Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Could the greatest goaltending be found in the Northwest division?

OK, so something has come to my attention over the past week... and that something is how crazy difficult is it going to be to score goals in the Northwest division this year? As a fantasy hockey player its tough to not both worry and salivate at the thought of some of the stars in the Northwest from Luongo, to Iginla, to Backstrom, to the Sedin twins, to Kipprusoff; this list could go on for quite sometime. Yet how does this quite obvious information impact your upcoming draft selections when the time comes to make your selections? Well I am glad you asked!

1.) Goaltending, Goaltending, Goaltending

As a pretty consistent and successful fantasy hockey player I have always adhered to one opinion and that is if your not getting one of the top 3 players in the league(Ovechkin, Crosby, Malkin), I have no problem taking a top flight goaltender over some of the other supposed big superstars in the league. Why you may ask would anyone in their right mind pass up Vincent Lecavalier or Pavel Datsuyk to take Roberto Luongo? Well the answer is all about supply and demand. If we were to list who the consistent top goaltenders are in the league we could really only come up with a list of about 7 names; Brodeur, Luongo, Kipprusoff, Nabokov, Lundquvist, Khabibulin(when healthy), and Turco. Names like Marc-Andre Fleury, Tim Thomas, Cam Ward and Nik Backstrom don't yet crack that list for me for various reasons such as inconsistent play, or not being in the league long enough to warrant being mentioned with the above who would have to be considered elite, but they are close. But in reality that's 11 names mentioned, and in your average 10 team league... most of which start 2 goalies. That leaves a gap of about 9 roster slots that are going to be filled with less than stellar talent. Yes you may get lucky and pull this seasons Steve Mason off the waiver wire, but your better off not counting on that. But back to the Northwest! Does anyone notice anything about that list above? That's right three of the top 7 are starters in the Northwest, and Backstrom is no slouch either. So 4 out of the 5 teams in the Northwest division boast some of the best goaltending talent in the league. Whats more is that these teams play each other more than they play anyone else, and while there will be the occasional shootout game, there should be some great head to head serious goal tending duals throughout the season. While this may not be what the casual hockey fan wants to see, as most would rather see all fights and shootouts as opposed to beautiful fundamentally sound hockey, but fantasy players who own one of these Northwest net minders should be the beneficiary of some superb stats. For this fantasy hockey freak the cream of the crop has to be Kipprusoff. Any team that already has Phaneuf and Regehr, THEN adds Jay Bouwmeester is going to be stingy. Top that fact off with the hiring of Brent Sutter(Devils fans may hate him but they can't argue that he can produce great things with mediocre defense) and you have the potential to strangle teams into submission. For this player, even though Kipper has been on a little bit of a downward spiral the last few years, he still has yet to play less than 70 games a season since becoming the full time starter in Calgary in the '05-'06 season and furthermore, has never posted a GAA of above 3 goals a game or a SV% of under .900 since playing in the Saddledome. Those are some pretty serious numbers, now think of the potential a guy like this could have with another top ten defense man patrolling his blue line and a defensive minded coach behind his bench. Sounds like a recipe for success if your interested in drafting old Kipper again!

2.) Dead Puck Division?

