Thin Blue Line: 2013-14 projections
While the countdown to playoff hockey is on, this lockout-influenced, quick-and-dirty version of what usual passes for an NHL regular season is quickly drawing to a close. With just a few days of fantasy-relevant play remaining, we're ready to look forward. So here's a preliminary whiff of what to expect for 2013-14 -- ahead of all the moving and shaking the upcoming offseason inevitably has in store.
In the meantime, congrats to all of the champions of 2012-13 and good luck to those participating in ESPN.com's Playoff Hockey Challenge.
Top of the list
1. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators : The lightning-quick recovery from a mostly severed Achilles tendon only adds to his charm. Before the devastating encounter with Penguins forward Matt Cooke, Karlsson was off to a dominant start -- proving last season's Norris Trophy-winning campaign was no fluke. And now, three months ahead of schedule, he's (reportedly) all better. So why expect anything less than (almost) a point per game, loads of shots, gobs of ice time and a pretty plus-minus from Karlsson in 2013-14? We don't. And that's why he's top banana.
2. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins: The only prominent defenseman to average more than a point per game this season, Letang would be the runaway scoring leader if it wasn't for injury. As it stands, the Penguins top D-man trails P.K. Subban by two points despite playing seven fewer games. One of the best puck-moving D-men in the biz, Letang's fantasy stock is further bolstered by playing with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Jarome Iginla (if he sticks around), Brenden Morrow (ditto) and Chris Kunitz, among others.
3. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens: That unpleasant contract standoff now seems like ancient history. Since agreeing to a two-year, $5.75 million deal with the Canadiens, Subban has only been about the business of putting up serious numbers -- piling up 38 points in his past 41 contests. And many have the 23-year-old Subban -- who is Andrei Markov's power-play partner -- as top contender for the Norris Trophy.
4. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild: After a slightly sluggish start, Suter quickly adapted to his new digs, away from former blue-line partner Shea Weber. Leading all NHL defensemen in time on ice (TOI) -- more than 27 minutes per game -- the 28-year-old notched 32 points in 46 contests. Only forwards Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu have been more productive this season for the Wild.
5. Dion Phaneuf, Toronto Maple Leafs: Respected for his leadership on and off the ice, Phaneuf is enjoying a glorious season as captain of the Maple Leafs. Averaging more than 25 minutes per game, Phaneuf has nine goals and 19 assists -- including 15 power-play points -- through 47 contests. And he'll finish the campaign with more than 60 PIM.
Top 75 Defensemen Note: Victoria Matiash's final top 75 defensemen rankings for the 2012-13 NHL season. Rankings based on ESPN standard league stats, include goals, assists, power-play points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.
1. Erik Karlsson, Ott (1)
2. Kris Letang, Pit (2)
3. P.K. Subban, Mon (11)
4. Ryan Suter, Min (7)
5. Dion Phaneuf, Tor (10)
6. Dustin Byfuglien, Win (4)
7. Shea Weber, Nsh (9)
8. Zdeno Chara, Bos (3)
9. Mike Green, Was (32)
10. Drew Doughty, LA (21)
11. Andrei Markov, Mon (23)
12. Niklas Kronwall, Det (19)
13. Duncan Keith, Chi (20)
14. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (18)
15. Alex Pietrangelo, StL (8)
16. Tobias Enstrom, Win (13)
17. Brian Campbell, Fla (5)
18. Kevin Shattenkirk, StL (24)
19. Sergei Gonchar, Ott (34)
20. Alex Goligoski, Dal (26)
21. Keith Yandle, Pho (15)
22. Dan Boyle, SJ (6)
23. Mark Streit, NYI (17)
24. John Carlson, Was (59)
25. James Wisniewski, Cls (27)
26. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Pho (40)
27. Alexander Edler, Van (16)
28. Jack Johnson, Cls (14)
29. Justin Schultz, Edm (30)
30. Jason Garrison, Van (41)
31. Joni Pitkanen, Car (31)
32. Matt Carle, TB (28)
33. Brent Burns, SJ (37)
34. Paul Martin, Pit (65)
35. Dennis Wideman, Cgy (29)
36. Christian Ehrhoff, Buf (22)
37. Justin Faulk, Car (53)
38. Brent Seabrook, Chi (42)
39. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (12)
40. Tyson Barrie, Col (off)
41. Jay Bouwmeester, StL (73)
42. Slava Voynov, LA (46)
43. Cody Franson, Tor (off)
44. Fedor Tyutin, Cls (off)
45. Lubomir Visnovsky, NYI (48)
46. Ryan Whitney, Edm (36)
47. Marek Zidlicky, NJ (38)
48. Jonas Brodin, Min (off)
49. Nick Leddy, Chi (52)
50. Roman Josi, Nsh (60)
51. Jared Spurgeon, Min (51)
52. Sheldon Souray, Ana (33)
53. Victor Hedman, TB (55)
54. Dan Hamhuis, Van (70)
55. Francois Beauchemin, Ana (off)
56. Jake Muzzin, LA (off)
57. T.J. Brodie, Cgy (off)
58. Dan Girardi, NYR (57)
59. Dmitry Kulikov, Fla (39)
60. Ryan McDonagh, NYR (67)
61. Cam Fowler, Ana (38)
62. Andrej Meszaros, Phi (61)
63. Patrick Wiercioch, Ott (49)
64. Mark Giordano, Cgy (25)
65. Raphael Diaz, Mon (off)
66. Sami Salo, TB (off)
67. Zach Bogosian, Win (off)
68. Dennis Seidenberg, Bos (54)
69. Kevin Bieksa, Van (49)
70. John-Michael Liles, Tor (45)
71. Brendan Smith, Det (43)
72. Jared Cowen, Ott (57)
73. Joe Corvo, Car (66)
74. Dougie Hamilton, Bos (71)
75. Tyler Myers, Buf (33)
6. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets: Big Buff is one full, healthy season away from earning top-three respect in this space. The shots leader among D-men, Byfuglien threatens to score every time he's one the ice -- especially when paired with regular partner Tobias Enstrom. At 28 years of age, the Minnesota native is thought to be at his performance peak right now. He just needs to stay fit.
