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.
Jim Morrison, front man of the classic band The Doors, once penned these haunting words:
"This is the end
This is the end
My only friend, the end"
They are very fitting for where we are today -- the end of the fantasy hockey season. While most leagues have already wrapped, others are going through their championship rounds and will end this weekend.
It seems as if it were just yesterday that we posted our preseason defensemen rankings, and now we are about to cross the finish line on another season. While some have won and some have lost, here's hoping these rankings helped you on a weekly basis as you encountered tough decisions on who to acquire, who to drop and who to ride for the duration of each scoring period.
It has been an exciting ride as we saw the Ottawa Senators' Erik Karlsson reclaim the throne atop of the defensive heap, the Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien put up career numbers while earning eligibility on the right wing in most formats and Victor Hedman far surpassed expectations in helping the Tampa Bay Lightning weather the loss of Steven Stamkos.
Nine of our preseason top 15 have managed to rank in the top 13 scorers at the position as of April 8, but there were also plenty of surprises at the position that will change the face of our rankings well into the future. While the structure of many blue lines around the NHL is sure to change over the summer, below is where we feel the position stands as the season concludes.
TOP 60 FANTASY DEFENSEMEN
- 1. Erik Karlsson, Senators
- 2. Dustin Byfuglien, Jets
- 3. Duncan Keith, Blackhawks
- 4. P.K. Subban, Canadiens
- 5. Shea Weber, Predators
- 6. Alex Pietrangelo, Blues
- 7. Kris Letang, Penguins
- 8. Keith Yandle, Coyotes
- 9. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes
- 10. Kevin Shattenkirk, Blues
- 11. Ryan Suter, Wild
- 12. Ryan McDonagh, Rangers
- 13. Drew Doughty, Kings
- 14. Victor Hedman, Lightning
- 15. James Wisniewski, Blue Jackets
- 16. Niklas Kronwall, Red Wings
- 17. Zdeno Chara, Bruins
- 18. Mark Giordano, Flames
- 19. Andrei Markov, Canadiens
- 20. Brent Seabrook, Blackhawks
- 21. Torey Krug, Bruins
- 22. Justin Schultz, Oilers
- 23. Cam Fowler, Ducks
- 24. Jason Garrison, Canucks
- 25. John Carlson, Capitals
- 26. Slava Voynov, Kings
- 27. Andrej Sekera, Hurricanes
- 28. Cody Franson, Maple Leafs
- 29. Jacob Trouba, Jets
- 30. Jay Bouwmeester, Blues
- 31. Matt Niskanen, Penguins
- 32. Alex Goligoski, Stars
- 33. Brian Campbell, Panthers
- 34. Matt Carle, Lightning
- 35. Paul Martin, Penguins
- 36. Marek Zidlicky, Devils
- 37. Mike Green, Capitals
- 38. Christian Ehrhoff, Sabres
- 39. Dennis Wideman, Flames
- 40. Dan Boyle, Sharks
- 41. Mark Streit, Flyers
- 42. Jake Gardiner, Maple Leafs
- 43. Jack Johnson, Blue Jackets
- 44. Dion Phaneuf, Maple Leafs
- 45. Tyson Barrie, Avalanche
- 46. Olli Maatta, Penguins
- 47. Erik Johnson, Avalanche
- 48. TJ Brodie, Flames
- 49. Roman Josi, Predators
- 50. Tobias Enstrom, Jets
- 51. Kimmo Timonen, Flyers
- 52. Alec Martinez, Kings
- 53. Alexander Edler, Canucks
- 54. Nick Leddy, Blackhawks
- 55. Jake Muzzin, Kings
- 56. Tyler Myers, Sabres
- 57. Justin Faulk, Hurricanes
- 58. Dougie Hamilton, Bruins
- 59. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Sharks
- 60. Hampus Lindholm, Ducks
A LOOK AT THE TOP
Who gets the honor of holding down the No. 1 ranking throughout the offseason? How about who's second and third? Let's have a look ...
If you follow this column weekly, you know Erik Karlsson is currently and will be our No. 1-ranked defenseman moving into next season. Karlsson proved to fantasy owners that he was fully recovered from an ugly ankle injury last season that held him out of all but 17 games. He broke the 70-point plateau for the second time in his career and led his position in points per game with a solid .91 that would make any forward jealous. He ranked second at the position in both goals and assists, added 28 power-play points and launched 247 shots on goal. Plus-minus was a bit of a disappointment, but it's worth dealing with it for the production he provides.
It was tough to choose our No. 2 man this time around, but it has to be Dustin Byfuglien heading into next season. Sure, he may have worked his way into Matt Cubeta's forward rankings by then, but as of today he is listed as a defenseman and did some fine work for owners. We ranked Byfuglien sixth entering the season, but his category coverage bolstered by a career-high 56 points, 20 goals and the fact he led his position in shots on goal with 256 ranks him second now. You also reap some benefits from his 86 penalty minutes, 26 power-play points and roster flexibility.
