The winds of change continue to blow in Pittsburgh. Over the past week, the Penguins have said goodbye to the retiring Pascal Dupuis and fired head coach Mike Johnston. On Monday night, they traded defenseman Rob Scuderi to the Chicago Blackhawks for defenseman Trevor Daley.
Scuderi, 36, ends his second stint with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He started his career in the organization, was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run in 2009 and left for the L.A. Kings as a free agent the ensuing off-season. He was part of the Kings’ Stanley Cup victory in 2012 and returned to the Penguins for the past two-and-a-half seasons.
Daley, 32, only played 29 games as a Hawk. He arrived in the summer from the Dallas Stars as part of the Patrick Sharp blockbuster. Daley exploded for 16 goals last year but had none so far this season with the Hawks, with just six assists. He carries a $3.3-million cap hit for one more season after this one.
Perhaps Steven Stamkos has a propensity for “pocket Tweeting,” or maybe he’s just trying to nudge his contract negotiations with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Or perhaps he’s just having us all on and sitting back laughing at the fact that every move he makes causes the hockey world to lose its collective mind.
But the fact is, something seems not quite right between Stamkos and his employer at the moment. And that’s why when Stamkos, apparently inadvertently hits “like” to a tweet from TSN that highlights a video of a panel talking about whether the Toronto Maple Leafs should take a run at acquiring him, it sets the hockey world abuzz. People trying to find some grain of truth in a Twitter “like” are going to come to certain conclusions.
Has anyone noticed that in 10 days, the Tampa Bay Lightning will visit the Toronto Maple Leafs? But they have caught a break. They play the night before in Columbus and will not arrive in Toronto until the wee hours of the morning, which will likely cancel their morning skate in Toronto. That means Steven Stamkos will not have to face a horde or media wondering why he hasn’t signed a long-term deal with the Lightning yet and asking whether he’ll sign in Toronto this summer.
But unless Stamkos signs an extension with the Lightning between now and then, which he almost certainly won’t, he’d better be prepared for the onslaught after the game. When I last saw Stamkos early in the season in Buffalo and brought up that scenario to him, he said, “Yeah, that’s a little later. There’s still lots of time between then and now and there are still lots of things that can happen.”
“That’s why they play the games,” goes the old sports adage. And it sure does apply to the Winnipeg Jets over the past few months.
The Jets were a popular pick to duplicate last season’s success entering 2015-16. They had a ton going for them. They made the big dance last year, first of all. They didn’t appear to be remotely fluky, as their possession analytics were among the NHL’s best. They had the sport’s pre-eminent prospect crop, as voted by our panel of scouts and GMs in THN Future Watch 2015, and at least a couple of their farmhands were NHL-bound, most notably Nikolaj Ehlers.
But alas, anointing the Jets a contender before the season started has proved fruitless so far. That’s why they play the games, indeed. Sure, they gave the Leafs a walloping Wednesday night, but that’s no monumental accomplishment. Winnipeg sits 12-12-2, good for sixth in the Central Division. The Jets are “two” points out of a playoff spot, but the team above them, the Minnesota Wild, has three games in hand. The Jets have had a devil of a time keeping the puck out of their net, ranking 29th in goals against per game at 3.08. They’ve slipped to 20th in penalty killing at 79.0 percent. They remain strong in possession, ranking ninth in 5-on-5 score-adjusted Corsi For percentage and ninth in Corsi Against, or shot attempts against, per 60 minutes according to war-on-ice.com. The biggest reason for their struggles is that they rank 26th in team save percentage at .899. They’ve played similar hockey to last year everywhere except the blue ice. They were 11th in save percentage last year.
The struggles of Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson are largely to blame, yes, and polished mega-prospect Connor Hellebucyk could rectify the Jets’ puck-stopping woes now that he’s up with the club. He’s 2-0 with a .958 SP. So far, so good. The Jets could start winning many more games. How many more must they win to make the playoffs, though? By the end of Wednesday’s action their playoff chances sat at 34 percent. The Jets have an atrocious 3-7-0 record against their deadly Central Division neighbors. Last year, when they made the playoffs, they were 16-8-5 against the Central. The year prior, when they missed the playoffs: 9-15-5. The trend doesn’t look good. They look like they’ll have a hard time finishing in the top half of their division in 2015-16.
And thus, factoring in Winnipeg’s disappointing results so far this year, is it time to reassess the trade rumors swirling around this team?
I told you which players to sell high in fantasy hockey leagues yesterday, but that’s only half the battle. The best way to win a title is to replace your sell-highs with a bunch of buy-lows, underachieving players who should play their best hockey over the final three quarters of the season. You know the drill: if player X always gets 65 points and has just 10 points in his first 20 games, he’s likely to get 55 in his next 60 to balance things out, assuming external factors like injury and age haven’t caused the dip in his numbers. If player X scores on 10 percent of his shots for his career and hums along at one percent so far this year, he’ll probably regress to the mean and shoot closer to his career average the rest of the way.
I present my five favorite buy-lows in fantasy pools at the moment, ranked in order of how big of a potential return they can net you. This was a fun exercise because, for whatever reason, many big-ticket fantasy producers have struggled early on. I like Anze Kopitar, Sean Monahan, Alex Pietrangelo, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri and Mark Giordano as buy-lows, and they couldn’t even crack my top five.
Montreal Canadiens backup goalie Mike Condon will get the start Friday night when the Canadiens visit the New Jersey Devils, which apparently would have been the case had reigning MVP and Vezina Trophy winner Carey Price not left Wednesday night’s win over the New York Rangers with a right leg injury.
Condon proved that in the short term that he could be almost as good as the No. 1 man, going 4-0-2 with a 1.81 goals-against average and registering a .932 save percentage in the first six games he played after taking over the net when Price went down with an upper body injury in October.
Most NHL teams have played roughly 20 games, give or take, in 2015-16, meaning we’re a quarter of the way done the season. The sample size is just big enough to start assessing your fantasy hockey rosters. The teams flying out to great starts should stop the chicken counting and start pondering which of their many great players will sustain elite production all year long. Knowing which guys to sell high separates the league winners from the second-half flameouts.
With that, let’s look at five hot starters to consider selling high, ranked in order of how big of a return they could net you on the trade market. Remember, putting someone on this list is not necessarily an indictment of his skills. It might simply mean he’s producing far above a long-established career norm.
You could make the argument that there has been no team in the NHL – with the exception of the Chicago Blackhawks – that has lost more young talent over the years than the Boston Bruins. Since they won the Cup in 2011, the Bruins have parted ways with Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and Johnny Boychuk. All but Boychuk were under 30 when they left and the average age of the players leaving was under 26.
Even losing a 36-year-old Jarome Iginla was a kick in the slats, considering he scored 30 goals in his only season with the Bruins, then scored 29 in his first season with the Colorado Avalanche.