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Fantasy top 60 defensemen: What to make of Letang

by Brian Metzer / NHL.com

Every Wednesday during the season, NHL.com fantasy hockey contributor Brian Metzer provides in-depth defenseman analysis. From updated weekly top 60 rankings to trending players and more, Metzer is your go-to guy for fantasy D-men advice all season long.


If fantasy owners could believe in anything from season to season it was getting solid production from a number of Pittsburgh Penguins, and 2015-16 was supposed to be even better.

General manager Jim Rutherford acquired Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs and all of the so-called-experts, including this one, predicted otherworldly production for Kessel, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.

Yet, before Malkin put up four points on Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild, none of them ranked in the top 80 scorers in the NHL. That is ugly, especially considering all three forwards were drafted on average in the top 11 in Yahoo Standard leagues, while Letang went in the fifth round of most drafts as the 11th defenseman off the board.

We could spend hours debating what is plaguing the lot of them, but our focus is on defensemen, so Letang is under the magnifying glass today.

The idea with Letang is to determine if his issues are his own or if the team and more so the system of coach Mike Johnston is holding him back. Figuring that out isn't easy considering Letang has seen his production fluctuate over the past five seasons.

He broke out in 2010-11, rolling up eight goals and 50 points in 82 games, which marks the only time he's played a full season over the course of his NHL career. That fact alone always makes Letang a risky pick in fantasy leagues because he almost always misses time.

Since he has missed so much time, I always like to consider his points per game, which steadily rose from .61 in 2010-11 to .82 in '11-12 and finally peaked at 1.09 in '12-13, the season he was named a finalist for the Norris Trophy.

His points per game dipped to .59 in 2013-14, but that can be overlooked because Letang dealt with his most significant health issues, which included a stroke, and missed all but 37 games. He bounced back in '14-15 setting a new career high in points with 54 and brought his points per game back up to .78.

That production is what had everyone thinking this would be the season he was once again in the running for the Norris Trophy, but that has not been the case.

With his production seemingly staying, for all intents and purposes, static through a number of health issues, is it the system bringing him down? Johnston seems to coach a style that should be tailor made for Letang, but it hasn't worked and the situation isn't plaguing just Letang.

The Penguins are scoring 2.17 goals per game and dating back to December of last season, they've played 82 games under Johnston, the equivalent of a full season, and averaged 2.18 goals per game over that span.

A big reason for these scoring woes seems to be the power play, where they have converted 14.3 percent of their opportunities this season. If you eliminate the first month-plus of last season where they were converting close to 38 percent of their chances with the extra man, they've gone 37 for their past 261 chances.

If you don't have a calculator, that means a power play featuring Crosby, Malkin and Letang -- and this year Kessel -- has clicked at 14.2 percent since Nov. 11, 2014.

Part of that problem is a refusal to shoot, evident in Letang's numbers. He has seen his shots on goal drop from 2.92 per game two seasons ago to 2.61 today. It gets worse on the power play, where he has dropped from 1.27 shot attempts per game to .88 this season, a span that has seen him attempt 16 shots over 63 power-play opportunities.

This situation is a dilemma for fantasy owners. Should you dump Letang? That's a question being asked in 97 percent of Yahoo Standard Leagues. My suggestion is you hang in with this asset; after picking up two assists Tuesday he has one goal and 10 points. He contributes penalty minutes (16) and has 47 shots on goal.

One has to think he and his talented teammates will eventually break through and start to score consistently, as they did against the Wild. His minus-11 is a concern and his defense partner Olli Maatta sustained an upper-body injury Tuesday, but Letang still carries tremendous fantasy upside.

We'll be here to revisit the situation if he doesn't return to his customary levels.

TRENDING UP

Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild

Suter has spent the past calendar year falling further and further down fantasy draft boards, but this season has him looking a lot more like the guy who was a Norris finalist back in 2013-14. He set a career high with 43 points that season and is currently on pace to shatter that number. He already has two goals and 15 points in 17 games, with six of those points coming on the power play. He has 39 shots on goal, 18 hits and 36 blocked shots and is skating over 27 minutes per game. Suter's ownership has jumped to 87 percent in Yahoo leagues, but he may be on the waiver wire in yours. He's on my trade wish list and he should be on yours too.

Mark Giordano
Defense - CGY
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 6
SOG: 48 | +/-: -11
TRENDING DOWN

Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames

Giordano took the fantasy world by storm last season and was among the most productive defensemen in the League. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case this season as he has struggled through the early stages. It took him six games to score his first point, at which point he scored four points in two games. Then came another four-game scoreless drought and now a span of one goal and one assist over nine games. Like Letang, you cannot simply drop Giordano, but it might be time to pick and choose when he's in the lineup due to an ugly minus-12 rating.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota Wild

We already touched on one Wild defender, but Spurgeon deserves a mention as well. He is skating with Suter on the Wild's top pairing and is logging over 22 minutes of ice time per game. He is currently on a six-game scoring streak (two goals, five assists). That has pushed his season total to three goals and 12 points in 17 games. His 39 blocked shots are also nice in leagues that credit them. He is owned in 17 percent of Yahoo leagues.


TOP 60 FANTASY DEFENSEMEN

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

Dropped out: Trevor Daley, Jason Garrison, Jacob Trouba, Marc Staal

Key injuries: Mark Streit, James Wisniewski, Kyle Quincey

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