Why the shutout is overrated, defensemen to watch for 2011-12, the most underrated player in the league, and more.
1. The shutout stat gets glorified in the media and fantasy hockey, but is it overrated? All things being equal, a shutout is obviously better than allowing one goal. But if goalies have identical numbers (wins, goals-against-average, save percentage), and one has 10 shutouts and the other has zero, isn’t the goalie with no shutouts a much more consistent goaltender?
2. I am doing my best to make this version of the Prime Cuts the most accurate one yet. My fourth line will feature three fourth line players. My bottom defensive pairing will feature bottom pairing defensemen. I am running a little contest with a cool prize – check out my blog section on the forums for more information.
3. Loui Eriksson has been unofficially tabbed as the most underrated player in the league. This title, of course, is highly subjective. Eriksson isn’t a bad choice, but I’d like to toss my hat in Mark Giordano’s corner. Even though he plays in a big (hockey) market, Giordano doesn’t get much national attention. On the ice, he is a gritty two-way defenseman who can throw big hits and defend just as well as he can score goals and move the puck. On the stat sheet, he is a fantasy star who can fill multiple categories.
After playing the 2007-08 season in Russia, Giordano returned to Calgary. Since that time, he has continued to improve in all facets of the game. His plus-minus number isn’t as good as it was last season (due in large part to Calgary’s anaemic even strength offense), but he’ll break the 40 point mark. Consider him a 10-12 goal, 40-45 point defenseman capable of racking up 60-100 PIM and 150+ SOG. He had 11 goals on only 111 shots last season – 15 or more is definitely within the realm of possibility if he starts to shoot the puck more.
4. Find me a player who benefitted more from the lockout than Teemu Selanne. Selanne used the year off to fix his wonky knees, and he used the extra time to rest and rehabilitate. Selanne’s final two years before the lockout saw him score 28 and 16 goals, respectively. His two years after the lockout? 40 and 48 goals scored, and a Stanley Cup ring to boot. The star-studded 2003 draft class as a whole also benefitted from an extra year of development (either at the junior or AHL level), but Selanne’s peak window was probably extended another four or five years because of the year away from hockey.
5. The next great power forward in hockey is Atlanta’s Evander Kane. He is already dominating with his speed, skill, and size and he can probably put on another 10 to 15 pounds without losing a step. He is Atlanta’s best player, and he still isn’t legally allowed to drink in the United States for more than a year. I’ll have more on him in my Top 10 Keeper League Left Wingers list (he is a lock for the top 10).
6. The New York Rangers are an interesting team to analyze. Henrik Lundqvist is the best goalie in the world, and he continues to keep the team at a level above where they probably should be. However, their crop of young talent at the NHL level and very close to it is among the league’s best, and I could see them leaping to the top of the Eastern Conference in a year or two with one more impact forward.
Brad Richards makes a ton of sense. He loved playing under John Tortorella in Tampa Bay. The Rangers also lack a true number one. Derek Stepan has the upside to get there one day, but he would be perfect as the number two behind Richards. New York’s best players (aside from Marian Gaborik, who is still in his prime) are all young – Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Sauer, Dan Girardi, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Brian Boyle, Artem Anisimov, and Michael Del Zotto, just to name a few. Chris Kreider is a terrific prospect (he cracked my top 10 keeper league forward prospects list), and Evgeni Grachev has top six upside as well.
The Rangers will also free up about $10 million in the summer of 2012 (assuming the world doesn’t end) with the contracts of Chris Drury and Wojtek Wolski expiring. Most of that money will go towards locking up the young talent I mentioned above. If Del Zotto can regain the confidence he played with during his rookie season, he’ll anchor one of the league’s best power plays. The Rangers may also pursue a free agent to fill the void this summer if they miss out on Richards.
7. The leading scorer among Columbus defensemen is Fedor Tyutin with seven goals and 27 points. The Blue Jackets will once again fail to qualify for the NHL postseason, and their struggles are due in some part to the lack of a legitimate offensive defenseman. Grant Clitsome has been very good in his short time with the big club (18 points in 28 games, which would put him on pace for approximately 50 points over a full 82 game season), but he is far from a sure thing. Anton Stralman has been inconsistent at best. Kris Russell, despite his mobility and passing ability, projects to be more of a two-way defenseman. He doesn’t shoot the puck well enough to score more than six or seven in a given season.
