The most frustrating position in hockey is the defenseman. In fantasy hockey, an offensive defenseman is gold; however, they usually lack defensive prowess and thus their ice time suffers. The elite defensemen in the league usually do not succumb to such pressures.
This does affect defensemen that are power play specialists, in which their only ice time is with the man advantage. The defensemen position did lose a stalwart in the top ten when the Islanders’ Mark Streit hurt his shoulder in a scrimmage and is out indefinitely – and could cost him the 2010-2011 season.
Despite Streit’s absence, the top ten is still loaded with talent, including blue snipers in Washington’s Mike Green, Los Angeles’s Drew Doughty, and Chicago’s Duncan Keith. Rugged veterans like Philadelphia’s Chris Pronger, Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom, and San Jose’s Dan Boyle also make the list. The future of the defensive position is bright, with such risers as Atlanta’s Tobias Enstrom and Phoenix’s Keith Yandle. Look out for an influx of rookies this season as well, led by Carolina’s Jamie McBain, Montreal’s P.K. Subban, and Washington’s John Carlson.
# 1 – Mike Green, Capitals
• 2009-2010: 75 GP, 19 G, 57 A, 76 Pts (35 PPP)
• 3 year average: 75 GP, 23 G, 46 A, 68 Pts (32 PPP)
• 2010-2011 proj: 82 GP, 26 G, 52 A, 78 Pts (30 PPP)
It’s a good thing that defense is only reflected in one category in fantasy hockey – the +/- rating. Green’s defense has been a source of criticism and that was evident in the playoffs, as he managed just a +1 rating in the seven game series, compared to his +39 rating he had during the season. Green’s game is not defense, however, and he excelled in what is he known for – his offense. In 2009-2010, Green had another stellar offensive output, scoring 19 goals and tallying 57 assists to lead all defensemen in scoring. He was nominated for the Norris trophy for top defenseman in the NHL as well, but the award went to Chicago’s Duncan Keith.
In 2010-2011, look for Green to continue his offensive domination from the blue line as he plays with a potent forward crop in Washington, led by stars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Green does have his injury issues, however, as various ailments cost him 14 games early in 2008-2009 and dealt with a sore wrist throughout the later part of the season last year. Green continues to be a threat to reach 80 points from the blueline and is a perennial Norris trophy candidate.
• 2009-2010: 82 GP, 16 G, 43 A, 59 Pts (31 PPP)
• 2 year average: 82 GP, 11 G, 32 A, 43 Pts (23 PPP)
• 2010-2011 proj: 82 GP, 20 G, 45 A, 65 Pts (27 PPP)
In 2008-2009, Doughty showed potential of being a standout defenseman, scoring 27 points (6 goals, 21 assists) in 81 games and was on the all-NHL rookie team. In 2009-2010, Doughty kicked up the production to elite status, scoring 16 goals and 43 assists for 59 points, including 31 points on the power play. Doughty has cemented himself as one of the best rearguards in the game and was one of the finalist for the Norris trophy last season. The Kings have a lot of scorers up front and that should only help Doughty’s numbers.
In 2010-2011, Doughty should easily eclipse the 60-point mark and could threaten the 70-point mark in the upcoming season. He has a hard shot and good hockey sense from the blueline and uses his big slapshot to his advantage. He is on the top defensive unit alongside defensive stalwarts Rob Scuderi and newcomer Willie Mitchell. Doughty is a staple on the power play as well and sets up the likes of Anze Kopitar, Ryan Smyth, Dustin Brown, and Jarret Stoll.
# 3 – Dan Boyle, Sharks
• 2009-2010: 76 GP, 15 G, 43 A, 58 Pts (29 PPP)
• 3 year average: 63 GP, 12 G, 35 A, 47 Pts (25 PPP)
• 2010-2011 proj: 82 GP, 18 G, 44 A, 62 Pts (28 PPP)
Dan Boyle was acquired by the Sharks from Tampa Bay in the 2008-2009 offseason to be the offensive blueline producer and he delivered as advertised. In his first season with San Jose, he scored 57 points, notching 16 goals and 41 assists while playing alongside Rob Blake, who was playing his final NHL season. Last year, Boyle was joined by youngsters Jason Demers and Marc Eduoard Vlasic and continued to lead the Sharks in defensive scoring, notching 15 goals and 43 assists for 58 points in 76 games played. In the playoffs, Boyle tallied 14 points (2 goals, 12 assists) in 15 games for the Sharks.
