Elliotte Friedman’s weekly 30 Thoughts column on the CBC website is currently 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. He 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.
The idea for this column has rattled around in my brain for a while. I always have a number of ideas for columns, but not all of them get transferred to paper (er… I mean keyboard). Those that miss the cut as a full column will now at least get to see the light of day at DobberHockey.
1. The Avalanche should count their blessings that Patrick Roy turned them down for the coaching position two summers ago. Joe Sacco is a fantastic coach, proving to be much more than the typical second choice. For poolies, Sacco has the Avalanche playing exciting, offensive hockey. The club has a slew of good young forwards, and he has shown no hesitations at giving them heavy minutes if they prove to be ready. The biggest fantasy question mark – who takes over from John-Michael Liles on the power play? Jonas Holos has emerged out of obscurity, Kevin Shattenkirk has the pedigree, but Colorado also has another four or five contenders, led by Colby Cohen and Stefan Elliot.
2. Henrik Sedin is first in the NHL in assists. Daniel is third in goals. Both totals are impressive. More impressive, though, is that neither twin has played particularly well so far this season. Don’t get me wrong, they are generating high quality chances in every game, but the same dominance that we have seen in the past isn’t there… yet. With Alex Burrows rounding into form, look for the twins to improve their play over the next month. Can their production improve? I think so, which is a pretty exciting notion for any poolies who one (or those lucky few who own both).
3. Am I surprised Jeff Skinner is doing so well? A bit. I am a huge fan of his, but I didn’t think he would be given top line minutes just yet. I liked him so much from a fantasy perspective for three reasons – his skating, his hockey sense, and Carolina’s lack of talent on the wing. I figured he was at least a season from producing 60 or more points.
4. Atlanta is going to be a very tough team to beat on a nightly basis if they can get goaltending. As a poolie, the key is to figure out which forwards to acquire. Evander Kane is a keeper league star, but he doesn’t hold nearly the same value in one-year leagues. Nik Antropov looks sluggish as he plays through a hip issue. Dustin Byfuglien (just as I suspected in the summer) looks infinitely better playing on defense, his natural position. The Byfuglien-Enstrom duo has hurt the short-term value of Zach Bogosian immensely, though.
5. A big reason for Anaheim’s better play defensively – the return of Toni Lydman. He is the best defensive defender on the roster, and his production is hard to ignore. The Ducks are paper-thin on the back end and Lydman could approach 35 points with a regular PP shift.
6. Calgary needs to give Mikael Backlund more ice time. I wonder how it will take Sutter to admit a short rebuild is in order? Things look very bleak with a weak farm system – time to re-stock it.
7. I’d be slightly worried if I owned Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, or Taylor Hall. Developing in a losing situation is never a winning proposition. Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner are no better than they were four years ago (I know, not perfect comparisons, but the shoe doesn’t always have to fit). Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos played on bad teams, but anyone with two eyes could see Washington was rebounding, and Tampa Bay had some great veteran players (emphasis on veteran) for Stamkos to play with and learn from.
8. Want the name of one player to go out and acquire? Linus Klasen.
9. If Cody Hodgson was in the Toronto organization, would he getting the call up? If Nazem Kadri played for the Canucks, where would he be? Winning teams let players develop until they are ripe. Detroit. New Jersey used to do this, but their drafting has gone downhill lately. Hodgson has been tearing up the AHL, but the Canucks are deep at center and don’t want to rush him. If you own Hodgson, suck it up for a year and get ready to reap the rewards in 2011-12.
10. What kind of odds would you have given me if I had said in the summer that on November 18th, Sergei Bobrovsky would be making his 12th straight start for the Flyers? I missed the boat big time on him.
11. Carey Price is an elite goaltender. Nice to see him playing at that level on a consistent basis.
12. I often wonder how good the Rangers would be if they didn’t have so many bad contracts. Sure, they buried Redden in the minors, but Drury and Rozsival account for almost $14 million combined. They are a defensive defenseman (or two) and a legitimate center away from being a contending team. A superstar up front and in goal, and some fantastic, gritty core players (Staal, Dubinsky, Callahan). I really like Anisimov too, but I’m still trying to figure out if he has 70-point upside, or if he’ll settle into more of a 55-60-point depth role.
13. Sami Salo will be back by late December. Kevin Bieksa is on the market. Vancouver can’t afford to take back much salary, but they could use a real fourth line center. Bieksa’s value will change considerably depending on where he ends up (Columbus makes a ton of sense).
14. My favourite players in the league to watch? In order – St. Louis, Pavel Datsyuk, Claude Giroux, and the Sedins.
15. For those of you who are all over Steven Stamkos (for good reason, his numbers over the past season and a half are ridiculous), don’t forget about St. Louis. He gets lost in the shadows a bit, which is surprising considering how flippin’ good he is. He has one particular skill that stands out – the ability to one-time shots with the puck almost anywhere. Way in front of his body? No problem. Way behind of him? Not an issue.