Game of the day: Washington (39-18-5) at Boston (42-12-8) — Hossa, Savard, Lucic

February 28, 2009
Only one of these Bruins might play in today's 1:00 p.m home game vs. Washington

Only one of these Bruins (left to right, Savard, Lucic, and Ryder) might play in today's 1:00 p.m home game vs. Washington.

Winning teams don’t mind resting injured players: the Detroit Red Wings played without right wing Marian Hossa (neck) last night, and still defeated the visiting Los Angeles Kings 2-1.

I put “neck” in those parentheses because that’s what the AP story says, but if you’ve followed the NHL for more than three days, you recall that Hossa actually had concussion-like symptoms after taking hard hits in Wednesday’s 4-1 home win vs. the San Jose Sharks.

Hossa is expected to return for Tuesday’s game in St. Louis. The fantasy lesson here: when it comes to winning teams and player injuries, “questionable” often means “out” in the regular season.

All of this pertains to today’s 1:00 p.m. Washington at Boston game. While the Bruins smashed visiting Anaheim 6-0 Thursday night, center Marc Savard (unspecified upper body injury) and left wing Milan Lucic (megadittoes) did not play in the third period. Both got in fights on Thursday night, and both are questionable today.

Will they play? I doubt it. For one thing, as Matt Kalman reports in The Bruins Blog, Boston recalled center Vladimir Sobotka from Providence (AHL) last night. Clearly, the team needed a body in town by high noon.

But the larger question is, Why would the Bruins take risks with Savard or Lucic? An injury to either would turn the Bruins from Cup contenders to second-round losers.

We know, Bruins fans, that the Spokes were 4-2-2 sans Savard last year and are 5-1-1 less Lucic this year. But the previous sentence remains our unhumble opinion.

The point is: if you have solid bench options behind Savard and Lucic, use them today. That’s what the Bruins plan to do.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Need goals? Here’s the top ten (Cullen, Kesler)

February 27, 2009
Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler has nine goals in his last 11 games.

Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler has nine goals in his last 11 games.

Quick top-ten list:

1. Ovechkin (13)

2. Kovalchuk (12)

3. Hossa (11)

4. Green (10)

5. Langenbrunner (9)

6. Cullen (9)

7. Heatley (9)

8. Kesler (9)

9. Toews (9)

10. Parise, Hejduk, Marleau,

Cammalleri, Malkin, Antropov, Arnott (8).

The parenthetical number is how many goals the player has scored in the last month.

Who stands out? From a fantasy standpoint, it’s Carolina Hurricanes center Matt Cullen (15 percent owned in ESPN leagues, nine percent in Yahoo!) and Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler (41 percent owned in ESPN leagues, 25 percent in Yahoo!).

As the numbers suggest, Kesler might already be owned in your particular league. But he’s the one worth grabbing, if available. He has first-round pedigree (23rd overall pick in 2003) and he’s backed it up. In addition to his nine-goal month (that’s nine goals in 11 games), Kesler has racked up six power-play points in that span.

Kesler also has three two-goal games in the last month. While that doesn’t necessarily help in fantasy terms more than six one-goal games would, it does indicate a high level of talent, as opposed to streakiness or luck.

As for Cullen: it’s an impressive hot streak, but it’s inflated by his February 22 hat trick against Colorado. Whereas Kesler is all youth and upside, Cullen is 32 years old — we know what he is, in fantasy terms: roughly 25 goals, 35 assists, and 200 shots. That’s nice, but it’s not enough to get rostered as a fantasy center.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Friday night wings (Hossa, Fehr, Fedorov, Fleischmann, Giroux)

February 26, 2009
Red Wings right wing Marian Hossa -- seen here in Penguins garb -- might miss Friday's game with concussion-like symptoms

Red Wings right wing Marian Hossa -- seen here in Penguins garb -- might miss Friday's game with concussion-like symptoms.

Red Wings right wing Marian Hossa (concussion-like symptoms) left last night’s game in San Jose in the second period. The game was an impressive 4-1 win for the Wings, but Hossa’s status was uncertain after taking an elbow in the head from Sharks defenseman Doug Murray.

Wings coach Mike Babcock said Hossa was fine; but the Associated Press used the phrase “concussion-like symptoms.” When I read or hear “concussion,” I get nervous: I wonder — why would the Wings take chances rushing Hossa back into action?

Perched high in the Western Conference standings (No. 2 seed, 88 points, only three points behind the first-place Sharks, whom they just defeated handily), the Wings have no reason to play Hossa in Friday night’s home game vs. Los Angeles.

Here’s the fantasy question: Is it worth picking up a free-agent right wing to fill Hossa’s possible one-game absence?

If you have games to spare at right wing, absolutely. There are about 20 games left in the season; you should be slightly ahead of your games-allowed maximums at this stage.

