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.
It was the moment he’d awaited for years. Then it was a tortuously slow affair with no end in sight. Then it was over in the blink of an eye. Somehow, Malcolm Subban’s NHL debut was all three.
The Boston Bruins’ prized goaltending prospect earned his first start Feb. 20, 2015 against the powerhouse St. Louis Blues. Plenty of pundits speculated Subban would start the game prior, against the lowly Edmonton Oilers, for an easier test, not to mention a trade showcase for an opponent still seeking a long-term No. 1 at the time. Instead, Bruins coach Claude Julien threw Subban to the wolves. But, hey, it was a vote of confidence for a netminder chosen 24th overall in the 2012 draft and rated as the No. 3 prospect at his position in THN Future Watch. And Subban had more than earned a shot in the midst of a second straight stellar campaign with AHL Providence.
The dream came true but quickly became a nightmare. The Blues didn’t manage a shot for the first 13 minutes. They put three pucks on net in the first period. Then came a sudden second-period barrage, in which they peppered Subban and pumped home three goals in the first 5:09. Julien gave a shell-shocked Subban the hook.
“It was really exciting and thrilling, but it was tough,” Subban said. “If you ask any goalie, it’s tough when you’re not getting a lot of action and then all of a sudden you get a flurry of shots. I wish it went a little better, but I’ll be ready for my next opportunity.”
The fantasy hockey prep schedule continues. The top 200 is two editions deep, I’ve posted keeper league rankings by position, and I’ve hinted at my 10 favorite sleeper picks for 2015-16. Now it’s time for the overvalued list.
Last year, I dubbed this group the “players to avoid” list. That led to the misconception they were all bad players. I wasn’t trying to say they stank, however. I simply meant I’d avoid them because their average draft positions suggested I’d have to pick them way earlier than I wanted to.
Still, the readers have spoken. To avoid confusion, we’ll call this top 10 “overvalued” instead of players to avoid. I define overvalued fantasy picks as follows:
(a) Players whose production won’t match their average draft positions
(b) Players being drafted ahead of players who will outperform them
With that, let’s review which players I consider fantasy hockey landmines, sure to return less than what you invest to get them. And remember, this is fantasy hockey, so this list does not reflect the players’ real-life value.
They’re back. Everyone’s favorite players to draft in fantasy pools. The sleepers.
There’s a special high that comes with being “the genius who predicted _______’s breakout season.” That’s why it’s so intoxicating to research sleepers every year. If you’ve already studied my most recent update of the top 200 overall players, now it’s time to dig for undervalued guys.
As I outlined in last year’s sleeper list, I identify them as follows:
(a) Players who will outperform their average draft position
(b) Players who will outperform some players drafted before them
(c) Players you can steal cheap at the ends of drafts to reap major profits
After taking last year’s feedback into consideration, I want to stress (a) and (b) a lot more than (c). There’s a misconception every sleeper has to be “that guy no one else knows about who’s still on the board in the final round of a draft.” Anyone looking for only that type of sleeper on this list will end up posting something like “Gee, thanks for the shocking insight on Teuvo Teravainen, I had no idea who that guy was, jerk.” But that person misses the more important point. Teravainen goes on average 172nd overall in fantasy drafts, according to Yahoo’s ADP (average draft position) numbers. My rank for Teravainen in the top 200: 139th overall. Essentially, I’m saying he should outperform 32 guys currently being drafted ahead of him. Savvy GMs may think it’s no big revelation to talk up Teravainen, but the general drafting public evidently hasn’t caught on yet. Teravainen’s a legit sleeper.
Of course, I’m not going to tout Ryan Johansen as a sleeper when I rank him 18th and he’s going 33rd. There’s a line to draw here. I still want to help you find guys you can actually steal in the mid to late rounds. With that, let’s begin the 2015-16 list:
Cody Franson sure seemed destined to cash in a-la Scrooge McDuck this summer, diving into a pit of money. With each passing day, his situation increasingly resembles that of the exact opposite: a down-on-his-luck beggar.
OK, so that’s an exaggeration. Franson isn’t wandering the streets asking for a team to sign him. He is, however, running painfully low on suitors. He’s expressed how sick he is of one-year deals and, as a right-shot defenseman, he should command a hefty price tag. But there just aren’t many teams with the wiggle room for a multi-year deal at what should more than double, if not triple, the cap hit of Christian Ehrhoff’s new pact with L.A.
The Kings would’ve been a nice fit for Franson as long as suspended Slava Voynov’s cap hit remained off the books, but they opted for the far cheaper Ehrhoff. The Boston Bruins sure seem like a fit but, with $4.76 million in cap space, would press themselves up against the cap or over it with a Franson contract.
That voice you hear in the distance? “What about us? Excuse me! EXCUSE ME?” It’s that of deep-pocketed Terry Pegula and his Buffalo Sabres. They have more than $12 million to play with, and Pegula loves flexing his financial muscle. The Sabres also happen to have a weak defense corps. It’s no wonder, then, The Buffalo News cites two sources stating the Sabres have offered Franson a two-year contract.
Phil Kessel has escaped the media madness of Toronto. He’ll soon settle in the considerable shade cast by Sidney Crosby’s shadow. The Toronto effect won’t wear off instantly, however. Kessel’s performance this season will be scrutinized like crazy as he joins the sport’s highest-profile player on a line.
That’s right. It’s confirmed Kessel will open the Pittsburgh Penguins’ camp on Crosby’s wing. Coach Mike Johnston told the team website to expect Kessel “on the right side with Sid to begin with.” Could Kessel end up with a different center? Sure, but it would only be Evgeni Malkin, an equally plum partner. And it’s highly unlikely the Pens break camp with news “Kessel and Crosby just couldn’t get on the same page.”
It’s thus time to ask a fun question. Assuming Crosby is his center, how many goals will Kessel score in his first season with Pittsburgh?
It’s nowhere near time to panic. You aren’t behind on your cramming for fantasy hockey draft day. You can print out my latest top 200 player list and leaf through it at the cottage.
Keeper and dynasty league GMs, though, have to be a bit more on the ball. These folks are running long-term franchises. They technically never stop playing, as they’re free to make trades all off-season. They can also host their drafts earlier, as their leagues depend less on immediate health and up-to-date depth charts.
It’s thus an ideal juncture to explore some keeper league rankings. Doing so means dispelling the hell out of some myths. For one, keeper league rankings are not merely prospect rankings. Sorry, but Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel and Aaron Ekblad do not automatically top these lists. Elite prospects like Sam Reinhart, Leon Draisaitl and William Nylander don’t make the cut at all here, as I think they’re still multiple seasons away from being impact NHLers.
And here’s the thing too many people forget about keeper leagues: they still have standings and championships this year, and the next, and the next. So as long as an established star player projects to stay dominant for the next few seasons, he warrants strong keeper league consideration over the youngsters. McDavid tops the ranks if we’re projecting for five or 10 years down the road. But will he outscore John Tavares in the next two or three years? Doubtful. That’s not a knock on Connor. That’s a compliment to Johnny T.
Some veterans, however, are punished in these rankings. The likes of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have reached their mid-30s and dealt with nagging injuries in recent seasons. They will outscore many of the players on these lists this season, but they could decline sharply within two years. Give me Mark Scheifele in 2016-17 over Datsyuk if I’m starting a keeper league team from scratch. That’s why you won’t see Detroit’s dynamic veterans make the list.
Here are my top 30 keeper league picks by position. Age as of opening night, Oct. 7, 2015, listed in brackets.
It’s difficult to type these words. Not because there’s nothing to say, but because my brain is in my way.
Today, it’s the pain. It’s not a sharp pain – that comes some days, too, in the form of migraines – but more of a dull, steadily increasing pressure, like the inside of my skull is hosting a birthday party and some poor clown keeps trying to inflate balloons inside it.
It’s been 11 years since my last serious concussion, with a couple car accidents sprinkled in since then, and I know my life will never be the same. I’m lucky to write about hockey for a living, as I can’t play it anymore. I can do 30 minutes of cardio, once a week, and if I push my luck with a second session, the vertigo kicks in. Missing a step on a staircase or hitting a big wave on boat can do me in for a couple days, too. When a subway train pulls up, I have to look away until it comes to a stop.
After visiting the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital this past Wednesday, however, I realize my path could have been very different. Had I not returned to class, cracked the books hard and written my exams just days after my severe head trauma, and taken the time to recover properly, I might have no limitations today.
That was the message delivered by Dr. Nick Reed, Dr. Michelle Keightley, and a team of uniquely qualified hockey people at Holland Bloorview as they launched Concussion & You: A Handbook for Parents and Kids. The central tenet is ensuring no young person returns from a major head injury too soon.
Want to make an NHL player bristle? Just follow these easy steps:
(a) stand a foot away from him;
(b) remind him his team missed the playoffs last season;
(c) ask him if his team is rebuilding.
The experiment works like a charm on Philadelphia Flyers right winger Wayne Simmonds between training sessions at BioSteel’s 2015 hockey camp, where players from all over the league – and other leagues – gather to compete, hone their skills and rehabilitate. Reminded of the Flyers’ sixth-place finish in the Metropolitan division, and asked whether a new coach and large shipment of elite young defense prospects signifies a rebuild, Simmonds shakes his head so fast you can practically see the sweat fly.
“No,” he said, recoiling slightly, brow furrowed. “We’re a good team right now.”