This week we are going to look at some keeper league depth bargains on the blueline. The idea is to look beyond cheap players who are heading into a contract year because they are likely about to get a bigger contract next summer, thus making them less appealing on the cap. Instead, the focus will be put on players with multiple years left on their current contracts that are cheap, provide good statistics and are not young phenoms who are next to impossible to acquire.
When your keeper league team is hovering around the cap ceiling, your team likely includes a few expensive star players who eat up most of your available space. You will be forced to look for cheap bargains to occupy your depth positions. Winning the championship in a capped league is all about getting the most out of your dollars, so you will need to get good value out of your cheap depth guys to push your team over the top. Unfortunately, the pickings are even slimmer for defensemen than they are for forwards. Here are a few defensemen that can help your team in points-only leagues:
Adam Larsson (New Jersey)
925,000 / 2 years
The mention of Adam Larsson in this article certainly breaks the rules of not including top young players that are difficult to acquire. However, there are a few reasons for his inclusion. He did not set the world on fire in his rookie season and spent a large portion of the postseason in the press box. It is possible that some owners may be getting a bit nervous about their top prospect’s outlook.
Even if Larsson’s production does not spike immediately, he will still provide good cap value at such a low salary. Keep in mind that his 18 points in 65 games scale up to 23 points over 82 games. If he is ready for prime time, nobody on the New Jersey blueline is going to hold him back. The ice time is his to claim when he is ready.
If you already own Larsson, hold tight. He is one of the top young defensemen in the game and is one of the rare top draft picks to sign an entry level contract that is so friendly on the cap.
Jamie McBain (Carolina)
1,800,000 / 2 years
He is a bit expensive by cap bargain standards, but Jamie McBain has yet to produce at a level that matches the hype he received after scoring 10 points in 14 games in 2009-10. Over the last two seasons, he put up a combined 57 points, which is below people’s expectations that he would be a 40-point defenseman by now.
The key here is that McBain is still only 24 years of age. If there is an opportunity to strike, he is a good investment. His downside of roughly 30 points is still a respectable total, but he has enough talent to produce far greater results. According to Frozen Pool, McBain’s most frequent partner last season was Joni Pitkanen, who only played 30 games. Otherwise he alternated partners often. If the two continue to play together, the minute-eating Pitkanen should help McBain’s average ice time of 19:47 increase, in addition to adding some much-needed stability.
Philip Larsen (Dallas)
1,025,000 / 2 years
With Alex Goligoski as the lone proven point producer from the blueline in Dallas, there is a golden opportunity for Philip Larsen to take the next step in his development. His rookie season in the NHL was decent as he produced 11 points in 55 games, which scales up to 16 points in 82 games. The Stars added some firepower up front by acquiring Derek Roy, Jaromic Jagr and Ray Whitney, which should help boost the production of the defensemen.
Larsen combines good skating with excellent hockey sense. Even though his numbers prior to entering the NHL were just average, many believe that he has the potential for much more in the big league if he can hit his stride. Cap-wise, he is a good bargain at just over $1 million. With Sheldon Souray out of town, there is bound to be more ice time for Larsen, so an improvement is expected. If all goes well, he could clear 30 points, but he has enough talent that he will not embarrass you even if he does not get the best opportunity for success.
Jeff Petry (Edmonton)
1,750,000 / 2 years
Like Larsen, Jeff Petry is a skilled puck-moving defenseman who stands to benefit from improvements up front. With Justin Schultz and Ryan Whitney likely manning the point on the first power play unit, Petry appears to be stuck on the second unit. However, Whitney has missed a total of 78 games over the last two seasons. If the injury bug strikes again, Petry is first in line for a promotion.
Regardless of his role, Petry will have skilled forwards on the ice with him for most of his shifts. An improvement over last season’s 25 points is expected. He should easily clear 30 points, and depending on Whitney’s health could make a push for 40 points. Clearly, Petry’s cap hit of under $2 million is a bargain.
Andrew MacDonald (New York Islanders)
550,000 / 2 years
Andrew MacDonald is a solid defensive defenseman who also has good puck-moving skills. While he will never set the NHL on fire, his defensive abilities help him find the ice often (23 minutes per game in 2011-12). His last two seasons resulted in 19 and 27 points, and with an improving core on Long Island he should be able to continue producing in that range.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of talent arriving on New York’s back end. Lubomir Visnovsky (pending trade confirmation) will occupy a spot on the top power play unit, and youngsters Travis Hamonic and Matt Donovan will push for time on the second unit. MacDonald could still get some minutes with the man advantage, but it is also possible that he plays a strictly defensive role due to a shortage of shutdown defensemen on the team.
With all that said, MacDonald’s ice time should ensure that he produces respectable numbers going forward. He should get back over 20 points, with the upside for more depending on injuries and line juggling. His minuscule cap hit and decent point totals make him a good fit on teams that are trying to squeak under their league’s salary cap ceiling.