A season after making the Stanley Cup finals, the Tampa Bay Lightning put up a valiant effort in their attempt to return. Unfortunately, they ran into the buzzsaw that was the Pittsburgh Penguins and fell in the Conference Finals. Nevertheless, I think that last season was a rousing success for them. They didn't have Steven Stamkos throughout the playoffs due to a blood clot and now they have him locked up for 8 more seasons at a very good price. The emergence of Jonathan Drouin following a holdout also brings optimism for a return to the Cup finals. They still have some work to do figuring out parts of the roster but they're positioned to be a contender for years to come. As expected with a contender, there are plenty of fantasy options to choose from so let's take a look!
It's been quite a while since we've seen a shutout streak like the Blues are on. On Friday, Brian Elliott had one of the easiest shutouts of the season making 15 saves in the 4-0 win over the Canucks. The next day, Jake Allen recorded the fourth consecutive Blues shutout, stopping all 32 Capitals shots in the 4-0 win. Both have been outstanding this season and should be started every game the rest of the way. Get them in your lineup every time they start; the Blues will be highly motivated down the stretch to get home ice throughout the Western Conference Playoffs. Here's what else I saw around the league this weekend:
I hate titling the article like something posted on NHL.com...  Everything posted there has to be super corny or a terrible pun.  Today, I couldn't help myself. There were some surprising performances around the league the first couple nights of the NHL season and one unbelievable, dare I say, Wild, comeback.  Okay, I'll see myself out...And we're back!  The Wild were down 4-1 going into the third period only to score 4 goals in 5:07 to take a 5-4 lead.  Leading the way in the comeback was Zach Parise, scoring the first hat trick of the young season on 6 shots.  The Sharks came out and after giving up a goal in the second minute, dominated the Kings for the last 58 .  The Jets took it to the Bruins in Boston with a balanced attack leading Winnipeg to a 6-2 victory.  The team many were picking to light the league on fire, the Pens, were shut out by my favorite long shot Cup contender, Dallas, 3-0.  The biggest thing to do after one game is not overreact but there were some interesting developments and key notes to be made.  Let's take a closer look!
In seven seasons since the Flames took Mikael Backlund 24th overall he has failed to live up his draft position or the hype that followed. Not once has he topped 40 points or 20 goals, so it might seem odd to peg him as a second half sleeper now, but after he returned from an abdominal injury recently he’s been on fire. Since January 7th he’s put up three goals, two assists, a game winning goal, a shorthanded goal, 11 faceoff wins, three hits, a plus-3 rating and a block in three games. That pushes his season line to 4/5/9/+3 in just 14 games and it looks like he might finally be ready to live up to the high expectations heaped upon him nearly a decade ago.
When you think of the Sabres lately one name generally comes to mind and he isn’t even in the league yet, yes I’m talking about McJesus himself, Connor McDavid. The Sabres are well on their way to winning the McDavid sweepstakes by bungling their way through the 2014-15 season looking like hot garbage from top to bottom, save one bright spot; Zemgus Girgensons. Girgs was the Sabres’ second first round pick in 2012 and he’s paying off pretty quickly for a team that desperately needs someone to do something positive. I mean the fact that the Sabres had two first round picks should say something in-and-of it self, but I digress, the 20 year old Latvian pivot works his butt off out there from whistle to whistle. He’s hard to knock off the puck, isn’t afraid to fight for position in traffic and while he isn’t a traditional dangler, he definitely has solid hands and fore-checks like whoa. He’s now the Sabres top line center and spends time on their top power play unit as well. Given that it’s the Sabres you can’t expect him to score a ton, but he’s posted a respectable season line so far with 8 G, 6 A, +3 (on the Sabres!), 48 SOG and 9 PIM to date. Wait, that doesn’t look as sexy as I made it sound, does it? Well! That’s because his real value comes from his ability to win faceoffs (161), deliver hits (57) and even block shots (24). There’s basically not much this guy doesn’t do and in roto leagues that’s pure gold. In deep category H2H leagues he has value too. ROS I expect him to end up with around 50-55 points, he has tremendous upside over the long term and it’s clear that the Sabres envision him as a team leader moving forward. Those in keeper leagues would do well to grab him and hold on tight. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey last night:
It was a rough weekend for defenseman in the NHL and a rougher one for the poor saps that own the newly fallen. The biggest blow due to injury fell from the heavens like Mjölnir and smashed me right in the face when my sun and stars Victor Hedman broke his finger while trying to block a shot. He’s out 4-6 weeks after successful surgery to fix his mangled digit. Now where can I go to get successful surgery on my broken heart? Nowhere?! What a world. I guess I’ll just have to pine away and gaze longingly at his stat line over the last week plus and wonder what could have been had he not tried to block a slap shot with his damn hand. The Rangers lost Dan Boyle to a similar injury and it makes me wonder, why the hell are these guys trying to block shots with their hands? Have they not seen the fastest shot competition? Do they not know they’re trying to use their hands to stop a frozen piece of vulcanized rubber flying at nearly 100mph in their direction? I’m all about sacrificing the body for the good of the team and some of us totally need those blocks, but come on! Suffice it to say there is no replacing Hedman but Anton Stralman is reportedly moving to the Bolts’ top powerplay unit with Jason Garrison slated to get time on the second unit, so the value of both jumps a bit with this news. Unfortch for fantasy owners broken fingers (and