Man, what the hell happened with Kari Lehtonen, G (W, 33 SV, 1.000%, SHO) this season? I honestly have no idea. Yes, the Stars have dealt with injuries since before the start of the season and that’s definitely hurt team chemistry. Yes, their defense is more offensively minded than they should be and when you mix that with a handful of youth on the blue line and you’ve got yourself a recipe for disaster. Yes, he sports a 31-14-10 record which is pretty stellar, but when you pair it with a 2.82 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage through 59 starts this season you’ve got yourself a recipe for a lot of disgruntled owners. Despite all that, and despite everything I’ve been saying for most of the season, Kari is getting hot at the right time and you’d do well to pick him up for the playoffs.
The trade deadline has come and gone in 2015 and we’re left with a flurry of moves that mostly didn’t matter. There were buyers, there were sellers and then there was the Buffalo Sabres who went into full tank mode and sold off every halfway decent asset they had on their roster in hopes to land Conner McDavid. Don’t believe me? They sent away Chris Stewart, Michal Neuvirth, Bryan Flynn, Jhonas Enroth, Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford and Joel Armia in deals leading up to or at the deadline and they basically took a bunch of draft picks, injured players and a few cases of Molson in return. That’s an impressive fire sale, but I’ll laugh my pucks off if they don’t land McJesus. At any rate, almost nothing the Sabres did at the deadline mattered for fantasy owners, it’s all about quality not quantity folks, but there were a few deadline deals that will shake up the landscape of a few NHL teams and might just offer some key opportunities for the savvy fantasy owner to capitalize on:
With just a little over a month left before the puck drops it’s time to drop the rankings on y’all and get this party started! Last season saw the predictable end of Crosby leading the way yet again and guess what? Nothing changes this season. Well, that’s not true, a lot changes this season. Tons of new faces in new places and now the Central Division might be the toughest division to play in, maybe in all of North American sports. This season we’ll finally get a look at all-world rookie Jonathan Drouin and from the video I’ve seen the kid should be a hot commodity right off the bat, or off the stick, or… I get my metaphors mixed up sometimes. Anyway, there’s no need for a lengthy introduction here so lets get right to the top 10: 1)  Sidney Crosby – remains king of the mountain going into 2014-15 and barring an injury he should be the only guy who breaks the century mark for a second straight season. That alone nets him the top slot again, but consider that last season he won the Art Ross by 17 points while putting up 1.3 points per game, the top mark in the league. The only guy who came close in points per was Evgeni Malkin at 1.2 points per game, and Geno isn’t trending up this season. Granted, had Steven Stamkos not broken his leg, he would likely have challenged Sid for the scoring title, which he’ll do this season, but inevitably Crosby remains the best player in the world. I would talk about who he’s going to skate with, but it almost doesn’t matter. I can’t imagine they’ll break up Crosby and Chris Kunitz, who he spent about 80% of his time with last year. Throw in a dash of Geno here and there and Sidney will be just fine. At 27 years old he could be poised to put up the best season of his career, the only question is whether or not the concussion bug will bite him again. He played 80 games last season, a career high, but the injury risk remains. Still, I doubt it stops him from making a run at another Hart Trophy. 2015 Projections: 35 G, 65 A, 100 PTS
Apparently all the free agents got together and decided that today was the day to sign a deal. Also, everyone had to sign with a central division team. Or demand a trade to a central division team. If I'm a fan of the Wings, Blue Jackets or any other team lucky enough to have escaped the west, I'm counting my lucky starts tonight because baby, the central is loaded. Normally I’m used to hearing news about a big contract here, a big name move there, but since the draft there have been tons of moves that sent ripples through the fantasy hockey world like so many pebbles being tossed into a still pond. Zen! Anyway, it goes without saying then (though I’ll say it) that y’all need to know who went where and for what and why. When? Yesterday! Today? Who’s on first?! The biggest non-contract move so far has to be Jason Spezza and Ludwig Karlsson going to Dallas for Alex Chaisson, Nick Paul, Alex Guptill, a 2015 second round pick and a bag o’ pucks. Couple that with Ales Hemsky inking a 3-year, $12M deal with the Stars today and they might have found a recipe for success in the west! When I initially found out about this deal I saw it as “Spezza/Karlsson traded to Dallas” and my damn jaw dropped. Come to find out its some guy named Ludwig. Really? People are actually named Ludwig? That’s too bad. Anyway, these moves should make the Stars an offensive powerhouse and I’d say Spezza (if he can stay healthy) and Hemsky (if he can stay healthy) get a decent boost in value for next season. Kari Lehtonen (if he can stay healthy) might be a goalie to target in 2015 now, too. I’m sensing a theme here. Huh, anyway, here are the rest of the big moves that matter so far this offseason…
