: 70 goals, 28th
2015-16 pre-All-Star: 113 goals, 26th

Like Faulk, Rasmus Ristolainen is an outstanding defenseman stuck on a poor team thatís forced to play him in all sorts of difficult situations. His minus-14 rating is an eyesore, but 31 points in 50 games is excellent production from the 21-year-old. Beyond him, thereís not much else to speak of. Cody Franson has some offensive upside, but heís stuck on the teamís third pairing. For fantasy owners looking for hits and blocks, Josh Gorges and Zach Bogosian are underrated options.