The Winnipeg Jets looked to be turning a corner in 2014-15 when they made the playoffs for the first time since moving from Atlanta. However, their goaltending fell apart and injuries piled up last season causing the Jets to struggle mightily, consequently trade their captain and bottom out. Luckily for them, they moved up in the lottery to the second pick to give them an absolutely loaded top 6. The Central Division will be a bloodbath but I expect the Jets to bounce back and fight to return to the playoffs. They have a handful of players I'm extremely high on so let's take a look at what they're working with:
We are only a few days away from the trade deadline and the first big trade piece is off the market. The Jets moved their captain Andrew Ladd and sent him to the team they acquired him from in 2010, Chicago. The Blackhawks paid a massive price for the rental sending a first round pick, a conditional third, and Marko Dano. If you remember in the preseason, Dano was my favorite sleeper after he came on strong at the end of last season in Columbus. With Bryan Little out for the season, I expect Dano to be in Winnipeg right away. If that's the case, he's immediately worth consideration in 12'ers because his upside is through the roof. Ladd will go on the first line in Chicago on Jonathan Toews' wing which is also a big boost to his value. This is another trade, like the Columbus and Nashville blockbuster, that is a win for all players from a fantasy perspective. Here's what I saw on the ice the last two nights around the league:
In a move that can only be seen as trying to tank for a better position in the McDavid sweepstakes, Sabres GM Tim Murry pulled the trigger on a deal that sent Jhonas Enroth to the Dallas Stars for backup goaltender Anders Lindback and a conditional third-round pick in 2016 today. This move comes right on the heels of another that sent arguably their best defenseman Tyler Myers to the Jets for injured winger Evander Kane. Regardless of whatever the thinking behind this move was, it radically alters the goalie landscape in Dallas and the number one job is most definitely up for grabs with Enroth in town. Maybe the Stars are looking for a way to motivate the struggling Kari Lehtonen to start playing up to his usual standards, but one thing is for certain, Enroth has the ability to take the job from Kari and it sounds like the Stars are going to give him every opportunity to do so.
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:
What is it with Russians named Evgeny? Is there some sort of magic in the name? Maybe it’s the Vodka? Either way, Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 A, 2 SOG, even) has arrived and y’all best take notice as the kid has four points in his last two games and now plays on the second line for the Caps alongside Casey Wellman and Troy Brouwer. I know, those names don’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of their opponents but when you consider he just left the fourth line with Tom Wilson and Jay Beagle, it starts to sound a lot better, right? Either way, the initial chemistry Evgeny has with his teammates can’t be denied after back-to-back solid games on his new line. What’s better, he’s getting time on the Caps’ second power play unit and saw time with Alex Ovechkin. The only limit on Kuzentsov is Kuzentsov, and like many young Russians he’s passionate and highly skilled but who knows what that translates to over time. His weakness as defensive liability can cost him TOI at times, but most young offensively minded players suffer there and he’s improving steadily. His playmaking skills, however, are on par with Nicklas Backstrom’s (sans the PEDs, err, allergy meds!) and his wicked fake-slapper, slap-pass to Tom Wilson for a goal a few days ago against the Stars is evidence of that. He's wildly creative with the puck, has soft hands, great vision and is an all around offensive force. He lacks strength, but that's something he can improve on over time. It’s crunch time and there’s no reason to overthink snatching up a guy like Kuznetsov, so go get while the gettin’s good! Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey last night:
