Are Eric Staal and Marc Savard first-round fantasy picks next year?

May 14, 2009
The San Jose Sharks are long gone from the playoffs, but Joltin' Joe is money in the fantasy bank (i.e., the regular season).

The San Jose Sharks are long gone from the playoffs, but Joltin' Joe is still money in the fantasy bank (i.e., the regular season).

As well as they’re playing — and as well as they played in the regular season — I would draft neither Marc Savard nor Eric Staal in Round 1 if my fantasy draft were today.

That’s no knock — both players should be mid second-rounders. But neither center is elite enough to warrant first-round consideration.

Savard (25 goals, 63 assists, +25, 70 PIM, 30 PPP, 213 shots) simply doesn’t get the goals. Outstanding as he is in other categories, even the most diehard Bruins fan could not bet on his outproducing someone like San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton in the future. It happened this season, yes, but will it happen again?

Of course, Thornton will be watching tonight’s game on TSN. But this whole fantasy thing is not about who you’d rather have in real life — it’s about stats, plain and simple. And when it comes to stats, Thornton’s track record trumps Savard’s.

Staal (40 goals, 35 assists, +15, 50 PIM, 24 PPP, 372 shots) is a tougher call. His shots on goal and +/- have increased in each of his five seasons.  He is 24 years old. He has played in 409 of 410 games as a pro. And based on how he has performed in the series with the Bruins — at least in Game 1 through Game 5 — I couldn’t blame you if you wanted him on your team, just for the sake of a man-crush.

No doubt, Staal is a stat monger with upside. But if you conduct a mock draft on a piece of paper, every time you do it, you’ll find 12 guys to pick before you pick Staal:

1. Alex Ovechkin (LW)

2. Evgeni Malkin (C)

3. Sidney Crosby (C)

We can debate the order of these first three; but few would debate they’re the first three.

4. Tim Thomas (G)

5. Niklas Backstrom (G)

6. Roberto Luongo (G)

7. Mike Green (D)

8. Zach Parise (LW)

9. Martin Brodeur (G)

10. Steve Mason (G)

11. Ilya Kovalchuk (LW)

12. Jarome Iginla (RW)

Again, it’s hard to see myself taking Staal ahead of any of the above. The five goalies are elite — barring injuries or unforeseen slumps, any of them could carry you to third place in your league. Green, in sheer fantasy terms, is heads and shoulders above everyone else at his position.

Likewise, the dropoff at LW after Parise and Kovalchuk (and Ovechkin) is significant. You want to roll the dice on Sasha Semin or Henrik Sedin in Round 1, go ahead. With my first round pick, I want guys who’ll score goals or guys who’ll stop goals.

That brings us to Iginla. If you’d rather select Marian Hossa, Semin, Jeff Carter or Pavel Datsyuk — I understand. Iginla, Hossa and Semin are a cut above all the other right wings. Carter and Datsyuk, for their parts, exceeded a point-per-game and — unlike Savard — they were not imbalanced toward assists. Carter scored 46 goals while Datsyuk potted 32.

All told, I’ve listed 16 players. That brings us to the fifth pick of Round 2, 17th overall. It’s here where I’d nab Staal, then Thornton, and then Savard, in that order, adding them to a squad that already had an unassailable No. 1 goalie or an elite goal scorer.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Is Tim Thomas merely a regular-season warrior? (The Fantasy Vezina Trophy goes to…)

May 10, 2009
Boston Bruins G Tim Thomas deserves the Vezina in both fantasy and real life. But can he keep the Bruins alive?

Boston Bruins G Tim Thomas deserves the Vezina in both fantasy and real life. But can he stop Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal when it counts?

When you lead the NHL in save percentage (.933) and goals against average (2.10), you should be a lock for the Vezina Trophy, especially if your team had the best record in the Eastern Conference.

When it comes to Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, the question is no longer his ability to post regular-season stats.

No, the question is whether Thomas has playoff goods. Tonight’s Game 5 between the Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes will go a long way toward answering that. The more one watches of the Canes-Bruins series, the more one realizes that the Bruins need Thomas to “steal” a game if they are going to rebound from their 3-1 deficit.

It’s plain the Bruins have no answer for Hurricanes center Eric Staal who, as WEEI.com’s Joe Haggerty recently pointed out, has become one of the top 10 players in the league, right before our eyes. (Fantasy hockey players, take note: Staal is worthy of your second-round pick next year.) Not only does Staal have four goals in his last three games, but he is shooting an astonishing 44 percent in that span — in other words, Staal scored those four goals on nine shots. That is outright Ruthian by NHL standards.

And if Thomas doesn’t thwart it tonight, the Bruins are finished. Yes, I’m aware Thomas is not (solely) to blame for Staal’s dominance. What I’m saying is it’s time for Thomas to have a superhuman performance in net; he has to stand on his head and offset the skaters’ inability to corral Staal.

Of course, win or lose tonight, Thomas deserves the Vezina. Aside from his league-leading save percentage and GAA, he notched a terrific record (36-11-7) and posted five shutouts. These numbers made him the best goalie in fantasy hockey as well.

As for Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason (33-20-7), he is a worthy runner-up, both in fantasy and real life. His 10 shutouts led the league, and they were not soft shutouts either. Mason hung zeros vs. the Bruins (3/10), at Washington (1/6) and vs. Washington (11/29). Mason’s 2.29 GAA ranked second behind only Thomas, and his .916 save percentage ranked 11th.

The third Vezina finalist is Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom (37-24-8). Backstrom’s numbers make him worthy: eight shutouts (ranking third), a 2.33 GAA (also third) and a .923 save percentage (ranking fourth). Strictly in terms of fantasy hockey, Backstrom deserved to be among the final three.

But if I were in charge of the real-life Vezina, I’d have given Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo the nomination instead of Backstrom.

Backstrom has the slight edge in stats: Luongo had one more shutout (nine) but was a shade behind in terms of record (33-13-7), GAA (2.34) and save percentage (.920).

The thing is, does anyone out there really believe Backstrom was better than Luongo this season? Their stats were a virtual dead heat — so doesn’t Luongo deserve the nod, considering the system Backstrom plays in? Backstrom’s backup, Josh Harding, posted a 2.21 GAA and .929 save percentage. Not to knock Harding, but sometimes I feel as if you could set up a garbage pail between the pipes in Minnesota, and the pail would crack the top ten in GAA and save percentage.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


The Fantasy Hart Trophy goes to…

May 3, 2009
In the fantasy hockey world, Philadelphia Flyers C Jeff Carter deserved more Hart consideration than Detroit Red Wings C Pavel Datsyuk.

In the fantasy hockey world, Philadelphia Flyers C Jeff Carter deserved more Hart consideration than Detroit Red Wings C Pavel Datsyuk.

There’s no competition for the fantasy Hart Trophy.

Washington Capitals LW Alexander Ovechkin is the winner, hands down.

Let’s begin with his 528 shots on goal. If you combine the shots on goal of the other two real-life Hart candidates, Pittsburgh Penguins C Evgeni Malkin (290) and Detroit Red Wings C Pavel Datsyuk (248), you get a total of 538 — only 10 more shots than Ovechkin registered by himself.

Ovechkin also led the league in the simplest, most important fantasy category: goals. His 56 lamp lightings rivaled the combined output of Malkin (35) and Datsyuk (32). In addition, Ovechkin led the NHL in power play points (46) and ranked 10th in assists (54).

Simply put, assists and +/- are the only categories in which Malkin (78, +17) and Datsyuk (65, +34) have it over Ovechkin (54, +8). But Ovechkin’s uber-dominance in shots, goals and power play points is too vast to be ignored, especially when combined with his more than respectable showing in the assists department.

Moreover, as a left wing, Ovechkin is a more valuable fantasy chess piece than are centers such as Malkin and Datsyuk. In fantasy hockey, elite left wings are hard to find, once you get past Ovechkin, his teammate Alexander Semin,  and New Jersey Devils LW Zach Parise.

Elite centers, by contrast, are well nigh ubiquitous: Malkin is not much more valuable than his teammate, 2007 Hart winner Sidney Crosby. And Datsyuk, while indisputably a No. 1 fantasy center, was actually a less productive fantasy commodity this season than were Philadelphia Flyers C Jeff Carter and Anaheim Ducks C Ryan Getzlaf. Carter’s 46 goals ranked second to Ovechkin’s 56, while his 342 shots ranked fourth; Getzlaf outproduced Datsyuk in the categories of penalty minutes (121 to 22), assists (66 to 65) and power-play points (37 to 36).

None of which is meant to disparage Datsyuk’s real-life season. But in strictly fantasy terms, he would not be a Hart candidate. Parise, Carter and Getzlaf had better numbers.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons