The Minnesota Wild had an excellent regular season in 2016-17, their first under Bruce Boudreau, finishing with 106 points. Unfortunately for them, they had another first round exit, this time as a prohibitive favorite against the St. Louis Blues. I was all in on the Wild last year in the regular season strictly because of Boudreau; the man is as good as it gets behind the bench. Arguably my biggest call of the year, having Devan Dubnyk 40 spots higher than ADP, worked out perfectly as Dubnyk finished as the #3 overall goalie. With a few players breaking out and others finding their form again, the Wild remain a very interesting team for fantasy purposes. Let's take a look at the plethora of options Boudreau has to work with:
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.
I’ve been weaving a theme through most of my posts over the last week or so and today isn’t the day to try something new because baby, my words of wisdom are still hella applicable in a big way. What's that maxim everyone? It doesn’t matter what’s happened to this point in the season, it only matter what’s happening right now. What's happening right now is two guys who haven't done a ton on offense this season are blowing up, and who helps you win your league title? Those guys, that's who. So who are those guys? Brandon Pirri, C (1 G, 10 SOG) and Justin Abdelkader, RW (2 PIM, 2 SOG, +1) are those guys and they're both putting the biscuit in the basket at a high rate lately, didn't you know? Well, now you do. You might go to the wire to add either, see their overall offensive numbers for the season and shy away, but you’d do yourself and your chances of winning a serious disservice if you do.
Johan Franzen can’t go very long without getting hurt and he kept the streak alive last night after hitting the IR with what the Wings are calling an “upper-body issue.” An issue? Like he has emotional baggage from his childhood issue? It’s an injury, call it what it is. Does calling it an “issue” make it seem less severe? Even if it did, why bother? Franzen’s 22 points in 33 games aren’t exactly bringing the house down, eh? Anyway, the point of this anti-Franzen rant is that his absence frees up an opportunity for AHL goals leader Teemu Pulkkinen and his cannon of a shot to get a chance on big ice and it will be exciting to see what he can do.
Draft day is one of the most important moments in any fantasy season. It can make or break your chances and though a bad draft isn’t a death sentence for your season, it definitely puts it on death row early on. One of the big mistakes I see a lot of owners make is taking goalies too early, especially in the first round. Henrik Lundqvist and Tuukka Rask were the usual suspects this season and neither has or will live up to their ADP this year and it’s likely that if you drafted either your team is hurting because of it, but goalies aren’t the only position to be wary of taking too early. Defensemen are a bigger gamble early on than people give them credit for and so far Erik Karlsson, D (1 A, 2 SOG) is doing his damnedest to make that point clear as day to all.
Back in April 2013 the Washington Capitals were interested in adding some veteran help for a playoff push. The Nashville Predators had some help in the form of Martin Erat and so they struck a deal. Erat went to the Caps and Filip Forsberg (1 G, 2 A, 5 SOG) came over to the Preds in a package deal. At the time no one really batted an eye, but now all eyes are wide open watching “Fil the Thrill” roll through opponents night after night on his way to one of the best starts a rookie forward has had in years. I honestly didn’t see this coming, but after he posted just 34 points in 47 games in the AHL last year, honestly, who did? His preseason was stellar, but preseason means squat and I figured he was just playing hard against weak competition to earn himself a roster spot like any respectable rookie. The last I saw of Fil he was easy to knock of the puck, undersized, lacking strength and looking overwhelmed playing North American hockey, but clearly he had some skill. Oh my how things have changed. With a deceptively awkward but quick wrister at his disposal Fil stretched his point steak to seven games with the three-point effort last night. What’s more, he has a six game goal-scoring streak mixed in and 12 points (7 G, 5 A) over that span. He’s currently on the top line with James Neal (1 A, 2 SOG, +2) and Mike Ribeiro (1 SOG, +2) and that’s a good place to be. He hasn’t just been good, he’s been dominant and his line has outscored opponents 13-1 at even strength so far. The downside here, yes there’s a downside, is that there’s really no chance he can keep this scoring pace up. You know that. You don’t want to admit it, but he will. The upside there is that he’ll fall from dominant to thrilling, retaining tons of value all season long. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey last night:
If I asked you who would have the better numbers after a month or so of play, Tuukka Rask (L, 12 SV, 4 GA, .750%) or Jonathan Bernier (W, 25 SV, 1 GA, .962%), I’m willing to bet a case of beer and a back of pucks you’d snap back with Tuukka as your answer pretty quickly. To be fair so would I, and we'd both be wrong. To this point Bernier's sports a season line of 5-3-2/2.58/.917% while Tuukka is sitting ugly at 8-5-0/2.69/.901%. Believe it? You best. It seemed as though Tuukka was getting his act together after a rough October until he was bombed for four goals on 16 shots last night by a team that he has completely dominated in the past. When I say completely dominated, I mean never allowing more than two goals against them before last night completely dominated. To be fair, the Leafs are on fire right now so this is a different Toronto team that Rask has owned in the past, but still, I'm starting to worry about Rask's overall play this season. My gut says he'll be fine, but his stellar play this month comes against teams like the Cats, Oilers, Devils and Sens. That's not exactly the cream of the offensive crop, so it's expected that he'd handle them with general ease. It was also expected that he'd handle the Leafs in a similar fashion, too. If it makes Rask owners feel any better, he was pulled in the second for rookie Niklas Svedberg (2 GA, 15 SV, .882%) who promptly coughed up two of his own on 17 shots. At the heart of the matter here is Boston's decimated defense and most notably the absence of its heart and soul Zdeno Chara, so these struggles aren't wholly his fault. You can't trade Tuukka because his value is far, far below his ADP, so you'll just have to stick it out. This is yet another example of why you shouldn't be taking goalies in the first two rounds. If you own Tuukka, you most likely did just that. Well, while you took Tuukka I drafted Tyler Seguin and I couldn't be happier with my pick, how about you? Goalies are too unpredictable to justify taking that early, even the elites, and they often fail to live up to their ADP. It's not about what your early goalie grab gives you or doesn't, it's what you left on the board while doing it that's at the heart of the matter. Always remember my mantra; skaters first. Skaters first. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey last night:
Before the season started I was not a big fan of Roberto Luongo (W, 32 SV, 1 GA, .970%). I mean, I like Lu and think he's a stellar tender, but I figured his chances of a solid year with the Cats were somewhat slim. I mean honestly, it’s the Cats. Yes, they are chock full of young talent, but they’d been garbage for so long and their defense so porous that I expected Lu to return to his old stomping ground and face about the same volume of shots he did in days gone by. An aging goalie returning to face a montain of shots on a young team doesn't exactly sound like a recipe for success, now does it? Well, apparently I was wrong. Since their opening night implosion against the Devils the Cats have really pulled themselves together and have been playing some seriously solid 5-on-5 defense. Their forwards are back-checking like whoa and in general they’re able to disrupt some of the better offenses in the game. Dare I say I’m even impressed? Oh, I dare. I’m impressed. Flordia currently sits at 14th in the league in shots against per game allowing 30 a night and Lu is more than enough goalie to handle that kind of workload and put up solid numbers doing it. With that said this endorsement comes with a word of caution. Florida is indeed very young and while they are currently seventh overall in goals against per game allowing just two a tilt they’re second to last in goals per game with 1.5 per, 23rd on the power play and 28th on the Penalty Kill. Those numbers do not bode well for Lu getting many wins. If the defense holds up his peripherals should range from solid to sparkling despite the lack of wins, so, I guess it really is like he’s back to his old tricks in South Florida, eh? So I was kind of right, anyway. Just the wrong kind of right. Right? Hmn. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey last night:
Recently some had speculated that when Ryan Callahan went down with an injury it would be Nikita Kucherov (3 G, 6 SOG, +2) that would step up to the Stamkos line. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Instead he’s found some seriously strong chemistry with line mates Ondrej Palat (1 A, 1 SOG, +2) and Tyler Johnson (4 A, 3 SOG, +2) on what is fast becoming one of the better lines in hockey. Last season Kucherov didn’t look very good at atime and at others he looked flat out lost, but it wasn’t all bad as he showed flashes of brilliance that had become his hallmark as he exceled at every level of play on his way to the NHL. Still, he tallied just 9 goals and 18 points over 52 games played so it didn’t exactly leave anyone with a high expectations of a breakout campaign in 2015. The big question is whether or not his current scoring outburst is the start of something big or will it burn itself out sooner than later? Well, Kucherov has incredibly hands and sports an elite wrister that would put most in the NHL to shame. He relies on his generally sharp offensive instincts to drive a fast pace and has shown natural nose for the net, but he could stand to bulk up at bit standing at 5’ 11” 178 lbs. I like the kid and I think he could do well this year, but he sees limited time on the power play and that limits his value. Obviously the seven points in three games is an unsustainable pace, but this isn’t just a passing fad, this kid is good and he’s going to get better. Expect the scoring to dry up and come in streaks, but with his talent the streaks may continue to be fairly grand affairs. He’s only owned in 15% of Yahoo! Leagues and 8.7% of ESPN leagues, so go snatch him up and stream him while the streamin’s good! In keeper leagues, considering holding him for longer if you can. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey yesterday:
When the season started I was mostly worried Zdeno Chara (1 SOG, -1) had lingering nerve damage after he’d been fighting the issue over the last season or so. Last year he had difficulty holding a stick towards the end of the year, but all signs looked good in the preseason so I ranked him accordingly. Well, the hand is fine, but the knee? Not so much. Chara suffered ligament damage to his knee yesterday while laying a big hit on NHL scoring leader John Tavares (1 A, 4 SOG, +1) in yesterday’s game. He’ll miss 4-6 weeks at which point they’re going to determine whether or not he needs surgery. Wow, that sounds terrible. They have to wait over a month just to see if the knee is bad enough that Chara needs to go under the knife? Let me just go ahead and call this right now, he needs surgery. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s done for the year, but you can’t just drop him until we know for sure, so stash him on IR and hope for the best. In the meantime this is a big blow to the Bruins and fantasy owners alike. Not only does it hurt his owners, but also Chara serves as the lynchpin to the Bs both offensively and defensively. They haven’t been playing well as a team to start the year and this injury will further erode their ability to step up and deliver. Tuukka Rask’s meh play is likely to continue to a degree, or at least continue more than we would have expected this season with Chara out. I want to say that this is going to give guys like Torey Krug (4 SOG, -1), Dennis Seidenberg (1 SOG, +1), and Dougie Hamilton (1 SOG) a boost in value that will come with an uptick in playing time, especially on the powerplay, but I really don’t think that’s the case here. I think the B’s are poorer without Chara, and the ripple effect will hurt more than it will help. You know, Johnny Boychuk (1 SOG, +1) sure seems like a good option right now, so may—oh right, well played Garth Snow. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey last night: