Welcome to our “Halloween Edition” on The Hockey Writers kindly dubbed “Chutes And Ladders”. Riding the fortunes of a fantasy hockey team can be a lot like the original Milton Bradley game. There are enough twists and turns to drive any normal person crazy. So imagine what it is like for the average hockey fan who takes on a fantasy hockey league.
Take a look at even experts and beginners alike, what is the one thing in common with every fantasy league? The answer is the ups and downs that go with every single league. Month one is in the books ladies and gentlemen and oh how everyone prays this question goes away soon.
The Crosby Question…….AGAIN?
When is Sidney Crosby going to return?
Crosby has been allowed to practice with contact. This has been a story that every hockey person has been following to a variety of extents since the 2011 Winter Classic. Thanks to many including fellow THW writer Mike Colligan, we have been a step ahead of the curve.
The latest that we have been projecting is November 11th as Crosby ironically cannot get the contact needed to ascertain whether he could return sooner. Sources a little deeper inside the Pittsburgh sports scene seem to agree as such though technically Crosby could be labeled a game time decision anytime now. Our best bet honestly is to keep an eye on it via Twitter but the return is closer rather than further barring a setback. In weekly leagues, some fantasy owners may want to gamble on inserting Crosby into the lineup next week. That is the first time we can make that assertion with some confidence. Stay tuned until next week…..
October has COME and GONE……..
October is over already? Yes it is actually. The month is filled with the usual great starts and huge disappointments. There never seems to be an in between with the first month of the season. Either your players have it or they do not. Sometimes one gets saddled with enough bad players to completely sink your team like last year’s New Jersey Devils. The worst feeling in the world is watching all that hope completely evaporate in October faster than a Zdeno Chara slap shot.
There were a few “Mr. October” references tossed in this month for some hockey players. Sadly we also had the players that really are glad that October ended and we will call them “Turkey Breasts”. Because for every up there certainly has to be a down. Let us get started.
Phil Kessel (Toronto Maple Leafs) — The Right Winger was amazing in October scorching the NHL for ten goals and eight assists. Kessel in his last five years had started the season with three or more goals in the first five games of a season. Toronto did start out very hot and so did Kessel last year before “dry stretches” hurt his fantasy production. His four power play points were his highest ever for an October but oddly enough he has averaged over a half shot less per game. Kessel even made Joffrey Lupul more than fantasy viable at around a point a game. Will this continue in November? Stay tuned.
Jason Spezza (Ottawa Senators) — Spezza has been a bright spot on a team that has been streaky to say the least. He has 15 points (7 goals, 8 assists) but most importantly, those seven power play points (3 PPG, 4 PPA) have been huge for fantasy owners. The average shots per goal have been just over three which is right about on his normal pace. Spezza is about a point per game guy so this production is not surprising at all (he was at a 1.2 points per game level for 3 years in a row). By the way, he is at 1.25 right now. His inspired play has lifted Milan Michalek to over a point a game in the month of October. This coming from a guy who could barely muster a half point a game in his first two years in Ottawa. That is pretty telling.
Claude Giroux (Philadelphia Flyers) — What more can be said about a guy who has 15 points in 11 games? How about this? Giroux is just stupendous at times but he can also be ordinary. This is not a knock on Giroux but there are just moments where you expect Giroux to be extraordinary all of the time. That is the type of team Philly has become and kind of what Giroux is as a fantasy player. He will drive you nuts but when he is hot, he is the best player right now in the NHL.
Thomas Vanek (Buffalo Sabres) — Vanek is another 15 point guy who has jumped out of the box really hot before. The problem is the Left Winger can drop like a rock almost as fast as he rises. This is why Vanek’s career high in points. The guy has 85 point talent but the closest he has ever come is 73 points. That may be an indication that October could be a mirage. November usually is a true test as the schedule beefs up. He is averaging nearly 4 shots a game which is almost something that is likely not to continue as Vanek is also victimized by streaky players on his line (Jason Pominville has 14 points). If Ville Leino can wake up in November on this line then Buffalo has something but if not that first line begins to struggle.
Dion Phaneuf (Toronto Maple Leafs) — Who knew about Phaneuf? Throw up a show of hands and honestly please. Phaneuf has one of the hardest shots in the game and hits just as hard. His 11 points in 11 games has to be one of the biggest surprises in the NHL. November will tell us a lot about guys like Phaneuf and Kessel but I do agree this is not a total fluke. Phaneuf is closer to his second to last year in Calgary form than what we have seen in the last couple of years. Hits, blocked shots, and SOG have been up too so Phaneuf is still UP for November.
Nikolai Khabibulin (Edmonton Oilers) — Remember how good “The Bulin Wall” was? It seems he is back once again. He has not lost in regulation (5-0-2) and has produced impressive numbers (1.12 GAA, .960 save percentage). Sure the kids are alright and Khabibulin had a great October. However, can this defense and the goalie who is headed toward 40 and not closer to 30 continue to do this all year? That is a question that is dicey at best but makes for fun speculation.
Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings) — For a while, you thought Quick was the second coming of Tim Thomas from last October. Well the last two starts did bring Quick a bit back to Earth but any goalie that has three shutouts in a week will get our attention. He is 6-1-2 with a 1.52 GAA and .947 save percentage and will be somewhat compared to Kari Lehtonen of the Dallas Stars, who also had a great October with the same save percentage and eight wins by the way. Quick may be on the better team but can he ride the hot start into the colder months?
And now the turkey breasts……… (October’s worst)
Ville Leino (Buffalo Sabres) — There are inevitable funks in fantasy hockey but usually players do snap out of them at some point. In rare cases, they do not however. What Leino showed in October was a possibility that this slump could last awhile. The numbers are horrifying. Five SOG in ten games and only two points. Add in a -4, decreased ice times, low totals, and no power points, you can write October off as either a lost cause or a sign of more impending doom. At the very least November should start with Leino being paired with Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. The ice time should go up but what if those two begin to dip, how will it affect Leino. Then again it could work too.
David Krejci (Boston Bruins) — Has anyone seen Mr. Krejci? If you have, could you tell him that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are indeed over and the season is past three weeks old? Thank you. One goal in seven games just does not seem fathomable and yet that is all Krejci has to show for October. In his defense, he was injured some but he has had chances. Boston, as a whole, is just not scoring and Tim Thomas is only very good this October (not superhuman). Scoring chances and shots on goal were about the same as normal but it seems the passing is a bit off also. Normally Krejci is pretty good defensively but he has had several lapses which partially result in his -5 on the month. Things have to start looking up but again when is the question?
Ondrej Pavelec (Winnipeg Jets) — There are rumblings at the very least that Pavelec is just not capable of playing at an above average level. The numbers seem to dictate that as Pavelec has been yanked a couple times and really only has faced about 26 shots a game. That is not all that bad and then again, he has been guilty of giving up soft goals in bunches. The 26 goals allowed bother me with the .876 save percentage bother me more because Pavelec has just not shown any consistency whatsoever. It cannot be all blamed on defense ladies and gentlemen. The goalie has to pick it up or face the fantasy consequences and more than he has already.
Eric Staal (Carolina Hurricanes) — If you are in a league where +/- is counted as a category, you are agonizing over this Staal. Now Staal has only five points (four on the PP) which makes things worse and he has been tinkered with several different line combinations to try and jump start the year. None of it really has worked and the -13 is an indication that Staal just is not playing a two way game, period! As the schedule gets a bit more rhythmic, can the Captain get it in gear or will he end up falling off like Rod Brind’amour did? We doubt the latter will happen but can tell you Staal’s season numbers have been adjusted downward by almost ten points already. It is not a good sign.
Beware the injuries……..
Sometimes we have said that there are certain players where you can see an injury coming from a mile away. That even includes some players now that used to be practically indestructible. The reality of every single fantasy hockey player is that even our “hometown players” or “favorite old reliable” is just not the same player anymore.
Injuries really do impact a team but they can almost devastate a team to utter ruin. It happens every year and often early in the season as well. What one does now goes a long way in determining the fate of a fantasy team. Here are a few injuries that might be ones to at least be vigilant about.
Heading into November, there are definitely some injuries that have resurfaced while some others have healed enough to come off our list. The problem becomes now is who to add on that is fantasy relevant. Here is the new list.
Chris Pronger (Philadelphia Flyers) — More will be known on this on Tuesday but Pronger was high sticked in the face (eye area) by Mikhail Grabovski in the first period of the Flyers-Maple Leafs last week. Pronger is still experiencing blurred vision and is out for probably another week at least.
Daniel Alfredsson (Ottawa Senators) — Alfredsson received a concussion at the hands of Wojtek Wolski over the weekend on what was a head shot. According to Ottawa, it could be a week long injury or more. Given Alfredsson is closer to 40 than 30 and the fact that injuries are occurring more frequently with him, this may be one that potentially lingers.
James Reimer (Toronto Maple Leafs) — What was thought to be very minor caused an IR stint for Reimer and scared Toronto fans. Yet, Toronto fared pretty well and now Reimer is apparently ready to come off the IR and is likely to start Wednesday against the New Jersey Devils. That is of course there are no further setbacks. Just make sure he actually comes off the IR before inserting him in your lineup because after all he was close once before already.
Martin Brodeur (New Jersey Devils) — New Jersey is clearly taking its time here with Brodeur and rightfully so. Johan Hedberg will almost split goaltending duties with Brodeur for awhile before a 60-40 ratio is established. It does not appear the future Hall Of Famer will play Wednesday against Toronto and Thursday may not be that likely either but a Saturday matinee has potential so again daily reports will be important. Just follow the beat (writers that is) for the latest and adjust accordingly.
There are other injuries but these are the ones so far that have the most fantasy value from Week 3 and heading into November.
Here are the ladders…….
These are for the players who have seen their values shoot up in Week 3. Some are waiver wire pickups but most are not. November is when again the number of games start going up in earnest. Inevitably fantasy values for certain players will continue to look very enticing and here is our best.
Dwayne Roloson (Tampa Bay Lightning) — This may be a very small sample size but there is a chance that the Tampa goalie has regained some of his form from just after the trade deadline last season. In 86 minutes of action last week (after 10 days off), Roloson did not give up a goal and also had a 28 save shutout against a Winnipeg Jets team that had just scored nine goals against Philadelphia the previous game. The schedule ahead has days off well spaced (without being all over the place) so Roloson can keep that groove going into November.
Jason Spezza (Ottawa Senators) — One of the few bright spots in a dark Ottawa season has been the play of Jason Spezza. Spezza keeps producing and that is what Ottawa needs with injuries. Ottawa clearly has to play a more up tempo style because of its uncertain goaltending so expect more chances for Spezza in Week 4. The biggest question is can Ottawa continue playing with fire and win with Spezza and Milan Michalek (13 points) leading the way?
Nikolai Khabibulin (Edmonton Oilers) — He just keeps doing it with relatively little margin for error. Edmonton is averaging just over two goals a game in October and yet Khabibulin was right under a 2.00 GAA this week and piling up the wins. He finished 5-0-2 for the month with a league leading GAA of 1.12 for the month of October. If Khabibulin can be rested for spells, he can be effective in November but obviously not at the October level.
Phil Kessel (Toronto Maple Leafs) — Kessel leads the NHL with 18 points and that breaks down to 10 goals, 8 assists. Last week he was not great but he was more than good enough. Staying above that point a game line will be a challenge for Kessel as the games get tougher. Can Toronto keep it going despite some troubling numbers output wise or will it catch up to Kessel’s fantasy production? The law of averages say yes but this season seems to say stay tuned.
Marc-Andre Bergeron (Tampa Bay Lightning) — If you are looking for a cheaper version of Eric Karlsson then maybe Bergeron is your answer. Yes he only had three assists in three games last week but so far this year he has never gone two games without scoring and that has to be encouraging for a guy who has the offensive upside but has never played enough of a two way game to keep it moving.
Let’s slide down a few chutes……
Jaroslav Halak (St. Louis Blues) — It just keeps getting more and more ugly for the almost benched goaltender for the Blues. Brian Elliott is now in the top 3 in GAA in the NHL. He may get his job back eventually but right now it is best to drop or stash him away if you can (some leagues have that option). Clearly Halak has that “deer in the headlights look” anytime he starts these days and some will say may never be starter material in this league.
Adam Larsson (New Jersey Devils) — This is cold but zero is zero no matter how you slice this and ATOI (Average Time On Ice) and blocked shots are about the only things that keep Larsson on fantasy teams out there. It really could get ugly if points do not come soon. Granted New Jersey is struggling for goals again but Larsson is too gifted to not have a point at all in October. Maybe more games in November will do the trick because Larsson has not been a treat for fantasy owners unlike some of the other high draft picks in the NHL.
Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit Red Wings) — Lidstrom had two points in three games last week but was caught out of position at least a half dozen times which resulted in several goals on mistakes not normally made by someone of his caliber. Maybe it was a bad week but the future Hall Of Famer is a -2 on the season as Detroit has started to look a bit vulnerable again. Maybe father time is catching up a bit with the 41 year old but November could tell us a different story of course. Just monitor his game to game progress this week.
Well that wraps up October ladies and gentlemen. Now is the time to ask questions because every week from here on out until the pace quickens and so do the gaps if one is not careful. Finally, next week we will come back to give you a line or two to watch out for as well. Good luck and hopefully November is a better month for you.
Simply a hockey writer who is a jack of all trades. No question is too big or too small and in fantasy hockey there is no such thing as a stupid question. Now a proud, accredited member of the FSWA. I am also a New Jersey Devils lead writer, prospects writer, humorist, and so much more. You can find me on Twitter at @ChrisWasselDFS