Welcome to the second edition of Assume the Position. Today we’ll be looking at a few defensemen that can help you fill out your roster. There are only a few elite level defenders out there; after them, if you want to gain an advantage, you’re going to have to make some sneaky pickups along the way. In shallow leagues, you’re looking to ride the hot hand with your defensemen. Keep track of not only which players are getting the power play minutes, but of those players, who is actually producing at any given time and ride their momentum. In this type of league, most teams should be able to roster four D-men that contribute in several categories. And if you lose one to injury, your replacement will likely be a lesser version but still contribute. Going deeper, however…
Lose a D-man in a deep league and see what’s left on the waiver wire. The pickings are slim to none in a 16-20 team league.
Let’s just quickly do the math to understand exactly how thin the defense corps can get in a deep league. We’ll first assume that the active roster requirement is 4 d-men, which in a 20-team league means we are 80 players deep, BEFORE looking at bench players. Assume one on the bench and we’re at an even 100.
Now, on each NHL team, there is generally one d-man that fills the PP QB role. So for starters that’s roughly a 30 player pool that we can count on. Give or take a few, depending on their situation. Between first and second team PP units, most NHL teams will have at least one forward, possibly more, playing from the blue line – leaving three actual defensemen who have an opportunity to contribute offensively. So now add all 2nd unit blue-liners and our player pool is up to a whopping 60. Which means that on average, 1-2 D-men on your fantasy team have very little opportunity to contribute in goals or assists.
What strategies can we look at to overcome this inevitable deficit?
- Put a premium on D at the draft.
This may seem obvious, but it is so hard to implement. You’re in the 3rd round and the elite talent is gone; now you’re now staring at blue chip wingers across the board, and a handful of offensive defensemen – and you just can’t pull the trigger on the 40-50 point guy when you have visions of a point-per-game season from a forward on your sleeper list. And then, as the D pool depletes, it becomes a vicious circle when each round there is clearly better pure talent available at forward. Sound familiar? In the end, you might have one or two guys you trust. And 2-3 that you’ve taken a flyer on. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s the age old debate about position scarcity. Is it worth it to over-spend on D? Truly, that depends on how confident you are in finding diamonds in the rough throughout the season. If not, then hell yes, it’s worth it. Otherwise, you’ll be basically playing short-handed all season.
- Pounce early with trade offers for early season underachievers.
Personally, I’ve never found the results of this strategy to be worth all the time and effort it takes, but if you target the right guy at the right time, it can yield brilliant results. Before going down this road though, consider: If you are playing in a league with knowledgeable owners whom you respect, then the downside is that they are so rarely going to give up on the player and/or sell low – AND, you may lose their respect by making a ridiculous lowball offer. Your best bet is to target a good player on a team that has an all around lousy start that you think will improve. Anaheim, anyone? After a horrendous start to the season, they are finally starting to show some life. They have four good blue-liners worth looking at, but the one with the most upside is Vatanen. Note: window is closing fast on the following guys – as the season goes on, keep revising your own list.
Targets: Sami Vatanen, Aaron Ekblad, Oliver Ekman-Larsson
- Target peripheral categories
Who to target will depend on your league setup. If your league has Blocked Shots, PIMs or Hits as a category, it’s possible to get a good under-the-radar 3-category player. 2 categories is helpful, but if you can add to that a good +/- ratio, then you’re on to something good at very little cost. We’re talking about 5th or 6th d-men on some teams, and often the defensive minded one on a first pairing. You’ll hardly notice these guys in the box score, but you’ll sure notice them bolstering your secondary stats.
Targets (all with low ownership): Kevin Klein, Adam Larsson, Alec Martinez, Calvin de Haan, Radko Gudas (Hits special), Kris Russell (BS special)
- Injury replacements and minor league callups
Usually, these pickups are obvious. When a top PP guy is injured, find out who will be filling his spot and add him! But on defense, it’s never that simple. On D, be patient if you’re looking to stash a guy in a dynasty league – it’s rare that a callup will get a lot of ice time right away.
Targets: Shayne Gostisbehere (PP time already!), Darnell Nurse (more of a dynasty grab).
- Returning from injury
You’d be surprised at how often a good player is forgotten on the waiver wire. Guys like Keith and Shattenkirk are good trade targets when they’re injured, but we’re talking about under the radar guys here.
Targets: Zach Bogosian, Justin Schultz (both have disappointed multiple times, so they’re available on your waiver wire. You could do worse than taking a flyer on one of them as your fourth d-man).
- New Kids on the Block
Often overlooked are the rookie or sophomore skaters on rebuilding teams. Are they going to hurt your +/-? Probably? But this group is criminally under-owned right now. Here’s the thing: On a winning team, defensemen are brought in slowly. On a rebuilding team, they get to learn the hard way, by actually playing big minutes – many of them on the PP. If you’re in a deep league, do yourself a favour and add as many of these guys as you can.
Targets: Rasmus Ristolainen, Oscar Klefbom, Morgan Rielly (This trio has ARRIVED in a big way early in the season – but they are still under-owned in most leagues).
- Never left, just forgotten
Yes, sometimes there is a real case to be made for adding the forgotten veteran. Probably you’re better off going for upside, but when in doubt, these guys should give you solid but unspectatcular numbers. Also: don’t count on getting a full season out of them.
Targets: Dan Girardi, Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, Marek Zidlicky (not sexy, and might even feel icky adding them – but they can help!)
Next time, we’ll look at some strategies forward in deeper leagues. Until then, let me know how I’m doing by posting below. Is there anything in particular you’d like to see in future Assume the Position posts? ‘Til next week…