And with that bit of Fantasy 101 advice out of the way, here are two widely available right wings that you can plug-and-play for Hossa:

Eric Fehr, Washington Capitals. Three percent owned in ESPN leagues, four percent in Yahoo! leagues. Fehr has six goals and four assists in his last 10 games. He’s not riding Ovechkin’s coattails either: In fact, he’s playing on the second line with Sergei Fedorov and Tomas Fleischmann. The 23-year-old Fehr has some pedigree of his own, too: he is a former first-round pick (18th overall in 2003). The Capitals don’t play Friday night but their Saturday afternoon tilt in Boston should be a high-scoring affair. You want a piece of that action.

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers. Two percent owned in ESPN leagues, three percent in Yahoo! leagues. It’s been quite a month for the 21-year-old Giroux who, like Fehr, is surrounded by megastars but carries his own first-round pedigree (22nd overall in 2006). In his last month, Giroux has four goals, four assists, +5, 10 PIM. The Flyers have a home game vs. Montreal Friday night, and that, too, could be a high-scoring piece of fantasy action.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Vengeance Drops and Magic Ratios (Edler, Barker)

February 25, 2009
Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler did nothing last night, but don't drop him yet

Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler shat the bed last night, but don't drop him yet.

Comes a time in every fantasy owner’s life when psychological satisfaction trumps team success. When the need to kick a player to the curb — to drop him, plain and simple — outweighs any practical concern about whether doing so is the most value-driven approach.

Yahoo!’s Andy Behrens has dubbed this the “vengeance drop.” Anyone who’s ever owned a fantasy team knows this fed-up feeling. And I am just about there with Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Cam Barker.

Last night, in Chicago’s 5-3 loss in Nashville, Barker barely dented the boxscore, notching nothing but one shot on goal in 19:05 of ice time.

He was a No. 4 defenseman to begin with, but he had always done just enough to hang around. But this was his fifth scoreless game in his last seven. I’ve had it. And while I’m calling this a “vengeance drop,” since it’s on the heels of last night’s dud and I’m pissed, I have also, let me confess, allowed some rationale to steer my decision-making.

The question is straightforward: how can you tell when a scoreless effort is a simply a bad game, as opposed to a sign that a player has little fantasy value going forward?

What I look for — especially in defensemen — is the ratio of ice time to shots on goal. The smaller, the better. Last night, Barker’s ratio was roughly 19. By contrast, consider the ratio of another No. 4 defenseman, Alexander Edler of the Vancouver Canucks. In Vancouver’s 3-0 loss in Montreal, Edler went scoreless. But as opposed to Barker, Edler launched six shots on goal in 19:48 of ice time: a ratio of roughly three.

Not for nothing, Edler added two penalty minutes to his effort. All of which explains why I’m keeping Edler around, even though he has now gone scoreless in his last three games. You launch six shots in under 20:00 minutes, you’re a defenseman I want on my team. Barker has not yet had six shots in a game this season. He has only reached four or more shots in a game twice.

Edler has done it eight times.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Sabres goalie Patrick Lalime: Worth the pickup?

February 24, 2009
With Sabres goalie Ryan Miller out indefinitely, does it make sense to pick up his backup, Patrick Lalime?

With Sabres goalie Ryan Miller out indefinitely, does it make sense to pick up his backup?

By now you know the news: Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller (high ankle sprain) is out indefinitely. He got hurt Saturday night at home vs. the Rangers (see the superb analysis in Yahoo!’s Puck Daddy blog).

So who starts tonight vs. Anaheim? None other than Patrick Lalime (2-7-1, .895, 3.17), who has played just 13 games this season.

Given Lalime’s stats, is there any reason a fantasy owner should consider him?

Yes, for three reasons:

1. Any starting goalie on a solid offensive team has fantasy value. Granted: if Lalime shits the bed, he won’t be a starting goalie for long. But as of this moment, he is the starter for the Sabres, who have scored at least three goals in their last three games.

In the six games they’ve played since losing super-stud left wing Thomas Vanek (jaw), the Sabres have totaled 1, 6, 0, 4, 3, and 4 goals. That’s an average of 3.00 per game. For the season, the Sabres rank 14th in goals per game (2.87).

The point is, while the Sabres are hardly Detroit (3.70) or San Jose (3.40), Lalime will have decent support. Even if he continues to allow 3.17 goals per game, he might get some wins.

2. The price is right. If you had to trade for Lalime, this would be a different story. But as of this moment, almost any fantasy owner can acquire Lalime for nothing via free agency, even though Miller has been hurt for three days now. In Yahoo! leagues, Lalime is only 11 percent owned. In ESPN leagues, Lalime is only four percent owned. Obviously, the masses have no faith.

