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.