Week 3 is about to begin in Fantasy Hockey and we are starting to notice a couple of trends, the biggest being that goal scoring is up a little bit. This is something that I have been keeping an eye on and do not find surprising, since the NHL instituted new rules shrinking the size of the goaltenders pads. Simple logic tells you that if the pads are smaller there will be more room for the puck to squeeze into the net. Scoring is not up dramatically, probably not enough to change anyone’s mind about where a top forward or net minder should be drafted, but it is something to keep an eye on and could be the reason why a goalie’s GAA (Goals Against Average) goes up by .10 -.25 percentage points. I’m curious to see if this trend continues, or if everything balances out as the season moves along.
Like most professional leagues, the NHL is trying to do all they can to increase scoring. Let’s face it, the majority of the sports viewing public wants to see high scoring games. In baseball they lowered the mound several decades ago, added the designated hitter, shrunk the strike zone and even reduced the size of many ballparks. The NFL has done everything they can to stifle defenses. Defenders can’t breathe on a receiver or the quarterback, and a hard hit is now frowned upon rather than celebrated. I’m not a basketball guy, but it seems that “traveling” is no longer a major foul. In hockey, two main things we look at are power plays and penalty shots. It’s too early in the season to make any definitive predictions, but they are both trending upward over last season’s numbers. This could just be the official’s way of making a statement, or it could be the NHL’s way of trying to please the public. Let’s move on to this week’s observations and waiver wire recommendations.
Last week we discussed whether or not we should be worried about John Tortorella and the Vancouver Canucks. Well, this week we have to mention the coach that Tortorella was pretty much traded for, Alain Vigneault of the New York Rangers. Due to the reconstruction of Madison Square Garden, the Rangers won’t play their first home game of the season until October 28. That is a long road trip, and it may already be affecting the team negatively. They lost games with scores of 9-2 (vs. Sharks) and 6-0 (vs. Ducks) this week. I’m not really worried about one blowout, it happens. But when you come back in the next game and don’t show up there either, that’s a problem. Those games destroyed the GAA and SV percentage of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, but you’re still rolling him out there. Aside from “The King,” there really isn’t a ton of top talent there, especially with Rick Nash out for the immediate future after suffering a concussion courtesy of Brad Stuart’s elbow (suspended three games). Vigneault likes to play more of a wide-open style of offense, but the Rangers just don’t have anywhere near the same personnel that the Canucks did. This could be a work in progress all season.
I don’t understand the firing of Flyers coach Peter Laviolette just three games into the season. Sure, the team lost all three games, but were they expecting to go 82-0? If you’re going to fire someone for three bad games to start the season, then he should’ve been fired during the off-season. When Craig Berube took over, the first thing I was looking for was whether Steve Mason or Ray Emery would start in net, giving us a pretty good indication of which goaltender he views as his number one. Mason received the call (he’s started two of three games under Berube). Emery owners have to be disappointed, as many thought the reason he signed a team-friendly one-year deal in Philly was so he could prove that he could handle the full-time job and then cash in on free agency next summer.
Too many Fantasy owners worry about which line their players are on. While it’s true we all want our players to be on a line with other top offensive teammates, it’s much more important that they at least remain a top-six forward and are on the number one power play unit. It’s only when a player gets demoted to the third or fourth line, or to the second power play unit that I start to worry. Another thing to keep in mind is that there are plenty of coaches who like to change lines like I change my socks. Tinkering seems to be something they just can’t stop doing. Relax and take a deep breath before you decide to waive a player you were high on just two weeks ago.
Fantasy owners (and the Sabres) are wondering where Ryan Miller will end up this season. The Sabres are going nowhere fast, and they seem to be headed toward a lottery pick in next year’s entry draft. Miller can still help a contender, and once a team’s starting goalie is injured, you can expect his name to be thrown out there as a possible landing spot.
With Saturday night’s win, the Colorado Avalanche are now 5-0. It’s early, but Patrick Roy has done a really good job with this team; the question is whether they can sustain it. This team can definitely score, that was never going to be a problem. Keeping the opposition’s pucks out of the net is the problem. Semyon Varlamov has looked really good in the early going – 1.00 GAA and a .967 save percentage is just sick – but we have seen flashes of brilliance from him before. Consistency has always been a major issue, but Fantasy owners have to start him right now.
Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom suffered a strained knee after a collision earlier this week. The Wild believe he will be ready to start as early as Monday, but with Josh Harding’s play in his absence, don’t be surprised if they continue to roll with him until his hot streak ends.
Devan Dubnyk may not be long for the starting job in Edmonton. He’s lucky that the only goaltender behind him is Jason LaBarbera, a career backup. The Oilers have the ammunition to make a trade for a quality net minder. They should be one of the teams calling Toronto (James Reimer), Florida (Tim Thomas), Buffalo (Ryan Miller), or St. Louis (Jake Allen).
Here are some players available in more than 50 percent of ESPN leagues that should be able to help your Fantasy team.
- Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets (51 percent): This team can score goals, and if you’re looking for a little offensive production from your blue line, he could be someone to consider.
- Stephen Weiss, Detroit Red Wings (54 percent): Second line center for Detroit is always a consideration.
- Tyler Bozak, Toronto Maple Leafs (55 percent): That’s a 30 percentage point decline in his availability from last week; you’re running out of time to grab him.
- Kris Versteeg, Florida Panthers (68 percent): He is healthy and producing.
- Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay Lightning (75 percent): Center is a deep position, but three goals in the early going shows the Valtteri isn’t have any problems adjusting to sunny Florida.
- Curtis Glencross (82 percent): Calgary is playing much better than expected and Glencross is a big reason why.
- Ales Hemsky, Edmonton Oilers (88 percent): The Oilers can score goals and could play in quite a few shootouts this season.
- Devin Setoguchi, Winnipeg Jets (88 percent): Just because he seems to land with a different organization every couple of years doesn’t mean he can’t help your Fantasy team.
- Patrick Berglund, St. Louis Blues (91 percent): The Blues are loaded with good young forwards and have been for years; the trick has been trying to figure out which one is going to have a breakout season.
- Dustin Penner, Anaheim Ducks (99 percent): He’s back on the top line with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.
- Brad Boyes, Florida Panthers (99 percent): Proved last year with the Islanders that he is still capable of putting the biscuit in the basket.
- Josh Bailey, New York Islanders (99 percent): The second half of last season may not have been a fluke after all.
- Derek Morris, Phoenix Coyotes (99 percent): He’s always had talent but never reached the heights some thought he would.
Feel free to follow me and ask any Fantasy related questions you like on twitter, @georgekurtz.