Alex Ovechkin would top a lot of poolies lists in both one-year and keeper leagues. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
With 2010 just around the corner, the end of the decade is upon us. After extensive research, as well as polling other fantasy hockey enthusiasts, we’re counting down the 20 events that impacted fantasy hockey the most from the past 10 years. Last week, we looked at events 20 through 11. Here is the Top 10:
10. What a difference a year off makes
Rod Brind’Amour and Teemu Selanne were dropped in more than one keeper league – and Paul Kariya was hanging by a thread. In the five seasons prior to the lockout, Brind’Amour managed no more than 56 points – and had just 38 in 2003-04. After a year off to rest the old bones, he pounded out 152 points over the next two seasons, leaving poolies scrambling to pick him up again. Selanne had a miserable 32-point season on ’03-04, but after a year off he topped 90 points back-to-back. Kariya had 36 points in the campaign before the lockout and 85 points in the 82 games after.
9. Bertuzzi and Moore
One of the best lines in hockey – perhaps the best line – between 2001 and 2004 was Todd Bertuzzi-Markus Naslund-Brendan Morrison. The trio combined for 718 points over those three seasons, but that came to a crashing halt when Steve Moore’s career came to a crashing halt thanks to Bertuzzi. It impacted the hockey world in so many different ways, but it impacted the fantasy hockey world in just one – the elite production ceased. Bertuzzi and Naslund managed one more decent season, but otherwise never topped even 60 points again.
8. Zigmund Palffy…retires?
One minute, owners had an 80-point player on their team who could easily top 90 if he stayed healthy. The next minute they had…nothing. With 42 points in 42 games, everything seemed to be going swimmingly for the 34-year-old. Then on Jan. 18, 2006 Palffy announced his retirement. To say fantasy owners were shocked is an understatement. That would be like Martin St- Louis retiring next month – it’s the last thing you would expect. Ah, the twists and turns of fantasy hockey.
7. Thornton dealt to San Jose/Cheechoo becomes a superstar
How would you like to have owned Jonathan Cheechoo in 2005 and then traded him in 2007? Sure, he was on the rise, anyway, but he was more of a potential 65-point player. His chemistry with Joe Thornton was something that poolies can only dream about. To have a player score 56 goals and 93 points when the most you were hoping for at the draft table was 60 or 65 points is unprecedented. Cheechoo followed up with 69 points the next season, but his 93 points had such an impact that poolies were still teased into treating him like a 90-point player. If you pulled the trigger at that time, kudos to you – in 176 games since, he still hasn’t tallied 93 points.
6. The return of Mario Lemieux
Lemieux, who once had 199 points, was so good that even after he retired in 1997 he was retained in one of my leagues for an additional two years. It turns out that if he were held for an additional year and a half it would have paid dividends, as The Magnificent One returned to the NHL in December of 2000. Incredibly, he had 76 points in just 43 games and had one more 90-point season up his sleeve before retiring for good in 2006. It turned fantasy leagues upside down as owners weighed the risks of owning an injury-prone Mario against the possibility of a 140-point season.
5. The introduction of the salary cap
After the lockout – and because of it – teams were given a ceiling they could not surpass in terms of total salary spent. This has resulted in a shift in the good, great and formerly great players hogging the bulk of the money, while the fringe players take what they can get. One of the few ways a team could inject talent into their lineup without it costing them was to bring up prospects, as their salary is limited by the rookie salary limit. As a result, you are seeing players in the league earlier than they would normally be. This has forced keeper league owners to increase their focus on and study of prospects.
The cap has also made it difficult for NHL teams to hang onto more than two or three superstars – particularly if the team has success. Without the ability to retain multiple stars, it is almost impossible to have a “dynasty” and the lifecycle of a team (from really good, to really bad, to really good again) is expedited. Building a fantasy squad around an NHL team, while still a good option, is not as a strong an option as it was 10 years ago.
4. The Kontinental League
As if poolies don’t have enough to consider, now they have to look closely at any European players that are mentioned in trade talks. What is the risk the player will flee to the KHL? After watching owners of Alexander Radulov and Jaromir Jagr get stuck with nothing, poolies were a little more prepared for the loss of Nikolai Zherdev, Jiri Hudler and most recently Nikita Filatov. But are you ever really prepared for losing a player for nothing?
3. The arrival of the Big 3
Sure we had Jaromir Jagr, Joe Thornton and to a lesser, more injury-prone extent Peter Forsberg, but not since the days of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux have we had a player in the league who had potential for upwards of 140 to 160 points in a season. After the lockout, we suddenly had two of them – Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. One year later, Evgeni Malkin arrived. All three players have already topped 110 points in a season and not one of them has celebrated his 25th birthday yet. The Big 3 are considered fantasy gold and there will come a year, probably very soon, where fourth place in league scoring will sit 20 points behind them.
2. The lockout
No NHL for a year meant no fantasy hockey for a year. Die-hard poolies, going through withdrawal, were introduced to other things in life such as regular TV shows, getting ahead career-wise and spending (gulp) time with the family. Yours truly started dating a woman late in the post-season prior to the lockout and cleverly managed to get engaged to her just when the lockout ended. At the time, she thought I was a regular hockey fan with healthy viewing habits. She never knew what hit her.
1. The Internet
With the proliferation of the World Wide Web came an exponential increase in fantasy hockey interest. Never before had tracking statistics been so easy. I still remember the days of grabbing the Tuesday newspaper and a pen and going team-by-team through my league to tally up the weekly points. Now there are dozens of online pool managers to choose from that give you instant updates and full statistics. There are 50 different online sources ready to give you the latest update on Daniel Briere’s hangnail or who Dan Sexton practiced on a line with.
My own website, DobberHockey.com, originally started as a result of the lockout. When the lockout ended, THN was looking for a new web editor and Adam Proteau, who was subbing in at the time, did not know how to post the monthly rankings. So I posted them on my own site and he just linked to them via my THN articles. The hunger for more fantasy hockey info led to huge – and fast – growth for DobberHockey and dozens of other fantasy websites. The Hockey News has also expanded their fantasy section over the years. And new sites are still sprouting up like weeds.
You have to be pretty hardcore to manually tally up points for your league and watch nightly highlight shows for your information like you did a dozen years ago. But the ease of being in a hockey pool these days has expanded the market in leaps and bounds. It has turned a pastime into an industry.
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Get the edge in your league - check out the latest scoop every Tuesday and Saturday throughout the season. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section.