Since Christmas, the Vancouver Canucks are 28-5-5. No team is hotter than Vancouver since that holiday and this includes the Pittsburgh Penguins. Suddenly, this team is within striking distance of the formidable Predators for top spot in the Western Conference and they can thank goaltender Roberto Luongo for the feat.
Vancouver is essentially a one-line team in terms of offense and they remind me of the New Jersey Devils of old when they had Martin Brodeur winning cups for them and one line (remember Elias, Jason Arnott and Petr Sykora?) making up the only combo on the team to put the puck in the net.
From a fantasy standpoint, this team preaches that hated mantra: team defense. Why not, though? Roberto Luongo is the best goaltender in the game and even though it was only a month ago when hockey analysts were bantering about Brodeur’s chances of breaking the NHL regular season wins record of 47, suddenly it is Luongo who is in the lead. With eight games left on the schedule, including Sunday’s contest against the Avs, the 27-year-old is just five wins away from the record.
Besides Luongo and the Sedin twins (Daniel and Henrik), Vancouver does have some players with fringe fantasy value. Granted, when the team has yet to tally 200 goals 74 games into the season (hell – even Dallas has done that much), the pickings are slim. Here is the lowdown on some of these guys as you head down the stretch in your hockey pool or prepare for your playoff pool:
Markus Naslund – was formerly a slam-dunk for 90 points, but he will struggle to reach 65 this season. The 33-year-old has just one point in his last seven contests and is probably not a good pickup for the final eight games. The playoffs, however, are another matter and Naslund deserves an early pickup if you like Vancouver’s chances. He is not over the hill by any means, but as long as Naslund is on a team with Luongo, you can expect the team to preach defense first. As such, he will remain a 60- to 65-point player on Luongo’s team. A move to another team will see him regain his 80-point ways. His contract runs through next season.
Brendan Morrison – had a horrible season last year due to a nagging hip injury and his numbers look equally bad this year. However, his numbers have turned around since the team has and he is playing more like the Morrison of old – a 60- to 65-point player. After starting off the year with 24 points in 47 games (a 42-point pace) he has since tallied 22 in his last 27 (a 67-point pace). Furthermore, his ugly minus-12 at the 47-game mark has faded to just a minus-1 in his last 27. He is a decent depth option down the stretch.
Bryan Smolinski – is money in the bank for 45-55 points every year. This year is no different. He has five points in 12 contests since joining the Canucks, which makes him a poor option for down the stretch, but he is a prime candidate to step up his offense in the post season. He logs monster minutes and will be out there in all special teams situations. A solid playoff dark horse to post 15 points if the Canucks make it to the final.
Kevin Bieksa – is the best option on this team besides the Sedins and Luongo if your fantasy squad dictates position. This 25-year-old rearguard has been one of the biggest surprises in the league and should finish the campaign with 43 points and 145 penalty minutes. Not bad for someone who was a no name last summer! He is the best option on the point for Vancouver in the playoffs and his production will increase even further as a result. One of the best picks you can make in your playoff pool this postseason if you like the Canucks to make the final four.
Ryan Kesler – with eight points in his last 12 games before undergoing season-ending hip surgery, he is a dark horse for the playoffs. Kesler has stated that he will likely return for the first round and, much like Smolinski, will see time in all situations. As such, he should maintain that pace in the postseason and if you are building your playoff team around Vancouver, he is the perfect guy to take in the last round. The rest of your pool will be asleep on this guy.
Other defensemen – Matthias Ohlund, Sami Salo and Brent Sopel should all be treated equally in your pool. They are depth defensemen who should put up a point every two games, maybe a little less, down the stretch and in the postseason.
Other forwards – Trevor Linden has been hot lately, with six points in eight games. After a horrible start, Matt Cooke is back to his 40-point ways. Like Smolinski and Kesler, these two are decent dark horses to tally 10 playoff points. Taylor Pyatt has two points in 16 games and should be steered clear of in all fantasy formats. No other Canuck forward is worth a mention – including Jeff Cowan and Jan Bulis. Steer clear of them.