Two steps forward
26. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix Coyotes: Ekman-Larsson took another significant step forward this season in establishing himself as a dynamic blue-line figure for many years to come. So much so that Keith Yandle was rumored to be available for trade ahead of the deadline (admittedly, only for a fairly rich return). Only 21 years old, Ekman-Larsson is in position to further build on this season's average of one point every two games (plus-6).
41. Jay Bouwmeester, St. Louis Blues: Bouwmeester was already enjoying a renaissance season of sorts with the Calgary Flames before he was traded to the Blues. Since then, the first-time playoff-bound veteran has been even more effective. As the projected top-pair partner to Alex Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester is facing a bright future under coach Ken Hitchcock. It's like 2008-09 in Florida all over again.
43. Cody Franson, Toronto Maple Leafs: For whatever reason (Ron Wilson's departure?), something clicked this season for Franson and the Maple Leafs. An effective presence on the top power-play unit, Franson -- and that wicked shot of his -- has been responsible for a fair amount of scoring (28 points to date) this season. Unless contract negotiations go sour -- he's a restricted free agent this summer -- this relationship should persist in fruitful fashion.
50. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators: As Shea Weber's new-fangled blue-line partner, Josi enjoyed a fairly successful first full NHL season with the Predators, collecting 18 points through 47 games. And like Ekman-Larsson, Josi is still just a kid; there's a ton of upside to this 22-year-old.
Three steps back
64. Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames : As anticipated, the offseason acquisition of Dennis Wideman marginalized Giordano to some degree in 2012-13. And the projected emergence of T.J. Brodie will only further relegate the 29-year-old to the fantasy sidelines. Make no mistake, Giordano is still a fine defenseman and key component of the Flames' roster. But he simply isn't the top 30 fantasy asset of days gone by.
75. Tyler Myers, Buffalo Sabres: Despite the talent and tools, Myers can't seem to keep it together consistently. And this season he hit rock-bottom (eight points, minus-8). Some pundits suggest he's mentally soft, while others propose he's the victim of a long string of bad luck. Whatever the case, Myers' breakout campaign in 2009-10 now seems long ago. Until the young blueliner rights his own ship in Buffalo, we're apprehensive about climbing aboard for the ride.
(NR) Travis Hamonic, New York Islanders : As long as both Mark Streit and Lubomir Visnovsky are members of the Islanders, Hamonic won't benefit from the finest opportunities to contribute. The dip in production this season -- 10 points in 47 games -- doesn't come as a shock.
16. Tobias Enstrom, Winnipeg Jets: Enstrom won't be sorry to see the caboose end of this compact campaign, particularly with the Jets finishing just outside of a playoff spot. Badgered by one injury after the other, the 28-year-old managed to compete in only 22 games. And he still cobbled together 15 points. A long, recuperative offseason and fresh start in the fall could go a long way to a very productive 2013-14. At his best, Enstrom is capable of flirting with the 60-point plateau during a regular 82-game season.
25. James Wisniewski, Columbus Blue Jackets: Missing out on the end of February and most of March with a busted foot, Wisniewski never had ample opportunity to put his stamp on this compact campaign. Too bad. On his best day, the 29-year-old will score a power-play goal (he has a great shot), earn himself a two-minute minor penalty (at least), log 24 minutes and sport a plus-1 (or better). Altogether, he has the makings of a more-than-adequate, well-rounded fantasy asset. And the fresh new winning atmosphere in Columbus -- brought on by new management, good goaltending, and fresh faces (i.e. Marian Gaborik) -- suggests that 2013-14 may be a prosperous season from start to finish.