He has been mentioned already in my top 10 defensive keepers list, but John Moore will walk into a perfect situation at training camp this fall (assuming the Jackets don’t sign or trade for a defenseman).
8. What are your playoff pool strategies? (Aside from drafting Jamie Langenbrunner…). Do you stock up on one team? Do you spread your picks among two or three teams? Do your hedge your bets by picking a few players from each team?
9. Keith Yandle has managed to record 59 points playing a team known for its defense and goaltending. The Coyotes are average in most offensive categories, and they lack a single 20 goal scorer. The second highest scoring defenseman has 22 points (Adrian Aucoin) – only a shade more than one-third of Yandle’s total. All the more impressive, and another reason why he is my pick for the Norris this year.
10. (This was written before Da Costa signed with Ottawa).The hype machine will soon be in full force for college standout Stephane Da Costa, who is free to sign with any NHL team. Da Costa has played the last two years at Merrimack College. He has the upside to be a scoring line forward at the NHL level, but as with all college free agents, be careful not to misinterpret the hype. The reason why players like Matt Gilroy and Tyler Bozak were so sought after and so often mentioned in the media wasn’t purely for their hockey abilities – signing college free agents is essentially like gaining an asset for free (aside from the cost of the contract). The Canucks signed Chris Tanev last summer and he is now their best defensive prospect.
Teams view it as a way to gain free draft picks, essentially, and this means that usually at least 15-20 teams are in on each player. More demand means more hype, and make sure you understand this. I am not saying Da Costa won’t be a very good NHL player (he has more upside than Bozak, for one).
11. Two sleeper picks for next season: Calgary’s TJ Brodie (leading his AHL team in scoring, as a defenseman), and Buffalo’s Marc-Andre Gragnani (scored his first NHL goal on Sunday, has 60 points in 63 AHL games this season).
12. I remember Corey Perry in the OHL – his skill set was unbelievable, but he has a poor skater even at that level. Let him be a lesson to all skilled players who are told they are too slow or immobile – skating and speed can be taught and improved upon.
13. With the draft approaching, most of the emails and questions I am getting from readers is to list off my favourite player(s) for the draft. Last year, I touted Jeff Skinner as the best prospect (fantasy and real life) behind Hall and Seguin. This year, I really like Ryan Strome and Ryan Murphy. Unofficially, my hat is in Murphy’s corner. He has the upside to be a 70 point defenseman in a few years.
14. How much does Travis Zajac depend on Zach Parise? Some say a little, some say a lot (my toe is more in this camp). Zajac is a very good two-way center, but he and Parise really clicked. Parise creates more opportunities for his linemates than most players because of his tenacity. He shoots the puck a lot (rebounds), he is always after the puck on the fore check (turnovers), and he is great around the net (assists). Kovalchuk is a fantastic offensive player, but he creates more on his own than he does for his line mates.
15. A final note – I have had a ton of feedback from this column series. I appreciate all of it (positive, negative, whatever). I like to think that I have become a better writer over the past few years here at DobberHockey, and these short blurbs and ideas allow me to convey multiple thoughts (points, if you will) in one column. My best analysis is often when I shoot from the hip and let the information flow. Going forward I will aim to have at least one 15 Points to Consider piece per month.
Elliotte Friedman’s weekly 30 Thoughts column on the CBC website is the best read in hockey. Friedman is insightful, articulate, knowledgeable, fair, and most importantly, interesting. He has sources and contacts in the hockey world that most could only dream of. Most importantly, has an ability which is rare in this day and age - providing a balanced and reasonable opinion on the league, the players, and all 30 of the clubs.
Each week I will post my own observations (I couldn’t completely steal Friedman’s idea so I’ll pick a number other than 30) with a heavy emphasis on the fantasy side of hockey, of course. Prospects, goalies, sleepers, busts, it will all be covered each week.