Ryan McDonagh has officially broken into the elite ranks of fantasy defenseman this year with 43 points in 77 games all while maintaining his status as one of, if not these best lockdown defenseman in the east, and maybe the league. A lot of good that does his owners now that Alex Burrows leveled McDonagh in the waning seconds of the Rangers’ Tuesday’s 3-1 win over the Canucks. The Rangers brass is playing this one close to the chest and all they’ll say is the injury isn’t serious. That being said, they’re also going to play it safe with their new franchise defenseman and are prepared to hold him out of the lineup for the rest of the regular season to give him a chance to heal and be ready for a cup run. So where does that leave owners who were hoping to get a few more points from the young blue liner? Not up shiz creek like you might think thanks to Alec Martinez (2 A, +1), who keeps finding ways to score and with these two helpers he has a mini-two-game points streak going and five points in his last five. He should be added to any teams still left standing right now. Don’t think so? Take a look at who you have slotted in as your 4th defenseman, is he doing any better over the last month than Martinez? Then add Martinez. I know I did. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey yesterday:
Beau Bennett (1 A, 2 SOG, +2) is an intriguing option that many folks have likely long forgotten. Once upon a time Bennett was slated to start the season on the second line with Evgeni Malkin and everyone’s favorite player James Neal. Say what you will about Neal (I do!) but that was a choice place to land for the youngster who had everything to prove and the skills to do it. Well, he broke his damn hand, or his wrist, or some such nonsense that kept him out for most of this season and now he’s back, healthy, and has the space to play. Malkin’s down, so he won’t be playing along side the big Russian, but Bennett has points in three of his last four games with two goals mixed in for flavor. He’s only seeing around 12-13 minutes of TOI right now, but that’s enough for him to leave a mark and considering the Pens have locked up their playoff spot, I don’t see any reason they won’t let Bennett roam freely over the next week or two to get him up to speed for the post season party. All that adds up to him being a pretty viable scoring option for those in need whilst chasing those sweet sweet league championships. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey this weekend:
It’s not often that a second year defenseman ends up on the top pairing for a cup contending team, but Dougie Hamilton (1 G, 2 A, 3 SOG, +2, 2 PIM) broke that mold and earned a place along side Zdeno Chara (1 SOG, even) on the Bs top pairing for a few games in a row now and the results have been very positive at both ends of the ice. When asked about his new weapon on the blue line Bs head coach Claude Julien had nothing but glowing remarks for Hammy’s performance of late; “He’s been good. He’s been steady. He’s moved the puck well. He’s got good vision. He’s got good size, good reach. This is a player that with time will get stronger. He’s a big body. He’ll get stronger. He’ll probably be more impactful than he is right now. But his game has been really good. I think he’s handled it well.” All of this bodes well for his chances of staying on that pairing moving forward, and that also bodes well for his ability to give you those tasty blue line points down the stretch. “Bodes” sounds like a word a sufer would use, doesn’t? “Oh man, Hammy’s gnarly bodes rocked last night!” Come to think of it, that doesn’t sound too family safe. Hmn. Anyway, Hammy contributed in just about every way you could hope for as a fantasy owner and given his choice new home next to Chara, you can expect more of this moving forward from the rookie defenseman. So far he has 18 points in 44 games which puts him on pace for around 28 points in 66 games by season’s end and I think it’s probably that he’ll hit that mark, so look for another 10-15 points from Hammy, so if you need help on your blue line down the stretch here’s a great option as he’s only owned in 12% of ESPN leagues and 26% of Yahoo leagues. Anyway, here's what else I saw in the world o' fantasy hockey last night:
