NHL Free Agency: Blueliner Breakdown Part 2

NHL Free Agency: Blueliner Breakdown Part 2

The landscape for defensemen continues to change. With an emphasis on mobility and puck-moving ability, the players getting paid are the ones who can quarterback a power play, and not the physical behemoths that (supposedly) struck fear into the hearts of opposition forwards. Alex Pietrangelo's big move to Vegas sent ripples across the league, and a number of teams – Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto among them – have made some drastic changes. Here's the breakdown of the impact defensemen who signed with new teams this off-season.

(All advanced stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.)

The Skinny: Washington signs Justin Schultz for two years worth $8 million.

The Raw Numbers: Schultz scored a career-low 12 points and a minus-13 rating in 46 games with Pittsburgh despite playing close to 20 minutes per game last campaign. Since his 51-point season in 2016-17, Schultz has scored a total of 54 points in three campaigns since. During that time, Schultz's 48.74 Corsi For % at 5-on-5 (min. 1,000 TOI) was better than only one other Pittsburgh defenseman: Jack Johnson.

The Impact: Make no mistake, there is zero chance Schultz takes over the power play from John Carlson. What this signing does do is alleviate some pressure off Carlson, who led the league with 4:01 PP TOI/GP. Both are right handed, so there's almost zero chance Carlson gets pulled into the black hole that is Schultz at even strength. It's a low-risk gamble for the Caps and Schultz will be – at best – their fourth-best defenseman behind Carlson, Dmitry Orlov and Brenden Dillon. Until Schultz can play on the top unit or prove that he can be good at either end of the ice, he should be off the fantasy radar.  

The Skinny: Toronto signs T.J. Brodie for four years worth $20 million.

The Raw Numbers: Brodie has been one of the more underrated defenders in the league since debuting in 2010, ranking 27th in points since the 2013-14 season, including back-to-back 40-point seasons. Those days are probably behind him, but up until the 2019-20 season he was a consistent 30-point producer averaging over 22 minutes per game and also ranked 26th in Corsi For % at 5-on-5 (min. 3,000 TOI). He had a down year in 2019-20, scoring just 19 points in 64 games, and his 20:27 TOI/GP was also his lowest in seven seasons.

The Impact: A lot of Brodie's success has been attributed to playing alongside elite defender Mark Giordano, and there's some truth to it. Over the past three seasons, the Giordano-Brodie pairing has ranked third in the league at 5-on-5 with 55.94 Corsi For % (min. 1,000 TOI), but Brodie has a 50.54 Corsi For % when he's not playing with Giordano. The Leafs have signed a player who may be starting to decline, but at least he's a lefty who can play the right side next to Jake Muzzin or Morgan Rielly. Barrie's absence leaves a hole on the Toronto power play, but it's more likely Brodie will have a bigger role on the penalty kill instead and leave scoring duties to younger talents such as Rasmus Sandin or Timothy Liljegren. Brodie ranks well outside the top 50 among defenseman in fantasy.

The Skinny: Philadelphia signs Erik Gustafsson for one year worth $3 million.

The Raw Numbers: A power-play specialist, Gustafsson gives up more chances than he creates at even strength, but over the past three seasons he's ranked 17th in Corsi For/60 on the power play (min. 400 TOI), just behind John Carlson and Victor Hedman. Over one quarter of Gustafsson's career 119 points have come with the man advantage.

The Impact: The Flyers are still figuring out their blue line, but the addition of Gustafsson might mean Shayne Gostisbehere's headed out the door. Even with Matt Niskanen's retirement, Gustafsson will likely be a third-pairing defenseman on a blue line that's stacked with young talent, but he'll likely take over the second power-play unit behind Ivan Provorov. Gustafsson's an extremely streaky scorer, which is made evident an 11-game drought and two separate three-game point streaks last season. As good as he is on the power play, he's a dicey play because of his fluctuating ice time and inconsistency, and he should remain off the fantasy radar until he gets hot, at which point he'll become a worthwhile short-term streaming option.

The Skinny: Nashville signs Mark Borowiecki for two years worth $4 million.

The Raw Numbers: Since becoming a full-time regular in 2013-14, Borowiecki has been the only active defenseman to rank in the top 10 in both Hits/60 and Blocks/60. He's coming off career highs with 18 points and 17:56 TOI/GP, but he's never finished above 48.53 Corsi For % in seven full seasons in the league.

The Impact: Borowiecki has little fantasy value on offense but scores major points in leagues that count hits and blocked shots. He's a unicorn in that sense because in roto leagues in which a point is equal to a hit or a blocked shot, he'll usually come out ahead in those categories. Injuries are always a concern, but perhaps that can be mitigated on a deeper Nashville defense. Borowiecki can be a great addition in the late rounds if fantasy managers have already addressed their other needs and are looking for some extra pop in the peripheral categories.

The Skinny: Calgary signs Chris Tanev for four years worth $18 million.

The Raw Numbers: Though his underlying Corsi For % numbers don't look good, Tanev has been an elite defensive defenseman for most of his career, and over the past five seasons he's ranked 14th in Blocks/60. He's coming off a 20-point season, which ties his career high, but that's partly because he was playing with some of the most talented players he's ever played with – 14 of his 20 points came on scoring plays made by linemates Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser or defensive partner Quinn Hughes, compared to six of 20 points in 2014-15 that came on scoring plays by either Henrik or Daniel Sedin.

The Impact: When healthy, Tanev is excellent, even though he's clearly slowing down. His playing style usually doesn't lead to a long career, but he should slot in nicely next to either Mark Giordano or Noah Hanifin, which should give either more green light to rush the puck. As a fantasy asset, Tanev has little to no value due to his lack of scoring unless blocked shots are counted.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Chen
Jason joined RotoWire in 2013. In 2014, he was a finalist for the FSWA Hockey Writer of the Year award. Jason has also written for Yahoo Sports, CBS Sports, The Hockey News, The Hockey Hall of Fame's Legends Magazine, and Centre Ice Magazine.
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