Boyle will continue to be a force for the Sharks at the blueline in 2010-2011. He is on the top defensive unit and can set up Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, and Patrick Marleau. He will also help second-year man Demers with his game and make those around him better. He also logs a lot of power play time as the quarterback when the Sharks have the man advantage.
# 4 – Duncan Keith, Blackhawks
• 2009-2010: 82 GP, 14 G, 55 A, 69 Pts (16 PPP)
• 3 year average: 80 GP, 11 G, 37 A, 48 Pts (11 PPP)
• 2010-2011 proj: 82 GP, 17 G, 50 A, 67 Pts (18 PPP)
Duncan Keith made a name for himself early in his career as a shutdown defender alongside Brent Seabrook in Chicago. In 2009-2010, the offensive side of his game picked up as he scored 44 points (8 goals, 36 assists). The Blackhawks rewarded him with a 13-year, $72 million contract extension in December of 2009. He responded with his best season yet, scoring 69 points (14 goals, 55 assists) en route to being awarded the Norris trophy for top defenseman in the league, beating out the likes of Mike Green and Drew Doughty. He has taken over as the top defenseman in Chicago, sending former top rearguard Brian Campbell to second on the unit.
Keith has even more pressure on him in 2010-2011 to perform both offensively and defensively. Keith possesses a hard shot from the blueline and crisp passing instincts that led to his emergence atop the defensive rankings. He should log significant ice time on both even strength and the power play as well. He should threaten 80 points again in the coming season.
# 5 – Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings
• 2009-2010: 82 GP, 9 G, 40 A, 49 Pts (20 PPP)
• 3 year average: 79 GP, 12 G, 48 A, 59 Pts (29 PPP)
• 2010-2011 proj: 82 GP, 14 G, 51 A, 65 Pts (26 PPP)
Lidstrom had another quality season in 2009-2010, albeit in the quiet fashion. Lidstrom has been a stalwart on defense for so long in Detroit that he will likely retire as a Red Wing and enter the Hockey Hall of Fame on the first ballot when eligible. Despite being the ripe old hockey age of 40, Lidstrom is still going strong, but 2009-2010 was a season in which he may have slowed down slightly. I say slight, because he can still be considered a perennial Norris trophy candidate. His scoring was down last season, notching just 49 points (9 goals, 40 assists). It has been a steady decline in points since 2007-2008, however.
The season before last, he scored just 59 points (16 goals, 43 assists).
In 2010-2011, Lidstrom will still be looked upon to be the defensive leader for Detroit. The Red Wings are smart to pair him with young defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, who is highly regarded himself for his numbers in the minors. Lidstrom will still quarterback the power play in hopes to reignite an offense that struggled at times last season. Lidstrom still sees significant even strength time as well. He should reach the 50 point mark in the upcoming season.
# 6 – Zdeno Chara, Senators
• 2009-2010: 80 GP, 7 G, 37 A, 44 Pts (16 PPP)
• 3 year average: 79 GP, 14 G, 34 A, 50 Pts (18 PPP)
• 2010-2011: 77 GP, 15 G, 32 A, 47 Pts (22 PPP)
Since signing with Boston in the summer of 2006, Chara has continued to cement his spot atop the defensive rankings in the NHL. He eclipsed 50 points in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 and has sustained impressive +/- ratings, with +14, +23, and +19 in the last three seasons. Last year, Chara sacrificed goal scoring for assists, as he posted his best assist total with the Bruins. Chara’s contributions on the power play were down, however, as he posted just 16 points with the man advantage – down from 28 power play points in 2008-2009.
