RotoWire Partners

Blue Line Buzz: D-Men of the Week

Jason Chen

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

What will the Penguins do? With Olli Maatta out for six weeks after undergoing surgery on his hand and Justin Schultz out indefinitely with a concussion, there’s a gaping hole on their blue line, and if they weren’t in the market for a defenseman before, they certainly should be looking for one now.

The bigger loss is Schultz, who has finally lived up to the billing as an offensive defenseman. In Pittsburgh, with a limited role and easier minutes, he has become a far more effective player and his 39 points were tops among Pens’ rearguards. Kris Letang has missed 18 games this season, and his absence would’ve been more profound had Schultz not been there.

Without Schultz and Maatta, the Penguins are 0-2 with seven goals against, and recent call-ups Steve Oleksy and Cameron Gaunce have split the two games. Mike Sullivan has tried to hide his lack of depth by putting the two of them and fifth defenseman Chad Ruhwedel on different pairs. At the end of the day, though, the team was forced to play Letang and Brian Dumoulin over 27 minutes each against potential first-round opponent Columbus, and over 22 minutes each against Detroit.

The Penguins’ offense is good enough to keep them in games, but the Eastern Conference is shaping up to be a tight battle, and a Cup repeat seems implausible for any team with a lack of depth. They have four defensemen that can log big minutes, but beyond that there’s no one Sullivan really trusts.

Dumoulin has been the biggest benefactor, averaging 24 minutes per game over the past three contests after skating less than 20 minutes in three of the four games before that. He has yet to score a goal dating back to the previous season and he’s not very dynamic on offense, which means fantasy owners looking to take advantage of the situation may want to wait until Derrick Pouliot gets called up.

Minor Moves

The Flames signed Matt Bartkowski to a two-way, two-year contract to shore up their bottom pairing, and he made his debut Saturday against his former team in Vancouver, playing just 10:55. He appeared in a team-high (among Canucks defensemen) 80 games last year, partly because many of their key regulars were hurt, and even with 18 points and 50 PIM, was not signed to an extension. There’s some familiarity here with Glen Gulutzan serving as an assistant in Vancouver last year, but Bartkowski is nothing more than a stopgap, and the Flames will keep leaning on Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton.

The Capitals acquired Tom Gilbert from the Kings for a conditional pick, freeing up a little cap space since Gilbert rarely played. Defense hasn’t been the Kings’ problem this season, but scoring certainly has. The Caps will have little use for Gilbert with a blue line that’s already pretty deep, but having extra bodies won’t hurt, especially in the playoffs.

The Leafs gave up a defenseman as well, swapping Viktor Loov for Sergey Kalinin, both of whom were playing in the AHL. A seventh-round pick, Loov appeared in just four games last year, and while he looked as if he could hold down a regular NHL job, a crowded Toronto blue line that carried Frank Corrado as their seventh defenseman for much of the season made it difficult to crack the roster. He’ll get a better chance to play with the Devils, but don’t expect much.

Studs of the Week:

Erik Karlsson, Senators
– Karlsson was tied for first in scoring among defensemen with six points this past week, scoring a goal and five assists along with 15 shots and nine blocked shots. With Bobby Ryan (finger) already out, Clarke MacArthur (concussion) unavailable all season, and then losing Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone on Sunday, the Senators’ offense will have to lean on Karlsson even more. The injuries couldn’t have come at a worse time, and it’ll be interesting to see if the defensive-minded Guy Boucher is willing to turn him loose.

Brent Burns, Sharks – It’s a foregone conclusion that he’ll hit 30 goals this year, and before registering an assist in a 2-1 loss to Boston on Sunday, Burns was on a three-game goal streak with two-goal efforts on the road against Arizona and New Jersey. He’ll face Toronto and Vancouver twice this week, and neither team is known to be particularly stout on defense. He’s having an unbelievable season and has been the most valuable fantasy defenseman by a country mile.

Oscar Klefbom, Oilers – He had his two-game point streak snapped against Chicago, but Klefbom is probably okay with that since the Oilers got the win, avenging their previous 5-1 loss. He scored two goals and two assists, giving him a career-high 24 points in 59 games this season. Just 23 years old, he’s scratching the surface of what he can do and no doubt playing with Connor McDavid helps, but he’s playing well in his own end too with a plus-7 rating this past week.

Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, Blue Jackets – Columbus’ top pairing was relatively quiet for much of early February, but in this past week has combined for a goal and 10 assists with 22 shots and 13 blocked shots. With that kind of production from the blue line, it’s no surprise they’ve won two of their past three games, including a key win over division rival Pittsburgh. Consistency is still lacking after their 16-game winning streak, losing one-goal games to the Rangers and Predators, and also getting shut out by the Canucks. Like Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook in the past, Jones and Werenski are a duo that fantasy owners would love to have.