3. Time was, Lalime was a terrific goalie. It was a while ago when Lalime starred for the Ottawa Senators, but the numbers are worth sharing:

2002-3: (39-20-7, 2.16, .911)

2003-4: (25-23-7, 2.29, .905)

Lalime is only 34 years old. Can he post numbers like these again? Probably not, but it costs you nothing to speculate.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Game of the night: San Jose (40-8-9) at Dallas (29-22-7) — Thornton, Cheechoo, Lehtinen

February 23, 2009
Sharks center Joe Thornton has no ordinary five-game point streak: two goals, eight assists.

Sharks center Joe Thornton has no ordinary five-game point streak: two goals, eight assists.

Okay, it’s the only game of the night.

We must point out Sharks center Joe Thornton has two goals and eight assists in his last five games. There’s no great action you can take as a fantasy owner, now that you know this, other than marveling at how, sometimes, name-brand players are worth their high prices on draft day.

But some brand names fall off the wagon after a few seasons of statistical glory. It can be tempting to believe — after a hot streak — that these brand names have revived their games. Alas, it’s not always the case. There are two examples in tonight’s game:

1. Don’t be seduced by Jonathan Cheechoo’s hot streak. It’s always enticing to wonder if a Cheechoo streak (two goals and one assist in his last four games) augurs a return to his 2005-06 ways (56 goals and 37 assists). I’m here to tell you: it doesn’t. Here are Cheechoo’s ice times for the last four games, going backwards: 11:16, 13:36, 13:59, 17:13.

That’s right: his ice time has actually shrunk for four straight games. He just doesn’t play enough (or score enough, obviously) to warrant fantasy consideration. His season totals (nine goals, 12 assists, +1 in 45 games) tell you all you need to know. Just think to yourself: how is any right wing only +1 on the Sharks?

2. Dallas right wing Jere Lehtinen is also not about to enter the way-back machine. In 12 games between January 12 and February 8, Lehtinen amassed five goals, 10 assists, +7. It was tempting to believe The Fine Fin had rediscovered his 2001-03 heyday. Don’t get me wrong: in real-life terms, Lehtinen can still play. But I don’t want him on my fantasy team. The stats are seldom there anymore. In his last six games, Lehtinen has one goal, no assists, -3. For the season, he has seven goals, 14 assists, and +3 in 30 games. Not bad, but not good enough for fantasy rosters.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Game of the day: Colorado (28-30-1) at Carolina (30-25-5) — Hejduk, Stastny, Knuble, Ryan, Ryder, Alfredsson

February 22, 2009
Incredibly, Colorado Avalanche right wing Milan Hejduk is not a universally owned fantasy commodity

Incredibly, Colorado Avalanche right wing Milan Hejduk is not a universally owned fantasy commodity.

While the NBC cameras focus at 12:30 p.m. on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ visit to the Washington Capitals, a more pertinent game to the fantasy community will take place at 3:00 p.m. in Raleigh.

Though it’s true The Genius will find any excuse to blog about the erstwhile Hartford Whalers, today’s Avalanche at Hurricanes tilt has two non-Whalers that fantasy owners need to watch:

1. Milan Hejduk, RW, Avalanche. He’s probably not a free agent in your league — he’s 82 percent owned in Yahoo! and 95.4 percent in ESPN — but it’s rare a player of Hejduk’s merit is not universally owned. He has underperformed this season (21 goals, 24 assists, -6) and ranks an unimpressive 32nd among all right wings, behind stable veterans like the Flyers’ Mike Knuble and sizzling youngsters like the Ducks’ Bobby Ryan.

I don’t expect Hejduk to return to his point-per-game ways of 2002-03, but I’m confident about two things: (1) Hedjuk will help you in the shots-on-goal category. He has at least 205 shots in each of his last five seasons; (2) If you want to trade for Hejduk, don’t let his -6 daunt you. In his nine previous campaigns, he has never had an overall minus season.

Granted, this might be the first Avalanche team to finish below .500. But given Colorado’s recent surge (three straight wins), Hejduk’s stellar play in that span (one goal, three assists, +5), and the imminent return of center Paul Stastny (see below), I don’t believe the -6 is something to fret about.

Right wing is arguably the thinnest position in fantasy hockey, and it’s even thinner now because of the injuries to the Bruins’ Michael Ryder and the Senators’ Daniel Alfredsson. All the more reason Hejduk is a terrific buy-low candidate for the season’s final 20 games. You can probably still acquire him for a No. 3 defenseman or an expendable left wing, and it might be wise to do so, before he really catches fire.

2. Paul Stastny, C, Avalanche. After missing 25 games with a broken right forearm, Stastny may return in today’s game. How good is the 23-year-old Stastny? He had 24 goals and 47 assists in 66 games last season. This season, he had 10 goals and 21 assists in 34 games before the injury. In other words, he is a legit No. 2 center. There’s a chance Stastny’s available in your league. He’s 82 percent owned in Yahoo! and 87.7 percent in ESPN. A strong performance today could make Stastny the universally owned commodity he ought to be.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons