Welcome back to the Defenseman portion of Assume the Position. We’ll be taking a look at D-men that can help you, primarily in deeper leagues. Sneaky free agent pickups and buy low candidates that you should be targeting in trades.
The first thing I’d like to look at is the coaching change in Pittsburgh and how it might affect the defense corps. Now, usually, I think it’s pretty lame to blame the coach for a poor start. Firing the coach is usually a desperation move with the intent more to wake up a team than anything. Did you know, for instance, that Mike Johnston (the dude that just got canned) leaves the team with an overall record of 58-37-15? And that Dan Bylsma, the coach they fired before him, had an even better record at 51-24-7? Let’s put that in perspective, shall we. Imagine you’re a car salesman and you’ve won Salesman of the Month, let’s say, six months in a row. But that seventh and eighth month, you’re just above quota. Above, mind you, not below. You have set the bar so high that that is now grounds for firing your ass. Sorry, better luck next time.
So, from the above, you might suppose that I disagree with the firing, or firings in general, or that maybe I have a telekenetic thing with fires, like Drew Barrymore in that movie she did after E.T. Not so. I can’t believe it took them this long. I’ve been saying for months now (to myself, unfortunately, but what the hey) that if you’ve got a team with Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, and Hornqvist in your top 6 and they are not scoring, then YES, IT IS THE FRIGGIN’ COACHES FAULT. Why on Earth would you play a tight defensive game when your team has two of the best offensive centers in the league?? It’s as if Johnston spent the summer watching reruns of the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals and had the bright idea that Crosby and the defensive trap would become the best combo since peanut butter and chocolate. No. Just, no. If you’ve got a special player – OR TWO – you let them play their game. You build your team around their strengths. Period. Exhibit A (both good and bad) is the Edmonton Oilers. In fact, here is there entire franchise story in a nutshell: run’n’gun offensive team stole the 80s, won 4 cups, added another in 1990 for posterity. Team lost all of it’s offense and still tried to play fast and furious, but discovered that all they were was fast. Now, finally, after repeatedly trying to win that way with the entirely mismatched personnel, they have the talent to play all out offense again. 7-5, over the Rangers? I’ll take it. And so will every other hockey fan who pays their hard earned money for some good old fashioned entertainment. The defensive-minded Panthers of ’96 went to the finals – beating the Lemieux and Jagr led Penguins to get there, by the way – with Scott Mellanby and Rob Niedermayer as their big one-two punch. The Crosby and Malkin led Penguins, by contrast – win or lose – should be putting on a show for the fans each and every night. So, blame the coach? In this case, absolutely.
Second thing: I’d like to propose a name change (that my 4-and-half-year old actually came up with). I mean, why stop with the coaching change? You want to shake things up, let’s go a little further. My son calls them, quite accurately I might add, the Pittsburgh “Triangles”. As in, “Daddy, why is there a penguin on the Triangles picture? That’s so silly”. He’s got a few more radical ideas up his sleeve, too. But I digress.
We started this talking about the Pittsburgh blue line. In addition to the coaching change, Kris Letang, who plays the point on a very dangerous power play unit, is taking his annual two-week injury leave. There are a few potential pickups here, so let’s try and narrow the odds a bit.
Olli Maatta – The 21-year old is proving to be a good two way defenseman, which means he is getting a lot of playing time, averaging over twenty minutes in the last five games, compared to roughly sixteen minutes prior to that stretch. He’s got four points in the past six games, and has gotten power play minues in the last couple. He’s your best bet here. People are starting to notice him, so he might be gone in deep leagues already, but if he’s a free agent in yours, grab him now.
Brian Dumoulin – Like Maata, Dumoulin is getting 20+ minutes per game, a small but steady dose of PP time — and he’s got 5 points in his last seven games. No goals though, whereas Maata has four. It’s only a one game sample, but worth noting is that with the new coach in place, Dumoulin skated 26:11 to Maata’s 19:11. While Maata is being picked up everywhere, Dumoulin is virtually un-owned. Huh? Sneaky pickup alert here.
David Warsofsky – Warsofsky is a small, mobile, puck moving defenseman. He’s gotten the opportunity to quarterback the power play, but his size will limit his overall ice time. That, and the fact that he’s got a big zero in points in six games, while averaging over two minutes of PP time, means that he’s still worth a flyer, but needs to produce fast if he’s going to stick around with the big league club.