In 2010-2011, Chara will continue to anchor the blueline in Boston. He will be potentially skating with a new defensive partner, as the Bruins will look to either new acquisition Dennis Seidenberg or rookie Johnny Boychuk. Chara will continue to log serious power play and even strength minutes. He will also be a source for PIMs for pools that count those stats. Look for Chara to bounce back with his goal scoring, as he should approach 15-20 goals and 30-35 assists.
# 7 – Shea Weber, Predators
• 2009-2010: 78 GP, 16 G, 27 A, 43 Pts (20 PPP)
• 3 year average: 71 GP, 15 G, 24 A, 39 Pts (16 PPP)
• 2010-2011: 82 GP, 14 G, 35 A, 49 Pts (21 PPP)
Weber burst onto the scene in his first full NHL season in 2006-2007 with 40 points (17 goals, 23 assists) in 79 games for Nashville. Since that inception, he has established himself as a reliable scorer from the blueline. His career year thus far was in 2008-2009, when he set career highs in points (53), goals (23), and assists (30), with 19 points on the power play. Last season, Weber continued his stellar play, scoring 16 goals and tallying 27 assists for 43 points in 78 games – 20 points on the power play. Weber continues to be one of the best young defensemen in the league.
Weber enters 2010-2011 with more responsibility than ever before. In July, Weber was named the captain of the Predators after the departure of Jason Arnott, who was shipped back to the Devils. Weber should capitalize on this opportunity to increase his offensive output even more. With the emergence of right wing Patric Hornqvist and the signing of Matthew Lombardi in the offseason, the Predators are much improved and should provide Weber with more opportunity for helpers. Look for Weber to potentially reach the 60 point mark in the right situation. He is the power play quarterback and also gets key even strength minutes.
# 8 – Chris Pronger, Flyers
• 2009-2010: 82 GP, 10 G, 45 A, 55 Pts (26 PPP)
• 3 year average: 79 GP, 11 G, 38 A, 49 Pts (28 PPP)
• 2010-2011 proj: 82 GP, 14 G, 37 A, 51 Pts (25 PPP)
Pronger, who will turn 36 this weekend, continues to be one of the top defensemen in the league. In July of 2009, the Anaheim Ducks traded Pronger to the Flyers and Pronger promptly signed a seven-year contract extension that should establish Philadelphia as Pronger’s final team. Last season, Pronger was a leader in the clubhouse and on the ice for the Eastern Conference champions. He dazzled the score sheet with 55 points (10 goals, 45 assists) while playing in all 82 games. In the playoffs, he contributed 18 points (4 goals, 14 assists) in 23 games. He contributed 26 points (5 goals, 21 assists) on the power play while logging a +22 rating.
After the playoffs, Pronger had arthroscopic knee surgery and his availability for the beginning of the season is in doubt. Recent reports say that Pronger should be ready and in the lineup with the Flyers suit up against the Penguins on Thursday night. When on the ice, Pronger will get plenty of ice time on even strength and the power play. He should be paired with Matt Carle or Braydon Coburn on defense. Pronger should score 45-55 points and have decent PIM numbers.
# 9 – Dion Phaneuf, Maple Leafs
• 2009-2010: 81 GP, 12 G, 20 A, 32 Pts (16 PPP)
• 3 year average: 81 GP, 13 G, 33 A, 46 Pts (23 PPP)
• 2010-2011 proj: 82 GP, 16 G, 31 A, 45 Pts (22 PPP)
The 2009-2010 campaign was one of transition for Dion Phaneuf. After being with the Flames since breaking into the league in 2005-2006, Phaneuf was traded on January 31 to Toronto with Fredrik Sjostrom and Keith Aulie for center Matt Stajan, defenseman Ian White, and wingers Niklas Hagman and Jamal Mayers. With Calgary, Phaneuf seemed to struggle to find his scoring touch, as he registered just 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 55 games before the trade. When he arrived in Toronto, the scoring seemed to still escape him, as it took 25 games for him to score his first goal as a Maple Leaf. Phaneuf, however, is counted on for his leadership and his scoring should pick up as the Leafs forwards mature.
