Greetings loyal DobberHockey readers, and welcome to my first ever Ramblings! This might be just a one-time guest gig for me, so I’ll try to make it count.
By now every poolie with a pulse and functioning brain cells should’ve already bought a copy of the Fantasy Guide. But if for some reason you haven’t, then you literally should stop reading right now and go order it. Don’t worry – I’ll wait……This is me waiting…..I’ll really wait as long as necessary……….
In all seriousness, the Fantasy Guide has no equal. It would be the best out there based just on the fact that it’s updated time and time again leading up to the season; but there’s much more! The reason I came to the DobberHockey community way back in 2009 (my forum name is rizzeedizzee in case you want to look for me – not on Twitter, yet) was because even though I had already been successful in leagues for over a decade I knew I had to start doing even more to stay ahead. The first time I saw the Fantasy Guide it literally blew my socks off. And every year it just keeps getting better and better.
Like most everyone else doing the ramblings of late, I’ll tell you what you already know – it’s been pretty slim pickings out there for meaningful fantasy hockey news. But even with camps not yet officially open we’re actually starting to hear some useful information, like guys who won’t be ready for the start of the season, and that sort of thing.
One note on camp news – beware the journeyman or unheralded youngster who sees time on a scoring line. When the dust settles after camp and preseason, more often than not you won’t see someone unexpected in a prime spot; or if you do, chances are it won’t last long. So don’t rush out and burn an important draft pick or precious free agent bucks to grab players like that.
But one thing that has changed of late is the willingness of teams to give a bit more of a shot to smaller players and guys who found success after a number of years in the AHL. All it took is guys like P.A. Parenteau and Cory Conacher (not to mention Martin St. Louis, who did fit both criteria, leading the entire league in scoring last season), to convince teams there can be value in these types of players. That having been said, guys with size (Mr. Penner, your pancakes in the shape of Mighty Ducks are ready) and who were once top draft picks (I’m looking at you Erik Johnson) will always get many more chances.
Since I’m handling Cage Match now, that doesn’t leave me room to write about random topics as much as during my Holding Court days. So I figured this is my best chance to pass along two pieces of often overlooked pre-draft advice for fantasy owners - one for people entering a new league and another for people returning to their tried and true leagues.
For people entering new leagues, it may sound simple but be sure to do your draft prep while keeping in mind the total number of players who‘ll be drafted. Suppose you’re entering an eight team league where each team will draft 12 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 2 goalies. That means only 96 forwards, 48 defensemen, and 16 goalies will be drafted, and you need to avoid being tempted to focus on sleeper picks who, even if they pan out, probably won’t justify being drafted. So even if you think Danny Briere will bounce back in Montreal (not gonna happen BTW), that should be of no concern to you when drafting since there’s no way he should be among the top 96 forwards selected. The same is true for the likes of Tyler Myers on defense (not top 48) or Evgeni Nabokov in net (not top 16). The key is not to overreach, as you can always grab a guy later via the waiver wire. Stick with proven entities or guys where it won’t take a miracle for them to put up stats that justify being drafted in your league.
For those of you returning to existing leagues, make sure to study old draft results to look for patterns among your fellow owners, and then figure out what worked and what didn’t. In my main limited keeper league there’s a guy (let’s call him Sam, mainly because that’s his name) who seems to go out of his way to grab top multi-cat guys pretty early. But he hasn’t done too well lately, and it turns out that by reaching for those guys he’s missing out on points, which count a whole lot more than hits and blocked shots in our league. And at the risk of tooting my own horn, I’ve done very well in the league, mainly I think due to drafting a top goalie with at least one of my first two picks (Wait, the guys in the DobberHockey Expert League aren’t reading this, are they? Errrr, what I meant to say is I NEVER draft a goalie in the first two rounds… Yeah, that’s it…...) The point is you want to look for patterns that either work well or which lead to poor results, and then factor that into your draft preparation.
Hopefully this advice will help you. Since I’m a lawyer in real life, I’ll cover myself by saying void where prohibited, your mileage may vary, some assembly required, wait 30 minutes before swimming, etc.
Back to actual hockey news - count me among those genuinely shocked that Damien Brunner is still unsigned. Sure, he’s not going to score 40 goals or 80 points, but he’s got to be an upgrade over at least one guy that maybe a dozen NHL teams have pegged to be in their top six, right? At this point you have to think it’s his agent telling him to dig in his heels.
Assuming Brunner gets signed and doesn’t miss much of camp, I’d bank on him having a solid season - maybe even 55+ points. After all, the talent is there, and he’ll want to show teams who passed on him that they made a big mistake – kind of like Alexander Semin did on a one year deal last season.
Speaking of Semin (try saying that out loud a few times), now that he’s set to stuff $35M into his pockets over the next five years, I see him as a HUGE risk for a disappointing season. A big contract plus a guy who has a track record of a “questionable” (and that might be putting it nicely) attitude is not a good mix. Do yourselves a favor and slide him down your draft list, or explore options to trade him. On the flip side, apparently Jordan Staal is in great shape, and he’s someone on Carolina that poolies should really try and land this year, as I can’t imagine when his cost will ever be lower in relation to his likely value.
