Things are looking particularly grim in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada this season. It’s especially evident when you consider that the previous sentence could have been written at any point in the last seven seasons and still held just as true. However, three number one overall draft picks and five head coaches later, and things seem to finally be approaching rock bottom. This week brought the firing of head coach Dallas Eakins following a woeful stretch of hockey in which the Oilers lost 15 of their last 16 games. This decision came just 10 days after a press conference held by general manager Craig MacTavish in which he preached patience with the team and claimed that Eakins’ job was not in jeopardy. Adding to the confusion is a rather convoluted plan for the coaching vacancy, which includes MacTavish himself stepping behind the bench immediately, only to eventually hand the reins over to Todd Nelson, the head coach of the team’s AHL affiliate Oklahoma City Barons for the remainder of the season. Barring exceptional results throughout the balance of the 2014-15 season, this will all likely culminate in the hiring of a recently or soon to be fired high profile coach in the offseason. The potential candidates include former Pittsburgh Penguins boss Dan Bylsma, Todd McLellan of the playoff bubble San Jose Sharks, and Peter DeBoer of the AARP sponsored New Jersey Devils.
As troublesome as this turmoil in Western Canada has been for any Oilers fan too young to have witnessed the five Stanley Cups won in the 1980s, there are significant implications at stake for Fantasy Hockey owners as well. With trade rumors swirling and none of their assets deemed untouchable, it is likely that one or more of their premier offensive talents is dealt before the March 2 trade deadline. Any Oilers player dealt to a contending team will see a great increase in Fantasy Hockey value, so if you have been frustrated by underperforming forwards Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, have patience, as a change in scenery could pay remarkable dividends. In addition, there is an opportunity for underutilized talents on the Oilers roster to expand their roles and increase their playing time with a new coach calling the shots. Below I will discuss one player from the Oilers who is available in over 50 percent of standard Yahoo! leagues and could see a significant boost in production under the new regime. In addition, I will take you around the league to look at a few non-Oilers available in a majority of leagues whose recent play makes them intriguing candidates for immediate addition to any roster.
David Perron LW/RW, Edmonton Oilers (Ownership – 35 percent): Finishing last season behind only Taylor Hall as the second-most valuable Oilers forward in Fantasy Hockey leagues, Perron has failed to live up to increased expectations this year. After emerging as a tremendous multi-category threat last season with 28 goals, 29 assists, 90 penalty minutes, and 220 shots on goal, Perron’s production is well off that pace in every category this year. A major culprit of the decline in results is the decreased role provided by Coach Eakins. Forced to justify the offseason overpayment to free agent Benoit Pouliot, Perron was demoted to the third forward line and the second power play unit. With his average time on ice dropping from a healthy 19:07 to a mediocre 16:55, as well as the confidence hit sustained from the demotion, it is no mystery that his production has plummeted. However, with a new boss behind the bench, Perron now has the opportunity to re-start his season with a clean slate and score at levels mirroring his superlative 2013-14 campaign. His ownership levels are at a season low 35 percent and dropping, yet Perron likely has the most upside of anyone currently languishing on the waiver wire and is a worthwhile gamble for owners in need of multi-category contributions.
Jhonas Enroth G, Buffalo Sabres (Ownership – 40 percent): A month ago, I would have considered featuring a Sabres’ goaltender in this space only as part of a blooper reel, yet here we are. Dating back to November 15, the Sabres have won 10 of their last 14 games and have transitioned from the race for the number one overall draft pick to an unlikely push for a playoff berth. Steady goaltending has been a big part of the change in direction with starter Jhonas Enroth leading the charge. With wins in eight of his last ten starts, along with a 2.30 GAA and .934 SV percentage over this span, Enroth is proving to be an excellent number two option in goal for Fantasy Hockey owners. While the win rate will inevitably decline, the peripheral stats are well in line with Enroth’s career averages and will help maintain his value as the season progresses.
Mike Santorelli C, Toronto Maple Leafs (Ownership – 19 percent): A free-agent acquisition of the Maple Leafs this past summer, Mike Santorelli is enjoying a fruitful first season in Toronto. Santorelli has found immediate chemistry on a second line with forwards Nazem Kadri and Daniel Winnik, and the secondary scoring provided by the trio has been a big part of the Maple Leafs’ success so far this season. Over his last 10 games, Santorelli has posted a remarkable 12 points including four multi-point campaigns. In addition to the high scoring rate, Santorelli has demonstrated remarkable defensive responsibility with a team leading plus-17 rating, which ranks in the Top 5 league-wide. This level of production on both ends of the ice won’t come along too often on the open market throughout the remainder of the season, which makes him a must add if he is available in your league.
Alec Martinez D, Los Angeles Kings (Ownership – 18 percent): This week’s news that Kings’ D Slava Voynov is set to stand trial on a felony count of domestic abuse likely spells the end of the Russian defenseman’s NHL season, if not his career. As tragic as this development is, from a Fantasy perspective it has opened up a position on the Kings’ defensive depth chart behind top pairing Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin. It has been Stanley Cup hero Alec Martinez that has stepped up to fill the void. By scoring series clinching goals in both the Western Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final last season, Martinez cemented his legacy as a clutch performer, and his success is beginning to carry over to the regular season. Defensive depth is at a premium in Fantasy leagues this season, which makes it essential to acquire any available talent from the free agent pool, especially one like Martinez, who sees time on his team’s power play and has an excellent plus-11 rating on the season.
Boone Jenner C/LW, Columbus Blue Jackets (Ownership – 10 percent): Much like the Sabres, the Blue Jackets have rebounded from early season struggles to the cusp of playoff contention. However, unlike their counterparts from Buffalo, the Jackets have the talent to maintain their current level of play for the remainder of the season. Since his return from injury in early November, Boone Jenner has been a major catalyst for the improvement demonstrated on ice in Columbus. In only 19 games of play, Jenner has posted a terrific 54 shots on goal and 62 hits, exactly the sort of peripheral production successful owners are always on the lookout for. In addition, he has been starting to light the lamp of late, with five goals in his last seven games. With a promising assignment alongside C Ryan Johansen on the team’s top line, Jenner has been placed in a position to continue his superb play throughout the season and should be owned in a much larger percentage of leagues.
Sean Couturier C, Philadelphia Flyers (Ownership – 7 percent): One of Philadelphia’s myriad of talented young forwards, Couturier is thriving in a role as the team’s third line center and has begun to tap into his tremendous potential. Although known more for his defensive prowess during his first three NHL seasons, six points in his last seven games illustrates growth on the offensive side of the puck. On pace to top his career highs in both goals and points, Couturier is only going to continue to improve and is a great candidate to have a breakout over the course of the Flyers’ final 52 games. Although his current level of production doesn’t warrant immediate roster addition, he is certainly worth placing on a watch list and closely monitoring as the season progresses.