Happy New Year!
Your resolution better be to dominate your fantasy leagues. The best way to do that would be to pick up the Dobber Hockey Mid-Season Guide, due out on January 12th. I’ve been hard at work on this and expect it to be our best offering yet, especially after not being released last year due to the lockout.
How did you enjoy the Winter Classic? Pretty crappy conditions all-around but still an entertaining game. It got me thinking, what if a team played all of its games outdoors?
I’ve always enjoyed how in the NFL and MLB each team has its own unique venue including weather conditions. The all-outdoor team could have the best home-ice advantage in the league and could even build a team specifically designed to play in crappy weather, however one does that.
It would never happen, of course, but I’ve got to admit, it would be entertaining as hell.
One of the issues would be attendance. There’s no way you could fill a football stadium 41 times a year, especially not when games are played on Mondays and Tuesdays.
I’ll bet the Leafs could do it every Saturday night though. With 25 weeks in a season they could theoretically host 25 outdoor games although that would require the league to schedule them a home game every Saturday, which in and of itself would be a nightmare.
Again, this would never happen but it is fun to think about.
The Red Wings and Maple Leafs skated to a well-played draw and a hard-earned point was awarded to each side. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Unfortunately, the NHL thinks otherwise and somehow, despite going into the day tied in the standings, the Leafs are now ahead of the Wings by one point. Someone needs to check their math, and it isn’t me. A tie is worth one point.
Jimmy Howard made his second straight start since returning from injury and was pretty solid in this one, though considering the conditions he didn’t have to be brilliant. His record now sits at 6-9-8, which has to be torture for those of you in points-only pools. The good news is that it can’t get any worse.
I like Howard for a solid second half performance as the Red Wings make their playoff push.
Brendan Smith got in on both of Detroit’s goals, his second multi-point effort of the season. This is total cherry-picking but he has scored eight points in his last 16 games after scoring just one in his previous 16. Which Smith is the real Smith? I’m inclined to split the difference because there’s no way Smith is the 40-point defenseman he has scored like over the last 16 games. Not yet, anyhow.
The Wings continue to experiment with Justin Abdelkader as a top-six forward. He’s scored two goals in three games since returning from injury but since he’s not seeing power play time I’m inclined to ignore him. He’s most likely just filling in until Johan Franzen returns anyhow.
Abdelkader was seeing power play time earlier in the season but that was before Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar were called up. Now that the kiddies are full time and running the second power play unit, Abdelkader is on the outs.
Speaking of Nyquist, he was back up on the Zetterberg line yesterday, which should bode well for him, at least in the short term. His scoring has fallen off after a flurry upon his call-up but that typically happens once the proverbial adrenaline wears off and it starts to become a real job.
Henrik Zetterberg has picked up where he left off with four points in three games since returning from injury. Aside from a down year in 2011-12 Zetterberg has been a point-per-game scorer every year since the first lockout – a truly impressive run.
Pavel Datsyuk has the unenviable task of centering Todd Bertuzzi and Abdelkader, all while skating some really tough minutes. He’s up to the task and will get his points for sure but if given the choice between him and Zetterberg right now, there’s no question it’s Zetterberg, who consistently gets the stronger linemates.
I couldn’t agree more with Dobber’s comparison of Tyler Bozak to Brendan Morrison. For whatever reason he just fits between James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel. Skating with those two could keep Bozak fantasy relevant for quite some time considering how long that trio is locked up for.
But then again, the Bertuzzi-Morrison-Naslund trio didn’t last nearly as long as it could have. Extenuating circumstances are to blame for that but it just goes to show how things can come unravelled.
Anyway, Bozak has four points in two games since returning from injury. Kessel and JVR are riding three-game scoring streaks of their own.
Nazem Kadri can only look on in envy. The regression monster has grabbed hold of him and is not letting go. He’s got one point in his last eight games and is barely on pace to eclipse last year’s 44 points, which is insane when you consider it was a shortened season.
Joffrey Lupul has just two points over that same stretch. I talked about this last week but Lupul has only scored in four games since the start of November. He could start his own bakery with all those donuts. In the games he has scored, he has 10 points – he just needs to get the lid off more often.
On a better note, Dion Phaneuf notched a couple of assists. I don’t want to be one of those guys, but he’s got points in three straight games, OMG, it’s starting to turn around! Yipee!
No but seriously, I’m happy but I’m not optimistic. He only landed one shot on goal yesterday, which is all I am looking at for him. Until the shots increase I don’t expect to see a points increase.
To be fair, the Leafs’ second goal came on a deflected shot Phaneuf shot so he gets no credit but considering where it was tipped, there’s a decent chance that shot would have missed.
In any case, both Leaf goals (and Phaneuf assists) came from him shooting the puck, which to me screams, “Duh, Dion! Shoot the puck!” But maybe that’s just me.
You could have sold me early in the season on this whole Dion not shooting thing being a reasonable development, but that was when the Leafs offense was humming. They’ve since fallen to a tie for 14th in league scoring at 2.64 goals per game, which means their offense has been even worse than that over the past month or so. Their power play is still solidly tied for fifth in the league at 22.0% so I guess that’s good but I still think Phaneuf needs to start clapping the puck more often.
The other game yesterday was won quite handily by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Ben Bishop has taken the US Olympic team snub and sloughed it right off. He was solid once again for the road victory. Fun fact: In 30 appearances this season Bishop has allowed more than two goals just five times. He might be the most consistent fantasy starter in the game right now. Kudos to him for finally giving the Lightning a goaltender they can count on.
It looks like they’ve found the missing piece of the puzzle and will be really scary when Steven Stamkos returns from injury. I think this makes them serious contenders even though we still have to see what Bishop can do come playoff time. But how many times have we asked that question only to see said untested goaltender carry his team on a long run?
You can get the Lightning at 25/1 to win the Cup right now or 12/1 to win the East. You have to like those odds. The only flaw? The Lightning are 0-3 against Boston and 0-2 against Pittsburgh so far this season. You’ve got to figure the road to the Cup goes through those two teams.
On the other hand, matchups are an important factor as well. In the past, the four and five seeds often destroyed one another despite being two top contenders because they had to face one another in a brutal first round. That changes a bit with the new playoff format. If the season ended today, however, the Lightning would host the Canadiens while the Bruins and Leafs would square off in a rematch of last year’s seven-game grudge match.
The Leafs have taken the first two contests against the otherwise mighty Bruins and clearly make for a troublesome matchup. Meanwhile the Habs – a solid contender themselves – make a much more palatable opponent for the Lightning. That sort of first round arrangement could lend itself to Tampa Bay’s favour.
Anyways, we are months from having this sort of conversation carrying serious weight but all I am saying is there is some serious value in a Lightning bet and Bishop deserves credit for that.
Toss some credit Valterri Filppula’s way as well. He struggled for a bit when Stamkos went down but now he is taking full advantage. Filppula has scored 12 points in his last eight games with five multi-point efforts tossed in there including last night’s two-pointer. He’s on pace to clear 60 points for the second time in three seasons.
Filppula now has eight-times as many points as Stephen Weiss. You win some, you lose some. Eh, Detroit?
I don’t get to watch Tampa Bay all that often but I really liked what I saw from Victor Hedman last night. He’s become the minutes-eater he was pegged to be all those years ago when there was a serious discussion about him going ahead of John Tavares. That looks silly now but Hedman has developed into a rock back there. I’m not sure you would have said it was wise to have taken him ahead of Matt Duchene a couple of years ago but now that’s a conversation worth having again.
Interestingly, the Lightning faced a similar decision in last year’s draft, this time choosing the forward, Jonathan Drouin, over the defenseman, Seth Jones. Can you imagine Jones and Hedman together on the blue line?
I think that decision goes down as one of the biggest “what-ifs” ever because of the ramifications for both the Lightning and the Predators. The Lightning with Jones would look like even stronger bets for the Cup this year had they taken Jones and frankly could have been looking at a dynasty. There’s no question in my mind that that was a big whiff on their part even though I still believe Drouin will be a star in the NHL.
On the other hand, Drouin could have been Nashville’s first star forward since Radulov. Instead they locked down ANOTHER franchise defenseman. That could eventually lead to Nashville altering course and trading Shea Weber. It hasn’t even been a year but my mind is spinning with what-ifs because of that one. Meanwhile, Steve Yzerman is kicking himself – don’t act like he’s not!
Back to Hedman though. He’s shooting over 10% right now, which is ridiculous for a defenseman. That fades over the second half of the season for sure. All the same he’s on pace for over 40 points despite missing six games. I feel good about 40 points for him this year even if he is only on the second power play unit.
I may just copy and paste that above paragraph right into the mid-season guide so consider that your preview!
Mike Santorelli and Eddie Lack are single-handedly trying to destroy me this week. I don’t own Lack but his mediocre goaltending is allowing Santorelli to bleed minus this week. He’s gone minus-three in both games and has fired just one shot. I shouldn’t complain because he’s been a revelation for me this season but what has he done for me lately?
