To put a wrap on Bubble Keeper Week, here's some defensemen in my keeper leagues that fit the category of bubble keepers. Previous levels of production and more defensive roles are common reasons that these defensemen are not currently must-owns. As I did yesterday, I'll describe the type of player so that you can transfer the knowledge to your own keeper decisions.
Shayne Gostisbehere (62% owned in Fantrax leagues)
Type of keeper: One-time points league keeper… but no longer
There is a fine line between being a fantasy stud and a healthy scratch when you're both a power-play specialist and a defensive liability. Gostisbehere has experienced both sides of it, as he has ridden the waves of both a 65-point season (2017-18) and a 23-point pace (2019-20). That massive decline in production has also been noticeable in the category that he is most known for – power-play points. Ghost tied for the league lead with 33 PPP in his 2017-18 career season, but he sunk to just 5 PPP in 2019-20.
It won't get any easier for Ghost in 2020-21. The Flyers added another power-play specialist this offseason in Erik Gustafsson, who has been used on the first unit in both Chicago and Calgary. Gostisbehere was a healthy scratch numerous times in 2019-20, so he had been bumped off the first-unit power-play by top-pairing d-man Ivan Provorov. Ghost could still end up on the second power-play unit, but his 5-on-5 play could dictate how often he is in the lineup.
Gostisbehere has fallen out of must-keep territory because of his declining returns over the last two seasons, as well as the unpredictability of the healthy scratches. That's unfortunate, especially if you've paid a significant price to obtain him. A trade from Philadelphia would probably help his value, but his contract (three more years at $4.5 million per) makes it extremely difficult for the Flyers to do. It's worth mentioning that the Flyers have reportedly been trying to shop him, as he might be better off with a fresh start somewhere else.
Justin Faulk (52% owned in Fantrax leagues)
Type of keeper: One-time roto league keeper… but no longer
During his Carolina days, I often targeted Faulk in multicategory leagues because of his ability to pile up stats in multiple categories, including goals, assists, power-play points, shots, and hits (remember that season when he scored 12 power-play GOALS?) For that reason, Faulk has traditionally had much more value in roto leagues than in points-only leagues. Over the past few seasons and particularly with the move from Carolina to St. Louis, his value in both types of leagues has declined.
In his first season with the Blues, Faulk finished with a career-low 0.23 PTS/GP, which amounted to just 16 points in 69 games. Faulk also failed to finish with 200 shots for the first time in four seasons and with 100 hits for the first time in six seasons, and there was no guarantee he would have reached those numbers even over a full season. Worse yet, he was held to just three power-play points, which was a far cry from the double-digit power-play point totals that he could be penciled in for with the Hurricanes.
Faulk will no doubt be blamed for the seven-year, $45.5 million contract that he signed shortly after being traded to the Blues, particularly because it meant less cap room for Alex Pietrangelo when his contract expired. From a fantasy perspective, a bounce-back to some degree is entirely possible, but he could be settling into a more defensive role with the Blues. Torey Krug will essentially replace Pietrangelo on the first-unit power play, so Faulk's output in his second season with the Blues might not be much different from that of his first season.
Jared Spurgeon (79% owned in Fantrax leagues)
Type of keeper: Consistent overachiever
Bubble keeper week is meant for players like Spurgeon. He won't be at the top of your list of defensemen to keep, but he's a super safe high-floor, low-ceiling player who is easy to project. Even at age 31 (soon), the 5-9, 167 lb. blueliner fits the trend toward the smaller, strong puck-possession defenseman. In drafting him in the sixth round back in 2008, the Wild probably didn't envision him playing 10+ NHL seasons. For that reason, fantasy owners wouldn't have been tracking him as a prospect until he was well into his NHL career.
It took seven seasons, but Spurgeon was able to crack the 30-point mark in 2016-17. Since then he has averaged at least a half-point per game over each of his past four seasons. Over that span, Spurgeon has ranged between 32 and 43 points with an average of between 0.50 and 0.61 PTS/GP, averaging between 0.50 and 0.52 PTS/GP in three of those four seasons. The Wild rewarded Spurgeon for that consistency last offseason with a seven-year contract with a $7.575 million cap hit, the biggest cap hit in Wild history. That's not ideal in a salary cap league, but it shows that the Wild envision him as a major contributor for years to come.
With Ryan Suter and Matt Dumba already in tow, Spurgeon will likely stick on the second-unit power play for the foreseeable future. If a rumored Dumba trade takes place, Spurgeon is one player who could benefit, as the Wild haven't been shy about using a 3F-2D power play in the past. There isn't a huge gap between the first unit and the second unit in terms of minutes, and Spurgeon has been used on the first unit at times as well. So multicategory owners will be pleased to know that he has averaged double-digit power-play points in four of his last five seasons.
Overall, Spurgeon was a top-40 option in goals, points, and power-play points in 2019-20. He fits the category of a scoring defenseman who could fill out your roster that you won't have to think about much throughout the season.
Brady Skjei (64% owned in Fantrax leagues)
Type of keeper: New car shine worn off
Has Skjei regressed permanently after bursting onto the scene? In his 2016-17 rookie season, Skjei grabbed the attention of fantasy owners with 39 points (5g-34a) in 80 games, which was good for second in rookie scoring among defensemen. The Rangers weren't stockpiled with offensive-minded blueliners at the time, which gave Skjei an opportunity to walk right in and contribute.
Since that season, Skjei has averaged 25 points and between 125 and 150 shots to go with decreased power-play time. He was moved to Carolina at the 2020 trade deadline, where he hasn't fared a whole lot better. He chipped in just one assist in seven regular-season games, as well as two assists in eight postseason games. What's more, he was basically off the radar when it came to power-play time on his new team.
The good news for Skjei is that he's at least receiving good minutes for the Hurricanes. 20:50 during those last seven games of the regular season, and 21:26 during the postseason. Those are top-4 minutes, which is more than could be said about Jake Gardiner, another defenseman whose value seemed to fall with a trade to Carolina (discussed in this week's Eastern Edge). Because of the lack of power-play minutes and lack of offensive zone starts (46.9% on a strong puck possession team), he might not be worth it in most fantasy leagues.
Henri Jokiharju (66% owned in Fantrax leagues)
Type of keeper: Will need to wait a while
Jokiharju projects to be a top-4 defenseman for the Sabres, maybe even a top-pairing blueliner. He seems to be a good fit when paired with Rasmus Dahlin. The question is, will that translate to fantasy value for Jokiharju? Currently he is in that group between 66 and 90 in Dobber's Top 100 Keeper Defensemen, which includes the previously mentioned Gostisbehere and Skjei.
Jokiharju's ownership in keeper leagues likely took a major bump when he debuted with the Blackhawks in 2018-19, recording five assists over his first three games. After that, he hasn't scored at nearly that pace, recording a fairly low 0.2 PTS/GP. Still, it's easy to forget that he is only 21 years of age and already entering his third NHL season.
With the Sabres, Jokiharju won't receive the first-unit power-play minutes because of Dahlin. Yet with considerable icetime, he should be able to pick up some points along with blocked shots and perhaps hits. Based on his output over those two seasons, you may need to wait a few more seasons to see that point curve trend upward enough for him to be worthy of a spot in your starting lineup.
Look for the Top 100 Roto Rankings later today. Even without much hockey lately, there's been reason for me to add some new names to the list. Check back to find out who they will be. And feel free to leave feedback, which gives me something to talk about here!
We hope you enjoyed Bubble Keeper Week and that it helped you with your own keeper decisions.
For more fantasy hockey discussion, or to reach out to me, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding