EARLY-SEASON OBSERVATIONS AND TIPS
I'm well aware that Fantasy Hockey is not for everyone. Compared to football and baseball it's barely a blip on the radar, but still, for us hardcore fans, there really is nothing like the game. In what other Fantasy Sport can you win your week because your player happened to be on the field (ice) of play when a point was scored, even though he did little or nothing to help contribute to that point? Not to mention, in what other Fantasy Sport can a negative, penalty minutes, be a positive? While it's true that I don't like PIM as a category (would prefer "hits" much more), since most leagues reward them you need to draft for it. Hockey is a different kind of game, but like baseball, it makes those west coast games that are still being played after midnight all the more interesting on the east coast. In this weekly column I'm going to be talk about my observations from the week that just passed. One thing to keep in mind, we are not even a week into the season, and like baseball, hockey is a marathon and not a sprint. So relax about players that have gotten off to a slow start. The last thing you want to do is make a knee jerk reaction that you will regret later on. Now to our observations.
Should we be worried about coach John Tortorella and the Vancouver Canucks? We have talked many times about how Tortorella demands his team play from the goaltender on out. This can stifle an offense somewhat, but more concerning is that he also demands his players block as many shots as possible. Why is that a problem? Well that little frozen disc can do some damage when it hits you and we have already seen two injuries due to this. Alexandre Burrows, who was playing on the top line with the Sedin twins will miss at least a couple of weeks with what looks like a broken foot (Tortorella guards injuries like they are state secrets) after blocking a shot, and Jordan Schroeder is on IR after taking a shot off his ankle. While it's true that these injuries may have happened even without the mandate to block shots, this is something to keep an eye on. One other note is that Daniel Sedin (a perennial first-round pick until this season) did not record a SOG in the Canucks opener. Where has his offense gone? If you're wondering who will replace Burrows while he is out, Jannik Hansen (available in 62% of ESPN leagues) would seem to be your man.
[caption id="attachment_54074" align="alignright" width="300"] Pick up Chris Neil now if he is available in your league. <em><strong>Photo Credit:</strong> </em><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/bobfina/">Bob Fina</a>[/caption]
Marc-Andre Fleury owners have to be pretty happy with how things have worked out to start the season. MAF was a draft day dilemma. He's the starting goaltender for Pittsburgh, one of the best teams in the NHL. But he’s also a head case, a goalie that seems to fall apart at the most inappropriate times. Still, in leagues that require two starting goaltenders he was going no later than the third-round. I'm not in any way saying that Fleury was happy to hear the bad news about his backup, Tomas Vokoun (blood clot may end his career), but he no longer has to worry about a proven NHL goaltender taking his starting job should he falter once again. Then you take his shutout over the Devils in the season opener plus only giving up one goal Saturday and you have to feel pretty good about Fleury being on your Fantasy team. Even if he were to struggle for a period of time, it's not like Jeff Zatkoff is any kind of threat.
If you're in a league with 12 or more teams that starts two goaltenders, then this could be a trying season for you, especially if you're in a weekly lineup league. There just aren't enough solid goalies to go around and several teams are still trying to figure out who the starter should be. It was originally thought that when Ray Emery signed with Philadelphia that he was told the starting job was his. Well, that hasn't come to fruition yet, as it looks like Steve Mason is ahead of him in the pecking order. Tampa Bay is still working out who will start there, as neither Ben Bishop nor Anders Lindback has separated themselves from the pack. Martin Brodeur and Cory Schneider may end up playing close to a 50/50 split in New Jersey, and the Devils have already let it be known that neither will play on back to back nights. The Maple Leafs gave up a top prospect to acquire Jonathan Bernier from the Kings, yet James Reimer is considered the starter. Other goalie situations to watch are in Anaheim, Buffalo, Calgary, Edmonton, Florida, St. Louis, and Washington.
When the opening rosters were announced for each NHL team last week, I was wondering why the Oilers' Ryan Nugent-Hopkins wasn't placed on the IR to start the season. He wasn't supposed to be ready to play until early November. Fantasy owners received an early Christmas present when it was announced that RNH will return to the lineup Monday. This could cause a shift in the lines for Edmonton, as they have been using Taylor Hall at center with the injuries to RNH and Sam Gagner. The Oilers were apparently going to wait until after the weekend to determine whether or not to return Hall to his more natural wing position or keep him at center until Gagner returns in about three weeks.
One thing to remember this NHL season is that even though it is not nearly as compacted as last year (48 games in less than 100 days), it's still shrunk down, as the league will have to stop play for approximately three weeks to let the players compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics. This means there will be more back to back games than usual, which could mean less starts for your goaltender than you had originally planned. So keep that in mind if you believe your starter is getting more rest than you expected.
Here are some players available in more than 50% of ESPN leagues that should be able to help your Fantasy team.
- Erik Cole, Dallas Stars (52%): He's now playing on the top line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.
- Chris Neil, Ottawa Senators (59%): If you need PIMs he's one of the best sources and also he can light the lamp a few times.
- Valeri Nichushkin, Dallas Stars (63%): This would be the high upside pick as this rookie has a boatload of talent.
- Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks (68%): He should absolutely be on a Fantasy team if he qualifies on defense.
- Dany Heatley, Minnesota Wild (68%): Heatley must have something left and he's a free agent after the season.
- Daniel Briere, Montreal Canadiens (70%): The only concern with Briere is his ability, or inability, to stay healthy.
- Patric Hornqvist, Nashville Predators (80%): He averaged 28 goals a season from 2009-2012.
- Paul Stastny, Colorado Avalanche (84%): He has scored 20-plus goals in the past and may do so again.
- Tyler Bozak, Toronto Maple Leafs (85%): Bozak is centering the top line with Phil Kessel and should not be available in this many leagues.
- Viktor Stalberg, Nashville Predators (93%): He is finally getting his chance to be a Top Six forward.
- Mason Raymond, Toronto Maple Leafs (94%): Raymond is a better player than people think. If he ever gets to play on one of the top two lines in Toronto, look out.
- Ales Hemsky, Edmonton Oilers (95%): Hemsky looks like he has something to prove in the early going.
- Beau Bennett, Pittsburgh Penguins (95%): Bennett is playing on a line with Evgeni Malkin, enough said.
- Devin Setoguchi, Winnipeg Jets (96%): Setoguchi has been bounced around the past couple of years (San Jose, Minnesota) but he can score, and the Jets have plenty of talent.
- Justin Abdelkader, Detroit Red Wings (97%): Another player whose value goes up because of what line he is playing on.
Feel free to follow me and ask any Fantasy related questions you like on twitter, @georgekurtz.
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