THN’s top 200 fantasy players for 2015-16

Matt Larkin
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images Sport)

It’s never too early. Not even in the middle of summer.

The ideal image of fantasy hockey prep at this time of year might be curling up on a dock with THN’s Ultimate Fantasy Pool Guide. That’s a great idea. It’s loaded with useful information, it projects the NHL’s top 300 scorers and it hits newsstands any day now.

But what happens when you’ve read that paper edition cover to cover? As the summer inches closer to fall and training camps start up, you’ll want another update in hockey pool expertise. That’s what this specialized list of rankings is for. I will update my top 200 players periodically, and with increasing frequency, until opening night of the 2015-16 season.

Think of this ranking set as a companion piece to the pool guide. The former focuses on points, while this list blends goalies and skaters into a master breakdown tailored for anyone drafting in leagues with multiple stat categories. The rankings below are based on a standard Yahoo head-to-head format with the following categories: goals, assists, plus-minus, penalty minutes, power play points, wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts.

Did last year’s list steer you right? It helped me win both my pools, so hopefully that buys your trust. Remember, these rankings are about fantasy, not real life, so a few stars will be listed lower than you might expect. Enjoy, and feel free to debate the rankings – and let me know about any glaring omissions – in the comment section below.

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Zetterberg to Zuccarello: The Top 10 Z’s of all-time

Jared Clinton
Henrik Zetterberg (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

At noon Thursday, Dainius Zubrus cleared waivers and was bought out by the New Jersey Devils, making the 37-year-old winger an unrestricted free agent.

It doesn’t seem likely that the Lithuanian native will ink another NHL deal, especially not after recording the worst season of his pro career in 2014-15. If he does come back, he’ll have the chance to improve on his 225-goal, 584-point NHL career. However, if this is it, Zubrus will go down as one of the greatest ‘Z’s in the history of the league.

While there are some players who stand a chance at jumping up this list – think players such as Ottawa’s Mika Zibanejad and Colorado’s Nikita Zadorov — these are the best of the best when it comes to players with a ‘Z’ surname who have laced up in the NHL. There have only been 51 skaters and four goaltenders to actually suit up, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some greats among the list. Read more

DeBoer ‘confident’ Sharks will start season with a captain, but who will it be?

Jared Clinton
Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau (Don Smith/Getty Images)

Last off-season, the San Jose Sharks made headlines when Joe Thornton had the captaincy taken away from him and the club proceeded to enter the season instead with four alternates. That will change in 2015-16.

In an interview with 95.7 The Game, a radio station in California’s Bay Area, new Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said this season.

“I feel very confident by the first game of the season we’ll have a captain,” DeBoer said. “It’s not something were going to drag around as a distraction. We’re going to move past that. I think the players are ready for that, too.”

This past season, the Sharks alternates included Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Patrick Marleau, who was also previously San Jose’s captain from 2004 to 2009.

With DeBoer confident a captain will be named, it’s likely he has a few players already in mind for the duty next season, but who could potentially be wearing the ‘C’ for the Sharks come October? Read more

The five greatest trades of Lou Lamoriello’s career

Jared Clinton
Glen Sather and Lou Lamoriello

Lou Lamoriello was the mastermind behind three Stanley Cups in New Jersey, but he didn’t get there through the draft-and-develop route that teams in the modern era need to. Rather, Lamoriello was a dealmaker, reshaping his team through a number of genius trades.

From the time Lamoriello landed with the Devils in 1987 to the end of his 28-year run as GM this off-season, he made more than 150 trades. Some were minor, some were major, but almost all made an impact on the future of the club and helped create one of the most successful clubs of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

One deal you won’t find is the acquisition of Scott Stevens from the St. Louis Blues, simply because acquiring the rugged defenseman was more Lamoriello prying Stevens away through arbitration than it was about acquiring him via trade. The Blues, who had signed Brendan Shanahan via offer sheet, didn’t have the compensatory picks, and the Devils asked for Stevens instead. Eventually, the deal went through. While not a trade, it was one of Lamoriello’s greatest strokes of genius.

There is, however, one defenseman who changed the franchise for the better who Lamoriello did acquire through conventional trading methods. Here are Lamoriello’s five greatest trades: Read more

Carey Price to Wild? Kopitar to Ducks? Redrafting 2005’s first round

Matt Larkin
Carey Price. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Today marks the 10-year anniversary of the Sidney Crosby draft lottery. We’ve already celebrated by reviewing Sid the Kid’s best career moments. Now it’s time to delve into the 2005 draft. It’s famous for giving us Crosby and Carey Price, two of the best players at their positions this generation. Looking back, though, reveals the 2005 draft class is also memorable for being, well, so forgettable. Drafting Price and other stars such as Anze Kopitar meant navigating a minefield of busts.

