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Fantasy defensemen: Chara remains reliable option

Bruins veteran still carries value; updated top 60 defensemen rankings

by Brian Metzer @Brian_Metzer / NHL.com Correspondent

Do you have a pair of shoes that you simply can't replace? 

You know the ones. They're broken in from a ton of use. You don't bother untying them anymore because you can just slip them on and off. You probably keep them by the door so that you can put them on when you have to quickly run out to your car, but you can also slide them on when you heading out for the day. 

They're your favorites.

It doesn't matter that the tread is a bit worn and they don't offer the support they once did. You like them because they're reliable and even when a spouse, parent or other loved one convinces you to get a new pair, you find yourself still wearing your old standbys. 

It can be that way in fantasy hockey as well. 

There may be plenty of shiny, new options on the blue line, but sometimes you have to go with someone who is and always has been reliable. Someone you've been able to count on for years who's been able to provide support in almost every category, someone like the Boston Bruins' Zdeno Chara.  

Chara was a bit of an afterthought in fantasy circles entering the season, at least if you go by how he was handled in drafts. He was selected in 86 percent of Yahoo leagues, but generally not until the 14th round (average draft position: 153.6). 

He rewarded those who drafted him with one goal and seven points in his first eight games but wasn't able to maintain that pace through November, where he managed two goals and two assists in 12 games. 

Fantasy owners started to waver and began shopping for something new. Chara might have had 11 points in 20 games, but he was averaging 1.55 shots per outing and wasn't getting time on the top power-play unit. Plus, in this "what have you done for me lately" world of fantasy sports, the focus was on his tough November. 

Video: ANA@BOS: Chara cuts Ducks' lead to two in 3rd period

That's the rub with your favorite shoes, or in this case your favorite long standing fantasy defensemen; sometimes the wear and tear shows a bit. That doesn't mean you toss them. 

As December started, so did Chara's production. He began to look a lot like the player he was in October and over the course of the past few seasons. He might not be flashing the skills that made him a No. 1 option for so long, but he's certainly proving to be a player who can capably contribute in multiple categories to help you win weekly fantasy matchups. 

He started to show that ability during a 3-2 shootout loss in Edmonton on Dec. 6, logging an impressive 26:07 of ice time, scoring a goal and taking six shots on goal. 

That kicked of a run which has seen him have four goals and nine assists over his past 27 games, with two goals and six assists coming in his past eight. He's chipping in via other categories as well and has been particularly valuable in leagues that count hits and blocked shots, where he has 77 and 75 respectively. 

He's also shooting the puck more. Jump-started by the half dozen shots he had in Edmonton, he's averaged 2.26 shots per night over this span. 

Chara is no longer the player who broke the 40-point plateau nine times and the 50-point plateau three times over the course of his career, but he's still averaging 24:17 per game. He gets 1:25 of that time on the power play, where he has seven points and ranks fifth in the NHL with 3:24 minutes on the penalty kill, which gives him a chance at shorthanded assists. 

So like your favorite shoes, sometimes you have to go with what has always worked, and that could be Chara. He's available in 21 percent of leagues and could be a trade target as deadlines loom in leagues across the globe. 

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TRENDING UP 

Mattias Ekholm, Nashville Predators 

Ekholm has been popping up in this column a lot of late, and for good reason. He had a five-game point streak snapped against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, but he's managed three goals and 12 points over his past 15 games. He also has 21 shots on goal, two power-play points and a game-winning goal over that span. His hot stretch has pushed his season totals to six goals, 22 points, three power-play points and 63 shots on goal in 50 games. He is helpful in secondary categories such as hits (45) and blocked shots (52). He may not get a ton of time on the No. 1 power play and typically skates on Nashville's third pairing, but he's averaging 18:58 per night and taking full advantage of it. He's owned in 16 percent of Yahoo Leagues, so there is a good chance he's available in yours if you need support on the blue line. 

TRENDING DOWN 

Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes 

Faulk is fresh off appearing in the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game in Nashville, but he's been cooling off a bit for the Hurricanes. After picking up a goal on Dec. 27 in a 2-1 win against the Chicago Blackhawks, he was cruising with 14 goals and 30 points in 36 games. He has struggled to maintain that consistency and has three assists over his past 15 games. He is capable of breaking out on any given night, but this is a troubling downturn for a player on the cusp of career numbers in all categories. He could be an intriguing trade chip in single-year leagues. If you believe he'll heat back up, which he very well might, you could lowball an owner dismayed by his recent cold patch. Those who think he'll stay dormant could move him to a less savvy owner for a nice package of assets since they're sure to be intrigued by the numbers he accumulated through December. 

