One of the more interesting fantasy situations heading in to this season was out West in Vancouver. Both Kevin Bieksa and Alex Edler were coming off of career seasons, and were the go-to guys on Vancouver’s power play in 2008-09. However, the Canucks traded for the speedy Christian Ehrhoff and signed veteran Mathieu Schneider, and both were expected to produce on the power play for the Canucks this season. How are things looking at the quarter-point of the season? Where do Vancouver's defensemen fit in best? I’ll do a player-by-player analysis and include my predictions for the rest of the season.
Kevin Bieksa – Bieksa’s offensive numbers have been negatively impacted by the arrival of Ehrhoff and Schneider, like many predicted. After scoring 11 goals last year, he is on pace for only four this season. He recorded 43 points last season, but the assist drop off isn’t there, as he is on pace for a respectable 39 this season. His PIM totals are way up (on pace for over 200), thanks to a few misconducts. His power play time has dropped from 3:53 per game to just a shade over 3 this season. He’s on pace for 153 shots on goal, the exact number he had last season. Bieksa’s best season in the NHL (back in 2006-07) saw him fire over 200 shots on goal, but his role with the Canucks has changed.
What does this mean? Bieksa makes a great buy-low candidate if you need goals from a defenseman. Don’t expect him to produce much more than the 39 points he is currently on pace for, though. Don't expect him to see as much first unit PP time with the Sedin twins.
Christan Ehrhoff – Ehrhoff has been far and away Vancouver’s best defenseman so far this season. He has not shown why he was dubbed “Error-hoff” in San Jose at times, as he leads the team with a plus-minus rating of +11 (which is even more surprising considering he had a team-worst –12 on the Sharks last season). Ehrhoff is on pace for 15 goals and over 50 points, so you may think he is a prime sell high candidate. However, that may not be the case. Like Bieksa, his shot totals this season mirror what he posted in 2008-09 – on pace for 164, had 165 last season. He is seeing 3:09 on the power play, and I expect this number to climb as his power play duties will only increase. It may be optimistic to expect 15 goals, but Ehrhoff has a great shot and is hitting the net with regularity. With the way he skates and joins the rush, 50 points is a real possibility.
What does this mean? Ehrhoff has been a pleasant fantasy surprise. Stand pat if you have him, but he probably isn’t worth trading for right now. Ehrhoff, Edler, and Schneider should see the bulk of the first unit PP time.
Sami Salo – Salo’s production has all but dried up, and it is easy to see why after looking at the numbers. He is seeing dramatically less time on the power play (almost half of what he saw last season), and his penalty killing responsibilities have increased dramatically. It is the case of comparative advantage – Salo is much stronger defensively than Bieksa, Ehrhoff, and Alex Edler, but offensively he is similar. It only makes sense to focus him in where he is comparatively better.
What does this mean? Salo is on pace for only seven points, and he has only one penalty through 16 games (a great stat for real hockey, not so much for the fantasy stuff). He is so injury prone that it doesn’t make much sense to even consider owning him.
Mathieu Schneider – Schneider is slowly adjusting to the speed of the NHL game after a long recovery from off-season shoulder surgery. Like Salo, his comparative advantage is on the power play. Schneider is often out of position and physically overmatched defensively, but he moves the puck well and has a bomb from the point. He currently is averaging 2:44 of power play time per game – expect that number to be closer to 4 at the end of the season (with Montreal, he was averaging 5:10 per game). Like Salo, he is injury prone, but he still will get his points. He has four through 10, and hasn’t played that well yet. He also has only 11 shots through 10 games (two of which he played at forward due to injury issues), so expect that number to increase dramatically.
What does this mean? Schneider is another buy-low candidate. He has four points through 10 games (roughly a 35 point pace over 82 games), and should end up somewhere between the 25 and 40 points, depending on games played. He is only now getting his legs under him.
Alex Edler – After a brutal start to the season, Edler is rounding in to form. He is a scary-good breakout passer (already one of the best in the league), and has a huge point shot (although with zero goals you wouldn’t know it). He had 37 points last season, and is on pace for 39 points this season. Expect him to end up with at least six or seven goals; I have a feeling they will start going in more regularly once he breaks the goose egg. He is on pace for slightly less shots then last season. In terms of ice time, he had 3:28 per game last season on the power play, and is leading the team with 3:18 per game this season.
What does this mean? Edler has monster upside offensively – it still will take him a little while to put it all together, but with his vision, size, skating, and shot, he could definitely develop into a steady 45-55 point defenseman. His one-year value may be a bit low because of the offensive depth on Vancouver’s blue line, but I’d be looking to acquire him in keeper league formats.
Although he probably isn’t fantasy relevant, Willie Mitchell continues to supply some offense to go along with his stifling work on the PK and five-on –five. He is on pace for 25 points!