In recent years, targeting high-end defensemen early in drafts has become more commonplace. In a couple leagues I was fortunate to land Erik Karlsson, and it was helpful to being a competitive team. There is no single way to win a league, but the drop from the elite to solid to serviceable defensemen is steep.
To highlight the significant gaps in the tiers, here are all the defensemen that graded above 7.0 in ESPN's Player Rater. Obviously, the player rater isn't the gold standard, especially with the emphasis placed on ice time. However, it's a starting point and it doesn't have a human element swaying the ranks.
Some of the names certainly look a little out of whack, but the statistics and final ranks highlight the value of the best defenseman and how quickly they distance themselves from the pack. Having Brent Burns, Karlsson, Victor Hedman and Dustin Byfuglien was a significant advantage last season. The gaps they created from their peers was substaintial, and if you happened to land two of them, the distance you separated yourself from the pack was even greater.
It's also worth noting that after the top handful, the ranks really levelled off.
Again, the point isn't to overreact to individual names, but to build a game plan to ace your draft or auction this fall. Here are the two approaches I'll probably take with my blue line as of right now.
I'll look to grab an elite defenseman (Burns, Karlsson or Hedman) in the second round. However, depending on the room, there is a chance that none of those three will be available at the end of Round 2. If three defensemen have been selected in the first 20 picks, for example, then there will still be a high-end scorer or elite goaltender to pivot to.
There are enough high-floor options to turn to after the elite trio (my elite trio) that you can then wait it out to target two closer to the middle rounds, and you might land a true breakout (or in some cases a bounce-back) like Victor Hedman just returned. Potential candidates are Alex Pietrangelo, Dougie Hamilton, Oscar Klefbom, Jake Gardiner and Roman Josi. After checking back on two industry drafts I did this season, Hedman was a seventh-round selection in both. He was the 13th rearguard off the board in one league and the 14th in the other.
It's important to try and land a stalwart to carry your defense corps, and having two go-to contributors is probably better, but overvaluing the middle tiers is likely where you're going to waste draft capital. When looking back at season's end, passing on a solid No. 3 goalie or a winger capable of flirting with 30 goals to make sure you've got Nick Leddy probably wasn't the avenue to assembling a roster stocked with upside.
There are articles turning up all over the place discussing the layoffs at ESPN. The hockey team was cut significantly. I paid for their Insider content, although, I know it was solid. I'm not against paying for content, either. It's just a case where I try not to read or listen to others too much because I want to arrive at my own conclusions through my own research — both the eye test and through a stat check.
ESPN hasn't embraced fantasy sports enough, and most networks still don't. There are subtle hints and innuendos, and sometimes there are small segments or 30-minute specials, but overall, there isn't enough fantasy sport coverage. And what is covered isn't done by fantasy analysts in most cases.
It's better than it was, and it will become better than it is, but why/how the decision-makers haven't become more in tune with their audience is dumbfounding. We're talking 75 million people in North America playing fantasy sports.
After a solid freshman campaign, especially down the stretch, Nick Schmaltz will represent USA in the World Championships. He's likely solidified himself as a middle-line forward for Chicago going forward, but Jonathan Toews probably isn't a legitimate go-to scorer anymore, and Patrick Kane has established chemistry with Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov.
Schmaltz also registered just 66 shots through 61 games, so you're looking at a one-category contributor in all likelihood. It's worth noting that his 1.23 primary assists per 60 minutes at five-on-five ranked third in the league among all skaters with at least 500 minutes last year, though. So, there is definitely legitimate vision and skill. An uptick in shot volume will still be needed to make Schmaltz a set-and-forget fantasy option, though.
Mikhail Vorobyov signed an entry-level deal with Philadelphia on Thursday. The 20-year-old forward had an excellent showing in the World Junior Championships with 10 helpers in seven games. He will likely have a chance to crack the roster out of camp, but with an established core of forwards, seeing anything more than bottom-six minutes will be tough.
Here's a little bit more on Vorobyov, and some notes on German Rubtsov.
Steve Yzerman announced that Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan would be ready for the beginning of the 2017-18 season and will continue to rehab during the summer.
Callahan is definitely off the fantasy radar in most settings. He was limited to just 18 games last year and posted only 28 points through 73 contests in 2105-16. His foot speed is also a questionable fit with Tampa Bay's fast-paced attack.
