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Detroit Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom. (Mark Humphrey)
Detroit Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom. (Mark Humphrey)

Hockey Pool Primer

The importance of rearguard action Add to ...

There's a lot that NHL defencemen do well that doesn't necessarily show up on the scoresheet, but when it comes to your fantasy pool, its the scoresheet that matters most. What that means is that, while there are some 300 defenders in the NHL every season, only about 50 or so are going to really deliver significant value to your fantasy team.

Last season, for example, only 13 blueliners hit the 50-point mark, which is really just the starting point for noteworthy fantasy production for a forward. If you're in a pool where you're not required to pick defencemen, forwards are often the better choice as they generally have a higher potential payoff.

Many pools, however, require that you pick defenders, and despite their lower production, they can be key to complementing your team and winning your pool.

What should you look for? Well, aside from the obvious picks at the top end of the scale - Mike Green, Nick Lidstrom, Andrei Markov and Scott Niedermayer - a good fantasy blueliner will net you at least 40 points and log considerable time on the power play in doing so.

Power play points are important for forwards, too, but for defencemen in the NHL, they make up the bulk of the offence they produce. Of the 28 defencemen that had 40 points or more last season, for example, an average of 51 per cent of their points came while on the power play.

In contrast, 159 forwards had 40 or more points last season, and only 32 per cent of their points came when up a man.

Finding those point-producing defencemen isn't always as easy as it seems. Twelve teams last season didn't even have a 40-point blueliner, whereas high-scoring ones like the Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks had three apiece.

In general, teams with excellent power plays rely on strong quarterback types on the blueline, and all six of the top power play teams from last season - Detroit, Washington, San Jose, Boston, Anaheim and Philadelphia - should again generate plenty of point from defencemen this season.

Profiling the fantasy defenceman (40-plus points)

  • Nationality: 50 per cent Canadian, 39 per cent European, 11 per cent American
  • Average age (start of last season): 29
  • Size: 6 foot 2, 208 pounds
  • Average ice time: 24 minutes a game

The following chart details how points by defencemen (projected over 82 games) correlate with their power play ice time last season based on players who played at least 20 games and a minimum of two minutes per game on the man advantage.

Blueliners who skate on their team's first power play unit average more than four minutes a game on the man advantage, while those who play on the second unit average about two and a half minutes a game on the power play.

There's a strong relationship between power play ice time and total point production for a variety of reasons, and who you draft should be based in part on the number of minutes those players will see at 5-on-4 and 5-on-3:

Globe tip sheet

Elite options (60-plus points):

  • Mike Green, Washington: Should be the first defencemen taken in every pool
  • Andrei Markov, Montreal: Quietly has emerged as an elite offensive blueliner
  • Nick Lidstrom, Detroit: Turns 40 in April but still a remarkable point producer
  • Sergei Gonchar, Pittsburgh: Remains a key cog in Pens power play
  • Dan Boyle, San Jose: Should log close to five minutes a game on the man advantage again

Second-tier (50-plus points):

  • Shea Weber, Nashville: Ice time skyrocketed last season and could continue to rise given Preds thin, young blueline
  • Brian Rafalski, Detroit: Has averaged 55 points a season postlockout
  • Mark Streit, N.Y. Islanders: Had impressive 56 points on last-place Isles and team should improve its goal production
  • Chris Pronger, Philadelphia: If nothing else, plus-minus should rise this season with Flyers

Underrated gems:

  • Jaroslav Spacek, Montreal: Durability can be a concern but he'll be a big part of what's been a dominant power play postlockout
  • Kimmo Timonen, Philadelphia: The Flyers' MVP in many ways, Timonen's production should benefit from having Pronger around to help shoulder the defensive load
  • Drew Doughty, Los Angeles: Second-year pro stands to inherit key power play role with Kyle Quincey gone
  • Kris Letang, Pittsburgh: Began producing at an elite level late in the season and into the playoffs last year

Rebound candidates/trending up

  • Erik Johnson, St. Louis: Missed all of last season after a golf-cart mishap in preseason but will have a big presence on the Blues power play
  • Ryan Whitney, Anaheim: Set to inherit Pronger's minutes with the Ducks and could pile up points alongside Scott Niedermayer
  • Dion Phaneuf, Calgary: Reunited with former junior coach Brent Sutter and should easily bounce back after career low totals last season
  • Zach Bogosian, Atlanta: Caught fire toward the end of last season and will see plenty of ice time on what could be a surprisingly high-scoring Thrashers team
  • Brent Burns, Minnesota: Should be one of the big benefactors in new coach Todd Richards's up-tempo system

Players to avoid/trending down

  • Rob Blake, San Jose: Turns 40 in December and will likely have difficulty repeating last year's totals
  • Kevin Bieksa, Vancouver: Could lose key minutes to newcomers Christian Ehrhoff and Mathieu Schneider
  • Ron Hainsey, Atlanta: Power play minutes will fall with Pavel Kubina in mix
  • Filip Kuba, Ottawa: Last year's career-best totals came mostly in first half
  • Dennis Wideman, Boston: One of several Bruins who will struggle to duplicate dream seasons

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

 

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