Every Wednesday during the season, NHL.com Correspondent Brian Metzer will provide you with an in-depth analysis of fantasy defensemen in our weekly segment: "On the 'D'-fence." From updated defensemen rankings to guys you should keep a close eye on and much more, Metzer will be your fantasy D-man insider all season long.
It seems as if it were yesterday that we were releasing our preseason rankings, but the NHL season has already entertained us for close to five months. If that is hard to believe, it is even more so that the 2014 Sochi Olympics have already come and gone.
Four years of speculation, debate and analysis of each competing country has culminated in another gold medal for Canada, and while this tournament might not have been as high-scoring as the one that took place in Vancouver in 2010, defensemen played a huge role in the outcome.
Our top-ranked defenseman, Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators, tied for the tournament lead in scoring with eight points, leading Sweden to a silver medal. His four goals tied for second and he looked a lot like the player who won the Norris Trophy back in 2012.
This kind of performance with a national team can really springboard a player to even greater heights when he returns to the NHL, and we fully expect Karlsson to pile points onto his League-leading total of 55.
The talented Swede wasn't the only defenseman doing great things in Sochi.
Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings and Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators combined to score seven goals and 12 points for Canada as they provided an offensive punch in almost every game of the tournament.
Weber was putting up .68 points per game before the Olympic break and should continue to do so, but Doughty could see a spike from the .50 points per game that he was producing prior to leaving for the games. That has an even higher probability of happening if the Kings acquire some offensive reinforcements up front as has been speculated.
Finland was one of the best stories of the Olympics as it overcame a number of injuries to earn a bronze medal. Making that story even more special was the fact two young defensemen were at the forefront of making that medal a reality.
Olli Maatta, 19, of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Sami Vatanen, 22, of the Anaheim Ducks can't even combine ages to reach that of Finnish (and for Vatanen, Ducks) teammate Teemu Selanne, but they were a big reason why Selanne ended his international career with a medal.
Maatta, who has starred for the Penguins all season long, was the third-highest scoring defenseman in the tournament, notching three goals and two assists, while skating over 16 minutes per night. He will likely be pressed into an expanded role in Pittsburgh as teammates Paul Martin (broken hand) and Kris Letang (stroke) are each set to miss extended time down the stretch. He's already posted 23 points on the season and could see extended time on the power play, which makes him an attractive acquisition in fantasy leagues.
Vatanen put up five assists in the tournament and will be looking to parlay that experience into an expanded role back in Anaheim, where he's posted six goals and eight assists this season.
McDonagh might have logged only one goal and one assist in Sochi, but he was relied on heavily by U.S. coach Dan Bylsma. He seemed to thrive in whatever role he was cast in game-to-game and should come back with a bitter taste in his mouth from losing and a confidence that could spark him to a strong fantasy finish.
Mike Green, Washington Capitals -- Green has battled injuries throughout the season and missed time prior to the Olympic break with a concussion. The 28-year-old was cleared for contact and should be in the Capitals lineup when they take the ice Thursday night against the Florida Panthers. "I feel good. The break couldn't come at a better time," Green told Katie Carrera of the Washington Post. "It's just a matter of skating here, I didn't skate much before." He has 30 points on the season and should add to it as long as he can stay in the lineup.
Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning -- Hedman entered the Olympic break with five points in his final five games and is looking comfortable in all facets of his game. He has posted an impressive 11 goals to go with 26 assists, and is shooting the puck a lot. He will also have the benefit of sending passes in the direction of Steven Stamkos as soon as March 6 if the latter hits his goal of returning from a broken leg on that day.
Slava Voynov, Los Angeles Kings -- While teammate Drew Doughty seems to be heating up, Voynov had just two points over his final 10 games before the Olympic break. He was then part of a Russian team that struggled to score goals in Sochi and was eliminated during the quarterfinal round. Voynov is a player we might try to buy low on, specifically in keeper or dynasty leagues, but he isn't an automatic in single season leagues, though he does have 22 points on the season.
Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks -- Boyle is a very capable defenseman, but Father Time seems to be catching up to him a bit this season. The 37-year-old had just one point over his final 14 games before the Olympic break and there is no guarantee that will turn around down the stretch. While he still has fantasy value, we'd suggest shipping him out during your league's trade deadline.
KEEP AN EYE ON ...
Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota Wild -- We wrote about Spurgeon earlier in the season, but he has had to fight through some injuries that have knocked him off fantasy radars. He got back from a foot injury in time to play two games prior to the Olympic break and picked up three assists over that span. While it likely isn't fair to expect over a point per game from him, it is safe to assume he will log power play time and get a chance to play 20-plus minutes per night. He has notched one goal, 14 assists, five power-play points and 66 shots on goal this season. He has also maintained a plus-6 rating and fired 66 shots on goal, all while being owned in just three percent of Yahoo Fantasy Hockey leagues.
TOP 60 FANTASY DEFENSEMEN
These rankings are based on expectations of the season going forward. The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings -- NR means not ranked in previous rankings. They are based on a standard fantasy league with these offensive categories: G, A, plus/minus, PIMs, PPP, SOG.
1. Erik Karlsson, Senators (same)
2. Duncan Keith, Blackhawks (same)
3. Alex Pietrangelo, Blues (+1)
4. P.K. Subban, Canadiens (+1)
5. Shea Weber, Predators (-2)
6. Dustin Byfuglien, Jets (+1)
7. Keith Yandle, Coyotes (+1)
8. Ryan Suter, Wild (-2)
9. Kevin Shattenkirk, Blues (same)
10. Niklas Kronwall, Red Wings (+1)
11. Drew Doughty, Kings (+1)
12. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes (-2)
13. Brent Seabrook, Blackhawks (+1)
14. Zdeno Chara, Bruins (-1)
15. Jay Bouwmeester, Blues (same)
16. James Wisniewski, Blue Jackets (same)
17. Jason Garrison, Canucks (+1)
18. Ryan McDonagh, Rangers (+1)
19. Andrei Markov, Canadiens (+1)
20. Matt Niskanen, Penguins (+1)
21. Mike Green, Capitals (NR)*
22. Cody Franson, Maple Leafs (-5)
23. Brian Campbell, Panthers (-1)
24. John Carlson, Capitals (-1)
25. Cam Fowler, Ducks (+1)
26. Victor Hedman, Lightning (+2)
27. Dan Boyle, Sharks (-2)
28. Matt Carle, Lightning (-1)
29. Justin Schultz, Oilers (-5)
30. Torey Krug, Bruins (-1)
31. Andrej Sekera, Hurricanes (-1)
32. Andrew MacDonald, Islanders (same)
33. Mark Streit, Flyers (same)
34. Slava Voynov, Kings (-3)
35. Christian Ehrhoff, Sabres (+1)
36. Dion Phaneuf, Maple Leafs (-2)
37. Marek Zidlicky, Devils (-2)
38. Jacob Trouba, Jets (-1)
39. Mark Giordano, Flames (-1)
40. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Sharks (-1)
41. Tobias Enstrom, Jets (-1)
42. Jack Johnson, Blue Jackets (-1)
43. Alexander Edler, Canucks (-1)
44. Dennis Wideman, Flames (-1)
45. Lubomir Visnovsky, Islanders (-1)
46. Olli Maatta, Penguins (+3)
47. Roman Josi, Predators (-2)
48. Alex Goligoski, Stars (-1)
49. Francois Beauchemin, Ducks (-1)
50. Jake Muzzin, Kings (+1)
51. Erik Johnson, Avalanche (same)
52. Nick Leddy, Blackhawks (same)
53. Jason Demers, Sharks (same)
54. Justin Faulk, Hurricanes (same)
55. Hampus Lindholm, Ducks (+2)
56. Tom Gilbert, Panthers (same)
57. Tyson Barrie, Avalanche (+1)
58. Kimmo Timonen, Flyers (-3)
59. Sergei Gonchar, Stars (same)
60. Seth Jones, Predators (same)
* Appeared on injured list in previous rankings
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