A few games into the 2009-10 NHL season, you don’t need Joe Sheehan to tell you that it’s way too early to draw any conclusions based on the handful of player performances we’ve witnessed over the first three days of competition (Note: Gary Bettman rested on Sunday). So how long until you trust this season’s results versus the projections of hockey pundits?
Last season, we looked at how many of the previous weeks’ performances would have given us the best indication of future performance for several key fantasy stats. We found that 8-10 weeks were best for Goals, 6-10 weeks were best for Assists, and 6-8 weeks were best for PIM, though roughly speaking, the prior 3-4 weeks (9-12 games) of performance gave nearly the same accuracy.
Enlightened readers that you are, you’ve ascertained there haven’t been anything close to 9-12 games per team. So where does that leave you? With the same convictions you had when you were drafting, as far as expected player performance and who should be in your starting lineup. Don’t overreact to a small sample, right? Still, we can make a few key observations regarding coaching decisions and injuries, as well as point out who you might want to pick up as a free agent on the off chance that they stay hot, and before those other pesky owners do. So in the spirit of the Magic 8 Ball, let’s take a look at some roster moves you might want to consider.
Signs point to yes: Ray Emery
Mark me down as a preseason naysayer for both the NHL’s prodigal son and the Philadelphia D as a whole. Yummy: I’m eating one week’s worth of crow at least, with a front row seat to Razor Ray Emery single handedly beating down my fantasy team in the SportsJudge.com Challenge. Who would have figured that Ray Emery would be Patrick Roy for weekend, while Roberto Luongo would be…well, Roberto Luongo from Game 6 against the Blackhawks? Play those two Flyers’ games and two Canucks’ games over again 10 times and I’m betting that Luongo would be give you the better fantasy stats 7 or 8 out of 10 times. Not the case this time around, though.
John Fischer of In Lou We Trust emailed me this take on Emery: “In my opinion, he knows he needs to impress to convince the Flyers that they made the right choice offering him a contract after playing a season in the KHL. To show that he's still a NHL-caliber goaltender. And so, he's doing just that - and then some.” I concur. So while the former Senator has something to prove and the Flyers look this good–against two playoff teams from last season–it will pay to continue to believe in the combative netminder in the short term.
In fact, with former Shark’s backup Brian Boucher injured, there’s not even a concern for competition taking Emery’s starts away under any circumstances.
Outlook good: Craig Anderson
Roll the dice on former Florida backup Craig Anderson, who has supplanted disappointing Peter Budaj as the number one man in Colorado. By many measures, Anderson appeared to be an excellent offseason pickup for the Avalanche, posting an outstanding .935 save percentage and 12.6 GVT in 2007-8 in only 16 GP and a similarly excellent .924 and 10.1 GVT in 2008-9 in only 27 GP. Yet having recently discovered that Anderson is the worst active career goaltender in the shootout (.400 save percentage) made me doubt how much of his Panthers’ success was due to his own skills and how much was due to a superior defensive scheme.
While we’ll need to wait for a larger sample of games to see if his outstanding two game debut was a mirage, there’s no doubting that both Anderson and the Avs as a whole looked better at first glance than what we thought, besting last season’s President’s Cup winner San Jose and shutting out Northwest Division winner Vancouver. Don’t forget, though, that Anderson is bound to lose at least a third of his starts to Budaj and that Colorado, even if improved, will not be an ideal source of Wins and GAA.
It is decidedly so: St. Louis Blues
Many folks remember how dominant the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins were down the home stretch in 2008-9. It’s no wonder that the two teams ended up facing off against each other in the Eastern Conference Finals. What many people don’t realize is how hot John Davidson’s St. Louis Blues were in the second half of the season, as the lingering memory is that they were bounced out of the playoffs in four straight against Vancouver. On January 2, 2009, the Blues were a floundering 14-21-3, seemingly with a legitimate shot at the worst overall record and the first overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Over the next 44 games, St. Louis would go a scorching 27-10-7 to finish 41-31-10 for the 6th seed in the Western Conference, this in a division with Detroit and Chicago. So for those of us paying attention, seeing St. Louis start the season by beating Stanley Cup Finalist Detroit in back-to-back games in Sweden was not as much of a surprise as to the casual fan.
GM Davidson and Director of Amateur Scouting Jarmo Kekalainen have built the best farm system in the NHL according to Hockey’s Future, with top prospects that include 6th ranked D Alex Pietrangelo, 11th ranked C T.J. Oshie (already playing for the Blues) and 13th ranked LW Lars Eller. The current batch of young Blues already making noise in the NHL include C Patrick Berglund and LW David Perron in addition to Oshie. Look for them to be significant fantasy contributors along with young but established teammates RW David Backes and RW Brad Boyes. Grab them early on in trades if you can, as other owners may not yet appreciate the value of these Blues.
As I see it, yes: Alex Goligoski
As previously written, D Alex Goligoski should have gotten significant playing time during Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup run, as he would have likely outperformed several of the defenseman that Dan Bylsma utilized. Thankfully for the Penguins, that decision is water under the bridge now, the Stanley Cup was won regardless and Goligoski, their 2nd rated prospect, is now in the fold and making an impact. The 45th rated prospect overall by Hockey’s Future, Goligoski is not only a fixture on the Penguins, but getting time with the first team on the Power Play. If you play enough with Crosby, Malkin, Gonchar and company–and throw in some good offensive skills to boot–the points are bound to come. Snatch Goligoski up quick if he’s still available, and keep your eye on top prospect LW Eric Tangradi, as he will likely get the same fantasy boost when he gets a callup from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Most likely: Rangers’ rookies
C Artem Anisimov, D Matt Gilroy and D Michael Del Zotto all made the opening night Broadway Blueshirts’ squad, while top prospect C/LW Evgeni Grachev is a potential mid-season callup. The 25 year old Gilroy has looked solid offensively and defensively, while the 19 year old Del Zotto generally flashes brilliance offensively and disaster defensively. Fantasy-wise, Del Zotto may be the better pickup, as he has been being paired with RW Ales Kotalik on the point with the first team on the power play.
Unless Anisimov gets matched up with Marian Gaborik in the future, there’s not enough firepower on the Rangers’ third line to get very excited about his fantasy prospects. Enver Lisin?
Reply hazy, try again: New Jersey Devils
New Jersey did not impress in their opener against Philadelphia. “Their depth may be a problem, but a bigger problem is them getting outworked along the boards,” commented Geoff Detwiler of Broad Street Hockey, “The Flyers seemed to win all the battles tonight, and this was the second game of a back-to-back.” It made for an unexpectedly disappointing re-debut for Jacques Lemaire as head coach.
Brian Rolston looked reenergized, though, as expected, blasting home the first goal of the season – the first to get past Ray Emery in over 5 periods of play.
New Jersey is a case where we need to take a wait-and-see attitude to gather more information. You can bet that Brodeur will have much better nights, while Lemaire and Lamoriello will find a way to make a difference. I’ll keep touting Rolston as a bounceback player, suitable as a good option in deep leagues.
Very doubtful: Andrei Markov
Send D Andrei Markov–Montreal’s biggest offensive threat on the blue line–to the IR if you have space, but as his return from a severed tendon in his leg isn’t expected for 4 months, don’t feel too much trepidation dropping him if you need the roster slots.
My reply is no: Brendan Shanahan and friend
Last week, Brendan Shanahan and the New Jersey Devils mutually called it quits. It’s doubtful that you had the veteran winger rostered on your team, except in deep leagues heavily weighting power play points. No, don’t go picking up Rob Niedermayer in his stead, that wouldn’t make any sense.
That’s it for this week. Hopefully, what we’ve gone over has given you an idea or two on a roster move you might have missed. Don’t go trading Roberto Luongo for Ray Emery quite yet, though!
Timo Seppa runs the statistical hockey site Ice Hockey Metrics.
Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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