Finding the next breakout fantasy hockey defenseman can be a challenging and daunting task, but if you are successful at it, it can be highly rewarding.
It is always fun to pump your chest a little when your peers “say nobody would have thought Brian Campbell would bounce back the way he did in Florida”. That is when you say with a wink and a smile, “I did, that’s why I drafted him in the twelfth round”
If you want to know one way to appear as the fantasy hockey oracle to you fellow fantasy hockey chums, keep this theory in mind when exploring future trade and draft strategies.
To be the man, they have to be the man.
So what exactly does that mean? Good question. Allow me to elaborate. Time and time again I have seen highly skilled and ranked defenseman in the NHL struggle to achieve their fullest potential because they are surrounded by other highly skilled players.
At first thought, this may seem idiotic. How can playing with great or even good players hurt your production? It is all about ice time, and the right to be the man. To anchor the blueline, run the powerplay, and be the go to guy for the coaching staff and have the trust and respect of your teammates.
There are several resounding examples of this throughout hockey history, but you need not look any further back than the last five years for several examples. I can quickly think of four examples of defenseman whose career either was rediscovered, or exploded after they found a new team and made their mark as the undisputed number one defenseman on their new team.
Brian Campbell had been a star offensive defenseman for the Buffalo Sabres until he was traded to the San Jose Sharks at the trade deadline in 2008. That was his career year in which he scored 62 points in 83 games. That season he was the undisputed number one defenseman in Buffalo, but was set to be an unrestricted free agent. The following year he signed a mega contract with the Chicago Blackhawks and had to share his ice time with Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook. As a result, his stats steadily declined from 52 points in 08/09, to 38 points in 09/10, and finally as low as 27 points in 10/11 until he was traded at the draft in 2011 to the Florida Panthers. The following season he assumed the mantle in Florida as the number one defenseman once again and rebounded with an impressive 53 points at a 0.59 PPG pace. This season he has continued that momentum in the short season and is on pace for 0.6 PPG
Dustin Byfuglien is a questionable example because he played both forward and defense while in Chicago, but in his final season with the Hawks he scored 34 points at an average of 0.41 PPG with an average of 16:25 minutes of ice time. His first two seasons in Winnipeg as the teams number one defenseman he scored 53 points with his career year in 11/12 when he scored 0.8 PPG in an average of 23:18 minutes of ice time.
Jack Johnson was drafted by Carolina, but was traded to the LA Kings before he established himself as a top NHL defender. While in LA he was over shadowed by Drew Doughty, but still managed to have a career year in 10/11 with 42 points in 82 games for 0.42PPG. In the 11/12 season he was traded to the bottom dwelling Columbus Blue Jackets. Many of my fellow fantasy GM’s assumed his offense would probably decline and that his +/- would nose dive. I acquired him for less than face value and was not surprised when the exact opposite occurred. That season in 61 games with the Kings he scored at a 0.39 PPG pace and had a minus -12. In the final 21 games in Columbus he produced 0.67 PPG and was a plus -5. This season he is scoring at a 0.43 PPG pace and is well established as the leader of the Columbus defense.
The most recent example is Ryan Suter, now with the Minnesota Wild. Suter had a career year in Nashville playing in the shadow of Shea Weber when he scored 46 points for a 0.46 PPG average. In 38 games as the Wild number one defender, Suter has 29 points and is scoring at a 0.79 PPG pace.
While this formula is not absolute by any means, it can be used to give you an opportunity to acquire a defenseman at a buy low opportunity before the rest of the market catches up.
If you look around the NHL, there are not too many situations where teams have two number one defensemen and have even one of said defenders producing elite or even high level fantasy value.
To provide your team with such elite level fantasy production you want to find defensemen who are the undisputed anchor and go-to guy on the roster for their team. The quarterback of the power play, first unit penalty kill, minute munching, stat stuffing monsters. Such players who are already established are not cheap, so be on the lookout for the next one. Remember, to be the man, you have to be the man.
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