Another fall, another season of Blue Line Buzz is here.
It goes without saying that defense is one of the most overlooked in all aspects — fantasy sports included. Unlike forwards or goalies, who often grace the morning highlight reels with toe-drag-forehand-backhand-top-shelf snipes or acrobatic, last-second, stretch-across-the-crease glove saves, defensemen simply just get no love. A well-timed poke check to break up a play or good positional defense to clog up passing lanes just don't make the reels.
But defense wins championships. Just ask the Bruins, Kings or Blackhawks; ask them if they could've ever won the Cup without guys like Zdeno Chara, Drew Doughty or Duncan Keith. Even though the Penguins are known for their offensive firepower, they also realized how important it was to take care of their own end first, bringing in Mike Sullivan to provide more defensive structure. They weren't built to win low-scoring games, but they certainly realized the faster they broke out of their own zone, the faster they could get the puck to Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. A team that is on the attack doesn't have to defend, but defense and taking care of their own end always came first.
Defensemen continue to be a hot commodity. Close to 20 college defenseman turned pro in spring, and more than 50 veterans signed with new teams in free agency, not including Kris Russell, who will find a new home soon. Of the 21 trades made in June, half included defensemen. And in case you missed it, the top 2016-17 defensemen have already been ranked and tiered.
Recapping the biggest moves:
Habs swap P.K. Subban for Shea Weber
The trade that knocked the wind out of everyone for a brief moment because there hasn't been a one-for-one trade involving defenseman on the same scale in recent memory. Weber immediately changes the Habs' identity, which went from fast, unpredictable, mistake-prone and dependent on Carey Price to not as fast, more predictable, less mistake-prone but still dependent on Carey Price. The Predators don't miss a beat with Roman Josi already considered as the team's top defenseman, while Subban adds another dimension to an already dangerous, multi-faceted attack.
Fantasy Outlook: Weber's numbers didn't dip when Ryan Suter left, but will they dip now without Josi by his side? Andrei Markov is an ageless wonder, but Subban got the better end of the deal; he goes from a team that ranked 25th on the power play to a team that ranked 10th. Anyone doubt that Subban and his crew will challenge for the best power play unit in the league this year? *crickets*
Oilers give up Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson
The funny thing is that neither side will come out looking like geniuses until they win the Cup, which could be never. Larsson entered the NHL a year after being drafted fourth overall in 2011, and a strong argument could be made that he just simply wasn't ready. He appeared in all 82 games last year, the first time he's ever done so, and played well enough to convince the Oilers he can be a solid, two-way No. 1 defenseman for years to come. Or, at least, that's the idea.
Fantasy Outlook: Larsson is a right-handed, top-pairing defenseman who is playing with some explosive offensive players. Odds are he'll shatter his previous career-high 24 points, but exactly how much better he makes the Oilers is up for debate. He carries risk because he's not known to be a particularly gifted offensive player, but he may be worth a shot because a 40-point season isn't out of the question.
Panthers sign Keith Yandle, prepare for transition on blue line with Michael Matheson, Ian McCoshen
Yandle is an upgrade over Campbell on age alone, and when Yandle plays a full 82-game schedule, his career low is 41 points, so that bodes well for a Panthers team that is looking forward to a full season from both Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov. McCoshen is fighting for a roster spot, but along with Michael Matheson represents the new guard on the Florida blue line. The two Boston College teammates possess both size and skill, though Matheson is believed to be the better prospect
Fantasy Outlook: Yandle and Aaron Ekblad will be mainstays on the Florida power play, which will also feature Barkov, Jaromir Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau, so there's that. Even if Matheson or McCoshen make the team, there won't be much special teams playing time for either, but both names should be committed to memory for the future.
Coyotes revamp blue line with Alex Goligoski, Luke Schenn and prospect Anthony DeAngelo
Goligoski was an invaluable two-way player for the Stars, missing just three games in his last four seasons while amassing 142 points during that time. Even though Oliver Ekman-Larsson runs the show in the desert, Goligoski can play the Sundance Kid to OEL's Butch Cassidy, and given how the Coyotes are adding more talent ever year, there shouldn't be a big drop in production. Schenn adds some depth on the right side while former first-round pick DeAngelo is a piece for the future after scoring 43 points in 69 games in his first pro season with AHL Syracuse.
Fantasy Outlook: OEL and Goligoski are expected to play on different pairings, but there will be situations where they'll play together and that will boost both of their values. Last year, there were times OEL played the full two minutes on the power play, and that will happen less frequently this season. It won't hurt OEL's value much because it'll likely keep him fresh for the duration of the season. DeAngelo is a work in progress, but no doubt the kid's got serious talent and worth keeping an eye on.
Brian Campbell returns to Chicago on a one-year deal
"Soupy" returns to the Windy City after spending five seasons in Florida where he didn't miss a single game. That's incredible — and in his final year with the Panthers also managed to register a career-high plus-31 rating. He brings experience and mobility to a blue line that needed depth and someone to run the second power-play unit, and for once the Hawks may be able to keep Michal Rozsival in the press box where he belongs.
Fantasy Outlook: Excellent, for both Campbell and the Blackhawks. He leaves behind an exciting team in Florida, but what's the fuss when you can play with Patrick Kane on the power play?
Dallas adds veteran Dan Hamhuis with a two-year deal
The Stars' lack of experience and depth on the blue line showed in the playoffs, and Jim Nill didn't hesitate to add one of the most dependable defensemen on the market. He'll be an excellent mentor for a team with a talented but young blue line.
Fantasy Outlook: John Klingberg will be the most talented defenseman Hamhuis has ever played with since Nashville, and keeping the kid close to his side will ensure that he picks up some of the easiest assists of his career. Hamhuis scored more than 30 points just once in six seasons with Vancouver — don't be surprised if he flirts with that number this year.
Canucks trade for Erik Gudbranson, sign hometown kid Troy Stecher
Jim Benning thought he needed depth on the right side behind Chris Tanev, so he acquired Gudbranson via trade and then signed Stecher out of North Dakota as a free agent after an outstanding junior season. Gudbranson doesn't bring a lot of offense to the table, but Stecher certainly does, and like Ben Hutton last year is turning a lot of heads at camp, refusing to back down from the competition and controlling the play with ease using his mobility and puck skills.
Fantasy Outlook: Gudbranson has 43 points in 403 career NHL games, and playing on a team that doesn't have the same top-end talent as Florida won't improve them. Stecher's fantasy value will skyrocket if he does make the team, since he'll most certainly be used on the power play.
Islanders bolster defensive depth, add Dennis Seidenberg on one-year, $1 million deal
Seidenberg had a few suitors after getting bought out by the Bruins, but the Islanders were the ones who stepped up right away. He'll slot in nicely on the team's third pairing behind Johnny Boychuk and Travis Hamonic.
Fantasy Outlook: Seidenberg has never really been on the fantasy radar, but adding him should take some pressure off former Bruins teammate Boychuk and Hamonic, who I know has a 40-point season in him somewhere …
Sabres trade for Dmitry Kulikov, add Casey Nelson
Kulikov is a defense-first kind of guy, but when Rasmus Ristolainen is signed, he'll be the safety blanket that allows Risto to focus more on offense. Nelson is the more interesting player, a Minnesota-Mankato alum who signed with the Sabres this past spring and is currently in a battle for a spot on the third pairing.
Fantasy Outlook: Adding Kulikov certainly boosts Risto's value, who has never finished with a plus-minus rating higher than minus-15, while Nelson could provide some value if he can get some power-play time. Nelson notched four helpers in seven games with the Sabres last year and in limited action looked much better than Cody Franson ever did.
Blue Jackets eagerly await Zach Werenski's debut
Werenski turned pro following his second season with Michigan, and promptly went on a tear in the AHL playoffs, scoring 14 points in 17 games to help Lake Erie win the Calder Cup. The book on Werenski, who was the third defenseman drafted in 2015 behind Noah Hanifin and Ivan Provorov, was that he definitely has the potential to be better than his peers, and skates like the wind. He's a heady two-way player who doesn't have any apparent weaknesses. I see a lot of Ryan Suter in him.
Fantasy Outlook: Midway through camp, Werenski has looked very good and seems like a lock for a roster spot. As much flak as John Tortorella gets, he's also one of the few coaches who isn't afraid to throw young players into the fire, as long as they do the things he asks. Werenski, along with Seth Jones and Ryan Murray, is the future the Columbus blue line. He'll get his chances to shine, and could even be a dark horse for the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie.
Flyers ready to introduce Ivan the Great
Based on his last two seasons with WHL Brandon, Ivan Provorov is ready for the show. He plays well at both ends of the ice, but with 134 points 122 games, is known to be slightly better on the offensive side of the puck. The Flyers defensive corps at the moment doesn't present much competition, and though he's eligible to return to the WHL, given his play in camp so far it's unlikely to happen.
Fantasy Outlook: No one of the Flyers outside Shayne Gostisbehere is worth a roster spot, but Provorov has some intriguing skills and could be the other guy manning the point on the power play. He'll be a popular pick for the Calder Trophy this year, should he make the team, and may be worth a late-round flyer in deep keeper leagues.