Trevor Daley – Hey wait, what? Yeah, Daley’s on the Triangles now, traded from the Blackhawks. And no wonder with a 0-6-6 line in 29 games, after 16-22-38 in Dallas last year, in only 68 games. Who knows what they have in mind for him, but if he gets an opportunity on the PP while Letang is out, he could come up big.
Let’s take a look at who else around the league is getting an opportunity for more overall and PP ice time:
Oilers PP quarterback Oscar Klefbom is out for at least four games with a fractured finger. The Oil are on a roll, with a six game win streak. Justin Schultz will get the most time on the man advantage, with Andres Sekera a close second. Schultz has a pedigree that’s hard to ignore, but he has disappointed so many times now, he just makes it so hard to believe in him again. With 2 points in his last four and rumors of him being trade bait, Schultz is strangely the upside pick here. I’d take a chance on him but I wouldn’t expect much (but secretly I would!). Sekera’s value shouldn’t change much, but he did score the OT winner against the Bruins, so the ice time uptick has had an effect already.
In Tampa Bay, we have an interesting situation. Interesting doesn’t cover it if we’re talking Stamkos, Coach Cooper, and GM Steve Yzerman – but that’s a rant for another time. What I want to point out is that in the muck and mire that is the Lightning’s season thus far, in which nearly every player is underperforming, there is an opportunity for a diamond in the rough pickup: Anton Stralman. He is actually getting more PP time than Victor Hedman (3:16 to 2:21 over the past ten games). Their point totals are the same during that time, but here’s the kicker. Hedman is essentially 100% owned, while Stralman is about half that. Sure, go ahead and check while I wait. Got him? Good. The other way to look at this is that Hedman is a great buy low candidate right now. Unless you believe that Tampa won’t come out of their offensive slump, which is looking like a very real possibility. More on that next week.
Offensively gifted David Rundblad has somehow failed to crack the NHL as more than a part-timer. Now in his fifth year, the Blackhawks have taken a very patient road with him and it may be about to finally pay off. After playing only five games earlier this season, Rundblad has drawn into the past four. Not only that but he has averaged 2:37 PP minutes in those games, with two assists to show for it. Given the Blackhawks depth, he may not set the world on fire right away, but with the pressure off, he’ll have the chance to develop and perhaps become a bit of a specialist (his overall ice time is only around thirteen minutes over that four game stretch). Dynasty owners, take note and add him if you’ve got room. The rest of youse, he can still help with PPP, but don’t expect great peripherals. And, Hmmm. Do you think the fact that they shipped Daley off to Pittsburgh just might mean more playing time for Rundblad?
Another D-man surrounded by top talent is the LA Kings Alec Martinez. He’s been getting a slight uptick in PP time lately. Don’t expect miracles here, but with three points in his last four games, you’ve got to take notice. The best thing about him is that his peripherals are strong. He consistently blocks shots and hits, and lately has been shooting a ton as well. He’s a great choice to fill your last defenseman slot if you’ve got someone who’s not pulling their weight.
Dougie Hamilton of the Flames is finally getting his offensive game in gear. Despite a forgettable first quarter of the season, this is still the guy that the Bruins drafted 9th overall only a few years ago, and who last year had 42 points in 72 games. He’s got pretty high ownership but see if he’s been dropped in your league or his owner is willing to trade him at a discount. Offensive prowess aside, his name is Dougie, and who doesn’t want a Dougie on their roster?
If you need a streamer or just someone to fill your last D-spot, look no further than veteran Dan Boyle of the Rangers. Sure, he’s nearing the end of his illustrious career. But lately, he’s been getting more ice time and it seems to be making a difference, with four points in his last three games. Dynasty leaguers: you can safely ignore.
This is purely a deep league spec add for now, but Ryan Murray of the Blue Jackets is seeing a slight increase in PP minutes, and has scored a couple of points in his last four games while also adding a steady dose of blocked shots. Injuries have hurt his career trajectory so far, but the former 2nd overall pick still has the opportunity to carve out a bigger role in Columbus.
Zach Bogosian is not going to usurp Rasmus Ristolainen as the PP quarterback, but he is now getting some time on the man advantage. He can be a frustrating player to own, but is worth is worth a speculative add if you’re in a deep league.
As always, thanks for reading. Hit me with your comments and questions below!