Something also worth thinking about is which projected 1A/1B goalie tandems have the best chance of one guy emerging as the undisputed #1. I’m 100% with those who say that Ray Emery and Jaroslav Halak will get 55+ starts each. Barring injury, there’s just no way I see either one splitting time with the likes of Steve Mason (a glorified insurance policy being touted as a possible starter to help motivate Emery) or Brian Elliott (it’s Halak’s job if he stays healthy, and reports from this summer sound very promising). And if the Devils didn’t play back-to-back a jaw dropping 22 times this season (yet another important fact that’s highlighted in the Fantasy Guide), then I wouldn’t have hesitated at all to put Cory Schneider in this category too.
I also like Jonas Hiller’s chances to be the true starter in Anaheim, as not only is he an impending UFA, but in terms of Victor Fasth we’ve seen many instances of goalies who are lights out as a back-up or 1B only to come back to earth with a crashing thud when they get a chance to be “the man.” Vesa Toskala, Martin Gerber and Brian Boucher are three examples that jump to mind (yes, they were younger), but I’m sure there are many others. Tampa and Toronto are most likely in my mind to indeed end up as true 1A/1B situations where neither goalie ends up starting ten games more than the other.
And of course, how could I mention Toskala without this sad reminder to all his former owners:
I suppose here’s as good a place as any to defend my choice (on DobberNation) of Dany Heatley as a legit sleeper for this season. My thinking is he’s set to be a UFA next summer, which means for the first time in ages he’ll actually have something to motivate him to perform (besides, you know, pride, which apparently didn’t help move the needle the past few seasons). Plus, so many people in so many leagues have been so burned by him in the recent past, that you likely won’t have to pay more to get him (in draft/trade) than you would for a 55 point player. And at that price, why not grab him and hope for 65+?
Heatley is a perfect example of what I call a “slider”, which in his case is a player who is regarded so negatively due to recent underperforming seasons that he ends up falling way too far in drafts. Some other sliders of this type for 2013-14 are Cam Fowler, Ryan Malone and Paul Stastny. One of my very first pieces for the DobberHockey Black Aces forum was about this and other factors that turn guys into different kinds of “sliders.” The piece is dated and far from my best, but it still might be a useful read.
You know what the opposite of a slider is? A “fake sleeper,” which is a guy who’s on so many sleeper lists that he actually ends up being overrated. With fake sleepers, you can get so focused on making sure you draft them (to benefit from what’s expected to be their breakout season) that you end up taking them way too early in relation to their actual value. The result is they disappoint, unless – as is usually not the case – they vastly exceed expectations.
To me, three examples of fake sleepers for this year are Patrick Wiercioch, Torey Krug and Josh Bailey. Sure, they could do very well; but at this point it might cost you too much to get them even if they end up producing value that’s in line with expectations.
Seeing the news of Niklas Hjalmarsson’s new five year deal with Chicago reminded me of something else to keep in mind on your league’s draft day. There are some “goalie’s best friend” defensemen who can be a fantasy asset even if they’re not on your roster. Hjalmarsson is one, but the guy who might have the most pronounced impact this season is Rob Scuderi.
I’d be a bit worried if I was a Jonathan Quick owner, since his transformation from fifth round draft pick to Conn Smythe winner and Vezina finalist came with Scuderi playing all sorts of tough minutes against the best forwards from the other team. On the flip side, if I’m a Marc-Andre Fleury owner, I’m turning cartwheels right now at the prospect of Scuderi working his magic for the Pens once again.
Another topic that has again dominated summer speculation is whether there will be a breakout season among the guys (according to this list, it’s upwards of 40 players) who trained this summer with former NHLer Gary Roberts at the BioSteel camp. While there’s no denying that Steven Stamkos exploded after working with Roberts in the summer of 2009, with so many more players now under Roberts’ wing, and the vast majority of those players not possessing anything close to Stamkos’ raw ability, I think folks need to start tempering their expectations for significantly increased production from a player just because he’s one of those training under Roberts.
That having been said, if I’m an owner of the likes of Devante Smith-Pelly, Brett Connolly, Mark Scheifele or some other younger or unproven player on the list, I do like seeing his name there. Looking at this video preview for BioSteel 2013, it seems pretty hardcore, and they don’t even show the on ice components!
I’ll leave you with a trivia question to see if you can guess my favorite hockey player of all time. Hints are that he played a full season in the NHL the same year he was drafted; and although he’s no longer active, he did play more than one season in the 2000-2010 decade. He had several point per game seasons, but never a 100 point season. He served as an NHL captain, and also holds an interesting distinction in that the first three NHL teams he played for were all based in Canada, although he finished his career with a US-based team. I’ll post the answer Friday AM if no one has guessed it by then.