This is the fourth of a multi-part series looking at the most valuable players at each position this year from the Western Conference (part one looked at right wings here, part two was left wings here, and part three was centermen, here). Just as a refresher, we are using the Fantasy Hockey Geek ranking tool to get a ranking that combines all of a player’s stats for the searched categories. For the purposes of this series, the ranks are based on a 12 team, head-to-head league, using the categories of goals, assists, power play points, shots, hits and blocks for forwards/defensemen and wins, saves, save percentage and goals against average for goalies. Player eligibility for this series is based on Yahoo, and any draft ranks are based on average draft positions compiled from Yahoo, ESPN and CBS by FantasyPros.
This week, defensemen.
3. Dustin Byfuglien (28)
Dustin Byfuglien ranks 28th overall and is our third ranked defensemen in the West. This really isn’t that much of a surprise as he consistently shoots and hits at a high rate, all the while putting up points. This year he finished the season with 45 points (8 goals and 37 assists), 193 shots, 147 hits and 22 power play points in 69 games.
While his point pace remains just about the same as his previous two years, a significant portion of his other numbers are trending in the wrong direction. This is not great news, but not entirely unexpected for Byfuglien’s 33 years. His shots per game (2.8 in 2017-18) and hits per game (2.13 in 2017-18), while still excellent, have been declining slightly for three years straight. His power play time on ice, his percentage of his team’s power play, and his personal shooting percentage have been declining consistently for the last four years. His IPP (the percentage of the time he gets a point went when a goal is scored when he is on the ice) is down for the fifth consecutive year. The biggest positive this year was a pretty significant step forward in power play points, which is pretty consistent with earlier posts about Winnipeg's top players. Even with these declines though, he still remains our third ranked defensemen. If Byfuglien can hang on to that top spot on the power play, and that power play can keep on clicking, he may just be hang on to some of the elite numbers we have been used to seeing from him. Otherwise we may be in for a (hopefully slow) decline in fantasy relevance as Byfuglien ages.
2. Drew Doughty (26)
Drew Doughty takes second in our ranking and 26th overall. He did it this year with a career high of 60 points (10 goals, 50 assists) and added to that with 205 shots, 127 hits, 128 blocks and 21 power play points.
Doughty had a bit of a contradictory season this year. His shot totals were this highest of his last three years, but his goal total the lowest. His total ice time has been decreasing for the last four years, but in addition to the highest recent shot count, he also had his highest block count in the last three years. We might assume that he benefited from Anze Kopitar’s recent high of 28 points on the power play, as both were featured on the top unit, but his power play minutes and total points are right in line with his career average. In fact, the Kings scored only three more goals this year on the power play than last year. All in all, it was a great fantasy year for Doughty, and he has a large enough history at this point that these slight inconsistencies will likely even out for him for next year.
1. Brent Burns (6)
In what is likely the second or third consecutive year (if we were to score other seasons with these categories), Brent Burns reigns as our top defensemen. As we can tell from his rank, 6th overall, it was not particularly close. Burns finished the year with 67 points (12 goals, 55 assists) and added an incredible 332 shots and 27 power play points. Oh, and he is also 33.
Statistically speaking, Burns is over the hill and should be declining. His point numbers did in fact drop a bit this year (from two seasons of 76 and 75), but he remains one of just two players to manage at least 65 points and 320 shots over the age of 30 in the last five years. He and Alex Ovechkin have each done it for the last consecutive three years. No one else has even done it once. And Burns is a defenseman. For reference, the next closest comparable seasons from a defensemen were Dustin Byfuglien (2015-16, age 30 season) with 247 shots and 54 points or perhaps Duncan Keith (2013-14, also age 30 season) with 61 points and 198 shots. There just aren’t good comparables. Burns is in a league of his own. Even if we remove the age filter, there is only one other defensemen who has a season that tops 60 points and 250 shots, Erik Karlsson. He has done it twice in his age 23 and 24 seasons, but still falls short of Burns’ shot counts (292 and 257). Burns is certainly getting older, which means he will slow down eventually, but I will believe it when I see it.
Bubble Players (just missed a top ranking)
P.K. Subban (29), and Roman Josi (32) just missed the top this year. I suppose that is not surprising as they likely eat into each other’s overall value. Subban (82 games) finished with 59 points (16 goals and 43 assists), 207 shots, 111 hits and 25 power play points. His relatively low blocks (90) are a big reason why he missed a top spot this year. Josi (75 games) ended with 53 points (14 goals, and 39 assists), 253 shots, 120 blocks and 20 power play points. Similar to Subban, he missed out on a top spot likely because of one comparably low category, hits (80).
John Klingberg (45) had an excellent scoring season with 67 points, 23 power play points and 204 shots. His low hit (44) and block (109) numbers really limit his value in this category set up though. For the second consecutive year, Mark Giordano’s (70) scoring did not exceed .48 points per game. The higher point per game paces (.68-.77) from 2013 through 2016 are seeming to be a thing of the past. Solid shots (214) and blocks (161) do provide some additional value for owners.
With an average draft position of 259, Alex Edler (47) certainly surprised this year. His point numbers rose to 34 this year, with a five year high of 15 power play points, but the real value came with his hit (157) and block (203) numbers. Also worthy of mention is undrafted Matt Dumba (55). Dumba was able to take advantage of injuries on Minnesota and saw career highs in goals (14), assists (36), points (50), shots (176), hits (136) and blocks (112). He also tied a career high in power play points (12). A significant reason for all of these increases was his career high time on ice of 23:49, which was up about three and half minutes from last year.
Thanks for reading. Next week: goalies.
Recent Wild West Columns
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- Looking Ahead: October 11 through October 23
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- Saturday's NHL Picks: October 12, 2019