Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News. He's been part of the THN team since 2011, but he's been married to hockey since he got beat up for collecting NHL sticker books in the mid-1980s. If you like strong opinions on the game itself, fantasy hockey tips and a hefty dose of pop culture in your readings, he's your man. And yes, the eyebrows are real.
I love the Don Henley track “Boys of Summer.” It’s almost impossible to sing the chorus in karaoke, which sucks, but I dig the way it captures this time of year. Nobody on the road…nobody on the beach…I feel it in the air…the summer’s out of reach.
That feeling – mild chill in the air, slight breeze – gets me thinking about fantasy hockey drafts. It’s that time again. Most of what you need to know for your draft is in our crackerjack THN Ultimate Fantasy Guide, which is on newsstands now. You’ll even find a sorted list of the top 300 projected scorers.
One thing that list doesn’t cover, however, is any league not based entirely on points. What about the head-to-head formats in which you accumulate goaltending stats and penalty minutes on top of your offensive numbers? How do you know when to draft a goalie or defenseman over a forward?
I present to you a new ranking set. This list is based on a standard Yahoo head-to-head format with the following categories: goals, assists, plus-minus, penalty minutes, power play points, shots on goal, wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts.
Personally, I like scrapping penalty minutes for hits and adding saves to the goalie category, but I’ll stick with the standard configuration to ensure these rankings have a wider reach. Let’s get it on!
SEPT. 19 UPDATE: Training camps are underway, and it’s time to start movin’ and shakin’ the rankings a bit. A few injuries and one prominent contract squabble can’t be ignored any longer.
It’s a tough time to play goalie for the Minnesota Wild. Josh Harding, fresh off an outstanding season in which he led the league in goals-against average and save percentage, already had a major hurdle to climb two days ago. Multiple sclerosis would limit his ability to handle a full starter’s workload. Things went from bad to worse for Harding Wednesday when he broke his foot. The details remain foggy, but so far we know Harding kicked a wall after an off-ice altercation with a teammate. He’s out indefinitely.
Next up is Darcy Kuemper, 24, who was good but not great in chunks of starting duty last season. In theory, he could step right into Harding’s role, but he’s a restricted free agent and contract talks have not gone well. Wild coach Mike Yeo and GM Chuck Fletcher publicly expressed their frustration about the process. Kuemper has even threatened to bolt for the Kontinental League. Kuemper wants a one-way deal, but the Wild prefer a two-way. Kuemper apparently hasn’t quite played well enough to win the organization’s confidence.
That leaves Niklas Backstrom as the “sure thing.” The Finn is 36 and fresh off core muscle surgery. He looked like a shell of his old self when he did play last season. He’s supposedly healthy now, but he’s only healthy relative to his 2013-14 self.
Minnesota’s net situation is dire enough that GM Chuck Fletcher invited Ilya Bryzgalov back for a training camp tryout. Bryzgalov accepted. Maybe Fletcher simply wants to up the heat on Kuemper’s camp. Or maybe the Wild believe they can get by with a Backstrom/Bryzgalov tandem. Bryz was brilliant at times for Minnesota down the stretch last spring after coming over at the trade deadline, going 7-1-3 with a 2.12 GAA and .911 SP. He left a lot to be desired in the playoffs, however, losing six of nine starts with a yucky .885 SP. That’s the problem with Bryzgalov. You never know when he might Bryzgalov things up.
And that’s where I see an opportunity in Minnesota. Martin Brodeur, this is your cue.
Andrei Nazarov had quite the heel turn in Wednesday’s Kontinental League tilt between Barys and Admiral.
Nazarov, Barys’ coach, wasn’t pleased with a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty. He took it out on the refs, flipping them off, and when he was tossed out of the game, he turned his attention to the Admiral fans.
Nazarov was extremely efficient in his obscene gestures, packing many into a rapid-fire barrage. Take a look:
Call 2014-15 the year of the sneaky milestone, the season that’ll have people on the street saying “He’s played how many games?” and “That guy has that many goals? Who knew?!”
