This season has had its share of up-and-down moments and the implications in fantasy hockey are no different. Teams some figured to be “locks” for a top three spot in a given fantasy league are in last place, while some absolute dogs in September are battling for a title in March. Welcome to my crazy, topsy-turvy world.
Here are the 10 events that I’ve identified as the most impactful of the 2013-14 fantasy season.
10. Tomas Hertl’s four-goal performance
Hertl exploded onto the rookie scene with three points in his first two games and then a hat trick in his third contest. Later in that game, Hertl topped it off with this beauty, his fourth:
This had the entire hockey world buzzing. Suddenly, this guy was a Calder Trophy favorite over the likes of Nathan MacKinnon. The then-19-year-old Shark would cool off and eventually suffer a serious knee injury that put him on the shelf until the fall. Hertl’s season ended with 25 points in 35 games. But what a ride!
9. The roller-coaster ride known as Ben Scrivens
He’s valuable. He has no value. He’s valuable. He has no value. How many times was Scrivens dropped and picked up in your league? He went from elite to worthless and back again – several times. It all started when Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick was injured. Scrivens started 11 games in a row and went 6-1-4 with two shutouts. He had three shutouts by mid-November and for much of the season led the league in save percentage. However, Martin Jones stole the show in December and suddenly Scrivens owners were wondering what to do with him.
After going more than six weeks without a win (and barely any starts), he was dropped in most leagues. By then the Kings traded Scrivens to Edmonton and suddenly he was a hero again. He won five of his first nine starts, including a 59-save shutout that had fantasy owners tripping over themselves to scoop him back up off the waiver wire.
As with all things Edmonton, Scrivens’ numbers have come back down to Earth, reaching a low point this past Saturday when he tossed a fan’s discarded jersey back into the crowd.
8. The NHL’s newest star?
Gustav Nyquist deserved to make the Detroit Red Wings out of training camp. He was the team’s best forward in several playoff games last May and that didn’t change during training camp. But the Wings had a problem on their hands – too many veterans signed, including the head-scratcher that was Daniel Cleary.
Nyquist finally got recalled in late November, when it was clear that the American League provided little challenge. Since Jan. 17 here are the NHL’s top goal scorers:
And since Jan. 17, here are the NHL’s top point-getters:
7. Alex Steen’s amazing start
The line on Alex Steen coming out of November: 25 GP – 20 G – 11 A – 31 P. He had seven points in the following 10 games, more than enough to keep him in the top three in league scoring before sustaining a concussion just before Christmas. He returned from the concussion in mid-January and posted seven points in seven games (45 in 42 overall). He’s since slowed down, but that blazing start had him in trade talks in many leagues for some of the huge names out there. Kudos to you if you were to acquire a Claude Giroux or a Taylor Hall for Steen back in early December.
Regardless of how the season ends, Steen is now well-respected in fantasy circles, regardless of his proneness to injury.
6. Pittsburgh injuries…and non-injury
If Sidney Crosby went down with a long-term injury at some point this season, poolies would not have been surprised. In fact, they drafted him knowing full well that anything beyond 60 games would be a blessing. But surprise, surprise – Crosby has been a picture of health. The same could not be said about Kris Letang. And James Neal. And Pascal Dupuis. And Evgeni Malkin. And Beau Bennett.
Nobody planned on Crosby being on pace to play 80 games, while Malkin has played just 60…Neal 49…Letang 34…Dupuis 39. The result of this has seen inflated points by Matt Niskanen and Olli Maatta.
5. Vancouver Canucks (insert audio of whistling bomb drop)
This one is baffling and I don’t know where to start. Granted, I don’t think anyone counted the Canucks among the elite anymore, but this bad? A non-playoff team? And it all came about so suddenly, too. Since Jan. 27, Vancouver has gone 7-13-1. The normally reliable Sedin twins have been ravaged by one injury after another and it’s looking as though this team will not have a 55-point player. Eddie Lack is the No. 1 goalie and Mike Santorelli, one of the most productive players on the team this season, hasn’t played for them since January. Honestly, did fantasy owners plan for this in September when they were formulating their draft lists?
4. Claude Giroux’s big slump and bigger recovery
Giroux rarely goes three games without a point (it’s only happened only four times in his past three seasons). So when he started off 2013-14 pointless in five games, fantasy owners were shocked. After 15 games, when he was behind Phoenix goalie Mike Smith in the NHL goal-scoring race (one goal to zero), poolies were downright panicking. With seven points in 15 games and a seemingly defense-minded coach brought in, there was no way Giroux could salvage even a 70-point campaign.
Turns out there was nothing to be concerned about. Giroux has 68 points in his past 57 games and has marched up the scoring race into the top five.
3. The Olympics
Nothing disrupts a good hot streak like a two-week layoff. By the same token, nothing disrupts a good cold streak like a two-week rest. Not to mention the injuries that were healed. But what about the players who played in Sochi? More injuries to add to the tally (see below), not to mention added exhaustion due to the extra games that the rest of the players in the league didn’t have.
Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk came back like a house on fire, but then they cooled off considerably. Is that due to just plain wearing down? There’s no way to measure that, but fantasy owners are kidding themselves if they think the Olympic break had zero impact on their league standings.
Here are the top scorers since Sochi:
Half of the above 16 players did not participate in Sochi. Meanwhile, the league’s leading scorer (by a wide margin) is only fifth in scoring since the NHL resumed.
2. John Tavares tears his MCL
Tavares has been steadily improving with every season. This year he was looking to break the 90-point barrier and he was third in scoring heading into the Olympics. Then Garth Snow’s greatest nightmare came true – Tavares went down with an MCL tear in a game against Latvia. Fantasy owners just can’t fill that kind of hole in their lineup.
But things, as you know, could be worse:
1. Steven Stamkos breaks his leg
A top five player, who is valued not only for his reliable scoring, but also for his reliable health, was sidelined for the long-term. That’s crippling (pardon the expression) for any fantasy owner. But to have it happen so early in the season means, “stick a fork in my fantasy team, it’s done.” Not many Stamkos owners won their leagues this year. Hats off to you if you managed the feat.
Honorable mentions: Semyon Varlamov, Nathan MacKinnon and Colorado’s rise…The year of the backup – how the likes of Cam Talbot, Frederik Andersen, Martin Jones, Darcy Kuemper, Anton Khudobin, Eddie Lack, Antti Raanta, Alex Stalock and others rose to fantasy relevance…Jaroslav Halak’s value drop (trade to Buffalo) and rise (trade to Washington)…Pekka Rinne’s injury.
Since we’re looking at the season itself, I did not include Ilya Kovalchuk fleeing to Russia.
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.