While the Chicago Blackhawks' Duncan Keith hasn't had a career season, he is having what may be his second-best in the League. He has rolled up 60 points (54 assists) and has been a valuable contributor on the power play where he picked up 21 points. He has an attractive plus-21 and three game-winning-goals. Stir in the fact that he skates for one of the best teams in the League, and you have a recipe for earning the three spot in our ranks.
MOVIN' ON UP
This season brought about many great surprises at the defenseman position, but here's a look at three players that outperformed expectations this season that I believe can sustain -- or better -- their production next season.
Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning -- Owners have long been waiting for a breakout year from Hedman and they finally got it this season. We ranked him No. 37 to start the season, but he far surpassed those expectations in ranking seventh at the position in scoring. He currently has 12 goals, 38 assists, 51 penalty minutes, and a plus-3 rating. He also managed to fire 163 shots on goal, which should grow in future seasons as he continues to get more comfortable in the offensive zone. If there is one area that he could improve upon, it is his power-play production, where he picked up only 12 points this season.
Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames -- Giordano might have ranked No. 55 on our list heading into the season, but he performed like a top-10 defensemen when he was healthy. He missed a chunk of time this season with a broken ankle, but when he was in the lineup he was spectacular. He ranked third behind only Karlsson and Keith in points per game and has contributed 14 goals, 32 assists, 63 penalty minutes, 172 shots on goal and 19 power-play points. The 30-year-old may linger a bit too long in drafts next fall, as some may not realize that his 46 points came in just 61 games this season.
Matt Niskanen, Pittsburgh Penguins -- Heading into this season, Niskanen was probably only considered in the deepest of fantasy leagues, but after injuries pushed him into shouldering a bigger load on the Penguins' blue line he thrived and rewarded those who chose to roster him early. He put up 10 goals, 33 assists, 51 penalty minutes and 160 shots on goal. He also contributed 14 power-play points. One area where he really supported his owners is plus-minus, as he led the position with a plus-32 as of April 8. He is an unrestricted free agent after this season, but has shown that he can be a big-time fantasy contributor in the right situation.
Pretty straightforward -- these guys all had rough seasons in 2013-14, but I believe they could put up big numbers in 2014-15:
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins -- Letang was our No. 3-ranked defenseman coming into the season, but never really got a chance to try and live up to the 1.09 points per game that he put up in 2012-13. He started the season on injured reserve, missing all but four games in October, then managed to play in 20 games between Nov. 1 and Dec. 13 before going on the shelf again with an elbow injury. He returned to the lineup on Jan. 5, but shocked the hockey world when he was diagnosed with having suffered a stroke that has kept him out of the lineup until Wednesday, where he'll return to face the Detroit Red Wings. He managed to tie his career high in goals with 10 and put up 18 points in 34 games this season. If he can get back to full health, he is always a threat to rank among the top scoring defensemen in the game.
Justin Schultz, Edmonton Oilers -- Schultz hasn't had a horrible season, but it isn't near the one we envisioned for him. He was destined for much bigger things after putting up 27 points in just 48 games last season, but managed to surpass that total by just five points through 71 games. His shots per game were down by .30, and that is one area we hope he will improve moving forward. For as rough as things look in Edmonton right now, the Oilers are growing as a group and he should become a steady producer in years to come.
Michael Del Zotto, Nashville Predators -- Del Zotto has long tantalized with his offensive upside, and we called for a breakout with the New York Rangers under new coach Alain Vigneault. That didn't happen, and he found himself fighting to even stay in the lineup before being traded to Nashville. While his troubles followed him to Nashville and he is again fighting to stay in the lineup, he is more talented than his five points in 24 games with the Predators indicate. We are willing to take a chance on him next season, and you should too. He is a restricted free agent who will be fighting for long-term viability, which works wonders for performance.
KEEP AN EYE ON ...
Whether it's a rookie (Olli Maatta) or just a young player that outperformed our greatest hopes (Erik Johnson), fantasy owners always end up with at least one talented kid on their squad that provides some unexpected value. Here's a look at three players you should keep an eye that could fill this role next season:Winnipeg Jets -- Trouba put up just six points though his first 19 games this season, but broke out with 22 over his next 44 games. He has all the tools to be an impact fantasy performer and has grown into a minute-munching defenseman that is starting to play in all situations. Next season is likely the last that you'll be able to grab him late in drafts.
Alec Martinez, Los Angeles Kings -- Martinez had seven points in his first 40 games this season before exploding for 15 in 18 games since March 1. He could be a sneaky late-round pick next season that could pay big dividends. He logs power-play minutes, is a capable passer of the puck, and while his shot totals are low, he scores on 14.7 percent of them.
Nick Holden, Colorado Avalanche -- Holden picked up just 11 points in his first 30 games in Colorado this season, but has been a valuable contributor ever since posting 13 in his past 21 games. He averages 1:44 of power-play time per night and could see his role expand moving forward. We like him to build upon his totals as he grows with a great young core in Colorado.