Duds of the Week:

Ivan Provorov, Flyers
– The Flyers rookie wasn’t so impressive this week even though he managed to notch an assist, finishing with a minus-5 rating as the Flyers end their three-game road trip through Western Canada with just one win. He continues to log big minutes for a rookie, averaging 21:44 this past week, but any contending team knows that when a rookie plays such a big role in their rookie season, they’re not usually a contender. Provorov has just two points in his past eight games and perhaps the fatigue is starting to set in.

Drew Doughty, Kings – The Kings really need wins to stay in the playoff race, but instead they’ve lost five of their last six games, including a 5-3 loss to the bottom-of-the-barrel Coyotes and a 1-0 loss to crosstown rival Anaheim. They’ve been shut out in three of those losses, and Doughty has registered just one assist. The Kings have run hot and cold all season, and now’s really not the time to get cold.

Justin Faulk, Hurricanes – Will he get moved at the deadline? It’s clear that Carolina’s blue line is very talented, and they have a few more prospects coming through the pipeline that could make Faulk expendable, and he’ll certainly fetch something nice for Ron Francis. He scored a goal against Dallas but Carolina has lost four straight, and over his past four games has a minus-6 rating. Normally a top-notch offensive defenseman, his production has been disappointing all season.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Sharks - Vlasic’s having a forgettable season, and with a minus-5 rating this month, he now has an even rating for the season. It should be noted that he has finished with a negative rating just once in his career, and his numbers have dipped across the board. He has a respectable 20 points in 55 games after scoring 39 points in 67 games last year, and his ice time has dropped to 21:34 per game, his lowest in three seasons.

Jack Johnson and David Savard, Blue Jackets – To be fair, they often get tougher matchups, but while Jones and Werenski were excellent this past week, Johnson and Savard combined for a minus-10 rating. Johnson continues to create chances on offense and Savard is an underrated shot blocker, but it’s clear that not everyone on the Columbus blue line is playing at the same level, which may be a contributing factor as to why they’ve been so inconsistent since their historic winning streak.

Recommended Pickup:

Johnny Boychuk, Islanders
– With six assists in just 10 games in February, Boychuk is already having the most productive month of the season. He scored just seven points in his previous 22 games, and finished with plus-3 ratings in wins against the Rangers and Avalanche. Doug Weight has really turned the team around and Boychuk’s ice time has also increased, playing a season-high 25:33 against New Jersey. He’s not a scorer by any means, but he’s certainly a valuable top-four defenseman that can contribute in other categories. Klefbom (see above) may also be worth picking up as well.

The Big Board:

^ = stock rising
˅ = stock dropping

1 Brent Burns, SJS 27* 37 22 30 242* 54 104 24:54
2 Erik Karlsson, OTT 9 42* 3 18 143 49 151 26:54
3 Victor Hedman, TBL 10 38 2 35 113 61 94 24:20
4 Dustin Byfuglien, WPG 9 29 -2 84 187 151 100 27:26*
5 Shea Weber, MTL˅ 13 19 12 34 137 104 123 25:28
6 Rasmus Ristolainen, BUF ^ 4 32 -4 25 138 154 136 26:58
7 Kevin Shattenkirk, STL ^ 11 31 -9 37 112 68 68 19:56
8 Duncan Keith, CHI 5 36 10 14 135 21 75 25:54
9 Zach Werenski, CBJ ^ 9 27 16 14 145 33 66 21:15
10 Dougie Hamilton, CGY 8 26 -2 46 166 61 76 19:37
11 Ryan Suter, MIN 8 25 35* 22 114 63 77 27:15
12 Torey Krug, BOS 5 32 -10 31 162 42 49 22:06
13 Drew Doughty, LAK˅ 8 24 9 34 128 94 53 27:15
14 Matt Niskanen, WSH 4 28 20 26 113 105 75 22:38
15 Ryan McDonagh, NYR 3 30 14 31 106 56 120 24:20
16 Kris Letang, PIT ^ 5 28 0 32 120 69 69 25:26
17 Cam Fowler, ANA 11 19 2 18 135 23 97 24:49
18 Oliver Ekman-Larsson, ARI ^ 10 23 -21 38 105 85 63 24:17
19 John Klingberg, DAL 8 24 -4 28 94 32 85 23:35
20 Dion Phaneuf, OTT ^ 9 16 -6 72 122 98 105 23:01

Just missed the cut:

Justin Schultz, PIT (concussion)
Jeff Petry, MTL
Roman Josi, NSH
Alex Pietrangelo, STL
Colton Parayko, STL
Mark Giordano, CGY