Cam Fowler (1 G, 2 A, 3 SOG, +2) has a career plus/minus rating of -56, ouch! In his rookie season he posted a monster 40 points, but with a terrible -25 rating. He followed with a typically bad sophomore campaign posting just 29 points and a -28 rating on a less than stellar Ducks squad. And then last year, the lockout shortened season, and his season line was flat out awful with just one goal, ten assists, and a -4 rating in 37 games. That’s a tough way for a kid to start his NHL career and it can make fantasy owners flea en masse. Still, amid all those ugly numbers there was hope in the form of 123 shots, exactly, that he poured on net in each of his first two years. He’s back at it again with 51 in 33 games played and he’s on pace for another 40 point year, this time with a +6 rating and counting in the right direction. Not only that, Fowler is a great source of power play points with 11 so far this season while averaging just over 3 minutes per game on the man-advantage. Comparisons to Scott Niedermayer still stick with him and they aren’t unwarranted. Now that he’s maturing and the Ducks offense is one of the best in the league, Fowler is the fantasy gold his rookie season teased he might become. He’s rightly owned in 100% in ESPN leagues but just 61% of Yahoo! Leagues. Yet another player with a massive disparity in ownership between the two fantasy worlds. Thing is, he should be owned everywhere, period. Here’s what else I saw in fantasy hockey yesterday:
Looks like the flu is going around and a few guys are down with illness, tis the season! Shea Weber returns tonight after missing three games after taking a puck to the face. Apparently he’s going to sport a visor now. Get him in there. Evgeni Malkin did not travel with the team to Boston so he won’t be on the ice tonight. He’s day-to-day with a lower-body injury and is questionable for tomorrow night as well. If he is a part of the Pens’ morning skate, he’ll be in there. James Wisniewski suffered an undisclosed upper-body injury last night against the Wild and is undergoing tests today to see how severe it is. It would be a shame if his season is derailed by injury.
Normally I focus on one player that stands out to me as I write these rundowns, but tonight I have to switch it up because the Edmonton Oilers have come alive! Semyon Varlamov stayed in the entire game taking an 8-2 pounding from the league’s youngest team. It's pretty ironic that back in 1995 when Avs Head Coach Patrick Roy was left in for all 9 goals scored effectively ending his career with the Habs (and he nearly retired completely) and now he's gone and done the same thing to Varlamov, classy. I never liked Roy. Anyway, here’s the rundown for the Oil: Taylor Hall (3 G, 1 A, 7 SOG, + 1) is elite and should be the guy that leads this team back to greatness. He’s got all the skills and he put them all on display tonight. Jordan Eberle (1 G, 1 A, 2 SOG, even) is the other half of the core of this offensive unit that could be one of the best in the league in the second half. David Perron (1 G, 1 A, 4 SOG, +2) is having a career year and after not living up to expectations for years seems to have found a home in the Great White North. Ales Hemsky (1 G, 1 A, 1 SOG, +1) is showing signs of life as well. He’s one of my second-half sleepers. Mark Acrobello (1 G, 1 A, 5 SOG, +1) remains a risky add at best. He’s tiny and inconsistent, but could live well off the table scraps of others if the Oil take off like I think they can. Sam Ganger (1 G, 2 SOG, even) should take this opportunity to step up and be a leader for this young bunch. He was once a highly touted prospect himself. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (1 A, 2 SOG, +1) chipped in an assist, but should be right in the middle of all the scoring sooner than later. What would a mention of the Oilers’ potential be without the Nudge?! Nail Yakupov (1 SOG, -1) continues to be a huge bust and what a tickertease for his owners. I never buy in early on young Russians because so few of them pan out and Yakupov seems to be the same. On a team flush with young talent this kid is playing an embarassing season of hockey with a -17 rating and just 9 points in 28 games played so far. Nail, I think the KHL is calling. After a terrible start to the season it seems like this young team is getting its legs and finding their identity as a team. They’ve won four of their last five games and with performances like this there’s a possibility this team might, may be able to ull itself out of the basement and fight for a playoff spot. After adding Breezy to upgrade their goalie situation and a favorable schedule going up to the Olympic break facing the likes of the Flames, Jets, Blue Jackets, Hurricanes and Predators, things are looking up for the Edmonton faithful. Is the horrible start a thing of the past? Maybe, but you can’t deny tonight’s results, and this didn’t come against a bad team with lackluster goaltending either. Don’t miss out on this potential buffet o’ fantasy black gold, grab some Oil while you can get ‘em cheap! Anyway, here’s what else I saw in fantasy hockey recently: