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Blue Line Buzz: The Beard Abides

Jason Chen

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

It’s been a full week since the trade deadline. That pretty much gives us free rein to hand out grades to guys on new teams, right? I mean, what else am I here for?

Mike Weber, WAS – An injury to John Carlson (lower body) has allowed Weber to play, something even Barry Trotz hinted may not happen all the time down the stretch. The long-time Sabre continues to bring his shot-blocking prowess to the table, blocking five shots in each of his first two games with the new club. You know what you get when it comes to Weber. Grade: B+

Christian Ehrhoff, CHI – He played 17 minutes in his Blackhawks debut and then 21 minutes in the following contest (on a night when the whole team was a little off), the first time he’s topped 20 minutes since his third game of the season. Despite Chicago’s additions up front, the blue line remains the team’s biggest weakness. He sat in favor of Michal Rozsival on Sunday. Ouch. Grade: C

Rob Scuderi, LA – I don’t know exactly how Darryl Sutter does it, but the has-beens have always seemed to re-find their game – if only temporarily – playing for him. He’s blocked six shots in four games and even added an assist, playing the dependable third-pairing role Matt Greene or Robyn Regehr (in the past) would’ve played. Grade: B+

Jakub Kindl, FLA – Nope, it hasn’t gotten any better. Kindl is minus-2 in two games with the Cats and averaging just 11 minutes per game. Stats darlings love him because he’s perceived to be a good possession player, but he just never passes the eye test. At this rate, he’ll be in Europe before long. Grade: D

Justin Schultz, PIT – You know, he looked pretty good in his Penguins debut, finishing with 16:23 of ice time and an assist. Only time will tell if Schultz was worth the price, but perhaps he could excel with more manageable minutes and less pressure. Intriguing, to say the least. Grade: B+

Connor Carrick, TOR – He’s logging third-pairing minutes for a Leafs blue line that is ushering a new wave of talent, and already has an assist and a fight in four games under his belt. He has the potential to be a top-four defenseman, but remains a work in progress. So far, he’s looked alright. Grade: B-

Kris Russell, DAL – The shot-blocking machine has seven in three games, two of which were wins for the Stars. If Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin’s rough second-half continues, the Stars will have to find ways to win by defense, and Russell should play a big role. Lindy Ruff may even juggle five defensemen down the stretch. Grade: B

John-Michael Liles, BOS – He may be the most under-the-radar pickup at the deadline and already has an assist and seven blocked shots in three games with the B’s. Liles will help immensely with the transition game, even if his offensive skill isn’t what it used to be. He’s been quite good so far. Grade: B+

Dan Hamhuis, VAN – Just trolling, guys.

Last week’s top five performers:

Brent Burns, SJ – He has three goals, three assists and 18 shots on goal in his past six games, capping off a big week in which he barely got any mentions in Norris Trophy talks. In any other season, Burns would be one of the finalists, but this is also a season in which Erik Karlsson could finish with 90 points, while Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Drew Doughty are running one-man shows for their respective teams. Burns has been elite this season and should be one of the top three defensemen taken off the board next season.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic, SJ – Vlasic is like pen and paper; you don’t really realize how something so ordinary can be so vital until you’re writing that all-important phone message on your arm with a Sharpie because you had no other choice. But, holy hell, did he bring in something extra with 20 penalty minutes Saturday against Vancouver. Vlasic was handed two 10-minute game misconducts for abusing the officials and now has 41 PIM on the season, one off his career-high. He’s already set a career high in points this season, so why not, right? Interesting fact: Vlasic has had a positive plus-minus for the past seven seasons.

Radko Gudas, PHI – He singlehandedly beat the Blue Jackets with his first four-point effort in the NHL, even if he got a few lucky bounces. What was overlooked in that 6-0 win, however, was how he filled the stats sheet across the board, finishing the night with seven shots and five hits. He’s been a physical force for the Flyers and a target for refs with a string of borderline hits, but fantasy owners must be happy raking in the hits and penalty minutes.

Sami Vatanen, ANA – The Ducks have won 11 straight games and Vatanen has played a vital role with three goals and nine assists during that span. Like Vlasic, Vatanen has already set a career high in points – in his case, 38. After a slow start, Vatanen has been very good for the Ducks and should be a consistent 40- to 50-point producer for the next few seasons.

Matt Niskanen, WSH – The Caps have had some key contributors emerge this season, and none more than Niskanen on the blue line. Without John Carlson (lower body), Niskanen has once again stepped up his play with two goals in his past three games, adding 13 hits and 10 blocked shots this past week. Everyone knows Carlson can do wonders, but if the Caps go deep into the playoffs, Niskanen and Karl Alzner certainly deserve some of the praise.

Top five trending up:

Anton Stralman, TAM – During the Lightning’s nine-game winning streak, Stralman has played at least 20 minutes every night and more than 25 minutes on two occasions. Victor Hedman remains the team’s undisputed No. 1, but Stralman has been a very good No. 2 during the team’s most recent stretch. Jason Garrison and Braydon Coburn also contribute, but not quite at both ends of the ice like Stralman. He’s worth keeping an eye on in deep leagues.

Mathew Dumba, MIN – He has a goal and two assists in his past four games, even if his ice time still doesn’t pass the 20-minute mark on most nights. With the Wild in a tough fight for a playoff spot, head coach John Torchetti is still leaning heavily on Ryan Suter, who played over 30 minutes Sunday against the Blues. Truth be told, Dumba may be the best game-breaking defenseman on the team, a swashbuckler who lacks no confidence and could either win or lose a game with one rush up the ice. Now, if only Torchetti would be willing to give Dumba some of the minutes he’s been cutting from Mike Reilly.

Dan Hamhuis, VAN – He’s on pace to finish with the lowest point total of his career and has just two goals in his past two seasons. But his offensive production has picked up since the trade deadline has passed, as it’s no doubt easier to concentrate on the task at hand when trade rumors aren’t in the back of his mind. He has three points in his past two games and could finish the season on a strong note.

Ben Hutton, VAN – Not many people realize that the kid was an absolute standout at the University of Maine, where he was considered for the Hobey Baker Award (if only a longshot), but he’s been the biggest surprise for Vancouver this year. Settled in on the team’s No. 1 pairing with Chris Tanev, Hutton doesn’t seem to be fazed by the pressure or role at all, scoring four assists in his past four games and skating a minimum of 24 minutes in each of his past three. As the Canucks’ most capable puck-moving defenseman, Hutton’s going to be relied on a lot by coach Willie Desjardins. He’s worth owning in fantasy leagues even though he has just 21 points on the season.

Brandon Manning, PHI – As the Flyers fall out of the playoff race, expect them to dress Manning a little more often to see what they really have in the 25-year-old undrafted prospect. He’s not particularly imposing at just 6-foot-1, but he plays the game with a definite edge. Manning’s amassed three 100-penalty minute seasons in the AHL, including a whopping 231 two seasons ago. In 38 games with the Flyers this season he’s managed just five assists and 56 PIM, but those numbers should tick up steadily if he gets more playing time. He sat out two of his previous three games as a healthy scratch, but delivered two assists and 10 PIM on Saturday against Columbus.

Top five trending down:

Erik Karlsson, OTT – He came just seven seconds shy of recording his fourth 30-minute game in his past five games, and it’s insane to think how many minutes he’s logged already this season. Karlsson’s scoring has certainly tailed off a bit and he’s been stuck at 11 goals on the season since early February, but there’s no reason to believe the slump will be long-term. It’s just that for a player of his caliber, he hasn’t scored as much as we’re used to over this past week.

Victor Hedman, TAM – He’s making a huge difference in other facets of the game, but Hedman has just one goal and one assist during the Bolts’ nine-game winning streak. He’s not an overly physical player despite his size, instead making the simple plays to help his team win games, but that kind of stuff doesn’t show in fantasy, which has unfortunately made him a bit of a drag this past week.

Keith Yandle, NYR – He’s notched a power-play point in each of the last two games, but also has a minus-6 rating in his last five games, showing exactly why Yandle can easily be the most well-liked and most hated defenseman. He’s well on his way to another 40-point season, but not without the usual hiccups.

T.J. Brodie, CGY – Over his past eight games, Brodie’s averaged roughly 28 minutes per game, but the Flames have won just once and he’s minus-5 with four assists during that span. Even with a bad stretch, Brodie is still plus-11 with 40 points on the season, making him a top-tier fantasy option, but the
Flames’ horrible goaltending is sinking his value.

Marek Zidlicky, NYI – He played Sunday after sitting in the press box in his three previous games, but skated just 12:51, registering one shot on goal and a minus-1 rating. Zidlicky came in for Ryan Pulock, but it’s unlikely the veteran will play a significant role down the stretch. He’s still owned in nearly a quarter of Yahoo leagues, however – that continues to be perplexing.