There are many ways to approach your team in the days leading up to the NHL trade deadline. You could:
A. Sit glued to your tv/website/app of choice and follow along in real time, with diabolical plans to snatch up every little nugget of value off the waiver wire as marginal players shuffle from good to bad situations.
B. Make a flurry of speculative pickups, “just in case”.
C. Go see Star Wars again.
D. Ignore the deadline entirely and look at how you can improve your team NOW.
In order of your chances of improving your team, I’d rank the choices in this order: D, A, C, B.
Will using The Force actually make your team better than picking up Justin Schultz would? Well, no. Not exactly. But it will stop you from making blind spec pickups and dropping guys who might actually be helping you already in some way. In either case, I’m going with “D”, which by the way is the subject of this week’s column. Here’s all the “D” you can handle – if you want to improve your team NOW instead of waiting for the fallout of all the deadline deals – all neatly sorted into three categories: Scoring help, Keepers only, and Peripheral Vision (which help in those “other” stats).
- Tyson Barrie, Avalanche – All right, we knew the guy could score, but lately he’s been kind of special and is a great candidate to help you in the final push for that playoff spot. He gets a ton of PP time and actually scores goals (10 on the season so far), but won’t contribute to many secondary categories beyond SOG, and for precisely that reason, you may be able to land him in a trade without having to overpay for the scoring.
- Sami Vatanen, Ducks – Vatanen’s a repeat on this list, but something is in the air in Anaheim right now. The Ducks have turned it around after a horrendous start to the season, and Vatanen leads the charge on a potent PP.
- Hampus Lindholm, Ducks – It’s easy to forget that he’s only 22, because he’s been around for a few years already. Offensively speaking, he’s in the shadow of Vatanen, but is capable of being every bit as productive and lately has been on a tear. He’s a sneaky-good pickup right now because he’s an all-around type who quietly helps you in several categories, and you can count on him for around 30 points each year.
- Colton Parayko, Blues – First, let me say this: Rookie defenseman shouldn’t be counted on. There. I said it. But this season, you can throw that one out with the bathwater. Or the baby, however that old saying goes. The only thing holding back this kid back is opportunity. Early in the season he set the world on fire and somebody in your league picked him up. Then he fell back to Earth and maybe that someone dropped him. Right now, he’s on a roll, while not coincidentally making up for the ice time that injured Alex Pietrangelo normally gets. Pietrangelo will be back soon, but (spec grab alert!) if Kevin Shattenkirk is traded as has long been rumoured, then suddenly you can count on the Kid to produce in his place. But, buyer beware, it’s situation dependant. If Shattenkirk doesn’t get moved, you might be waiting til next year to see his true potential.
- Matthew Dumba, Wild – He’s a prime keeper target, but just may help you enough down the stretch as well. He has really established his presence on the power play lately, and should keep producing as long as he retains the role.
- Michael Stone, Coyotes – There’s a good chance that Stone is still hanging around your waiver wire, and if so, grab him now. He’s on the first team power play and has been very productive of late. His peripherals are great too, as he contributes in Hits, Blocked Shots, and PIMs.
- Morgan Rielly, Maple Leafs – I wish I could add Rielly to the list above, since he certainly is getting the opportunity to make an impact offensively. Problem is, he’s been far too inconsistent and will be a big drain on your plus-minus. Rielly has shown flashes of elite potential, so don’t snooze on this guy. He’s only 21, and next year could be his coming out party.
- Mike Reilly, Wild – You say Rielly, I say Reilly. To avoid any confusion, let’s just call him “this guy”. So, This Guy has played a whopping 12 games in the NHL. And in those 12 games, he’s carved out a role on the second PP unit. And with that opportunity, he’s got 3 points in his last 4 games. I wouldn’t count on any consistency this year, but stranger things have happened.
- Kevin Connauton, Coyotes – This is digging a little deep as a bit of a spec play for this year as well. A little over a month ago, Connauton was waived by the Blue Jackets, as part of the fallout of the Seth Jones trade. Recently, his minutes jumped – mostly due to a short-term injury to Oliver Ekman-Larsson. But it looks like he may continue to get the added responsibility, which comes with some PP time. He’s got a booming shot and has been shooting a ton, which has led to 4 points in his last 3 games. He’s a bit older than most on this list, but don’t count him out.
- Cam Fowler, Ducks – Not exactly an unknown commodity, Fowler can help you in the scoring department, but has been incredibly inconsistent so far this year.
- Noah Hanifin, Hurricanes – The rookie is starting to step up his game a bit, as the ‘Canes become contenders for a playoff spot. Hanifin is a borderline worthwhile pickup for this year, too, but keep an eye on his PP time as Justin Faulk reclaims his role now that he’s back from injury.
- Dmitry Orlov, Capitals – With very little PP time, Orlov has been quite productive on the scoresheet. He’s easy to overlook because the scoring comes and goes, but his side-stats are quite consistent. He won’t set the world on fire until he gets greater opportunity, but he’s certainly showing that he’s capable.
- John Moore, Devils – Moore was a highly touted offensive player when he was drafted in 2009. He’s gotten some decent PP time lately, and with a Devils team that is very thin on offensive defensemen, he just may be about to deliver on that promise.
- Kevin Bieksa, Simon Despres, Ducks – Yeah, basically, just go to your waiver wire and pick up any Ducks defensemen. Here’s the rundown: Bieksa does a little bit of everything, so he’ll likely contribute something each game, you just don’t know what. Despres hits and blocks shots. And then hits some more. No wonder he’s been out with a concussion for most of the season, right?
- Brooks Orpik, Capitals – He’s back, folks. And don’t look now but he’s a scoring machine. You’ll be picking him up for his other stats though – consider the scoring a bonus.
- The Hit Parade: Radko Gudas, Flyers; Luke Schenn, Kings; Mark Borowiecki, Senators – If you need hits, look no further. I love having one of these guys on my roster. You can count on hits from these guys like you can count on shots from Ovechkin. Every now and then, I’ll add two or three of these type of elite hits guys (to which, I’d add forwards Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck, btw) and pretend my fantasy team is the Charleston Chiefs.
Good luck shoring up your D for your stretch run. Defense is a position that gets easily overlooked until a player is absolutely on fire – take advantage of that and scoop up the guys that can help you before they’re high profile. And watch your team’s stats improve while others are making low percentage spec plays on Justin Schultz and other would-be miracle moves of the trade deadline.