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Clustering Fantasy Hockey Defensemen

In a fantasy hockey draft, you’ll come across times when someone picked the player you wanted right before your turn. (This isn’t a problem if you are prepared!) But sometimes, the next best player available doesn’t meet your needs for certain categories. In other words, you want the next best version of that taken player.

In multi-category leagues with hits and blocked shots, grouping defensemen by similar stats can be a challenge. This is where a data mining method called clustering can come in handy.

Below, hierarchical clustering is used to group the top 50 defensemen based on 2014-15 goals, assists, hits, blocked shots, shots on goal, and power play points.


Tier 1
Erik Karlsson
Brent Burns
Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Justin Faulk
Shea Weber
Dustin Byfuglien

Do your best to get one of these blueliners on your fantasy team. The clustering method was decent at identifying elite fantasy defensemen, but Justin Faulk may require a few more seasons like his 2014-15 performance to be confidently labelled as a first-rate fantasy defenseman.

Defensemen like Oliver Ekman-Larsson are invaluable in fantasy hockey.


Tier 2
Dennis Wideman
P.K. Subban
Roman Josi
John Carlson

Tier 2 defensemen shoot a lot less, but block a lot more than the Tier 1 defenders.

Dennis Wideman, who had a career high of 56 points in 2014-15, may have peaked. His 184 blocked shots were much higher than his next best of 132. Also, the last time he scored at least 50 points was in 2008-09 with the Bruins.

Interestingly, P.K. Subban was not classified as Tier 1, although most poolies, including myself, would label him as an elite fantasy defenseman.

While Subban and Carlson are known names, Roman Josi does not get enough recognition for his fantasy output with Nashville. In the past two seasons, he had two double digit goal years.


Tier 3
Kris Letang
Keith Yandle
Drew Doughty
Andrei Markov
Mark Streit
Niklas Kronwall
Kevin Shattenkirk
Marek Zidlicky

These defensemen are generally more of the playmaking type than those in the previous two tiers. It is a decent list, although Andrei Markov and Mark Streit may slow down as they are over 35 years old.

Marek Zidlicky, currently unsigned, was an odd selection for this group since his skill level differs from the others.


Tier 4
Johnny Boychuk
Jack Johnson
Jake Muzzin
Cody Franson
Brent Seabrook
David Savard
Travis Hamonic
Dion Phaneuf
Michael Del Zotto

On this list, big hitters with some shot blocking ability can be found. If your league counts hits, you should have at least one of these bruisers on your fantasy squad.

Brent Seabrook and Johnny Boychuk’s 2014-15 stats were very similar, which might be worth remembering when Seabrook is taken.

In late rounds, Michael Del Zotto and Travis Hamonic make good value picks.

David Savard, who had a breakout 2014-15 season, is not as well established as his peers and therefore, should be in a lower tier.


Tier 5
Alex Pietrangelo
Kris Russell
Alex Goligoski
Ryan Suter

These blueliners can provide some offense, while blocking many shots. In that regard, they are similar to Tier 2 defensemen. Keep in mind, though, that Pietrangelo and Goligoski lost their share of power play time.


Tier 6
Tyson Barrie
Mark Giordano
Mike Green
Dougie Hamilton
Aaron Ekblad
Torey Krug
Sami Vatanen
Duncan Keith
Alexander Edler
T.J. Brodie
Anton Stralman
James Wisniewski
Ryan McDonagh
Trevor Daley
Nick Leddy
Victor Hedman

This longer list shows blueliners with similar overall values as those in Tier 5, but Tier 6 tends to be on the top power play unit and score more often.

Duncan Keith may be an elite defenseman in real life, but, in fantasy land, his value is lower because of the few hits he throws. (He was credited for 16 hits in 2014-15.)


Tier 7
Michael Stone
Dan Girardi
Brooks Orpik

Sometimes, poolies neglect hits and blocked shots during the draft. These three shutdown defenders will fill in any hits and blocked shots tallies you are missing. However, remember that they come at a cost: Offense.

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