Being cautious with recovery time has upped Peter Mueller\'s odds of staying healthy longer. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Peter Mueller has returned to hockey. The real Peter Mueller, not the unproductive one who made a brief appearance back in October. But is he back from his concussion now in the sense Patrice Bergeron is back? Or is he back in the sense Sidney Crosby was back?
Mueller had high expectations 16 months ago after posting 20 points in just 15 games after joining the Avalanche in 2010. But that run ended when he sustained a concussion that kept him out of the lineup for the final few games of that season. Things looked good for a return in the fall of 2010 until he sustained another concussion in the pre-season that forced him out of the entire 2010-11 campaign. Upon returning to start this season, he managed just three games before taking himself out of the lineup.
It’s now January and Mueller has been back five games so far. After, understandably, taking three games to get his timing and stamina back, he has posted four points in three games. There are two questions fantasy owners need to tackle: will he sustain this pace and what are the risks?
WILL HE SUSTAIN THE PRODUCTION?
Four points in three games, or a 109-point pace? Of course not. But let’s use Patrice Bergeron as an example. To me, Bergeron was on the fast track to becoming a steady 75-point player. A concussion ended his 2007-08 season and after that he was a 50-55-point player who is only now, after three seasons, back to his 75-point form.
From Mueller’s standpoint, this would mean two or three years of “safer” hockey that would keep him healthy and productive (just not as productive as before). Mueller, offensively, has a much higher upside than Bergeron – perhaps by as much as 10 points. So instead of being in that 50-57 range as he comes back, he would be in a 58-65 range. After two or three years of that he’d be in his late 20s and poised to become an 80-plus-point player. If he stays healthy, this is what you can expect. Which leads us to the second question.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS?
I don’t know Mueller personally. But from what I know of the situation, there was no specific “event” that caused him to miss November and December this season. It was more about symptoms stemming from the concussion that caused him to miss the past year. I suspect we’re looking at two major concussions, not three. This tells me he was playing it safe. He didn’t feel right upon his initial return, so he gave it more time. He’s young and he gave the injury time.
Make no mistake: the risk is still great. But it’s not as big as it would seem. The optics of the situation, in fantasy circles, is that Mueller has missed the better part of three seasons thanks to three major concussions. But the reality is, he missed one full season and the start of this one, thanks to what I believe were two concussions. He and the team handled it correctly and he stands a good chance of bouncing back, the way Bergeron did.
BACKES IN FRONT-ES
David Backes is an established 60-point player. The Blues are a defensive team that, much like the Nashville Predators, will struggle to have a single player reach the 60-point mark. So it’s amazing their team captain is probably going to maintain his 60-point ways when nobody else on the team will. This is a squad with several players who have been perceived as superior offensively to Backes - players such as Chris Stewart (on pace for 34 points), T.J. Oshie (56) and Patrik Berglund (30). But Backes has 29 points in his past 30 games, with nine power play points and a plus-13 in that span. This hot run has almost put him on a level with Scott Hartnell in terms of fantasy supremacy in multiple categories, as he is on pace for 109 penalty minutes.