In 2010-2011, Phaneuf should anchor the power play and help set up Phil Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin, and Tyler Bozak. Some have questioned his defensive ability in the past, but Toronto coach Ron Wilson cited Phaneuf as having a positive influence on the ice and in the locker room. Look for a bounce back season from Phaneuf as he can approach his usual numbers north of the 50 point mark.
# 10 – Andrei Markov, Canadiens
• 2009-2010: 45 GP, 6 G, 28 A, 34 Pts (16 PPP)
• 3 year average: 68 GP, 11 G, 41 A, 52 Pts (29 PPP)
• 2010-2011 proj: 65 GP, 17 G, 30 A, 47 Pts (24 PPP)
Markov, usually durable and dependable, had his first injury riddled season in 2009-2010, playing in just 45 games for the Canadiens after his ankle was lacerated by goaltender Carey Price’s skate in the first game of the season. He made his season debut in December – a full two months ahead of schedule – and reignited a slumping Canadiens offense. He scored two goals in that first game and began his season with points in his first eight games.
He finished December with 11 points in the month (3 goals, 8 assists) and also had a great March, with 12 points (2 goals, 10 assists) in 14 games. In the playoffs, Markov managed just eight games, as he suffered a leg injury in the first game of the second round against Pittsburgh.
The hit in the playoffs, a knee-to-knee collision with Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke, continues to linger for Markov. He suffered ligament damage and had surgery in May with a look to late November for a return. He will probably start the season on injured reserve, but he did practice with the team on Tuesday. When healthy, Markov will be looked upon to continue his offensive prowess from the blueline as he gets top four defensive minutes and precious power play time. Markov is the anchor on the Montreal defense and is a noticeable hole when he’s not in the lineup.
• Erik Johnson, Blues (’09 – ’10: 79 GP, 10 G, 29 A, 39 Pts) – Johnson returned to the Blues lineup in 2009-2010 after missing the 2008-2009 season with two torn ligaments in his knee as the result of a golf cart accident in September 2008. Johnson came back and re-established his value to the St. Louis blue line and scored a career high 10 goals and 39 points. Johnson should threaten the 50-point mark as he assumes the power-play quarterback responsibilities. Prediction: 82 GP, 12 G, 33 A, 45 Pts.
• Keith Yandle, Coyotes (’09 – ’10: 82 GP, 12 G, 29 A, 41 Pts) – Yandle has slowly overtaken veteran greybeard Ed Jovanovski for the top defenseman on the Coyotes. Yandle brings excellent offensive skills and a blistering shot from the blue line. Look for Yandle to improve his point production as it could inch toward the 60 point mark with significant minutes with the man advantage. Prediction: 82 GP, 17 G, 35 A, 52 Pts.
• Ed Jovanovski, Coyotes (’09 – ’10: 66 GP, 10 G, 24 A, 34 Pts) – Jovanovski is a shelf of his former “Jovo Cop” days with the Panthers and Canucks. He now is in a secondary defensive role with the Coyotes behind young budding star Keith Yandle. He began last season missing 10 games due to a lower body injury and he never really got a footing in 2009-2010. Look for about 40 points from the veteran, but not much more. Prediction: 67 GP, 8 G, 27 A, 35 Pts.
• Tom Poti, Capitals (’09 – ’10: 70 GP, 4 G, 20 a, 24 Pts) – Poti, formerly a sniper from the blueline during his early days in Edmonton and recently in New York, was signed to a four-year deal by the Washington Capitals in July of 2007. Poti was expected to take over the power play quarterbacking responsibilities, but a young defenseman by the name of Mike Green caught fire and staked his claim to the top spot in Washington. Poti has been reduced to a defensive shutdown type – good for the team, but void of value in fantasy pools. Poti could chip in some goals, but don’t expect too much. Prediction: 75 GP, 6 G, 23 A, 29 Pts.
