This tweet is very interesting especially from a fantasy perspective.
— Chapin Landvogt (@Csomichapin) March 23, 2017
Elite defenseman are distinguishing themselves with an accurate degree of separation from the rest of their peers, however with the role changing as it is, having a wider range of productive blueliners across a variety of teams could potentially inhibit some of my favorite draft strategies.
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In virtually any type of format, I’ve always been of the mindset that you should set the market for defenseman. Be the first to draft one, even though you may be leaving some points on the table early on by passing over some productive forwards. Get enough of the best defenseman on your roster, while everybody is scratching at dregs and depth, you're more likely to get a more productive forward somewhere in the lower rounds with greater breakout potential.
But is it really true? Do more teams have a greater number of 30-point defenseman? Not quite, at least not on a per team basis, but it’s trending towards that threshold.
In 2016-17, there’s a greater number of teams with three or more defensemen over 30 points, with a little less than two weeks left in the schedule.
We could organize defensemen groupings by distributing into bands of production. As an example here is 2015-16 season at 5v5, with 50 minutes played minimum.
The elite lead the way, and as expected from the back end, a heavy amount of defenseman only contributing less than four points.
In 2016-17, with the season yet to be fully played there’s a drop in players in the 25 to 29 point range. Some defensemen are sitting at 22 or 23, which means the likelihood of similar distribution to last season is high. But, from the bottom there’s a distinct drop between the defenseman only contributing 0 to 4 points, and some weighting shifting over one band.
Today's NHL teams demand a more productive element from their blueline, more support on the rush and at the opposition blueline, keeping pucks in play. The traditional role of the defenseman has change and continues to evolve, forcing my default draft strategy to require some tweaking. Perhaps it isn’t best to chase the elite defenseman with the same vigor, if there could possibly be a greater selection of depth available to make up the points production. In the end, points accumulation is all that matters, regardless of where it originates.
At 5v4 the shift is somewhat more apparent. Last season two dozen players comprised points between 15-30 on the power-play. There’s less so far this season with players producing between 10 and 14 power play points seeing a sharp increase.
Elevation at power-play depth, while the elite, the true elite, master their way through season after season of pushing Norris trophy play.
Using all situations and filtering for players with more than 10 games played, we get the chart below.
Once again with the caveat of enough games to alter the final distribution for this current season, there's still enough of a current shift of defenseman into the 30 point range to justify an approach with the greater selection of midrange defenseman rather than at the top end. Entering a draft as a fantasy GM, it might be worth it to keep in mind of the shift of defenseman into the 30-point range.
The shift is evident when normalizing for points per 60 minutes, with an increase in players producing between 1 to 1.5 pts/60, versus the lowly rated 0 to 0.5.
There’s a few factors I feel contribute to this. First is the shift in power play formations from three forwards and two defensemen to four forwards and one defenseman. Less rearguards playing the point, will have an overall effective of points allotted to very few clustered at the top, and a wider mid-range distribution with some at the bottom.
At even strength the role and responsibility of the defenseman has changed. No longer are blueliners expected to exhibit net front brute force or aggression along the boards. The days of the big plodding defensemen have gone the way of the dodo, and skating mobility is just as important if not more than ever. A better attacking backend that supports forwards production is a killer combination for any team. That overall team success will lead into individual player success which should lead to overall fantasy success. This summer maybe one of those pivotal moments where we see a change in some draft strategy while we focus on a wider variety of defenseman that may be available to us a little later on the draft.