Perusing the top 10(ish) high-water marks that should be reached, you’ll find at least one legendary name and more than a few surprises.
10. Marc-Andre Fleury’s and Ryan Miller’s 300th wins
Even if both tenders have their share of critics, especially when it comes to their recent playoff performances, Fleury and Miller have done generally fine work in the regular season. At 288 and 294 victories, respectively, each guy should join the 300 club easily, becoming the 30th and 31st members.
By now, you’ve probably had a look at Victor E. Green, the Dallas Stars’ freshly unveiled mascot. You’ve also visited the nearest emergency eyewash station, flushed thoroughly and patted your face dry with a paper towel.
Victor is ugly. He’s that friend with a great personality who never gets responses on OkCupid and doesn’t know why. Oscar the Grouch, Youppi and a cockroach held hands, stepped inside Jeff Goldblum’s telepod from The Fly, and out popped Victor. He’s that giant toy you win at the beginning of a day at the amusement park and wish you could throw away.
The Victor vitriol is intense. A small sample from enraged Stars fans on Twitter:
“It looks like a booger with legs…”
“As long as his name is the Grinch that stole the Stanley Cup. ???”
“Vomits uncontrollably. WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS TO YOUR FANS?”
Stumbled upon what appears to be a cool video today. We’d know for sure if we spoke Slovakian. What we do know is Marian Hossa tried to score from the top of an arena, hit the Zamboni and felt bad about it.
Have a look and try and decipher this video, which may or may not be a masterpiece:
The fascinating thing about creating a bust list: it’s complicated.
It does you no good to simply tell you, “Don’t draft Willie Mitchell in your fantasy league.” Nothing against Willie, as he remains a useful stay-at-home presence, but the tools in his belt aren’t used in hockey pools. Everyone knows that.
A proper fantasy bust list isn’t even a list of players I don’t like for 2014-15. It’s imperative I make that clear. My top 10 guys to avoid are not all guys I expect to have bad years. Factoring in my top 200 versus average draft positions in Yahoo leagues, as I did for the top 10 sleepers, I’m primarily identifying guys being drafted too early. Those who meet my criteria:
(a) Players whose production won’t match their average draft position
(b) Players being drafted ahead of players who will outperform them
Primary influencers: aging, new teams or linemates, and overhype. Hot rookies get drafted before Jason Pominville every year. Why? They labor to 45-point campaigns while Pominville calmly eclipses 60 points in his sleep. The key to avoiding a bust is ensuring you draft guys at the right moment. I’m plenty high on Jonathan Drouin, for example, but he’s going 10 picks before Pominville on average. That’s ludicrous unless it’s in keeper leagues. Everything has to go perfectly for Drouin merely to reach Pominville’s yearly production.
With those red flags in mind, here are my top 10 players to avoid in 2014-15 drafts based on their ADPs.
Just when you thought the advanced stats horse was beaten dead, we bust out the Tommy gun one more time and give it the Sonny Corleone treatment.
It’s common to predict breakout candidates before every season, but the Great Analytics Boom of 2014 lets us do so through a new lens. Will advanced stats change our prognostications? Here’s a look at 10 players who will bust out if the fancy numbers tell us anything. Team stats come from progressivehockey.com. References to individual Corsi Close numbers come from the THN Ultimate Fantasy Guide.
10. Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils
On one hand, advanced statistics, at least the popular ones like Corsi and Fenwick, tell us little about goaltenders. On the other hand, those stats are much better indicators of team success than of individual success. We know (a) Cory Schneider is already great, having posted a 1.97 goals-against average and .921 save percentage last season; (b) he has the No. 1 gig to himself for the first time in his career after the Devils and Martin Brodeur parted ways; and (c) the Devils are the hidden darlings of advanced statistics. They were a top-four Corsi team last season. A great goalie with an expanded role on a team that does a great job limiting scoring chances? Looks like a recipe for eye-popping numbers, especially in wins and GAA.