- Category: Rankings Rewind
- Written by Darren Kennedy
Looking back at April 2003 and your older brother’s Sergei Gonchar
We’re all a bit biased towards the time we live in. It’s hard to contextualize Ovechkin and Crosby with Lemieux and Gretzky. You can watch highlights and try to gather information and better understand their greatness, but you never REALLY know unless you witnessed that generation.
In fantasy sports it’s easy to live in the here and now – you have to. The second a player hits his decline or stops producing it’s on to the next one. Heck we might as well all have Jay Z playing on a constant loop. It’s easy to get excited about the next big thing. Tuukka Rask is, and will likely remain for some time, the best fantasy goaltender. Ovechkin, even with his detractors, is far and away the game’s premier goal scorer. Karlsson is the only defencemen capable of putting up forward-like numbers every season.
But before we fell over ourselves to draft these guys there was a generation that came before. Martin Brodeur, Peter Forsberg, and Sergei Gonchar. I’ve always been partial to Gonchar. Maybe it was his slick outlet pass and pitch perfect one time on the power play. Or, more than likely, I remember dominating as him in NHL 03 for Play Station. With the Russian blueliner recently turning the BIG 4-0 it felt like the right time to look back at his fantasy career and remember the good times. When you’re older brother (or depending on your age – your Dad!) was falling over himself to land Gonchar in the early rounds.
His career stats showcase a fantasy asset who provided elite numbers over a very long period – nine years with 50 or more points, six seasons with 15 or more goals and 1,253 games over a 20-year career. He played at a time in history that saw massive swings in defencemen production and short, ephemeral stints among the fantasy elite. Despite that, he remained constant – a reliable source of points and top tier power play numbers each and every season.
As the 2002-03 campaign drew to a close Gonchar’s value was approaching its pinnacle. He was not yet 30 years old and had just posted 67 points and 224 shots for Washington. It marked his fourth straight season with 54 or more points and established him, along with Nicklas Lidstrom, as preeminent options in virtually every format.
An interesting aside – that year Gonchar finished second in defencemen scoring, trailing only the great Al MacInnis and his 69 points (and a ridiculous 299 shots). Sadly, MacInnis would only play three games in 2003-04 as a result of vision problems from a detached retina. After the lockout in 2004 he decided to retire. One of the all-time greats who was still spectacularly productive in his sunset years.
Here is a look at Dobber’s rankings in April of 2003:
Gonchar came in at number 54. Ahead of a slew of fantastic forward options. When you consider position scarcity it’s easy to imagine him going in the second or third round of some leagues. The only defencemen ranked higher was, naturally, Lidstrom at 50.
There will be those that credit a large part of Gonchar’s success to being in the right place at the right time. Yes, he enjoyed some of his most productive seasons skating with Jagr in Washington and a couple guys named Crosby and Malkin in Pittsburgh - but he was more than just a complimentary piece. Of his contemporaries there were few, if any, defencemen who could control a power play unit like him. That natural ease and calm with the puck that you know no hockey school can teach. An effortless ability to dictate the pace of a game. He was special.
When I see the struggles of guys like Kris Letang and Mike Green to remain top fantasy options for an extended time I’m reminded of how difficult that level of success is to sustain. Gonchar remained an early round selection for over a decade. To put that in perspective, Erik Karlsson still has around seven years to go before he’ll have a similar tenure.
There are those that will argue his victory lap (or laps) with Ottawa and now Dallas have lessened his NHL and fantasy legacy by hanging on a bit too long. I look at it differently - while he isn’t a roster player in most leagues anymore, he’s still a regular waiver wire add when looking for a quick jolt of points. Whenever I snag him off the list for a matchup it’s an opportunity to reminisce, if only for a week, about what he once was. We spend so much time in fantasy hockey pondering the future and what lays ahead, and that’s ok, it’s the nature of the hobby. But sometimes, if only for a moment, it’s nice to sit back and remember what came before.
Darren Kennedy is a contributor for Dobber Hockey and Mckeen’s. You can find him on twitter @fantasyhockeydk, or on his couch trying to figure out how to get around Chara in NHL 14.
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