In preparation for playoff hockey, and more specifically playoff pools, we have already covered forwards who can provide value in the post-season. Now, it’s time to consider defense and goaltending.
On the blueline, the overwhelming value is found with defensemen that get consistent power play time. It’s always helpful to produce points at even strength but, in the course of a playoff run, power play success can provide the necessary juice to a defenseman’s point totals. For example, among the top six scoring defensemen in last season’s playoffs, three of them had recorded more than half of their points on the power play. That group was led by Washington’s John Carlson, who recorded 12 of his 20 post-season points on the power play.
As with forwards, always start with the top players on top teams. Victor Hedman, Morgan Rielly, Kris Letang, John Carlson and so on.
Here are some other blueliners that may be able to provide value for your playoff pool:
Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets: With Byfuglien missing so much time due to injuries, Jacob Trouba has taken over as the point man on Winnipeg’s first power-play unit, but Big Buff is playing more than 24 minutes per game since getting back in the lineup and has 31 points in 41 games this season. Don’t forget that he had 16 points in 17 post-season games last year and it’s a safe assumption that he won’t get intimidated when the play gets physical.
P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators: Few defensemen come with a spotlight as big as the one that tends to find Subban, but 30 points in 62 games counts as Subban’s lowest per-game rate (0.48 points per game) since 2011-2012, and that might make him a little easier to acquire. At the same time, he’s still generating 2.6 shots on goal per game and has a strong playoff track record that includes 59 points in 90 career post-season games. The trick for the Predators is figuring out their woeful power play, and the solution probably rests in not so many shots taken from the point.
Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes: Last summer’s big acquisition for the Hurricanes, Hamilton had just 10 points in 38 games at the end of 2018. However, he found his offensive game when the calendar flipped to 2019, putting up 15 goals and 13 assists in 43 games. He’s a game-changer when he’s playing well.
Colin Miller, Vegas Golden Knights: While Shea Theodore is the top scorer on the Golden Knights’ blueline, Miller is the main threat with the man advantage, where he leads the team with 12 power play assists. He’s been a healthy scratch several times during the season, so Miller does come with some risk, but that’s why he’s likely to be available later in drafts.
Ryan Pulock, New York Islanders: The 24-year-old has a booming shot from the point, though he doesn’t have as big an impact on the power play as one might expect, recording nine of his 37 points on the power play. Nevertheless, if the Islanders are going to make noise in the post-season, they will need someone to step up and Pulock is establishing his credentials as an offensive defenseman.
Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars: John Klingberg is the big-name defenseman in Dallas, but this smooth-skating rookie could be something of a wild card. His 12 goals and 179 shots on goal ranked first among all rookie defensemen and the Stars generated their highest rate of high danger chances (among Dallas’ blueline regulars) with Heiskanen on the ice.
Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa Bay Lightning: The sophomore blueliner has seven points in the past five games and is even more important to the Lightning with Victor Hedman nursing an injury late in the season. There is also the hope, or expectation, that the Lightning will be playing deep into the post-season so they could have more than one defenseman contributing to the attack.
Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs: The veteran blueliner returned to the lineup after missing five weeks due to back troubles, but he’s a standout puck mover and if the Maple Leafs are going to have any post-season success this season then they will likely need Gardiner to keep moving the puck in the right direction. He could also use some redemption after a rough Game Seven against Boston last year.
Vince Dunn, St.Louis Blues: While he’s usually limited to third-pair minutes, Dunn has been very productive for the Blues this season and has played more than 20 minutes per game over the past 11 contests, contributing three goals and four assists.
Tim Heed, San Jose Sharks: Looking for a deep sleeper? The 28-year-old played a career-high 37 games this season and has chipped in 10 points in his past 20 games. The risk with Heed is that his role with the Sharks seems to be at the mercy of Erik Karlsson’s health and if Karlsson is good to go for the post-season, then Heed may have a hard time getting into the lineup.
As for goaltenders, there are a couple of issues at play. The first of which is finding goalies on the right teams. As in all playoff pools, playing more games offers more opportunity to accrue points, so that is the first priority when it comes to finding a goaltender.
The second issue, however, is a little more nebulous, and that is how secure the goaltender is in his No. 1 status with his team. Looking at last year, Philipp Grubauer was the starting goaltender in the first two playoff games for the Washington Capitals, but he didn’t have anywhere near the track record of Braden Holtby and, after the Capitals fell behind two games to none against Columbus, Washington turned to Holtby and rode him all the way to the Stanley Cup. Essentially, some goalies are more secure in their status and that makes them more appealing for fantasy purposes.
As with all categories, it seems, start with Tampa Bay, because Andrei Vasilevskiy is a secure number one goaltender on the best team, so that’s the safest play, but hot goaltenders can make a big difference in the playoffs.
Here are some other netminders to consider:
Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals: Not only did he win the Stanley Cup last year, but Holtby has an exceptional playoff track record, posting a .929 save percentage in 82 career playoff games. He’s also very secure in his position as Washington’s starter.
Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues: Might as well ride this rookie while he’s on this outrageous hot streak. The 25-year-old burst onto the NHL scene and has a .927 save percentage in 31 games, driving the Blues’ push for the playoffs. Now, they have as good a chance as any to get through the Western Conference.
Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars: Not only has Bishop performed at a high level when healthy this season, but he also has a stellar, if limited playoff track record, posting a .927 save percentage in 36 career post-season starts.
Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks: This is a long shot, given that he has a disappointing .896 save percentage this season, but Jones does have a few advantages working in his favor. The first is that the Sharks can be a very strong team, especially if Erik Karlsson is in the lineup, and the second is that Jones has played well in the playoffs, recording a .926 save percentage in 42 career playoff games starts.