• Sheldon Souray, formerly of the Oilers (’09 – ’10: 37 GP, 4 G, 9 A, 13 Pts) – Souray was definitely an example of a player cashing in on a career season in 2008-2009. In that year, he scored 26 goals and added 38 assists for 64 points in his final season with Montreal. That offseason, he signed a 5-year $27 million contract with Edmonton to assume the top of their defensive unit. Souray, however, is truly an offensive rearguard without a hint of defensive ability. Furthermore, he has dealt with injury after injury since his arrival in Edmonton, save for the 2008-2009 season, when he played 81 games and registered 53 points (23 goals, 30 assists). Souray is looking for a team, as he was waived by the Oilers and sent to the AHL. Prediction: 50 GP, 7 G, 22 A, 29 Pts.
SOPHOMORES – SHINE OR SLUMP?
• Michael Del Zotto, Rangers (’09 – ’10: 80 GP, 9 G, 28 a, 37 Pts) – in his first season with the Rangers, Del Zotto assumed top power play responsibilities and will look to improve upon an impressive rookie season. He did struggle defensively, however, and that could limit his ice time during even strength. Del Zotto, however, has a hard shot from the blueline and the Rangers will look for significant contributions from him in 2010-2011. Prediction: 82 GP, 14 G, 36 A, 50 Pts.
• Victor Hedman, Lightning (’09 – ’10: 74 GP, 4 G, 16 a, 20 Pts) – in his first season in the league, Hedman had a baptism by fire, so to speak. He came over from the Swedish Elite league with a lot of promise and the Lightning gave him every opportunity to exceed. At times he looked lost on the ice, but he did make some fair contributions. Tampa Bay will look for more out of the second overall pick in the 2009 draft. Prediction: 82 GP, 10 G, 27 A, 37 Pts.
• Tyler Myers, Sabres (’09 – ’10: 82 GP, 11 G, 37 a, 48 Pts) – Myers had an exceptional first year in Buffalo, leading rookie defensemen in scorer with 48 points (11 goals, 37 assists) and winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as the top rookie in the league for 2009-2010. Myers has established himself as the top defenseman in Buffalo and he will continue to be a source for goals and assists from the blueline on even strength and with the man advantage. It’s not out of the question for Myers to challenge the elites like Mike Green and Drew Doughty. Prediction: 82 GP, 15 G, 45 A, 60 Pts.
• John Carlson, Capitals (’09 – ’10: 48 GP, 4 G, 35 A, 39 Pts in AHL; 22 GP, 1 G, 5 A, 6 Pts in NHL) – Carlson spent time in both the AHL and the NHL last season, giving the Capitals an extended look at one of their top defensive prospects. Carlson is gifted offensively and his name was all over the score sheet at Hershey, scoring 39 points in just 48 games.
In the NHL, he impressed with defensive shutdown partner Karl Alzner. He was also one of the few Capitals that had a good series against Montreal, scoring four points (one goal, three assists) in the seven games. Carlson has been shipped back to the AHL to start the season, but he will be one of the first players recalled should injuries hit the blueline in Washington. Prediction: 55 GP, 7 G, 22 A, 29 Pts.
• Jamie McBain, Hurricanes (’09 – ’10: 68 GP, 7 G, 33 A, 40 Pts in AHL; 14 GP, 3 G, 7 A, 10 Pts in NHL) – McBain is Carolina’s top offensive rearguard and he showed his scoring touch at Albany with 40 points (7 goals, 33 assists) in 68 AHL games. He was called up for a brief stay late last season and impressed, registering 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) in 14 games. McBain will be groomed slowly to take over for fellow defensemen Joe Corvo and Joni Pitkanen on the top power play unit. Prediction: 60 GP, 8 G, 20 A, 28 Pts.
• P.K. Subban, Canadiens (’09 – ’10: 77 GP, 18 G, 35 A, 53 Pts in AHL; 2 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 Pts in NHL) – Subban had a monster year last year with the Hamilton Bulldogs, scoring 53 points (18 goals, 35 assists) in 77 games. He was called up late in the year by Montreal and scored in both of the games he played, registering two assists. Subban was an integral cog in the Canadiens’ defensive unit in the playoffs, posting 8 points (1 goal, 7 assists) in 14 games. Montreal plans to use Subban as one of its top four defensemen, but he will have to work on his defense. Expect a lot of points from the blueline from this young star. Prediction: 82 GP, 12 G, 40 A, 52 Pts.