CONCERNS ABOUT NIKLAS BACKSTROM
We are three weeks into the Fantasy Hockey season. When is the right time to start panicking about players that have gotten off to a slow start? Should you wait till around Halloween, Thanksgiving, maybe Christmas? Obviously, there is no one answer that will cover every player. For example, Henrik Lundqvist, who was taken somewhere around the fifth overall pick in most drafts, is not going to have a 3.33 GAA for very long. I'm certainly not selling low on his services right now. James Neal will get healthy, back in the lineup, and start to produce for the Penguins; the same goes for Rick Nash. Claude Giroux only has three assists so far this season; should you sell him for sixty cents on the dollar? Of course not. So be careful not to make quick judgments. The same can be said of players who have gotten off to faster starts than we expected. Alexander Steen and Tomas Hertl lead the league in goals coming into Saturday. Does anyone really expect them to keep up this pace? It's a pretty good time to sell high. The same might be said for Kari Lehtonen, who is in the Top 5 in GAA (1.57) and SV percentage (.953). It would be highly unlikely that he keeps this up all season long. What I'm trying to say is that when it comes to a player who has put up the numbers over and over again, I'm a little more patient than with someone who has only done it for a short period of time. In other words, I trust players who have a track record, not so much those that are one-year wonders. Now let's take a look at what else happened last week.
1. If you're looking for the first team that might make a major move to shake things up, look no further than the Edmonton Oilers. The team is loaded with the kind of talent that makes Fantasy owners drool. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner, and Justin Schultz are just some of the top young players on the Oilers roster. The problem is the goaltending. General manager Craig MacTavish came out this week and stated that "goaltending is an organizational weakness.” This could be construed as just saber rattling, or it could mean there is a move to be made here. The Oilers and Maple Leafs were the only two teams interested in acquiring Roberto Luongo last year. Now, Edmonton can't grab Luongo this year but that is not to say that they won't go after another net minder. I wouldn't be surprised if the Oilers were to deal one of their top young forwards before the trade deadline to acquire a goaltender that they can rely on.
2. What has happened to Dany Heatley? He has one point in eight games this season after only accumulating 21 points (11G, 10A) in 36 games last year. The Wild would've certainly bought out his contract during the off-season if not for Heatley rehabbing from shoulder surgery. In 10 team leagues he can be sent to the waiver wire, as he is just taking up space on your roster right now.
3. Those owners who selected Daniel Sedin with a late first round pick or early second round one are being rewarded right now, as he is off to a quick start with two goals and eight points. Sedin had been a perennial Top 5-8 pick overall until this season. His subpar 2013 season, along with the defensive style coaching of John Tortorella saw Sedin slip in drafts. Sedin has looked back to his old self in the early going but he has been separated from his twin brother (Henrik), so there could still be some growing pains ahead.
4. Not really sure what to make of this as far as Fantasy is concerned, but there is only one team in the Western Conference (Edmonton) with a losing record. In the Eastern Conference there are seven teams. Is the West so much better than the East? Maybe so, but in Fantasy my only possible use of this information is if I were looking for a tiebreaker to use when it comes to starting a goaltender from the East or the West; well, I found it.
5. If you're a Niklas Backstrom owner it may be time to get quite a bit worried. The Wild signed Backstrom to a three-year contract extension in June mainly because of the Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis of Josh Harding. Harding had been considered to be the goaltender of the future in Minnesota until the MS diagnosis, and the Wild didn't trust any of their younger net minders to be able to handle the load in case Harding had a relapse. Well Harding started all four games this past week, including the past two when Backstrom was healthy enough to be the backup. What does this mean? It seems the Wild are going to continue to ride Harding while he's hot (eight goals allowed in his last eight games). It also means that even if Backstrom eventually gets the starting job back, one little cold streak could see Harding back between the pipes.
6. Aside from Lundqvist, whom I just have no choice but to start, I'd leave the rest of my Rangers on the bench. Nash is still dealing with concussion symptoms and there is no word yet on when he might return to the lineup. Plus, Ryan Callahan now has a broken thumb, which will keep him out of the lineup for about a month. Who is going to score for this team? Right now, if you have a goaltender going up against NYR, you need to start him.
7. Let's take a look at players still available in over 50 percent of ESPN leagues that could help your Fantasy team.
• Sam Gagner, Edmonton Oilers (52 percent): He's coming back from his broken jaw within the next two weeks and was quite productive last season.
• Derek Roy, St. Louis Blues (53 percent): It was just a few years ago that Roy looked like a solid up and coming player.
• Jiri Tlusty, Carolina Panthers (54 percent): He scored two goals Saturday night which means he won't be on this list next week.
• Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers (57 percent): His move to the top line should finally get him on the scoreboard this season.
• Scott Hartnell, Philadelphia Flyers (59 percent): Should be ready to re-join the lineup within the next 7-10 days.
• Jake Muzzin, Los Angeles Kings (68 percent): Muzzin was a sneaky pickup last season but is having trouble continuing that success this season.
• Alex Chiasson, Dallas Stars (70 percent): He's a promising young rookie but can he keep up the pace over a long season?
• Alex Kilorn, Tampa Bay Lightning (70 percent): I'd like him more if he were to ever get bumped up to the top line with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.
• Kyle Okposo, New York Islanders (70 percent): The results aren't there yet but he has been buzzing around the net of late.
• Kris Versteeg, Florida Panthers (76 percent): Has been productive in the past.
• Alex Tanguay, Colorado Avalanche (79 percent): Playing on the top line with Gabriel Landeskog and Paul Stastny and more importantly, is being productive.
• Brad Boyes, Florida Panthers (79 percent): Picking up last where he left off last season with the Islanders.
• Dave Bolland, Toronto Maple Leafs (82 percent): Quietly productive but still not a top six forward.
• Derek Morris, Phoenix Coyotes (85 percent): He really shouldn't be this available.
• Matt Cooke, Minnesota Wild (91 percent): I guess an old dog does learn new tricks.
• Dustin Penner, Anaheim Ducks (92 percent): He's back on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
• Chris Higgins, Vancouver Canucks (96 percent): Playing on the second line now but that could change once Alex Burrows returns from his broken foot.
• Josh Bailey, New York Islanders (97 percent): Bailey may finally be realizing his potential.
• Nino Niederreiter, Minnesota Wild (98 percent): This could be Nino's breakout season.
Feel free to follow me and ask any Fantasy related questions you like on twitter, @georgekurtz.
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