A look at 2005’s first round, pick by pick:

1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks
3. Jack Johnson, Carolina Hurricanes
4. Benoit Pouliot, Minnesota Wild
5. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
6. Gilbert Brule, Columbus Blue Jackets
7. Jack Skille, Chicago Blackhawks
8. Devin Setoguchi, San Jose Sharks
9. Brian Lee, Ottawa Senators
10. Luc Bourdon, Vancouver Canucks
11. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
12. Marc Staal, New York Rangers
13. Marek Zagrapan, Buffalo Sabres
14. Sasha Pokulok, Washington Capitals
15. Ryan O’Marra, New York Islanders
16. Alex Bourret, Atlanta Thrashers
17. Martin Hanzal, Phoenix Coyotes
18. Ryan Parent, Nashville Predators
19. Jakub Kindl, Detroit Red Wings
20. Kenndal McArdle, Florida Panthers
21. Tuukka Rask, Toronto Maple Leafs
22. Matt Lashoff, Boston Bruins
23. Niclas Bergfors, New Jersey Devils
24. T.J. Oshie, St. Louis Blues
25. Andrew Cogliano, Edmonton Oilers
26. Matt Pelech, Calgary Flames
27. Joe Finley, Washington Capitals
28. Matt Niskanen, Dallas Stars
29. Steve Downie, Philadelphia Flyers
30. Vladimir Mihalik, Tampa Bay Lightning

Woof. Of that draft class, three first rounders, Zagrapan, Pokulok and Bourret, never played an NHL game. Ten players, or one third, failed to reach 100 NHL games, albeit the late Luc Bourdon would’ve had he not died tragically in a motorcycle accident. The 2005 first round has produced four skaters with at least 300 NHL points. For perspective, the 2004 and 2006 groups each had four 300-point guys in the first five picks alone.

So how about we give the league a do-over on 2005’s first round? The rules: (a) any player from the class’ seven rounds is eligible; (b) draft order stays the same; (c) team needs at the time will be factored in; (d) hindsight is very much 20/20. This is all in good fun.

Here we go.

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Top 10 Crosby moments on 10-year anniversary of Penguins’ lottery victory

Jared Clinton
Crosby

Exactly 10 years ago today, after the conclusion of the lockout and with a new season on the horizon, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the right to the first overall selection in the 2005 NHL draft via the draft lottery, a victory that has changed the franchise forever.

With major junior phenom Sidney Crosby as the consensus first overall pick, there wasn’t much for the Penguins to consider other than what color suits or ties they were going to wear on draft day.

But once Crosby was selected, the expectations were still at an all-time high. The club, which had struggled to a 23-47-8-4 record in 2003-04 and a league-worst 58 points, was expecting Crosby to deliver them the championship caliber teams of the early-1990s. Crosby has more than lived up to the hype.

Over his 10-year career, Crosby has notched 302 goals and 853 points in 627 games, but there are certain highlights that stand out more than others. Here are his 10 best moments as a Pittsburgh Penguin: Read more

Who were the NHL’s “Cy Young” winners in 2014-15?

Jared Clinton
Brandon Pirri (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

There’s a lot of factors that go into which hurlers win the MLB’s Cy Young award as their league’s best pitcher, but in the NHL, the “award” is pretty cut and dry.

In NHL parlance, the Cy Young award, a fictional honor based solely on statistics, goes to the player who scored the most goals while piling up next to no assists. In making the case for who the winners should be, though, it takes a bit of figuring. After all, a great MLB pitched is probably winning roughly 20 games while losing somewhere between five to ten games. So, to calculate who the truest Cy Young winners were in the NHL, some guidelines have to be set.

First, only players who scored more than 10 goals qualified. The fewest wins by a pitcher (non-closer) to win the Cy Young since 1967 is 13, which has happened twice. So that sets the goal total. As for assists – which would be losses for a pitcher – the most since 1967 is 16, but generally speaking those who win have lost fewer than 10 games. So the parameters for the NHL Cy Young are players who scored 10 or more goals while registering 10 or fewer assists.

In 2014-15, 21 players qualified. Here is the top 10: Read more

10 players facing make or break seasons in 2015-16

Justin Schultz  (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

The Edmonton Oilers avoided arbitration with Justin Schultz Wednesday by inking the 25-year-old blueliner to a one-year, $3.9 million deal. But the arbitration wasn’t Schultz’s choice. Rather, it was the Oilers who wanted to plead their case for a lower cost on Schultz’s contract.

However, by opting for team-elected arbitration – which, as mentioned, has now been avoided with the one-year contract – Edmonton was essentially giving Schultz an ultimatum: if he wants to keep his spot in the Oilers lineup for what he believes to be fair value, he’s going to have to prove that he’s worth it. Thus, the one-year deal.

Schultz isn’t the only restricted free agent signed to a one-year contract and he’s not the only player who can, as Mike Babcock put it with regards to Nazem Kadri, “put the screws,” to his club. On the flip side, though, one bad year could see some franchises giving up on their young guns.

Here are 10 players who could have make-or-break seasons in 2014-15: Read more