Chris Pronger was a game changer. He could dominate you on both sides of the puck and leave you feeling like you were standing naked in front of a two-way mirror.Like Pronger himself. It’s been a tough week for the big guy. It’s almost impossible to win in fantasy without at least one stud defender. Sure, you’ll meet the occasional guy who employs baseball’s stars and scrubs approach to fill his defense. That means he has a bunch of benchwarmers on the back end and money to spend on high-end up front. But how often does that guy win? Brendan Shanahan and the Department of Player Safety have all but guaranteed we’ll never see another Chris Pronger. They just don’t allow the same kind of snarl any more … So who comes the closest to Pronger’s mix of offensive dominance, defensive fire, absolute leadership and ugly snarl? Zdeno Chara and Dustin Byfulglen are the only guys that came to mind for me and only one – Chara – might come close to controlling a game the way Pronger did. Yes, the game has changed. But Pronger still delivered some of his best all-round fantasy performances after the last lockout. Last season, there were just four players who delivered a Pronger-standard 50 points and 100 PIMs. Just four! And when you realize Pronger almost always delivered at least half of his points on the PP, you see just how dominant he actually was. Now where does he fit in the Bobby Orr era of defenders? I’ve removed Doug Harvey and Eddie Shore from the conversation because none of us have ever seen them play. So there’s a relatively easy top-three in Orr, Niklas Lidstrom and Paul Coffey, and then there’s a group of seven that includes Larry Robinson, Pronger, Chris Chelios, Ray Bourque, Scott Niedermayer, Denis Potvin and Scott Stevens. I could make the argument that Pronger is at the top of that group of seven. And I hated him when he was on the ice. Still, it’s sad to see him gone. Now let’s take a look at who caught my eye this week. Patrik Berglund, C, St. Louis (24 percent owned) – I’ve talked about him before, so I won’t spend a lot of time repeating myself now … other than to say this. Top-15 goal scorers should be owned in almost every league, even if that’s all they do. He better not be on the wire for long after you read this. Lars Eller, C, Montreal (4 percent owned) – Eller has high-end speed and skill, and he can dominate a game when he puts his mind to it. Like Thursday night when he scored twice, including the game winner, and added an assist. His game is starting to take off, in part because he’s showing a lot more patience with the puck this year. He’s on a 50-point pace and there are a lot of single-year formats where that kind of production already fits well. Keeper leaguers? Well, he’s probably already long gone. Dan Ellis (36 percent owned)/Justin Peters (6 percent owned), G, Carolina – I made a huge speculative bid on Ellis in last week’s free agent bidding, in part to block someone else from getting him and part because he might actually have enough mojo to win a few games in the next few weeks. He was only owned in about six percent of leagues and by Thursday evening, he was up to 36 (and rising). Ellis was burning up the AHL before he signed with the Canes so he has the potential to deliver over a short period in the NHL. Justin Peters, who has had an outstanding season with AHL Charlotte, will back him up. And in an ideal world, the two platoon in a Nicklas Backstrom-Manny Fernandez kind of way. There’s solid value in that. Alexei Emelin, D, Montreal (5 percent owned) – Emelin channeled his best Darius Kasparaitis last season and is doing the same this year. But this year, he’s adding offense to the mix … at least in the last five games. He has five points in those five games and has been held off the score sheet just once. He’s not going to get you power-play points and for the hitting he does, he’s not a PIMs monster. But he’s delivering enough secondary offense right now to make him valuable over a short number of games. Jannik Hansen, RW, Vancouver (5 percent owned) – Hansen busts his hump every time he hits the ice. And he has the offensive moxy to deliver fantasy value if he’s given a shot on a scoring line. Remember last season? He had something like 22 points in his first 37 games last season when Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler were out with injuries. He seems to have developed some chemistry with Raymond and Chris Higgins, and he has five points in his last four games. He might just provide short-term value, but you’ll need to be ready to drop him fast when he sputters. Jussi Jokinen, LW/C, Carolina (5 percent owned) – Juicy isn’t the 30-goal, 65-point fantasy surprise he was in 2009-10. But he’s way better than he’s shown this season. And surprise, surprise – he has picked up his pace (five points in four games) since the calendar flipped to March. His role as an offensive performer has changed since Jordan Staal arrived at center ice in Carolina. But Juicy’s playmaking ability should bring you some fantasy value. Alex Killorn, C, Tampa Bay (1 percent owned) – Killorn is playing left wing alongside Vincent Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis – too bad he doesn’t qualify there (yet). Killorn is a Harvard grad that vaulted up the depth chart when Benoit Pouliot got hurt. He brings grit, decent speed and offensive upside to that high-octane line and he has delivered three points in his last four games and eight points in 14 games overall. Watch for him to earn some positional flexibility and then snap him up. Andrei Loktionov, C, New Jersey (2 percent owned) – Loktionov never really got a shot in La-La-Land, so the move to Jersey was like a get-out-of-jail-free card. He’s a top-six type with fantastic creativity and he promptly delivered a five-game point streak (three goals, two assists) upon donning the red and black. He’s been silent for three games, but it’s hard to stifle his high-end vision and talent. Watch his ice time and linemates, and get ready to snap him up. Jake Muzzin, D, Los Angeles (3 percent owned) – Muzzin has turned up the heat in his last half dozen games and has been rewarded with five points, including a big three-point game on Tuesday night. He is a great passer, has nice, quick shot and takes his own-zone play very, very seriously. With that combo, he’d get a lot more attention in a lot of other cities, but he’s behind Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov in L.A. Still, Jeff Petry, D, Edmonton (5 percent owned) – Talk about hot. Petry has just five points on the season, but they’ve all come in the last five games … after he put up an offensive goose egg in his first 17 games. He’s big with good wheels and athletic DNA (go look up Petry, Dan Detroit Tigers), and he’s full of that proverbial “compete” that hockey people love. And from a fantasy perspective, he has an uncanny ability to get pucks on the net. He’s a good fit for the great skaters in Oil Country and can deliver decent fantasy value. He’ll be even better next season … Jared Spurgeon, D, Minnesota (6 percent owned) – Spurgeon might be small (5-9), but his smarts and skills could make him a solid second tier option … that is, when his offense shows up. And it finally has. A foot injury kept him out for almost three weeks and it has taken him a while to find his groove. He has three points in his last four games heading into Saturday night. Back to Pronger. I never owned Pronger and in hindsight, I regret that. I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to blueliners and just about everyone knows I get giddy when the name Shea Weber comes up. I had to settle for Drew Doughty in one league this year. Yah, I know. Yes, the game has changed. But I can’t help but wonder how many – if any – of the crop of contemporary defenders will have a his name mentioned in the same breath as Chris Pronger. Just look at what’s happened to Mike Green’s career. But I digress. Until next week.
- Sports & Recreation
- Chris Pronger