2013-14 Leafs Fantasy Hockey Preview – Defence

A few days ago, Ryan Fancey took a look at several Leafs forwards and their fantasy value. Some time between then and now, Leafs Nations readers’ luck changed and now you have me writing about the defencemen. Take a look-see here and find out what’s going on with the Leafs blueliners – and how they can or can’t help your fantasy team.

Is Dion Phaneuf a top fantasy defenceman?

Not really. Phaneuf is a huge-minute, all-situations player and is usually on the Leafs’ top power play unit. That being said, he’s only scored at 0.5 point-per-game rate in 222 regular season games with the Leafs. He’s a fine defenceman, but not an elite fantasy option like Erik Karlsson, P.K. Subban or Kris Letang.

If you’re in a league that rewards penalty minutes and hits, Phaneuf becomes more attractive. Gone are the days were Dion Phaneuf had 100+ PIMs per season – he’s too important to this team to be sitting in the box for two hours a year – but he’s record 1.1 PIMs per game during his tenure with the Leafs.

Be careful if your league takes plus-minus into consideration. The last time Phaneuf was a plus player was in Calgary, and only two seasons ago was a -10. It’d be bold to think Phaneuf sports a plus-rating this year, but not unreasonable to think he will hover around or just below the zero mark.

Feel free to pick up Phaneuf when everyone is scrambling over a huge pile of second line forwards, or enjoy a better crop of players when one of your buds reaches and takes Dion too early.

Will Jake Gardiner put up points this season?

As a rookie fresh out of the NCAA, Gardiner scored 30 points in 75 games for the Leafs in 2011-2012. He followed that up with 31 points in 43 games last season with the Marlies, before struggling through 12 games with the Leafs and often finding himself a healthy scratch.

Yes, Leafs coach Randy Carlyle could have probably utilized him better, but there were real concerns over the lingering effects of a concussion Gardiner suffered just before the lockout lifted.

This year, Gardiner will have a full training camp under his belt and a clean bill of health, and should slot in on the second pairing and perhaps the top power play unit alongside Phaneuf. Whether he’s playing behind the first or second forward lines, Gardiner has 30-40 point upside, but won’t offer much in leagues that reward plus-minus or penalty minutes. Rank him in the second half of your top 40 defenders, maybe a little higher if you expect Cody Franson to sit for an extended period of time.

Speaking of Cody Franson, where should I draft him?

That’s a tough call… Cody Franson could make a team if picked a little later, and break a team if picked too early. Like Gardiner, Franson may very well put up 30-40 points this season (maybe more), but he’ll need a contract and a lack of training camp may hinder him out of the gate. He’s also not going to reward you with a ton of penalty minutes or a particularly high plus-minus, so be aware of that.

Keep a close eye on Franson – flag him in your draft if you can – and if he’s still kicking around after 12 or so rounds, take a serious look at him, especially if everyone is picking up 2nd and 3rd line forwards and all the premier offensive defencemen are gone.

Should I take a flyer on Morgan Rielly?

Only if you’re in a keeper league. Rielly has an slim shot at making the Leafs and can’t be trusted to contribute much this season, if at all. That being said, it’s not crazy to think that Rielly can be putting up big numbers from the backend in as little as two seasons from now. Keep him on your radar – he’s going to be very good.