KEEP AN EYE ON 

Andrej Sekera, Edmonton Oilers 

Sekera is the name we're listing, but it might be wise to keep an eye on the Oilers blue line as a whole. Connor McDavid is back in the lineup and he sparked them to a 5-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday. Sekera, who averaged .38 points per game with McDavid in the lineup this earlier this season, had two assists Tuesday. He'd seen his average drop to .31 without the rookie and it appears that could be shooting back up. Defensemen Eric Gryba and Adam Clendening picked up a goal and an assist respectively, showing the blue line will definitely have a chance to thrive with McDavid back in the fold. Oilers defensemen had 18 points during McDavid's first 13 games, so it is safe to say players like Justin Schultz, Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom (when he gets back in the lineup) and Sekera could be useful. 

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TOP 60 FANTASY DEFENSEMEN 

These rankings are based on expectations for the rest of the season. Value is quantified by defense pairings, power-play usage, past performance and overall upside in standard Yahoo categories (goals, assists, plus-minus, penalty minutes, power-play points and shots on goal). 

1. Erik Karlsson, OTT 
2. Brent Burns, SJS 
3. John Klingberg, DAL 
4. P.K. Subban, MTL (+1) 
5. Duncan Keith, CHI (-1) 
6. Kevin Shattenkirk, STL 
7. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, ARI 
8. Roman Josi, NSH (+1) 
9. Kris Letang, PIT (+2) 
10. Tyson Barrie, COL 
11. Shea Weber, NSH (+1) 
12. Dustin Byfuglien, WPG (+5) 
13. Justin Faulk, CAR (-5) 
14. Drew Doughty, LAK 
15. Victor Hedman, TBL (-2) 
16. John Carlson, WSH (-1) 
17. Brent Seabrook, CHI (-1) 
18. Ryan Suter, MIN 
19. Rasmus Ristolainen, BUF (+1) 
20. Jake Muzzin, LAK (+1) 
21. Ryan McDonagh, NYR (-2) 
22. Keith Yandle, NYR 
23. TJ Brodie, CGY 
24. Anton Stralman, TBL 
25. Mark Giordano, CGY 
26. Andrei Markov, MTL 
27. Sami Vatanen, ANA (+2) 
28. Alex Pietrangelo, STL (-1) 
29. Torey Krug, BOS (-1) 
30. Mark Streit, PHI 
31. Francois Beauchemin, COL 
32. Mike Green, DET 
33. Shayne Gostisbehere, PHI (+4) 
34. Jason Demers, DAL (-1) 
35. Dion Phaneuf, TOR (-1) 
36. Erik Johnson, COL (-1) 
37. Zdeno Chara, BOS (+5) 
38. Andrej Sekera, EDM (+2) 
39. Aaron Ekblad, FLA (-3) 
40. Trevor Daley, PIT (+1) 
41. Matt Niskanen, WSH (-3) 
42. Nick Leddy, NYI (+1) 
43. Alex Goligoski, DAL (+2) 
44. Dougie Hamilton, CGY 
45. Morgan Rielly, TOR (+1) 
46. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, SJS (+2) 
47. Ryan Ellis, NSH 
48. Seth Jones, CBJ (+5) 
49. Mattias Ekholm, NSH (+5) 
50. Cam Fowler, ANA (NR - INJ) 
51. Alexander Edler, VAN (-2) 
52. Colton Parayko, STL (-2) 
53. Olli Maatta, PIT (-1) 
54. Cody Franson, BUF (-3) 
55. Tyler Myers, WPG (+1) 
56. Jared Spurgeon, MIN (-1) 
57. Michael Stone, ARI 
58. Alec Martinez, LAK 
59. Brian Campbell, FLA (NEW) 
60. Colin Miller, BOS (-1) 

Dropped out: Dennis Wideman (suspended), Justin Braun  

Key injuries: Johnny Boychuk, Niklas Kronwall, Oscar Klefbom, David Savard, James Wisniewski

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