The thinking process that goes in to selecting the Prime Cuts roster is similar to Pierre McGuire’s “Monsters” team on TSN (I promise that is the first and only time I will compare my thinking process to Pierre’s). Since this is a fantasy hockey site, the selection process favors players that have had strong seasons on the score sheet, obviously. However, not just goals and assists are weighted – perhaps a player has started to shoot the puck more, or play better defensively. Intangibles like heart, grit, and determination factor in to the selection process as well. It is far and away my favorite article to write each year, and I hope you will all enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
The first part of the series will focus on the six defensemen.
The bottom pairing: Adam McQuaid-Travis Hamonic
Any team needs physicality on the back end, and this pairing possesses toughness and size in spades. McQuaid, or Darth Quaidar as he is affectionately referred to in Boston, stepped in to the lineup early in the season and made it impossible for the Bruins to take him out. He also made Mark Stuart expendable, and the quickly Bruins sent Stuart to Atlanta in a multi-player trade. McQuaid will finish the season with close to 100 PIM (currently at 96). He is among the league leaders in plus-minus (plus-29). Plus-minus is largely a team stat, but pretty impressive for a depth defenseman nonetheless. His 15 points is nothing special, but is a decent total for a depth defenseman who can fill other categories. He has averaged less than 15 minutes of ice time per game, so he fits the bill as a third pairing defenseman on this team.
His partner on this team has been one of the best rookie defensemen in the league. Hamonic is big, strong, mobile, and skilled at both ends of the ice. He has been a part of the top unit on Long Island for most of the season, along with Andrew MacDonald. His PIM number (101) has been inflated due in large part to the massacre of a game with Pittsburgh a few months back, but it also highlights the kind of smash mouth game Hamonic plays. 23 points in 60 games is nothing to sneeze at either. With his heavy shot, he could hit the 10-goal mark at least once or twice in his career.
The second pairing: PK Subban-Mark Giordano
PK Subban is perhaps the most polarizing figure in the league. Love him (I do) or hate him (like many of his peers around the league), Subban has brought a lot of energy to the game in his first full season. Both Vincent Lecavalier and Mike Richards have essentially said that they have zero respect for the way PK plays. He has helped fill the void left by Andrei Markov at both ends of the ice. Subban will finish the season at (or close to) 15 goals, 40 points, 125 PIM, 190 SOG, and a decent minus-7. He is a bit reckless (the minus rating highlights this), but his wild style of play also leads to many offensive opportunities. Something tells me his won’t be the last time Subban’s name shows up on a Prime Cuts roster.
Giordano’s strong season has flown under the radar, which is a bit of a surprise considering he plays for a Canadian team. He is a very well-rounded defenseman – physical, mobile, smart, and skilled with the puck. The Flames quickly realized that prized signing Jay Bouwmeester wasn’t going to run their power play or create much of any offense on his own, and Giordano stepped into the role seamlessly. After spending a year in Russia, he came back to Calgary in 2008. Since that season, his production has increased from 19 points to 30, to 41 (and counting), respectively. Giordano first showed glimpses of his fantasy value with a monster AHL season in 2005-06 – 16 goals, 58 points, and 141 PIM.
The top pairing: Keith Yandle-Dustin Byfuglien
Yandle made the Prime Cuts team about six months ago. He does everything at an elite level – defend, hit, pass, shoot, and skate. He was leading the league in defensive production for a while before tailing off a bit recently. Imagine where he’d be if he played on a strong offensive club? Yandle flew under the radar until December or January, as at that point it became too hard for poolies and the media to ignore what he was doing. He’s my pick for the Norris Trophy this year, and has probably won more than a few of you your pools.
Dustin Byfuglien has been arguably the biggest fantasy hockey surprise of the season. Many were baffled at Atlanta’s decision to move him back to defense, especially after we witnessed him dominate around the net as a winger against Vancouver and San Jose last spring. Byfuglien has taken the Eastern Conference by storm in 2011-12 –even with a midseason slump, he has eclipsed the 20 goal mark, the 50 point mark, the 75 PIM mark, and the 340 SOG mark. He has nearly 100 more SOG than any other defenseman in the entire league. (Relative value, much?)
Nick Lidstrom – ageless wonder with another Norris-caliber season
Lubomir Visnovsky – leading the league in scoring among defensemen – an integral part of a deadly PP in Anaheim
James Wisniewski – 50 points, physical, nasty, aggressive. The total package.
Christian Ehrhoff – Another breakout season, the backbone of an oft-injured defensive core.
Tobias Enstrom – a huge reason why Byfuglien made this team.
Toni Lydman – quietly a defensive rock for an inconsistent defensive club.
Anton Babchuk – made Calgary fans forget about Phaneuf’s slap shot pretty quick. Great bang for the buck.
Kris Letang – Unsurprisingly his stats fell off once Crosby was injured, but he played great all season.
The defensive groups from the past three seasons…
Duncan Keith – Mike Green
Tyler Myers – Joni Pitkanen
Keith Yandle – Mark Giordano
Mike Green – Zdeno Chara
Mark Streit – Keith Ballard
Jan Hejda – Matt Greene
Nicklas Lidstrom – Brent Burns
Mark Streit – Mike Green
Brayden Coburn – Alex Edler