The New York Islanders are struggling to score goals. Shocking. They’re struggling to win as a result because, you know, you need to score goals to win hockey games. Outside of their top line of Thomas Vanek, John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, no one else is producing much of anything and with top prospect Ryan Strome decimating the AHL with 33 points in 23 games so far, they decided to call him up. A smooth skating, playmaking center with a nose for the net Strome is the next big hope for a team that has just one playoff berth since 2007 and hasn’t won a Cup since 1983 and he could be the next big thing in fantasy hockey, too. Last year Strome absolutely ruined opponents in the OHL posting 94 points with a +43 rating in just 53 games played for the Niagara Ice Dogs, so he was called up to Bridgeport and put up 7 points in 10 games for good measure. At every level he has shown the ability to adapt and excel so there’s reason to believe success awaits the dynamic young centre in the NHL. He’s got nothing but space to work on a weak Isles team and there’s is talk that he’ll debut on the second line for the Isles and I don’t know if that’s more of an endorsement of Strome’s skills or an indictment of the Isles as a team. Either way, if he can pair with someone like Michael Grabner he has the potential to produce for fantasy owners immediately. He’s owned in just 8% of Yahoo! Leagues and 4% of ESPN Leagues, so if you’re looking for a stellar keeper, snatch him up! Anyway, here’s what else I saw in fantasy hockey yesterday:
James Neal was suspended for five games today after he kneed Boston's Brad Marchand in the head in an ugly game against the Bruins yesterday. Earlier in the game the Bs’ Shawn Thornton punched Brooks Orpik twice in the head while in a scrum. The punches toppled Brooksie and he was taken off the ice in a stretcher, Thornton was tossed with a match penalty. Then, later, Neal sees an opportunity to get revenge after seeing Marchand get tripped up and fall to all fours. It’s then that Neal skates by and lays his knee into the side of Marchand's head. What really gets me is how nonchalant as he can be Neal was after the fact, not looking back or flinching in the slightest, instead he slowly coasts to his bench for a line change. Listen, I get defending your teammates and support it, but this eye-for-an-eye nonsense does nothing but put him on the sideline for a week and out of our lineups. Happy now, Jimmy? He should get more than five in my opinion, you be the judge. Regardless of what you think of the play we can all agree that this is not what Neal owners needed after he missed the start of the season due to injury. In any case you’ll be without him for the next week, so plan accordingly. You know, this is the kind of fluke event that keeps guys like Evgeni Malkin from getting to 100 points on the season without 35+ goals to power the effort. Granted, Geno is hurt right now, but he should be back before Neal and he’ll wish Neal was there waiting to pick back up where they left off. See what revenge gets you? Nada! More hockey, less of this. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in fantasy hockey this weekend:
Evgeni Malkin (1 G, 3 A, 1 SOG, +3, 2 PIM) decided he wasn’t putting in enough effort lately and upped his game with 4 points against the toothless Panthers. He even chipped in 2 PIM for good measure! Geno is on pace for 103 points which wouldn’t in itself be historic, but being on pace for just 21 goals would make it a season for the history books, so expect that this torrid pace to slow a bit, and hitting the century mark? I don’t think he’ll get there. Lies! They say. Slander! They cry. Not so! Just 15 of the 270 (~5%) 100 point seasons by a player came with fewer than 30 goals:
I didn't even bother ordering those by year, or goals, or anything, why? Well, I entered it that way and editing a table is really annoying, seriously. My laziness aside, it doesn't matter because the point remains the same. Break it down even further and you'll see that less than half of those seasons came with fewer than 25 goals. Even Malkin's own 100 point campaigns were always supported by buckets o’ goals with 47, 35 and 50 goals scored respectively. Should he break the 100 point marker this year it would be a rare achievement amongst rare achievements, making it unlikely. When you rely on others to score goals for you to score points, the control that player has over his own destiny is largely in the hands of other men. Other men being the likes of Sidney Crosby and James Neal is nice, but what happens if Neal goes down again? I think Malkin is more likely to return to a point per game pace at some point and finish with 90ish points. Ho hum. Anyway, here's what else I saw in fantasy hockey recently:
Backup goaltenders are among the most important players to track over the course of the season if you want a real chance at winning your league. Like closers in fantasy baseball or running backs in fantasy football, goalie turnover can be rather high due to injuries, poor performance or trades, so knowing whom to own before they get their shot is key. What’s more, the idea of the “no. 1” goaltender doesn’t mean what it used to in terms of games started. In the past, 70-75 games for a starter was not unheard if your team is lucky enough to have a Tuukka Rask or Corey Crawford between the pipes, but these days it’s much smarter to limit even the elites to around 60 games started. Even with a guy who can start 70ish games, it does more harm than good to roll your starter out that many games during the regular season leaving him too exhausted to perform up to snuff in the playoffs, when it matters most. The need for teams to strike a good balance between riding their work horses in net and giving them a break leaves open a wealth of opportunity for fantasy owners to exploit.