It’s an (almost) all-defense edition of the Ramblings today! So if you don’t like defensemen, check back tomorrow, when I might write something about players at other positions.
Eugene Melnyk is hardly the most well-liked individual in the hockey world. Don’t tell that to Thomas Chabot, though. The Senators signed the blueliner to an eight-year contract extension worth $64 million. This extension will kick in starting in 2020-21, as Chabot is set to earn $863,333 for one more season. That’s a lot of bread for a defenseman who has played only 134 career NHL games (assuming Melnyk has the financial means to pay it). However, salaries are trending toward paying for future performance rather than past performance, which at least one former NHLer isn’t happy with.
NHL contracts today just blow my mind…. I remember when you actually had to earn high salaries, now they are just given and hope they work out! Crazy.
— Jeremy Roenick (@Jeremy_Roenick) September 19, 2019
Even with the massive salary jump that keeper salary cap owners will have to swallow next season, Chabot’s game is made for fantasy. Chabot was third on the Sens in scoring (first among players on the roster at the end of the season) with 55 points (14g-41a) in 70 games. With almost no short-term competition for power-play minutes (Erik Brannstrom notwithstanding), Chabot has a golden opportunity to match that output again this season and going forward with what are likely to be huge minutes.
Something to be aware of with Chabot, though: He scored 38 points over his first 38 games through late December, while he scored just 17 points in 32 games after that. The losses of Matt Duchene and Mark Stone likely would have had an effect, as would a shoulder injury that he suffered in late December that forced him to miss eight games. Whatever it was, Chabot went from scoring a power-play point every three games before the injury to a power-play point every eight games after the injury. The plus-minus also went from plus-2 to minus-14 over those two spans.
Expectations will be high for Chabot, but the lack of scoring on the rebuilding Senators’ roster could limit what he is capable of producing, at least this season.
The Sabres have announced that Brandon Montour will miss the rest of the preseason with a hand injury. This injury puts Montour’s availability for the start of the regular season in doubt, which could have a number of minor fantasy implications.
The Sabres might appear to be stacked on the blueline, but keep in mind that they have all of Lawrence Pilut, Matt Hunwick, and Zach Bogosian sidelined. Obviously there will be a logjam once everyone returns, but anyone who has followed an NHL roster for awhile knows that you can never seem to have enough NHL-level defensemen.
Rasmus Ristolainen has been rumored to be on the trade block all summer (hey, you wanna go to Winnipeg?) but I would have to think that those plans get put on hold.
Montour’s injury could also mean that Henri Jokiharju moves up the lineup, as he is a natural right-shot defenseman who had been used on the left side earlier in camp. Jokiharju was thought to have lost value when he was traded to Buffalo (Fantasy Take here), but a Montour injury could help his value in the short term, possibly even with a pairing with Rasmus Dahlin.
Artemi Panarin left Thursday’s preseason game with a groin strain. There might not be such as thing as a minor groin strain, but the Rangers are calling it precautionary. Just something to keep an eye on.
Below I have organized some defense groups (tiers?) I will be piggybacking off new Geek of the Week author Ben Burnett’s idea of tiers from his first article. So I appreciate him getting me thinking about these, although I’m going to expand on his initial thoughts. Even more so that the goalie groups I ran last week, a defenseman in a higher group won’t always be drafted ahead of a defenseman in a lower group, as ranges sometimes overlap. Differing team needs and scoring systems also affect values. Also because d-men are a much larger cohort than goalies, I won’t account for every fantasy relevant blueliner here.
Group 1 – Elite – Brent Burns, Victor Hedman, John Carlson, Erik Karlsson, although I personally prefer going a bit lower on Karlsson because of the injury risk, but many others are looking at the upside in grouping him here. Given ADPs on these players, you will probably need to choose one of these options in the first three rounds of a 12-team draft (by pick 36). Assuming all stay healthy, they should be capable of scoring double-digit goals along with 50+ assists and 25 power-play points. Drafting one of these blueliners should allow you to focus on players at other positions for your first half-dozen picks.
Group 2 – Would be elite, but – Roman Josi, Kris Letang, Morgan Rielly, Mark Giordano – These are d-men that could be elite and may even be elite in some pre-draft rankings. However, there is a question mark or two on many of these blueliners that could be related to injuries (Letang), age (Giordano), or that you simply need to see one more elite-level season (Rielly). However, they’re only one season away from joining the elite group. A top-50 pick will be needed for most, so feel free to grab any of these guys if they’re still around after pick 50.
Note: I originally included Dustin Byfuglien in this category, but with his recent news I’d only recommend drafting him where you would normally pick your later-round (replacement-level) options. In terms of what to do about Byfuglien, there’s a good thread on the Forum about that very topic. Just remember if you’re a Big Buff owner and feeling down about his future prospects, you are not alone. It’s good to see that many Byfuglien owners are still confident about their teams heading into the season.
Group 3 – Reliable options – Keith Yandle, Torey Krug, Alex Pietrangelo, John Klingberg – These options aren’t necessarily better than the two groups above them, but they’ve all remained relatively consistent over the past few seasons. With the exception of Klingberg, all of these players’ 2018-19 point totals differed by no more than seven points from 2017-18. All of these players should be available after pick 50, but they should be gone by pick 100.
Group 4 – Low floor, high ceiling – P.K. Subban, Shayne Gostisbehere, Seth Jones, Erik Gustafsson, Shea Weber – This is a mixed bag of defensemen who could max out at Group 2 (Subban) or who could find themselves healthy scratched at some point (Gostisbehere). Regardless, perceptions and ADPs of these blueliners tend to be all over the map, where some owners will feel like they can’t draft them high enough, while others will want to completely avoid them. In the case of Weber, he might even be more of a Group 3 option if not for the injuries.
No change expected atop the Leafs no. 1 PP unit this season. Tyson Barrie says Morgan Reilly will continue to run PP1, and he’ll take over for Jake Gardiner on the point of PP2.
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) September 16, 2019
Late addition to this group from Group 2: Tyson Barrie. You may have heard by now that the Leafs plan to run a 4F-1D PP1 with Rielly on the point. It’s great for the Leafs that they would have an option like Barrie for the second-unit power play, but it’s obviously not great for Barrie’s fantasy owners.
Group 5 – Good d-man, not-so-good team – The newly signed Chabot, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Drew Doughty, Matt Dumba – These players’ values will be lower in plus/minus leagues, particularly for someone like Chabot, who will log all the important minutes. In plus/minus leagues, you’ll need to offset these blueliners with others who play for stronger teams. Of course, there are always surprise teams, and these blueliners could exceed expectations should their teams exceed their preseason expectations. Oh, I nearly forgot to mention that these are all undisputed PP1 options on their teams. Just before or after pick 100 seems to be the right place to draft these d-men.
Group 6 – Rookies and sophomores – Rasmus Dahlin, Miro Heiskanen, Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar – Everyone wants to draft the player that will become the Calder Trophy winner, or grab a player that is about to hit a major breakout. Someone will always reach for one of these blueliners based on upside alone. Personally, I probably wouldn’t draft any of these blueliners until after pick 100, but don’t be surprised if one or more of these names is gone by then. If your draft is well past pick 100 and other owners are autopicking/asleep at the wheel, don’t hesitate here.
Darkhorse Calder Trophy candidate: Sami Niku, who should benefit if Byfuglien retires or is out of the lineup for a considerable period of time.
Group 7 – Great value – Dougie Hamilton, Rasmus Ristolainen, Darnell Nurse, Jacob Trouba, Charlie McAvoy, Zach Werenski, Shea Theodore – These are names that you should definitely save for later (after pick 100). The first three names (Hamilton, Ristolainen, Nurse) have sneaky good value in roto leagues for their ability to contribute in multiple categories, even if they’re not considered top-pairing blueliners. The others should provide minor breakout potential. This group could also be expanded to the various other blueliners who should be capable of around 40 points, which I’ve often considered a benchmark for owning a defenseman on a 4 D roster in a 12-team league.
Another note: After prewriting this a few days before posting, I’ll also include Josh Morrissey in this group. Morrissey has a Yahoo ADP of 162.8. Although he is already owned in two-thirds of Yahoo leagues, he’s looking at potentially 25+ minutes and first-unit power-play time in Byfuglien’s absence.
For more fantasy hockey information, or to reach out to me directly, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.