The one thing about this division is that despite its goal tending riches, there is little forward star power here. The one top ten forward on all 5 teams is Jarome Iginla and even his game has started to slow down in recent years from the torrid pace he used to set in point scoring. What does this mean for your draft though? Quite simply that players from this division that are cusp superstar players who last season ended up with somewhere around 80 points could see a decline this year. The Kipper situation is what it is, he has been there for a while and the improvements to the Calgary blueline notwithstanding, this is a team that kinda just quit down the stretch. Like their new coach confronted with pictures of his cows on the homestead, the Flames packed it in before the job was done and went home. As a result Iron Mike Keenan got the boot and Daryll Sutter got his brother off the farm to coach his team. Don't expect the same this season(until the playoffs, ask any Devils fan on that one) because Sutter will keep them fighting until the bitter end(of the regular season). Edmonton got a huge upgrade to their goal tending this off-season going from the amazing Mathieu Garon and Dwayne Rolosson to Stanley Cup Champ and the brick wall that backstopped Chicago to the Western finals Nikolai Khabibulin. This is no small move when you consider the Edmonton Blue line. A team that can throw Sheldon Souray, Tom Gilbert, Denis Grebeshkov, and the up and coming Ladislav Smid, at you has a really REALLY good chance at shutting down the opposition. Is it as sexy as Calgary's blue line? probably not, however, it is MUCH deeper which could be more dangerous. Now add a legitimate game stealing goaltender in Khabibulin and you have the makings of a team that is going to be very tough to beat night in and night out. Minnesota... this team is a little different than the others. There is no sexy name to drop here that's on their defense, but they can boast 2 of the games best up and coming goaltenders in Nik Backstrom and Josh Harding. These 2 are young, hungry and just plain good. The system they play in helps them to some extent, and they would both be 40 win guys on the right team, but for now they play together and they don't get much offensive support. Still with those two guys between the pipes and the system that they have historically played its safe to assume that they will not be an easy team to score against. Vancouver.... well Vancouver has the best goaltender in terms of talent on this side of the Mississippi River, and when he is on his game(which is often) he is almost impossible to beat. So no cake walk there either. That really only leaves the hapless Avalanche, and with Craig Anderson as their starter, lets just say that they aren't quite even with their division rivals. So if your thinking of picking players who play in this division be careful not to pick with last seasons totals in mind because the Northwest is going to be a tight one.

Check back next week for more info to help you dominate your draft!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Time to sharpen your skates AND your pencils!

Welcome back fantasy hockey players! If any of you are anything like me, you're well aware that NHL training camps are less than a month away and we are just about a month away from dropping the puck for pre-season hockey. With that in mind, it's time to consider the impact of the UFA signings and trades that happened this summer and how it could apply to your draft strategy. So, for the next few weeks we're going to take an indepth look at the major things that happened this off season.

The Heatley Debacle

As most hockey fans know Dany Heatley requested a trade from the Ottawa Senators this summer, only to deny a viable trade when it was presented to him. From a personal standpoint, I am sick of atheletes who sign big contracts and don't want to honor them when something doesn't go their way. To me, he should be traded to Nashville, Florida, Phoenix, or any other hockey despot where players don't ever want to go. But how does this impact the wonderful world of fantasy? Well, it could have a couple of different impacts depending on how this thing all plays out.

First scenario... Heatley gets his wish and he gets traded.

If Heatley gets traded, unless its to one of the above mentioned destinations, there is going to be serious money going the other way in order to make the deal happen. That means, most likely some superstar talent has to come to the Sens in the trade; and most likely that superstar will get to play with a fellow named Jason Spezza, who is the same Spezza that usually has around 100 points by the time the calendar turns April. Depending upon who gets moved, that player could be in for a big season playing with a guy like Spezza. Futhermore, depending on where Heatley goes, the return for him could cost a team the players that could make him better. Remember the one thing about Heatley is that he is a winger, and not the kind of winger that makes things happen on his own. Heatley has always had an elite center to get him the puck, in Atlanta it was Marc Savard, and in Ottawa it's Spezza's job to feed him the puck. Without an elite center, I highly doubt that Heatley will be anywhere near his 50 goal usual totals and will suffer without having that elite playmaker feeding him the biscuit. So the impact here is two fold. First on the players that get sent to the Sens, for they get to go play with an elite player in Spezza(not to mention Alfredsson). As for Heatley depending upon the team he could put up his usual numbers or he could suffer a severe downturn in numbers if he doesn't have the right players around him.

Second Scenario; Heatley doesn't get traded

At this stage in the off-season this appears to be the most likely scenario, and most likely the worst scenario for anyone who is a Sens fan and especially for anyone who is in a keeper league and has any of the Senators big stars. At this point the whole world knows Heatley doesn't want to be in Ottawa anymore, and that certainly includes his teammates, who lately have gone as far as questioning Heatley's motivations in the press. So what does this mean for fantasy owners? Well, ask anyone who drafted Brendan Morrow(before the injury), or any of the other big stars that play for Dallas last year. The Avery era for Dallas was short lived, but was marked by one thing; the whole team played aweful because he was not welcome there, and was widely considered to be locker room cancer. With Heatley still in Ottawa, and not wanting to be there, this is going to be terrible for chemistry, and will probably create a great amount of tension between him and his teammates. To put it lightly this is NOT GOOD! The likelyhood of Heatley turning into a lockerroom cancer is off the charts. There is no doubt that Heatley is one of the premier snipers in the game today when happy and with the right center. But when nobody is happy, and with the proverbial axe hanging over Heatley until something finally does happen, this does not bode well for anyone looking to draft Heatley. Without a happy Heatley, Spezza's production should fall off a bit too because without his top sniper performing at his best, he couldn't possibly hit his normal numbers.

