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On the 'D'-fence: Boyle's production slowing down?

Tuesday, 12.06.2011 / 12:10 PM / Fantasy Hockey Draft Rankings, Advice and Analysis

By Brian Metzer - NHL.com Correspondent

Every Tuesday 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 expert all season long.

Dan Boyle has been one of the premiere offensive defensemen in the National Hockey League for a while now, and that offensive prowess again made him one of the first defensemen to go in fantasy drafts this season. We here at NHL.com thought so highly of Boyle that he was ranked fifth in our preseason rankings and has managed to stay in the top 10 through last week based largely on that potential and reputation.

TOP 60 FANTASY DEFENSEMEN

These modified re-rankings are based on expectations of the season going forward (including injuries). The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings from last week. (NR means not ranked in previous rankings.)
Boyle forged that reputation by posting 306 points (77 goals, 229 assists) in 427 games over the previous six seasons. He has had only one season of less than 50 points since the League's work stoppage, and that largely was due to his missing all but 37 games in 2007-08, yet he still managed to put up 25 points. His 0.72 points per game over that span is an average most forwards would relish and it is reason enough to be patient with the early struggles for the 35-year-old. However, there are plenty of red flags that should have his owners feeling a bit antsy.

Boyle has just 1 goal and 9 assists through the Sharks' first 23 games this season. His average points per game have dipped to 0.43, the lowest since he posted 0.39 per game in the 2001-02 season. Another warning sign is that his shots per game are up from his post lockout total of 2.39 to 3.04 this season, but with far less positive results, an indicator of low-percentage opportunities.

Though his numbers seemingly are trending down, they alone wouldn't be enough to make one worry about his impact the rest of the way; he is playing on a great team with a group of dynamic forwards and still is getting the lion's share of power-play time. In fact, of his 10 points, 60 percent have come with the extra man, which would be a career high, passing the 59 percent he posted with the extra man in 2006-07.

The concern comes from Boyle's own assessment of the League and his play as of late. He isn't one to beat around the bush and always has been one of his own harshest critics.

"The game's changed," Boyle recently told David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News. "Everybody's playing the same way -- the neutral zone is pretty much eliminated, which is where I get a lot of my offense. Everybody just fires long bombs, chipping it in. It's just a little bit more frustrating for me.

"The opportunities aren't there like they used to be. Just working on it, just trying to be better."

Though we aren't giving up on Boyle just yet, as he is this week's 15th-rated defenseman, it may be time for fantasy owners to seek a trade partner who is willing to deal for the potential of a second-half breakout. On the other hand, even 0.43 points per game can be beneficial to a fantasy team; it is just a little harder to rationalize when it is coming in the form of your second- or third-round pick.

TRENDING UPWARD

Ryan Suter -- Yes, he is owned in 100 percent of leagues, but being in the shadow Shea Weber might have some forgetting about him. Suter has posted 8 points (2 goals, 6 assists) and 28 shots on goal in his last nine games, giving him 17 points (5 goals, 12 assists) on the season to go with a hearty plus-12, and can benefit teams in all formats. If you have a couple of excess forwards, why not swing a deal to bring the other stud blueliner from Nashville into the fold?

Adam Larsson -- Don't look now, but the fourth pick of the 2011 Entry Draft is living up to the hype in New Jersey. Larsson recently saw a five-game point-scoring streak ended but still has 6 points in his last eight games. He looks to be feeling a lot more comfortable offensively, is joining the rush on a regular basis and gets some time with the extra man. If you are in need of some depth scoring on the blue line, don't be shy about grabbing him.

Kevin Bieksa -- Bieksa was a bit of an early season bust for fantasy owners as he posted just 6 points through the Canucks' first 21 games this season. More recently, though, he has matched his season total during a five-game point-scoring streak, and now is on pace for 38 points which would be his best total since he had 43 points in 2008-09.

TRENDING DOWNWARD

Alex Pietrangelo -- Pietrangelo is having himself a nice season, though it isn't translating to the fantasy realm just yet. He is sharing time with Kevin Shattenkirk on the power play and the Blues have been rolling since coach Ken Hitchcock took over last month, but he has just 3 points in his last twelve games -- far less than many fantasy owners were expecting. He definitely is a stud in dynasty/keeper formats, but there may be better options available in standard 10-team leagues.

Grant Clitsome -- Clitsome is holding on to the final spot in our rankings this week mainly based on our will to have him succeed. He was a preseason sleeper here and still has some potential to help fantasy teams, but the presence of James Wisniewski seemingly has nullified his opportunity to make a huge impact. He has zero points in his last eight games and a minus-9 rating for the season. The time to cut bait with Clitsome is close.

Aaron Rome -- We took some heat for including Rome in last week's rankings, as he had been a healthy scratch for a couple of games. Though his role in the Canucks' lineup made him attractive, especially when you consider the fact that he filled in for Sami Salo just this past week, he has zero points in his last five games and his 3-point performance back Nov. 13 is just a memory. He is the lone player to fall out of our rankings this week.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Paul Martin -- The Penguins' blue line is decimated with injuries right now and Martin has used that as an opportunity to fill in for Kris Letang. He is playing upwards of 29 minutes a night, is quarterbacking the power play and has picked up 5 points in his last six games. This production could be short-lived, but it deserves to be recognized until the Pens get healthier.

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RANK TEAM PLAYER
1. Sidney crosby
2. Steven Stamkos
3. Corey Perry
4. Alex Ovechkin
5. Evgeni Malkin

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