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Blue Line Buzz: Don't Mind Doughty's Doubters

Jason Chen

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

Here’s the thing about Drew Doughty: Coaches love him, but stats heads hate him. While I believe in the value of advanced metrics, I’m definitely not a full convert and stand firmly in the camp that says Doughty is an unbelievable player. He makes unbelievable plays, plays unbelievable minutes, and in another sense of the word, it’s unbelievable that not everyone thinks he’s an elite player. It’s true that he’s not particularly productive creating chances on even strength:

But he also often does this:

That makes you think, “Man, this guy just gets no respect – he makes plays like this every night, but only makes the highlight reel because he did a barrel roll doing it.”

Now, you can choose to believe Darryl Sutter if you want, but there’s no doubt Doughty is the Kings’ best defenseman, and the Kings are also a very good team. Don’t forget, Sutter’s not the type to dish out this kind of praise. If these #DoughtyforNorris soundbites have no value, then the proof is in the pudding: In Thursday’s 2-1 overtime loss to St. Louis, Doughty played 35:16, the most ice time ever by a Los Angeles King since the league started keeping track in 2000. The most impressive part? He doesn’t ever get tired. If playing more than half the game at the toughest position in the world’s best league doesn’t require some truly special abilities, then I don’t know what does.

Now, naysayers will probably say: “Look, even with all that ice time, Doughty still couldn’t make a difference because the Kings lost and couldn’t generate enough offense, not to mention Sutter should play Muzzin a little more.” And the traditionalists will probably say: “Listen, if Doughty hadn’t played that much, the Blues would’ve cruised to a victory on a night when Anze Kopitar (lower body) left the game early, so be happy you got a point out of it, and it’s not usually the defenseman’s job to score goals.” Which narrative do you believe?

Just a word on Jake Muzzin before we move on: He’s an underrated top-four defenseman whose advanced stats indicate he’s well above replacement level, but let’s face it, in what world would anyone take him over Doughty?

A full list will come out in the final post of the season (look for it!), here’s my quick top-10 list for the Norris Trophy (i.e., not ranked by fantasy value) so far:

1. Erik Karlsson, OTT
2. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, ARI
3. Brent Burns, SJ
4. John Carlson, WAS
5. Dustin Byfuglien, WPG
6. Ryan Suter, MIN
7. Duncan Keith, CHI
8. John Klingberg, DAL
9. Drew Doughty, LA
10. Justin Faulk, CAR

Last week’s top five performers:

Ryan Suter, MIN – John Torchetti is now 4-0 as the Wild’s new head coach with 21 goals scored during that span; the team scored 21 goals in the nine games prior to Mike Yeo’s firing. Suter continues to log heavy minutes, playing no less than 27 minutes in each of those games, and contributed three assists and a plus-6 rating to cap things off.

Sami Vatanen, ANA – With the way he’s been playing, the Ducks should probably reconsider their plan to trade the Finnish blueliner. He has two goals and four assists in his past seven games, and with five straight wins (including four straight over division opponents and a road game against Chicago), the Ducks are now just two points away from the Kings for the division lead. Whether or not their slow start will cost them later on the season has to be determined, but Vatanen is doing his best Scott Niedermayer impression, pitching in on offense and defense with his elite skill set.

Kris Letang, PIT - The Pens keep alternating wins and losses, but Letang has been a consistent wonder on defense, a one-man show who doesn’t get much help with three developing players (Olli Maatta, Brian Dumoulin and Derrick Pouliot) and three warm bodies (Ben Lovejoy, Trevor Daley and Ian Cole). He’s played over 27 minutes in each of his last six games, including 30:13 against Tampa Bay, and has five assists in his last three. Letang’s biggest problem is his inability to stay healthy, and we shall see if his heavy minutes become even more taxing during the stretch drive when the Pens are fighting for a playoff spot.

T.J. Brodie, CGY – With two assists against Minnesota and another three against Vancouver, Brodie now has 32 helpers on the season, a career high. He’s picked up his play after a slow start to the season, much like Mark Giordano, and is likely headed for a career mark in points. The Flames are considered an up-and-coming team, and despite the offseason addition of Dougie Hamilton, Brodie is entrenched in a premier role and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

Drew Doughty, LA – He set the record for most minutes played in a game by a King and has four assists in his past five games. Though the Kings have lost three of their past four, they’re still in control with a two-point lead over the Ducks in the Pacific Division. Doughty is the type of player whose fantasy value doesn’t do justice to his ability, but odds are he’ll be the defenseman on the scoresheet when the Kings score a goal.