(NR) Marc Staal, New York Rangers : If he completely recovers after taking a puck to the eye in March and regains normal vision, Staal will reclaim his prominent spot among the Rangers' top four -- where he's been productive in the past. But the 26-year-old blueliner isn't completely out of the woods just yet.
Looking for work
19. Sergei Gonchar, Ottawa Senators: This decision will be a biggie. If Gonchar and the Senators decide to freshen their relationship with a new deal, it's status quo for 2013-14. If not, Jared Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch become more prominent figures on the fantasy scene. Rumor has it that the Sens are willing to re-sign the 39-year-old for one year at substantially less than the $5.5 million he's currently earning. If Gonchar is offered a sweeter deal elsewhere, he may bolt.
23. Mark Streit, New York Islanders: We will be really surprised if the Islanders don't work out a new deal with their current captain.
46. Ryan Whitney, Edmonton Oilers: It has been a rollercoaster of a season for the 30-year-old veteran. Serving as anchor on the Oilers' top power-play unit one week, Whitney would then find himself in the press box as a healthy scratch the next. A new scene might serve him best. Just two seasons ago, Whitney amassed 27 points in 35 games before suffering a devastating ankle injury. He now appears totally healthy.
47. Marek Zidlicky, New Jersey Devils : Although Zidlicky wants to re-sign with the Devils, that may not be in the cards, considering the gaggle of up-and-coming defensemen in New Jersey. A lot may depend on how much of a pay-cut (from $4 million) he's willing to accept. Otherwise, there's no telling where the 36-year-old veteran might end up. But as long as he stays in the NHL, Zidlicky remains a fantasy factor.
73. Joe Corvo, Carolina Hurricanes: Whether he re-signs with the Hurricanes or hammers out a deal elsewhere, Corvo will remain a middle-of-the-road fantasy asset with the potential to put up better-than-average numbers in fits and spurts. His enduring presence on the power play and respectable résumé -- 300 points in 682 career regular-season games -- merits ongoing attention (to a point).
(NR) Ian White, Detroit Red Wings: Rendered nearly irrelevant in Detroit, White is likely looking for another gig this summer. Where he lands, and in what specific role, will dictate the 28-year-old's fantasy worth moving forward. But the ceiling is only so high. As in, not that high at all.
(NR) Marc-Andre Bergeron, Carolina Hurricanes: While some club will probably ink him to a one-year deal, Bergeron has sneaky value as a potent power-play specialist when at his best. (Until he sustains another injury, anyway.) If healthy -- and signed, obviously -- Bergeron is worth keeping in mind as a late, late, late selection in deeper leagues.
29. Justin Schultz, Edmonton Oilers: Despite all of the pressure that followed last summer's drama, Schultz flourished as expected this campaign. Maybe the lockout-induced warm-up in the AHL (with forwards Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent Hopkins) helped in that regard. In any case, the 22-year-old didn't disappoint by averaging a point every two games. An improvement on a team-worst minus-19 will come with time.
40. Tyson Barrie, Colorado Avalanche: Unless those running the show in Colorado make several significant changes to the squad's blue line this offseason, Barrie should play a significant role in 2013-14 -- particularly with the man-advantage (even if Erik Johnson re-discovers his productive touch). Don't be surprised if, given ample opportunity, Barrie nears the 40-point mark next season.
48. Jonas Brodin, Minnesota Wild: As Ryan Suter's regular blue-line partner, Brodin is garnering plenty of admirers among those who monitor the game for a living. Although a longshot for the Calder Trophy, this 19-year-old Swede has the potential to break out in 2013-14. Don't underestimate this kid, or his vital role with the Wild.
56. Jake Muzzin, Los Angeles Kings: While his production has recently fallen off, Muzzin proved to be a pleasant fantasy surprise in 2012-13 -- particularly in March. The Kings will want even more from the 24-year-old next season.
74. Dougie Hamilton, Boston Bruins: Look for Hamilton to build on what has been a very solid first campaign (16 points, plus-4 in 42 games) with the Bruins. The 19-year-old is probably another year or two away from putting up more flashy numbers, but he'll continue to plug away as a power-play regular.
2013-14 impact rookies
With Schultz and Hamilton serving as recent exceptions, it's usually difficult to predict how much fantasy impact a young defenseman will have in his rookie season. However, those youngsters worth monitoring for 2013-14 include Sami Vatanen of the Anaheim Ducks, Ryan Murphy of the Carolina Hurricanes, Danny DeKeyser of the Detroit Red Wings, Victor Bartley of the Nashville Predators, Eric Gelinas of the New Jersey Devils, Brandon Manning of the Philadelphia Flyers and Matt Tennyson of the San Jose Sharks.
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