Then there is Stamkos. After showing signs of decline for the better part of two seasons, he was off to a torrid start last fall before suffering the knee injury. He projects to slot right back into go-to offensive minutes with a key role on the No. 1 power-play unit. Considering the surrounding talent, the fantasy setting is almost perfect.
Many will be scared off by his health, and Stamkos has missed chunks of two seasons. However, in the other seven, he's dressed for nearly every game. His injuries have been on the fluky side, too. If there is a draft-day discount, his upside — especially in the goals and power-play points columns — is worth targeting.
It'll be interesting to see where Stamkos ranks and what his perceived value is leading into the season.
After missing the entire season, Mattias Janmark signed a contract extension with the Stars on Thursday. He proved to be a serviceable middle-line asset in his debut campaign two years ago, and Janmark especially showed well with his vision, positioning and decision-making. He's a nice complement to skilled players for these reasons. He'll need a larger offensive role to make much fantasy noise, but there is certainly potential. Being exempt from the expansion draft — according to Cap Friendly at least — also helps his case. Dallas should have enough pieces in place for a rebound season in 2017-18.
A couple notes from the Rangers-Senators.
At five-on-five, Ottawa had seven high-danger scoring chances to New York's four in the third period. However, the Sens generated just four HDSC through the first two periods. New York only generated nine all game. So, there wasn't a lot of offense at even strength.
From the opposition minutes, it doesn't appear that Guy Boucher played much of a matchup game with Erik Karlsson. The rearguard's minutes were pretty evenly deployed across the Rangers forwards, but the Mika Zibanejad–Pavel Buchnevich–Chris Kreider line avoided Karlsson for the most part.
Henrik Lundqvist was fantastic, again. He turned away 41 of 43 shots, and it was a tough-luck goal that beat him. Albeit, it was from a bad angle, and suggesting he should have still made the save probably isn't out of the question. We're going to have to do a deep dive into what to make of Lundqvist heading into next season.
What happened to the Rangers' offense? Expect a bounce-back showing from the Blueshirts in Game 2.
I was pretty confident that this series would come down to who won their team more games, Karlsson or Lundqvist. Advantage Karlsson.
On to Penguins-Capitals.
There was a hit by Alex Ovechkin with approximately 14 minutes remaining in the game that stood out to me. He hit a Penguins defender in the right-handed corner of Pittsburgh's defensive zone, and the defenseman saw him coming and rushed a pass to his partner to absorb the hit. The other defender didn't handle the pass, and a Washington forward collected it around the hash marks of the left-hand wall. Both teams were in the middle of a line change, so there was a 30-foot circle in front of the Pittsburgh net and slot area wide open. Ovechkin would have been in the clear, but throwing the hit caused him to be off balance and unable to take advantage. The threat of a potential bodycheck was enough to turn the puck over, so if he didn't actually go through with it, and instead circled to the wide open high-danger area, it would have been a point-blank opportunity with both time and space. Ovechkin's physicality is a huge weapon, but there's an art to picking your sports that he missed in this case.
Washington dominated the possession and high-danger scoring chances at five-on-five all game. In the third period, the Capitals posted an 80.77 Corsi For percentage and had the only four high-danger scoring chances.
Nate Schmidt's speed and ability to break the puck out of the Washington zone, both as a passer or receiver of a breakout pass has been a nice addition to the lineup. He currently has a 59.78 Corsi For percentage to lead all Washington blue liners at five-on-five.
Speaking of speed, Brooks Orpik didn't close the gap on the game-winning goal, and Braden Holtby wasn't quite big enough to turn away Nick Bonino.
Washington was also flat for two minutes to start the second period, and Mike Sullivan capitalizing on it by double-shifting Sidney Crosby was a significant turning point.
The margin of error will continue to be razor thin, and those split second decisions and momentary lapses are going to determine who advances in all likelihood.
Also, hats off to Marc-Andre Fleury and his .934 save percentage in the playoffs. Pittsburgh hasn't been a strong defensive club or possession team through six games, and Round 1 would have been a lot closer without him.
Conor Sheary was dropped from Sidney Crosby's flank at five-on-five in Game 1. Patric Hornqvist joined Crosby and Jake Guentzel, and the trio combined on those two quick goals to start the second period. It'll be interesting to see if the new combinations stick, but the potential of Guentzel becoming the mainstay next to Crosby — instead of Sheary — is a major fantasy development.
Enjoy the Western Conference games tonight, Dobberheads.