Top 10 Keeper League Defensemen

by Jeff Angus on April 22, 2010
Andrei Markov

 

I have a few general rules when it comes to building a team in a fantasy hockey keeper league. One of the more important ones is to not build beyond a two or three year scope. You are not building a real NHL club, and too often fantasy hockey poolies place an emphasis on youth and prospects over proven veterans with gas still left in the tank. So using my general rule, take a look at your team(s). Can you realistically say you will have a shot at winning the league at some point within the next two or three seasons? If not, time to scrap the rebuild and start adding proven NHL talent.

 

Keeping my rule in mind, I compiled a list of my top ten keeper league defensemen to own (assuming standard keeper league rules and scoring categories). Using the two or three season scope, I had to balance proven production with young players on the verge of breaking out. I hope you enjoy!

 

1.  Mike Green – Washington Capitals

 

Age: 24

Contract: $5.25 million/season, signed through 2011-12

 

Quite simply, Green is the best pure offensive defenseman the NHL has seen since Paul Coffey. He is in a great situation in Washington, but I wouldn’t expect his production to drop off significantly if he was playing elsewhere. His skating, puck movement, and offensive instincts are all elite, and he is rapidly improving  his defensive zone play as well. He is far and away the most valuable fantasy defenseman, and the only question surrounding Green is – how high can he go? 80 points? 90? 100?

 

One year upside: 85 points

Three year upside: 90 points

 

2.  Drew Doughty – Los Angeles Kings

 

Age: 20

Contract: $3.475 million/season (including bonuses), signed through 2010-11

 

In only his second season in the NHL, Doughty has quickly emerged as one of the league’s best blue liners. He is the backbone of the surging Kings, playing heavy minutes in all key situations. His 59 points this season represent a massive 32-point increase from 2008-09. His 16 goals were second best in the league, trailing only Green (who finished the season with 19). Doughty is more multi-dimensional than Green, which means he will see more time on the penalty kill throughout his career. His offensive game has developed so quickly over the course of the past season, which makes his ultimate upside is tough to pinpoint. Could be become a 70 or 80-point guy?

 

 

One year upside: 65 points

Three year upside: 75 points

 

3. Dan Boyle – San Jose Sharks

 

Age: 33

Contract: $6.66 million/season, signed through 2013-14

 

Boyle is locked up long-term in a solid situation with San Jose. The Sharks have a great mix of veteran talent and budding prospects. Even if one of Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau leaves this summer (through trade or free agency, respectively), San Jose will still be one of the NHL’s top teams. Boyle has three or four elite seasons left in him – don’t be scared away by his age.

 

One year upside: 70 points

Three year upside: 70 points

 

4. Duncan Keith – Chicago Blackhawks

 

Age: 26

Contract: $5.54 million/season, signed through 2022-23

 

Duncan Keith had a breakout offensive season in 2009-10, as his point total jumped from 44 (in 2008-09) to 69. Usually when a defenseman experiences that kind of production increase, it is due to a significant bump in power play time. Keith, however, only saw 20 more seconds of ice with the man advantage in 2009-10 (2:48 per game) compared to 2008-09 (2:27 per game). He will never see the heavy power play minutes that players like Green and Boyle receive, due in large part to his elite defensive game. Chicago uses him in all situations, and they expect him to match up against the top opposition line every single night. I don’t see him hitting 69 points again, but he should settle in as a consistent 50-60 point defenseman with a stellar plus-minus rating every season for the foreseeable future.

 

One year upside: 65 points

Three year upside: 70 points

 

 

5. Shea Weber – Nashville Predators

 

Age: 24

Contract: $4.5 million/season, signed through 2010-11

 

Shea Weber possesses arguably the best point shot in the entire NHL. It is hard, heavy, and accurate. Over the past two seasons, he has scored 39 goals for Nashville. He has yet to break the 55-point mark, but if/when the Predators get some more offensive talent on their roster, expect Weber to do so (assuming he doesn’t injure any more of his teammates with his shot). His highest assist total in one season is 30, and with a more skilled lineup that number should be closer to 40. One slight reason for concern is the glut of young defensive talent in Nashville. Cody Franson, in particular, has shown the ability to be effective on the power play. And with Dan Hamhuis most likely leaving for greener pastures summer, Nashville will lean even more heavily on Weber and Ryan Suter in defensive situations next season.

 

One year upside: 55 points

Three year upside: 60 points

 

6. Andrei Markov – Montreal Canadiens

 

Age: 31

Contract: $5.75 million/season, signed through 2010-11

 

Few defensemen have been as productive as Markov over the past three seasons. He only played 45 games in 2009-10 due to an opening-night injury, but still put up 34 points (a 61 point pace). He had 64 points in 2008-09 and 58 in 2007-08. Expect him to be back around the 60 point mark next season. He is a joy to watch on the power play, as he makes great reads with his positioning and passes, and has a fantastic point shot as well.

 

One year upside: 65 points

Three year upside: 70 points

 

7. Keith Yandle – Phoenix Coyotes

 

Age: 23

Contract: $1.2 million/season, signed through 2010-11

 

Picking Keith Yandle over numerous proven, elite offensive defensemen may seem a bit nuts to you. For those of you that are regular readers of mine, this Yandle pick probably isn’t as big a surprise. Yandle finished the 2009-10 regular season with a very respectable 12 goals and 41 points. He saw 3:04 of ice time per game on the power play, and that number should rise to around four as early as next season.  He is a dynamic skater and really reads the play well, especially in the transition game, where the Coyotes thrive. Look for him to have a huge offensive breakout season in 2010-11.

 

One year upside: 55 points

Three year upside: 65 points

 

 

8. Tyler Myers – Buffalo Sabres

 

Age: 20

Contract: $1.3 million/season (including bonuses), signed through 2011-12

 

I was vehemently opposed to Vancouver drafting Myers back in 2008 – good thing I am not a scout! His development since being drafted by the Sabres has been quite remarkable – in only one year he has gone from a top WHL defenseman to the most important skater on an NHL playoff club. Everyone knows him for his size and positional play, but it is his blossoming offensive instincts that have been the biggest surprise to me. Many young defensemen tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to the offensive zone, but not Myers. He loves taking the puck from end-to-end, and he is equally adept at jumping into the play to create odd-man situations. Like Keith, Buffalo leans on him heavily in defensive and match up situations, so his upside may be hindered a bit by the role he plays.

 

One year upside: 50 points

Three year upside: 55 points

 

9. Tomas Kaberle – Toronto Maple Leafs (for now)

 

Age: 32

Contract: $4.25 million/season, signed through 2010-11

Toronto trading Kaberle this summer is probably the worst-kept secret in hockey. His no-trade clause will temporarily cease to exist from the date of the Entry Draft until August 15th, due to the Leafs missing the playoffs again. Look for Toronto to move him, and there will be no shortage of teams interested in a top pairing defenseman making less than $5 million next season. Imagine Kaberle’s upside if he winds up in Vancouver or Pittsburgh? He could slide up this list a few spots by October; depending if/when he gets traded.

 

One year upside: 55 points

Three year upside: 65 points

 

 

10. Erik Karlsson – Ottawa Senators

 

Age: 20

Contract: $1.3 million/season (including bonuses), signed through 2011-12

It may seem foolish to pick Karlsson over proven veterans like Chris Pronger and Lubomir Visnovsky for the final spot on this list. Remember, however, that this list uses a three year scope. Karlsson is still very raw defensively, but he has already shown flashes of offensive brilliance in his limited time with the Senators. If Ottawa is willing to let him grow and learn from his mistakes (which they have shown they are up to this point), the sky is the limit. He can shoot, pass, and skate like Mike Green. He doesn’t play with Green’s edge, and doesn’t have his hands or awareness either, although the same could be said for every other NHL defenseman. Look for Karlsson to have a very solid sophomore season before exploding offensively in 2011-12.

 

One year upside: 40 points

Three year upside: 60 points

 

Bubble:

 

 

Lubomir Visnovsky – in a great situation with the Ducks, especially with Scott Niedermayer expected to retire. Visnovsky is injury-prone, but when healthy he will be a 50 or 60 point defenseman playing with the likes of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the top power play unit.

 

 

Chris Pronger – coming off a tremendous offensive season with the Flyers, but expect Pronger’s offensive numbers to decline a bit next season.

 

Zdeno Chara – his role is always changing with the Bruins, so it is tough to peg where he should be. I’d expect he returns to the 15 goal mark next season, though.

 

John Carlson – big time upside and in a great situation. Just needs some seasoning.

 

Erik Johnson – will be near the top of this list very shortly. The Blues need to surround him with better players.

 

Sergei Gonchar – how much gas is left in the tank?

 

Alex Goligoski – in a great situation with the Penguins, but I am always leery of drafting guys based mostly on the logo on the front of their sweater. Goligoski could very well be traded by the Penguins if they choose to re-sign  Gonchar.

 

Mark Streit – he can only do so much with the teammates he is forced to play with. His numbers sagged quite a bit in 2009-10.

 

Tobias Enstrom – it will be interesting to see how LAK (life after Kovalchuk) affects his production.