hearts!) weren’t the only issue that plagued some of fantasy hockey’s defenseman since last week. Slava Voynov was suspended indefinitely today due to a domestic violence incident that apparently left the victim hospitalized. I won’t joke about this because there is nothing funny about it. I also don’t know the details of the situation, but what I have read says that whoever he attacked (assuming he did) was rushed to the hospital and the extend of their injuries was such that the hospital staff called the cops on Voynov. This doesn’t sound good at all, but details are scant right now so if you can afford to, I’d try to hold off on dropping him until we get a clearer idea of how long he could be out. That being said, since this is non-hockey related absence he won’t be eligible for IR or IR+, so if you can’t afford to have a deadweight defenseman clogging up your bench, drop Slava and add whomever you can to fill the void. Luckily his season started somewhat slowly so the void isn’t that big. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey this weekend:
The beginning is nigh! Yes my dear readers we’re drawing near to the start of the season so I won’t waste your time with a long blurb to kick this post off. I will say that this list is pretty comprehensive and if you can’t fill out your D based on this list you’re either playing in the deepest of leagues of you’re not very good at this fantasy hockey thing and should take up knitting. I covered as many guys as I could, but when I hit around the 65th rearguard there wasn’t much to say about the last ten guys so they became the honorable mentions. I guess that makes this a top 65 in some ways, but whatevs. There’s 75 names and sets o’ projections so I’m sticking to my guns. Plus, 75 sounds so much better than top 65, you know? As usual if I missed your guy or you have any questions, hit me up in the comments! At any rate, without further ado (there’s that word again), here are the 2014-2015 Fantasy Hockey Top 75 Defensemen:
Mathieu Perreault (1 G, 2 SOG, even) is Anahiem’s version of Martin St. Louis, the only difference is Perreault is actually scoring! It wasn’t always so, though. Maty, not to be confused with Marty, was playing really well to start the season with 11 points in 13 October games but then fell completely off the map for a few months scoring just 8 points over his next 23 games. Then January rolled around he put up 9 points in 11 games. Now this month he’s got six points in seven games and has scored a point in six straight. I’ve mentioned Perreault a few times this season and that’s because I really like the guy. Right now he’s penciled in as the Ducks’ second line center with Patrick Maroon and Kyle Palmieri on his wings and while those names may not overwhelm you to the point that you rush to the wire to add Perreault, they do have some solid chemistry going and Maty is starting to see some time with the Ducks’ second powerplay unit while averaging around 16 minutes TOI a game lately. The smooth skating, shifty playmaker has some solid offensive upside, plays for the Ducks and is scoring right now, so do you need another reason to add him to help keep your title hopes alive? I sure hope not, because you’re playing the wrong game if you do. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey last night:
It all began on a cool winter’s day when the young men from Calgary came down to play the feisty fellas in Vancouver in a nice, gentlemanly game o’ hockey. That lasted less than zero seconds because when the puck dropped all the starters paired off and fought one another. What the eff happened?! Apparently Canucks coach John Tortorella saw that the Flames were sending out their fourth line to start the game. Torts flipped the hell out for no apparent reason and it didn’t end with his usual ranting and raving and turning oh so many shades o’ purple behind the bench. No, Torts decided he needed to have a few more words with those boys from Calgary so he did what every rational, level-headed adult would do; he attempted to storm into their locker room and basically challenged the entire team to a fight, or so much is what I gather in between the seemingly endless stream of obscenities from Tortorella.  In the end 204 penalty minutes were dished out with Jason Garrison, Dale Weise, Kevin Bieksa and Kellan Lain all getting game misconducts. Lain made his NHL debut that night! A short but adventurous start for the kid, eh?! Ladislav Smid, Chris Butler, Blair Jones and Kevin Westergarth also received game misconducts for the Flames. Why does any of this matter? Well, for starters it’s effin’ hilarious and I wanted an excuse to write about it. And here’s my excuse; Garrison and Bieksa racked up some baller PIM that night, so some owners, somewhere, actually benefitted from this madness. If only we could own coaches and they could earn PIM, Tortorella would have just won many a roto team's PIM category in this game alone! Torts should probably be suspended. Anyway, here’s what else I saw last night on a short night o’ fantasy hockey:
Aleksander Barkov (1 G, 2 SOG, +1) scored a very sexy goal after stealing the puck in the offensive zone and has started his NHL career with the same type of success he’s had since he was 15 years old. Unbelievably enough that was just three effin’ years ago and Barkov turned just 18 years old on September 2nd of this year! That’s just days before the 2013-14 training camp was set to kick off. Despite his youth he’s already averaging 16 minutes a night and shows no signs that he can’t handle the speed and strength of the game at the NHL level. The rookie has points in back-to-back games and is on pace for 30 points with 12 goals this year. Aleks is wise beyond his years in hockey sense and has an uncanny ability to read situations quickly and make good decisions with the puck. He’s technically sound in almost every area and will can be an elite defenseman in the NHL as soon as next year. The Panthers have a rich crop of talented young defensemen and the 2nd overall pick in the 2013 draft is already the brightest star among them. He’s a must own in deeper/keeper leagues and will be relevant in most formats soon. Anyway, here’s what else I saw on a short night o’ fantasy hockey: