Last season's top-three fantasy defensemen combined for 59 goals during the 2016-17 campaign. After Brent Burns scored three goals in his past three games, Burns, Erik Karlsson and Dustin Byfuglien have combined for five goals so far this season. They are collectively on pace for 14 goals.
That's the bad news. The good news? Burns and Byfuglien are still maintaining some semblance of fantasy value, while Karlsson is too good to nut turn things around.
Byfuglien trails only Justin Faulk (another maligned defenseman) for most shots on goal this season without a single tally to show for it, but by virtue of strong showings in every fantasy category aside from goals, Byfuglien actually sits third on the ESPN Player Rater among defensemen for fantasy value so far this season. Based on his career shooting percentage, Byfuglien should really have five goals already. In our magical "what if" world, Byfuglien would vault past Alex Pietrangelo for second overall among defenseman on the Player Rater if he had potted those five goals. Regardless, he is still driving awesome fantasy value and is a guy to target in trades.
Burns sits sixth overall in the entire NHL for shots on goal so far this year, but only had one goal to show for it prior to last Thursday. He's up to four on the season now following three tallies in his past three games. Based on his career shooting percentage, Burns should already have nine goals this season. Heading back to our "what if" universe, nine goals would move Burns from 14th on the ESPN Player Rater among defensemen up to fifth, just behind Kris Letang. Once again, there is nothing to worry about here. Luck will continue to break Burns' way. He is arguably another blueliner to ponder acquiring.
Then we come to Karlsson. Wow. As of this writing, Karlsson sits 71st among defensemen on the Player Rater. It's expected that Karlsson earns negative Player Rater value for penalty minutes, but he's also earning negative points in goals and plus/minus. Karlsson is trailing his pace from last season, but not by as much as you might think. He's on pace to finish with 60 points this season, only 11 short of his 71 from last season. His shots on goal are trending right on the money, while his power-play points pace is only down a touch. What really hurts here is the minus-16. Where is Marc Methot's steady defensive play when the Ottawa Senators need him?
Karlsson is switching defense partners on a near-nightly basis as the Senators try to find the right man for the job. He's played with Johnny Oduya most often this season, but has been spending recent games with either Ben Harpur, Fredrik Claesson or Thomas Chabot. Nothing has got him into gear just yet, and this doesn't look like an easy fix.
The good news here is that Karlsson is still going to be among the highest-scoring defensemen this season. His career shooting percentage suggests he should have four tallies already. The other good news is that plus/minus can be mitigated against in fantasy hockey by finding a complementary player for your roster. Anton Stralman is available in 82.3 percent of ESPN leagues and is a fantasy void outside of his plus-21 rating, but if you have Karlsson's scoring and Stralman's plus/minus to offset, the end results aren't as bad. Zdeno Chara, who sits at plus-11 and is available in 44.5 percent of leagues, would be another option. Obviously fantasy rosters with games played limits will have trouble using such a strategy, but head-to-head leagues should be able to find the wiggle room to protect Karlsson from himself until the Senators can find the next Methot for their blue line.
Karlsson is probably not a reduced-value trade target right now because there isn't as clear a path to immediate improvement as there is with Burns or Byfuglien. That said, there is opportunity to show your fellow managers where Karlsson currently ranks on the Player Rater while putting in an offer. There's a chance they may not look past the ugly showing and consider dealing him for less than a No. 1 fantasy defenseman.
Forwards on the move
Getzlaf's usual spot on the Ducks' top line was kept warm by the recent arrival of Adam Henrique (six points in his five games as a Duck so far). Make no mistake, though. Getzlaf will resume his duties on the line with Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell on Monday. H hasn't played since Oct. 29 and has seven points in six games this season. As for Henrique, he'll get second-line duties for now, but Ryan Kelsler is also on the verge of a return to action, so Henrique may be destined to be one of the better third-line centers in the league by January.
Ranked 27th among forwards on the Player Rater over the past 30 days, Granlund is making up for a slow start to the campaign. He finished November with 15 points in 15 games and already has three points in four December games. The Wild are still looking for line combinations that stick more than a game or two at a time, but you can rest assured that Granlund is a lock for top-six minutes going forward. He finished 30th among all forwards on the Player Rater last season, so this burst of offense isn't unexpected or unsustainable.
The first player selected in the 2005 entry draft continues to help buoy the fantasy value of the last player selected in that draft. Sidney Crosby has been on fire with 15 points in his past eight games, and Hornqvist has eight points in eight games while riding shotgun with him. The duo was slowed on Saturday when Hornqvist left the game after taking a puck to the face, but he is in line to play again with Sid on Monday.
Defensemen on the move
It's time to acknowledge the fact that Ekholm is the No. 1 fantasy defenseman on the Player Rater during the past 30 days. His minutes have been staggering, including duty on the power play, and the results have flowed from there. Following a relatively quiet October that confirmed the choice to leave him off the fantasy radar during the offseason, Ekholm produced five goals and eight assists in 18 games since Nov. 1. Ekholm's breakout throws some cold water on the idea of Ryan Ellis coming back hot from injury in the new year, as his key minutes now have another competitor vying for them.
Parayko has been heating up, even apart from that fact that Pietrangelo is banged up and missed Sunday's game. Parayko has only missed the score sheet in three of his past 13 games, collecting a total of 12 points during that span. His average ice time has increased by a minute in each ensuing month of this season, with his December average sitting at 23:39.
Goalies on the move
Just as we acknowledged that Ekholm is the surprising leader among defensemen for fantasy value during the past 30 days, we should also take note that the No. 1 goaltender on the Player Rater during that time is Andersen. The wins are flowing for the Maple Leafs, and Andersen has been limiting the crooked numbers on the opposing scoreboard to some degree. During his first 13 appearances this season, Andersen allowed five or more goals on five occasions. Since then (Nov. 4), he's allowed five or more goals in zero of 13 appearances. In fact, he's only allowed three or four goals in four of those appearances (and he won all four of them). He's not going to have the best goals-against average in the league, but his ratios will be serviceable and his wins will be plentiful. If Andersen and his teammates can continue to limit the damaging five-plus goal outings, he's going to finish among the top-10 fantasy goaltenders.
As we have witnessed during a recent stretch for the Boston Bruins, it takes more than a few good games by the backup to turn the tables on the starter. That said, Martin Jones is edging precariously close to ceding more starts to Aaron Dell. Jones has allowed four or more goals in each of four December starts, while Dell has been close to perfect for some time now. Going back a month, Dell has won four of his five starts, earning shutouts in two of them. Through eight starts, Dell sits at 5-3-1 with a 1.72 goals-against average and .939 save percentage. The minuscule ratios are in line with those he showed in limited action last season as Jones' backup. He's already on pace for 23 starts this season, but that number could increase if Jones can't get his act together soon.
John Gibson, G, Anaheim Ducks (down 18 spots to No. 57)
Ryan Miller came to the Ducks expecting to be the backup to the emerging Gibson, but he could be in line for more starts if his numbers continue to be significantly better than his counterpart. While the trend in starts appears concerning at first glance, with Gibson and Miller alternating in December so far, both of Miller's appearances came in the second of back-to-back outings, so the pecking order remains in tact. Even so, Gibson has kept the opposition to fewer than three goals only once since Nov. 19 and hasn't allowed fewer than two goals since October.
The injury to Jaden Schwartz is a devastating one for fantasy managers. Replacing his production won't be easy, but there are options on the waiver wire. Check for recent promotions to the top six such as Tyler Johnson, Tom Wilson or Alex DeBrincat to help bridge the immediate gap. ... Matt Murray is back at practice and trending toward a return soon. Tristan Jarry has been more than serviceable, but has zero fantasy value as a handcuff. ... Cam Talbot is skating again, but there is no word on his return to action. The Edmonton Oilers started Laurent Brossoit in back-to-back games over the weekend, so they appear to have no interest in allowing Nick Ellis to start an NHL game (despite the fact Ellis had better numbers than Brossoit in the AHL last season). Fantasy managers will have to sit tight with Talbot and look elsewhere. ... Auston Matthews missed Sunday's game with an upper-body injury, but he played after sustaining the injury in Saturday's game, so don't expect him out too long. ... Roberto Luongo's injury does not appear to be short-term, and James Reimer is at a meltdown level of performance since Luongo was hurt. Desperate deep-league managers can consider rostering Harri Sateri to see what happens this week. It'll be hard for him to do worse than Reimer, and the Panthers have the offense to win games.