Beyond the last two games Lack has been really solid this year as well so there shouldn’t be too much concern for those of you riding him in Roberto Luongo’s stead. At least he’s got a sense of humour about it:
I miss 2013.....— Eddie Lack (@eddielack) January 2, 2014
Jason Garrison is in yet another slump. He’s scored just one point in his last eight games. I guess that makes him a Windex Wonder.
Personally, I think that just makes him a defenseman – you know one of those guys who feeds the forwards who do the bulk of the scoring. Garrison’s scoring tracks pretty well with that of the Sedin’s and that of the Canucks in general. When the team is up, Garrison is scoring, when it’s not he’s not. In this case I think it’s pretty clearly the chicken (the team) rather than the egg (Garrison), unless you really think Garrison is the lynchpin to this whole Canucks season, in which case, sorry for your luck, Canucks fans.
With that in mind, Ryan Kesler has just one point in his last seven games, while the Sedins have just three each in the last six games. As they go, the Canucks go.
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I’d put Kris Letang up for auction in my salary cap keeper league. The deadline was last night and as a man of my word I sold him for pennies on the dollar. The full deal:
Letang for Roman Josi, Filip Forsberg and a mid-round pick in 2015
Not my finest idea. I figured it might go this way but all the same I was done with Letang. His contract next summer is a poison pill of the highest order. I can’t even imagine how frustrated I’d be if he had another season like this one all while eating up 7.25 million in cap space. So there’s that silver lining.
There’s also the silver lining that Josi, making $4 million annually until 2019-20, becomes every bit the bargain that Letang was on his current deal. I also happen to like Josi as a buy-low for the second half. He’s been dreadful since an early season injury derailed him but he’s skating huge minutes alongside Shea Weber, which has been a profitable position for him in the past.
Those don’t make this a successful deal for me though. I probably could have held Letang on his bargain deal this season, gotten a great second-half performance and then sold him and his poison pill contract in the off-season for a similar price. I also probably could have gotten a better deal if I’d held out for more instead of setting this arbitrary deadline for myself but oh well, it’s done now.
The moral of the story is: auctions don’t work. Don’t set yourself an arbitrary deadline to get a deal done – your fantasy league already does this in the form of the Trade Deadline. Anyway, I’m glad I could be a guinea pig for you.
Shout out to forum member Axeman33 for submitting the winning bid, by the way. You may shower him in compliments here.
The US Olympic team was announced in full, yesterday. There were a few snubs like Bobby Ryan, Kyle Okposo, Keith Yandle, Dustin Byfuglien and Jack Johnson but when I look at it I don’t think those guys were really snubbed. It just shows what great work the Americans have done developing players over the years.
Before you voice an opinion you absolutely MUST read Scott Burnside’s insider report on how the US Selection Committee chose their team. It’s a long read but it’s loaded with great quotes and totally fills you in on what some of the smartest minds in the game were thinking.
Can you imagine that insider look as a documentary? I’d actually pay to watch that. I’m very surprised that any coverage was allowed with Bryan Burke still involved.
The biggest complaint I’ve seen is Yandle and Byfuglien getting left off the team. I totally wasn’t surprised. Those two are pretty one-dimensional offensively. They are among the best no doubt – they sit eighth and third in defenseman scoring this year, respectively – but with all that talent up front the Americans are likely rolling four forwards on the power play. That is especially true since Joe Pavelski and Patrick Kane are so adept at playing the point as forwards.
That leaves just two, maybe three, spots for defensemen to skate on the power play. Byfuglien and Yandle might be the best the Americans have to offer but Ryan Suter and Kevin Shattenkirk are right there and they aren’t liabilities elsewhere on the ice. Kudos to the Americans for choosing the best team, not an All-Star team. I ripped that line off from USA (and Nashville Predators) GM David Poile, by the way.
Last week I discussed how the Sports Guy Bill Simmons had championed Sweden on his podcast as the team to ride bet on in the Olympics because of Henrik Lundqvist. I couldn't resist emailing him how he was wrong and that it was Finland who made the best bet because of Tuukka Rask. Well on this week's podcast he corrected himself and is indeed riding Finland at the Olympics. Join me and the Sports Guy! Finland 12/1!
Former Wild West writer Ryan Ma with two files you MUST read to help prepare for the second half.
Nikita Kucherov scores the winner just before the end of the second:
You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.