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!

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