From this point forward I’ll be writing two Fantasy hockey columns each week. The first column, Monday, will be a news and notes column, information that could help you set your lineup each week. Each Friday, I will write about the goaltending news that is out there and any breaking news that may have hit since Monday. The goal, as always, is to help you in your Fantasy moves and to hopefully bring home a championship.
If you’re wondering why I’m focusing on the goalies, the reason is simple. Goalies are like starting pitchers in Fantasy Baseball or quarterbacks in Fantasy Football; it’s very hard to win without a good one (or two). In category leagues, goalies can count for up to half of those categories. In most leagues you start two, and after the draft it can be very tough to acquire a solid one. Some weeks will be busier than others as far as goalie news is concerned. Let’s get started.
Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price will not be back as quickly as Fantasy owners had hoped from his leg injury. Price has been out since Nov. 25 and the original timetable was for him to return about mid-January. Red flags were raised, though, when the Canadiens acquired Ben Scrivens from the Oilers on Dec. 28. Why the need for a veteran net minder if Price was going to return in two weeks? Well, now we know. Price has had some sort of setback and now won’t return until after the All-Star break (Jan. 31). This doesn’t mean he will return immediately after the break; that’s just the best case scenario. Mike Condon is still the starter for Montreal in the meantime.
New York Islanders: Jaroslav Halak (upper body) was activated off of injured reserve Wednesday and started in the loss to Washington on Thursday. Originally it was thought that Halak would go last Sunday, but the Islanders decided to play it safe and give him another four days off to make sure he was as close to 100-percent as possible. You can put Halak back into your lineup but remember, with the loss of Johnny Boychuk (shoulder) for at least a month, the Islanders’ defense will suffer. Defense has been the Isles’ weak link for quite a few seasons now, as they lack depth. Yes, they do have top prospects who are defensemen, but the organization has seemed to shy away from starting them. It seems they would rather go with players like Brian Strait and Marek Zidlicky, who just aren’t very good, and when you consider that Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey could get overexposed as second pair defenders, this team could be in some trouble on the back end. The plus side is that if Nick Leddy is available on your waiver wire he could be a good pickup. Even though he did get off to a slow start this season offensively, he is likely to anchor the power play until Boychuk is ready to return.
Vancouver Canucks: Ryan Miller has been out of the lineup since Dec. 20 with what the team is calling muscle cramps. Most NHL teams treat injuries like they are state secrets, and they are rarely truthful when it comes to the exact nature of the injury. That certainly seems to be true in this case. I mean really, who is out for three weeks with muscle cramps? The good news is that he looks to be close to a return to the crease. The Canucks sent Joe Cannata back to the AHL, a clear sign that Miller will at least be able to return to a backup role Saturday.
Buffalo Sabres: Robin Lehner (ankle), remember him? He was sent to the AHL on a conditioning stint and should be ready to return to the team by the end of the month. Lehner was one of the Sabres’ prized acquisitions during the off-season, but he suffered an ankle injury on Oct. 8 and has been slow to heal. Lehner may not be handed the starting job right away, but it should be his job to lose eventually.
Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks traded for Dustin Tokarski Thursday. This was a curious move to say the least. The Ducks already have three NHL goalies on their roster (John Gibson, Frederik Andersen, Anton Khudobin), so why the need to acquire a fourth? My first thought was that the injury that Gibson suffered was more serious than expected and he might need to miss some time. Well, that’s not the case, as Gibson will start in net Friday. Could there be another trade in the works? That’s always possible, but we thought the same thing when Anaheim acquired Khudobin at the 2015 NHL Draft. We assumed that either Gibson or Andersen was on the move. They weren’t. It could just be that Anaheim really likes to have organization depth in goal. Gibson is still the one to start for Fantasy owners.
There was a monster trade this week, as the Blue Jackets dealt Ryan Johansen to Nashville for Seth Jones. This is the kind of deal you generally don’t see completed during the season. They are both former fourth overall picks who could go on to big careers. Yes, Johansen seemed to take most of the blame for what has gone wrong for the Blue Jackets this season. The team as a whole has been one of the biggest disappointments in the NHL. They already fired their coach. They brought in a task master in John Tortorella, who has not been shy about calling Johansen out for his poor play; and when that didn’t work, the next domino was to trade the player. Fantasy-wise this could work out for both players. Johansen has scored more than 60 points the past two seasons, and he just looked like he needed a change of scenery. Jones hasn’t quite had a huge Fantasy impact yet, but now he no longer has to worry about Shea Weber and Roman Josi taking most of the power play time. He should eventually be on the top power play unit in Columbus and get top line minutes. Fantasy-wise this is a win for those owners.
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