Top five trending up:

Mathew Dumba, MIN – His ice time under Torchetti has been scaled back a little, but that hasn’t stopped Dumba from pitching in with three points in his past two games. He’s a high-energy player who’s noticeable on every shift, and as always with young swashbuckling defenseman, there will be a few mistakes here and there – see: P.K. Subban, who is still one of the best in the league. Dumba’s an intriguing move going forward, especially now that Jonas Brodin has kind of fallen by the wayside.

Colton Parayko, STL – As expected with Alex Pietrangelo (right knee) out of the lineup, Parayko has been the biggest beneficiary. During the Blues’ five-game winning streak, Parayko has six assists and has cleared 20 minutes of ice time on four occasions. He’s owned in just two-thirds of Yahoo leagues, but that number should continue to climb up if he keeps scoring. Having Pietrangelo on the shelf makes it that much more difficult to trade Kevin Shattenkirk, but the Blues also just lost a big piece in Alex Steen (upper body, reevaluation in four weeks). If Pietrangelo comes back and Shattenkirk is still hanging around, Parayko’s value will likely see a modest drop.

Kevin Connauton, ARI – He was the guy Dave Tippett decided he wanted to lean on after Oliver Ekman-Larsson left Saturday’s game with a lower-body injury. Claimed off waivers from Columbus, Connauton played 31:11 against the Blues and picked up three points on six shots, likely playing the best game of his career. He’s an underrated puck mover who isn’t good enough defensively to play a consistent top-four role yet, but Tippett’s systems also have a history of making his defensemen look pretty good. If OEL is out long-term, Connauton’s worth keeping an eye on.

Chris Tanev, VAN – Tanev has two goals in his past four games, doubling his season total and giving him 15 points on the season. He doesn’t score very often, but is very dependable in his own end and coming of his zone. In the absence of Alex Edler (fractured fibula), Tanev’s been forced to step up; he’s playing alongside Ben Hutton, who is the Canucks’ best puck mover at this point, which could result in more assists. Tanev is playing well defensively (league-leading 14 blocked shots this past week), but don’t expect the offensive productivity to last. He has just 33 shots on the season and his latest goal was an empty-netter against the Avs.

Zach Bogosian, BUF – Bogosian managed to collect a quarter of his season’s points in just one game against Pittsburgh, scoring two goals and adding an assist. With Rasmus Ristolainen’s play tailing off a little and Ryan O’Reilly expected to be out for at least four weeks, Bogosian will be leaned on heavily to provide solid defense along with Josh Gorges. Bogosian’s offense has dipped since moving from Buffalo, but in leagues that count peripheral stats, he’s a good source of hits and blocked shots.

Top five trending down:

P.K. Subban, MTL – I’m firmly on Subban’s side on that awful giveaway that has been replayed to death because with these kind of players, you have to live with those mistakes. More often than not, Subban makes the incredible play, and while he’s guilty of holding onto the puck for too long sometimes, there’s a good reason why he does – the team is devoid of anyone else with a similar skill set. He has two assists in his past three games, but you have to hope Subban and Michel Therrien can get on the same page soon and move on. If the problem continues to fester, it might affect Subban’s fantasy value.

Shea Weber, NAS – He’s on a three-game cold streak when the Predators need him most with the Western Conference wild-card race looking like it’ll be between three Central Division teams. Weber’s main value still lies in goals, and his heavy shot makes him a threat to score around 15 a year, but other facets of his game aren’t nearly as threatening. Weber is still a top-20 fantasy defenseman, but is one bad season away from dropping out of that conversation. Owners in keeper leagues may want to decide if they want to sell while he still has a lot of value.

Aaron Ekblad, FLA – He’s scored just one goal in his past 12 games and has just 24 points on the season, a disappointing follow-up to an outstanding rookie year. Ekblad’s season so far has provided more proof that the sophomore slump is real, but that’s likely mostly a result of teams adapting to Ekblad and focusing on him. He’s still owned in the vast majority of leagues despite his pedestrian production, but while the sky’s the limit, Ekblad still has some ways to go before he solidifies himself as an elite fantasy defenseman. There’s no doubt the Panthers’ lead in the division is slipping.

Ryan McDonagh, NYR – Through no fault of his own, McDonagh is going to see his fantasy value take a dip in the second half of the season. He’s been particularly good so far, but a concussion from a Wayne Simmonds punch and a neck issue from a Leo Komarov hit have cast some doubts about his health and ability to play moving forward. The Rangers’ captain did not play Sunday and is considered day-to-day.

Mark Streit, PHI – Make it official: Shayne Gostisbehere is the Flyers’ undisputed No. 1 power-play quarterback. With just one assist in his past 12 games, Streit has become an afterthought despite years reigning as the league’s best specialist. Logically, with Michael Del Zotto (wrist surgery) out for the season, Streit and Gostisbehere will share his ice time, but given how Gostisbehere has been playing, don’t be surprised if Dave Hakstol gives him all the extra minutes.