Unless this situation gets rectified before training camp starts, look for this travelling circus to have a very real negative impact on two players that last year were most likely taken in the first 2 rounds of your draft. Watch for Spezza and Heatley to have sub-par seasons so don't be fooled into taking either of them too early.... however 6th round and below and it could be a worthy gamble. Good luck and check back next week for another impact issue from the off-season.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Mining for Waiver Wire Gold

So here we are, right there on the doorstep of the finals this year in fantasy hockey. Its been a fun year so far for most of us, but for the two lucky GM’s who are going into the final bracket its crunch time, so I thought it might be appropriate to address a very important issue for those going to the finals… is it a bad time to clean house? The answer to this is usually a resounding NO! This time of year there are usually a handful of players(maybe more but we will get into that later) who will have more of an impact on your roster than someone who may be a little banged up and getting a few games off because their team has already punched their ticket to the playoffs. The players I am referring to are typically guys that are on teams making a push to try and get into the playoffs and are starting to come on strong, and believe it or not, there are a lot of them out there. These are typically players who might have been drafted, but due to slow starts or a GM stumbling onto a hot rookie or needing to fill a need, got banished to the wire to wait for some savvy GM such as yourself to take full advantage of the situation and pick them up to help them win their respective title. Below is a list of the top 3 players who are available in most Yahoo leagues who are red hot as of posting this.

1.) Rod Brind’Amour- Brindy had a VERY slow start to this season, after being considered one of the most consistent players out there and a perennial late draft pick year in and year out, fell flat on his face for most of this season and left those who picked him wondering why they are keeping him on the roster in December when he only had 15 points. Well folks Brindy is back, and in a big way! Rowdy Roddy has 16 points in his last 12 games, and has been a major part of the Hurricanes recent surge towards the playoffs. Since Erik Cole returned to the ‘Canes, the lines seem to have finally balanced themselves out and Brindy is reaping the benefits. If you are carrying someone like Jason Arnott, who is suffering from a concussion, its time to cut bait if Brindy is out there and keep those roster spots producing instead of wondering how Arnott is feeling on the stationary bike today. Brind’Amour is only owned in 23% of Yahoo leagues and should be considered a solid candidate to pick up for extra point production

2.) Alexei Ponikarovsky- Alex is one of those guys who you maybe had on your roster as a fill in when you had an injured player for a week or 2 and figured he would be an easy guy to cut once your star came back. Well now Alex is starting to tear it up at the end of the season(when, sadly for Leafs fans, it doesn’t matter cause the Leafs are done). Just call Ponikarovsky Mr. March right now because the guy is on FIRE. Alex has put up 15 points in his last 12 games, and in the last 6 games has had two 4 point nights. This guy is definitely worth a look if you need to add some scoring punch to your team for the finals. Ponikarovsky is only owned in 26% of Yahoo leagues so its likely that he is out there and ready to start putting points up for your team instead of wasting away on the wire.

3.) Mikhail Grabovski- Sticking with the theme of Maple Leafs(I swear I am not a fan), Grabovski has turned it on of late, and should be looked at as another dark horse candidate for anyone looking to make fantasy moves and cut a little dead weight heading into their finals. There is a steep drop off in production from the first two players mentioned prior to Micky, but he is still better than nothing if you have players nursing injuries and your not sure when they are going to come back. SOMETHING IS ALWAYS BETTER THAN NOTHING. Grabovski has 11 points in his last 12 games, and that is certainly nothing to turn your nose up at, and it seems he has turned it up in particular in the last 7 games with the bulk of those 11 points coming during that stretch. He could burn out on you and stop producing, so buyer beware, but for now if your struggling with injuries he could be worth a look.

The A-Hole Impact….
The waiver wire is a funny place, in that it is a lot like going to a discount store, you never know what your going to find there. This time of year, this is especially true because of the A-Hole impact. What I mean by this is that every year it seems in most leagues there is one guy who is such a sore loser that he decided to cut half of his team in an effort to let everyone else in the league know he is having a temper tantrum over losing. GM’s who are still in it would be wise to check the wire everyday to see if one of our immature friends(or just some jerk in public leagues) decides to dump big names to show his immaturity. After all, its better for you to get to these guys first, instead of your potential finals opponent. As I write this I am counting my fortunes as I managed to pick up Travis Zajac AND Chris Kunitz in a league where this happened, and it only cost me the underachieving Mats Sundin and Dustin Byfuglien. Not bad shakes if you ask me, and these are two players that should have an IMMEDIATE impact on my roster for the duration of the season. To those who read this by the way… PLEASE don’t be the A-Hole in your league that does what I mentioned before. Show some poise and composure and accept the fact that at the end there can only be one winner, and there is after all next year. Don’t show your friends just how much of an A-Hole you can be through this… if your really peeved, wait for them to get drunk and shave their eyebrows when they are passed out, that way your still an A-Hole but your not a bitter one.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

So your out of the playoffs. What's next?

OK, so your season did not quite go the way that you planned it, and by now the disappointment is surely starting to set in, another season by the wayside. Well don't wallow in your sorrows too long, because now is the time to start preparing for next season. Its very important to learn where things went wrong this season, and to do that you must start from the beginning, and by this i speak of the draft. The draft is often where seasons are won and lost, and i am not just speaking about the choices we make in the first 5 rounds either. Its easy to pick a Malkin, Ovechkin, Crosby, etc.... its who we pick in rounds 10 and beyond that often shape and determine how far we go as the season progresses and ultimately whether or not we win the big prize at the end of the season. Drafts are a funny animal, and if you are in a league with all the same people over many years you can use previous history to determine who is going to take who in which round, and what position each GM likes to shore up as each draft round progresses. Below is a list of common mistakes GM's make during the draft and things that can be done to help us learn from our mistakes.

Drafting the wrong goaltender

This is a common mistake, and one that i see quite frequently in public leagues. Many GM's see a goaltender such as Carey Price this season, or Ray Emery the previous season, and think that they will only grow stronger from the past years experience, only to be played for a fool. Players like Price or an Emery are easy to spot, and if we look we can see that these are players that, even though they had great success their first year, began to fade down the stretch. GM's should not be disappointed when these goalies repeat the same performance the next year, and should take this mistake as a lesson for the coming year that when in doubt, try to take a perennial work horse, like Nabokov, Kipprusoff, or a Brodeur to be their go to guy, and leave the Carey Price's of the world to be 2nd string at best. Furthermore, there are always goalies who are just plain injury prone, and the top of this list of fragile tenders should be Marc-Andre Fleury. I personally made the mistake last season of Drafting Fleury to be my top guy figuring he would take me to the top with a strong offense and a great back line to support him. Well when he was shelved for 4 months during the season because of an ankle injury only swift action on the waiver wire saved my season. It should be known however that Fleury did play a big part in helping me win a championship down the stretch with his phenomenal finish last year. However, fragile guys need to be treated as such and should not be counted on to be the go to guy on any roster. This list also includes Jose ThreeOrMore(Theodore), Marty Biron, and Rick DiPietro. Buyer beware friends...... buyer beware.

Big Name, New Team

Sometimes, a change of address isn't exactly what the doctor ordered. This year just before and during the UFA signing period many players changed teams, and some of the changes made fantasy players take notice and get excited about players that they may not have shown up on their drafting radar before. The best examples of these types of players can be found with 3 specific names; Ryan Malone, Miroslav Satan, and Brian Rolston. All of these players jumped ship, it seemed for greener pastures and for better line mates. In the case of Ryan Malone, it seemed the moon and the stars aligned for him, he signed in Tampa Bay, and was poised to play on a line with Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. WHAT COULD BE BETTER? Surely his numbers would soar playing with such superior talent. Well if you took Mr. Malone in your draft, consider your pick wasted, because not only did he under-perform when paired with the big 2 of Lecavalier and St. Louis, but he was demoted as low as the 3rd line this season to play with such studs as Matt Pettinger and Evgeny Artyukhin. Malone, in his defense does have 24 goals and 41 points to his credit, and has turned it up at the end of the season now that the pressure is off, but lets really look at reality here. Malone was most likely taken in the first 10 rounds in most leagues because most owners saw the potential for a 70 point plus season playing with the likes of Lecavalier. If Malone was drafted in the top ten, well having 41 points with 3 weeks left in the season, would have to be called an enormous disappointment. Next is the case of Miroslav Satan. Owners were drooling and tripping over themselves to get there hands on Satan this season because he was with the Penguins, and was going to skate with Sidney Crosby. All whining jokes aside, i think i could probably put up 40 points skating on a wing with Crosby... yeah he is that good. Well its any one's guess what happened to him this season, but Satan might be the second biggest bust in all of fantasy this season. Satan has dropped so low he is playing in the AHL right now... THE AHL. This was a consensus pick among many in the know, and really who could blame them? The potential was there with his new team, and with his new line mates, and he failed miserably. Satan will probably not have a job in the NHL next season so it will be easy for GM's to resist... but this kind of pick is a good spot to start for many GM's to see where they went wrong. The last case is Brian Rolston. Rolston was the poster boy for consistency and was a guy that put up points across all formats especially those ever elusive short-handed points(should your league score for them). Well it started out looking like a marriage made in heaven, after all Rollie was playing between Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta in a puck possession system, and on top of that was penciled in as the point man for the power play. Well 8 games in tragedy struck and Rolston went feet first into the boards in Atlanta, and suffered a high-ankle sprain. Subsequently Rolston missed the next 7 weeks. Not too bad though, as he was still back in December so there was still plenty of time to pile on the points down the stretch, which can only be a good thing as who wouldn't want to get a guy like Rolston back for the second half of their fantasy season. Well, those who stashed Rolston on the IR were rewarded with him returning to the team to play with David Clarkson and Bobby Holik. What a bummer doesn't quite express how many owners felt, but i am sure there are many four letter words that would. Rolston has continued to depress owners since, totalling a measly 27 points in 54 games this season and only 14 points on the power play. This has to be the epitome of fantasy busts this season, as many owners(myself included) expected him to crack 60 points, with at least half of those points coming on special teams. Rolston has risen on the depth chart of late, rising back to his original line with Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta and has become a more reliable fantasy option in the last 2 weeks, but for a player who is usually picked in the first ten rounds, this guy has been nothing short of a complete disaster for fantasy owners.

Heart(and groin, and knee, and shoulder, and back, and ankle) Of Glass

Some players are just plain fragile. Like a politician lying to you, you can almost guarantee certain guys are going to get hurt during the year and usually for decent stretches. Unfortunately sometimes these guys are just too talented to stay away from, and despite the danger get drafted anyway often times higher than they should. No player fits this mantle better than Marian Gaborik. Talk about potential, this guy can score from all angles, and does it almost at will it seems. Yet every year he misses big stretches of time because of one injury or another, leaving his owners to debate whether to stash him on the IR or just cut their losses and try to pick up some production off the waiver wire. Gaborik isn't the only one though, as the list of fragile freddies is long and storied and contains some of the best talent in the game. Names to watch for in terms of being injury prone; Marian Gaborik, Sidney Crosby, Rick DiPietro, Martin Havlat(i am shocked he played as many games this season as he has already), Jason Arnott, Alexander Semin, etc. If you haven't noticed this list contains some of the premier talent in the NHL, and unfortunately injuries are a very real part of the game of hockey so they must be accounted for in the fantasy game as well. The best way to combat the loss of your season because of these guys isn't just to avoid taking them, because given the opportunity why would you NOT take a Crosby or a Semin, but to pad your roster with steady performers who are not as injury prone to help pick up the inevitable slack. Players like Marc Savard(who often flies under the radar), Jerome Iginla, and the Sedin twins are often players who are good at avoiding the injury bug and can put up solid numbers and keep your team in the hunt until your fragile star returns.

I hope you enjoyed this first post, and I welcome you to check back weekly for more from me and hopefully we can conquer your fantasy leagues together!