This past offseason there was plenty of intrigue and surprises to go around for everyone; however, the biggest fantasy news and most intriguing of all surprises was Phil Kessel getting traded to Pittsburgh. The rich got richer, and the immediate benefactor of Toronto ridding itself of its "problem children" is the Penguins' power play unit. It was only 8th in the NHL last season with a 19.3% conversion rate, but that was a down year in the Steel City after finishing in the top position the previous year. This could be a flashback from the 2000-01 Penguins team, which had five of the top 29 league scorers with Mario Lemieux at #29 tallying (76) points and (16) power play goals in 43 games. Go ahead and get 76 points in today's game and you'll get $8 million per season for your troubles. That first power play unit consisted of Mario, Jagr, Kovalev, Martin Straka and Robert Lang. While the thought of this year's version has me at half mast already, the proof will be in the pudding or net. With all the options available to head coach Mike Johnston, he has to be tent pitching as well, while opposing coaches are having nightmares on trying to figure out how to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Chris Kunitz and a healthy Kris Letang as a possible power play unit one, if they stay healthy for once. That was the Penguins' Achilles Heal last year, man games lost, but a return of Pascal Dupris from blood clots, a healthy Patric Hornqvist and steady David Perron makes this one very skilled and very scary team. Anyway let's get to the business of my 2015-16 Fantasy Hockey Top 12.
I talked about Leo Komarov at length in two places yesterday here. In the stream section of my article, I said the following: "He’s much more highly owned than my normal stream calls but I don’t understand why he’s available in over 60% of leagues. The Leafs should control the game against the Avs (everyone does against the Avs) so Uncle Leo should get some chances." Then he went out and had his best game of the season, scoring two goals on five shots while adding an assist and two PIM. I love it when I'm right! If you didn't do so, grab Komarov immediately because he has another prime matchup tonight against the Coyotes. Here's what else I saw on a busy Monday night:
It can be hard to pivot away from the strategy that helped carry you this far and into the playoffs, but often you have no choice but to leave behind the ways that got you this far and adopt a more drastic approach in the playoffs. When your season starts you must be patient. Have patience with the elite veteran you know will get up to speed to actually get up to speed and start producing. Have patience with for the budding superstar you know will produce, he just needs time to adjust to the North American style. That works if you have the discipline, but now it’s do or die and the moves you make are as critical to your success as the moves you don't make. Now you need to act and learning to know when it's time to cut bait on a guy you really, really don’t want to. It gets a bit hairy in keeper leagues when you have to decide between now and next year, but in redraft leagues it gets pretty simple, pretty quickly; as the clock ticks down on your first round matchup you may have to bite the bullet and ditch your idle big guns for long shot streamers, and that’s okay so long as you make the right moves.
One of the most important variables to consider when making moves during the fantasy hockey playoffs is games remaining. How many games are your guys playing this week? You might be feeling confident with Vladimir Tarasenko slotted in on your right side, but he only plays two games this week and one of them is already done and gone so unless Vladdy blows up against the Jackets on Saturday he isn’t going to do much for you this week. Ah, head-to-head, she’s a fickle beast. Does that mean you should you drop the Tarasenko Express? Absolutely not, especially if you’re in a keeper league, but it does illustrate a point cannot be ignored at this point in the season; you absolutely must pay attention to games to be played on a weekly basis and how many games are left to be played in the second half of the week. When you can’t beat them with quality, beat them with quantity. To aid you in this effort I’ve compiled a list of the games remaining for each team this week (including today): THREE GAMES LEFT – Anaheim, Boston, Carolina, Detroit, Florida, Nashville, New Jersey, New York Isles, New York Rangers, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, San Jose, Washington. TWO GAMES LEFT – Arizona, Calgary, Chicago, Colorado, Columbus, Dallas, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Montreal, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg. ONE GAME LEFT – Edmonton, Philadelphia, St. Louis. Clearly you want to avoid guys that skate for the Oil, Flyers and Blues for the rest of the week. That’s a bummer considering how beastly the Oil’s top line has been playing, but it is what it is. Manage your guys well and make sure you get more games in than the other guy and you should be okay. Next week I’ll post a more comprehensive list like this at the beginning of the week and update again mid-week with remaining games to keep y’all on track. Don’t fall apart now; the championship is within your grasp! Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey recently:
For most of the season the New York Islanders rotated what seemed like every one of their young forwards through the open slot on their top line alongside Kyle Okposo and NHL scoring leader John Tavares, C (1 G, 1 A, 3 SOG), but no one stuck. Then out of nowhere Okie’s eyeball broke off and he needed emergency surgery to fix the problem because, hey, everyone needs working eyes and if they didn’t put him under the knife then there was no chance he’d return this season. Well, the news out of Long Island today is good! Okie is traveling to Florida to skate with the team tomorrow morning ahead of their Saturday tilt with the Cats and that means he’s very close to returning to game action. That’s great news for Okie and JT owners, but in Okie’s absence Anders Lee, C (1 G, 3 SOG, +1) and Josh Bailey, RW (1 A, 2 SOG, +2) have played well, but one of them is going to get demoted when Okie returns and I highly doubt it will be Lee.
At this point in the season the waiver wire has been picked clean like the bones of so many thanksgiving turkeys and the lack of depth couldn’t come at a worse time. It’s the time of the year when the injuries begin to mount and the trades start coming and with the shake ups they create come new opportunities for fantasy managers to seize upon. The difference between winning and losing at this stage of the game is a matter of minutes; did you pick up the hot hand that will get you into the playoffs, or the next round, or did some other jerkbag beat you to it? Don’t be the guy who loses out, be the jerkbag and consider picking up Kevin Klein or Michael Del Zotto before someone else does.