Riley Sheahan (1 A, 1 SOG, even) has five points in his last five (2 G, 3 A) and is currently on pace for 10 points in 15 games this season since being called up from Wings’ AHL affiliate the Grand Rapids Griffins. It will be interesting to see which of the Wings’ dynamic young forwards will get sent down when Pavel Datsyuk returns after the Olympic break, but Sheahan is making a serious case that it shouldn’t be him. Gustav Nyqvist is making a similar claim with his play, so it might be Tomas Jurco that gets the boot given his inability to generate consistent offense in his time with the big club. I’ve mentioned Sheahan before, and it probably went something like this: “This kid has some serious offensive chops with a big shot and great playmaking ability. He has all the tools to become a top-six power forward in the NHL and already knows how to use his big frame to help his puck possession game, which is pretty damn good to begin with. He can play both ends of the ice, has a solid hockey IQ and should be on everyone’s radar as we come down the stretch this season in fantasy hockey.” Wow, sounds like that guy knows what he’s talking about, you should listen to him. I’d grab Sheahan in deeper leagues if you need a scoring boost with the caveat that he may end up drawing the short stick and heading back down to the AHL at some point this season, but if not, he’s well worth owning for the remainder of this season if nothing else. Anyway, here’s what else I saw on a seriously short night o’ fantasy hockey:
Dustin Byfuglien (2 A, 6 SOG, +1) started at right wing for the first time in, well, a while. The Jets hope moving him back to wing will help them find some semblance of an offensive spark, somehow, someway. At first glace this sounds like it's going to be great for his owners, right? Shifting to the wing can only increase his value, right? Well, he lined up with Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi, a slot previously occupied by Bryan Little who is actually having his best season as a pro, so maybe that's not so bad. When asked about the shift Buff dutifully replied that he would do whatever it takes to win, but added that this wasn't his decision. Gee, I wonder how he really feels about it? Apparently the Jets don't much care what he thinks and it's still not his decision because they said today that they'd be keeping the big fella at wing for now. This back and forth dance from defense to forward and back again the Jets have him doing is slowing his development at either position, but it mostly hurts his blue line skills. A lot of folks wondered why he was snubbed from the US Olympic team and it's because he's not a good defensive defenseman yet, in fact I'd still label him a liability on the blue line and his horrible plus/minus can attest to that. I'd call this a desperation move from a team in complete disarray, riddled with injuries and not entirely sure what to do about it. Since moving from Atlanta to Winnepeg it has been all down hill for a franchise that started out, well, at the bottom of the hill and has since been trying to skate to the top. Obviously trying to ice skate uphill is going to be problematic, but that hasn't stopped the Jets from giving it the ole' college try, eh? Only time will tell how Buff reacts to the switch, but I doubt it changes his overall numbers much. He'll likely give us the same 60 some points he was already on pace to deliver for his owners, so whoop-dee-freakin-doo! If this was a better team the switch would mean more, but it's not, so it doesn't. Blah, the Jets are terrible in so many ways. Anyway, here's what else I saw in the world o' fantasy hockey yesterday:
Jay Bouwmeester has been around the league for a while now, and once upon a time he was a reliable offensive threat from the blueline for the Panthers of all teams. Then he moved on to Calgary and he went from a top 5 guy to a fantasy non-factor overnight, not once hitting the 30 point mark for the Flames in three and a half seasons after averaging 42 points a year in the four years prior to being dealt. Since joining the Blues he’s decided to change colors again and pulled a full 180 (dig the mixed metaphors!) and now he’s on pace for an insane 64 points this season. At first I thought “Puh! Not bloody likely…” but then I started thinking about how ridiculous the St. Louis offense really is this season. Shall we break it down? Let’s shall; the Blues are 2nd in Goals Per Game with 3.4 (just 0.1 shy of league leading Chicago and 2nd overall with the man-advantage at 25.5%(!) putting their GA/GF DIFF at +35. Jay has just two goals but 19 assists and there’s plenty more where those came from. Paired with Alex Pietrangelo he has climbed into the top five in scoring for defensemen with his performance last night (1 G, 1 A, 3 SOG, +2) and now has 21 points in 29 games overall. He has 11 points over his last 12 games, a plus-15 rating for the season and you should go ahead and pick him up if he’s still available in your league. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in fantasy hockey:
David Backes scored and Alexander Steen scored twice but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Winnipeg Jets who posted a shootout win 4-3 last night.
Evander Kane, Olli Jokinen and Tobias Enstrom each scored for the Jets. Please, blog, may I have some more?
(Picture from here.)
The Chicago Blackhawks raised their Stanley Cup banner to the rafters last night. They went out and downed the Washington Capitals 6-4 to open their title defense and make Mikhail Grabovski‘s hat trick go for naught in the losing effort. Please, blog, may I have some more?