The Tampa Bay Lightning were in search of a steady hand to back up their new star netminder Ben Bishop and when they signed Evgeni Nabokov to handle the duties it seemed like a good call at a bargain basement price. Really, what could go wrong? Nabby could go wrong and man alive did he go wrong. In 11 games and nine starts this season he posted a record of 3-6-2 to go with a 3.14 goals-against average and an .882 save percentage. Ugh, gross. I think I should shower now. Anyway, in a move that was only surprising because it took so long, the Bolts sent Nabby packing and recalled stud prospect Andrei Vasilevskiy from the Syracuse Crunch. Despite the promotion Big Ben retains full control of the Tampa crease moving forward, but he has been shaky at times this season and could definitely benefit from some rest moving forward. Enter Vas, who now becomes one of the more valuable backups in fantasy hockey for the remainder of the season.
At this point in the season players start to break down and injuries tend to be more frequent. You may have suffered through the loss of guys like Jimmy Howard or Pekka Rinne recently so you’re keenly aware of the sting that comes with losing all-world players giving you all-world seasons. The increased likelihood and frequency of injuries means adding the right replacement at the right time is critical to the overall success or failure of your season, so you have to be Johnny-on-the-spot when your studs go down. When Howie tore his groin picking up his understudy Petr Mrazek, G (4 SV, 3 GA, .571%) was a no brainer and after three strong starts since taking over as the starter for the Red Wings, last night’s breakdown against the league’s worst team might make you want to send the talented young tender packing back to the wire, but if you do you will be making a big mistake.
When the season started everyone had high expectations for a young and extremely talented Colorado Avalanche team and why wouldn’t they? Last season Nathan MacKinnon, C (1 A, 2 SOG, +1) exploded onto big ice with a stellar rookie campaign potting 25 goals and finishing with 63 points in 82 games. Matt Duchene, C (1 G, 1 A, 6 SOG) returned to form and nearly put up a point-per-game with 70 points in 71 games and Gabriel Landeskog, LW (1 G, 1 A, 2 SOG) not only returned to his rookie season form after an injury shortened 2014 season, he took a step forward and finished with 65 points of his own. All the signs were there. All the signs were pointing to a huge year from all three guys in 2015, the new core of a dynasty in the making, but when the pucks started flying they sure as hell weren’t flying into the net for any of them. Fear not, dear readers, for the end of their struggles is nigh and at the quarter season marker the Avs are finally starting to warm up! It all started a few weeks ago when Duchene had a ranty post-game interview stating that the Avs needed to get mad and stop accepting defeat after defeat, both small and large. Since then he’s put his money where his mouth is and posted seven points in his last seven games powered by four goals and apparently leading by example is a good way to go because he’s not the only one who heard the call. Landeskog has seven of his own points in his last five games and like Duche he’s just too good to keep playing as badly as he was. There may be temptation to look at try and sell now that they’re scoring, but I wouldn’t move any of these guys if you own them. Despite their recent successes they were so bad to start the year that you’ll be moving them for pennies on the dollar and in the end you’ll lose out big time. At this point it’s highly unlikely that any of them will hit their pre-season projections, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be near point-per-game forwards moving, well, forward, and I’d buy all three for a dollar (each)! Sadly, the same can’t be said for the aging Jarome Iginla, RW (1 G, 2 A, 5 SOG). Iggy isn’t the guy he once was and he isn’t going to score 30 goals again like he did last year for the Bs, but he’s going to net you 50 points ane 20 goals, so that’s worth owning. He skates on the top line with Landeskog and MacKinnon so that gives him value, anyway. If he goes on a decent streak I’d try to sell high, someone out there thinks he’s still a beast. Still, sit tight and enjoy the ride as the Avs are trending up lately, at least offensively, and should continue to roll as we move towards the halfway point in the season. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey this weekend:
John Klingberg is a name you should know. In fact, he’s a guy you should probably add while he’s hot and hold in keeper leagues because he has all the tools to be a valuable fantasy rearguard. Before getting called up to big ice Klingy put up 12 points in 10 games (4 G, 8 A) in the AHL and in seven games since being called up he has six points, all of which have come in the last four games. The comparisons are already flying with Klingberg's hot start. Is he the next Erik Karlsson? Do we have another Sergei Zubov on our hands? Frankly, those comparisons are unfair. There is only one Erik Karlsson and comparing the kid to a (what should be a) hall of famer like Zubov after just six games is madness. At just 22 years old he's only started playing on North American ice last season, a season that ended prematurely with hip surgery that he's clearly fully recovered from (There is hope, Valeri Nichushkin owners!). Still, there's a lot of promise here. Klingberg is an offense first kind of defenseman if you hadn’t gathered already, just the type we love in fantasy hockey. He’s a bit on the small side right now at 6’1”, 181 lbs so some bulking up is in order, but the slick Swede is very adept at escaping the big hits with his smooth skating and is one of the more mobile rearguards I’ve ever seen. He has exceled with the man advantage at every level he’s played at, something the Stars obviously recognize as they’ve put him on their top unit with Jason Spezza, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Is there a better place to be in the league to tally some sweet, sweet points? I can’t think of one. Not only that, he’s jumped right in to a top-four role and is skating for a whopping 23 minutes a game. There’s no chance he keeps up this scoring pace, but I could see him putting up 30 points or more by the end of the year. The Stars might be a bit of a mess defensively, but their offense has been clicking on all cylinders from the first drop of the puck this season, so if you’re looking for some help at the back end of your blue line, add Klingy while he’s hot and he might just stay that way. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey yesterday: