This also gives opportunity for prognosticators to come clean on whether pre-season picks and pans hit the net or were way off the mark. As usual, it's a bit of both.
There is smug satisfaction here in seeing Sidney Crosby at the top of the scoring race since he was our No. 1 pool pick of the 2006-2007 season. And outside of injuries that nullified players like Jason Spezza, Marian Gaborik and Peter Forsberg, a good majority of pre-season predictions are on target, with 15 of our top 25 players at or near the top of the pack.
Still, there have been surprises and some major disappointments.
The biggest bust has been Rick Nash of the Blue Jackets. Expected to challenge for the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's top goal-scorer, Nash has only 13 goals (and just 30 points) to date. He's showing no signs in the new year of snapping out of it, missing five games with a back injury and
shooting blanks in the other four.
Pavol Demitra has been another disappointment, though his injuries and Gaborik's long absence haven't helped his cause. Of course, that's of little consequence to his disappointed pool owners.
Happily, a few other slumbering superstars are slowly waking up.
Eric Staal in Carolina and the Detroit duo of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, all sitting well back of a predicted perch in the top 10, are beginning now to play to form.
In the last six games, Datsyuk has 12 points, Zetterberg has 10 and Staal seven. The wrist injury that will keep Zetterberg out of the all-star game might be of concern to those who have stuck with this high draft pick all season.
On the surprise side, we have to acknowledge the remarkable rebound of the Lightning's Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. At second and fifth, respectively, in NHL scoring, both should surpass their totals from the previous season by at least 30 points.
Short shrift was also given to another pair of teammates in the top 20. Hurricanes Ray Whitney and Rod Brind'Amour have had great years so far, and were no doubt steals for poolies who drafted these veterans.
Marc Savard of the Bruins and Teemu Selanne of the Ducks weren't on the top 25 list, the thinking being they could not duplicate their previous year's production.
Guess we fanned on that one.
We did go top-shelf in projecting Daniel Briere of the Sabres as a leading producer this year but certainly didn't forecast breakout seasons for teammate Maxim Afinogenov and Thomas Vanek.
We also missed completely missed the mark with Mark Bell of the Sharks in our pre-season picks of top breakout players.
But who knew that he'd be charged with hit-and-run and driving under the influence for an accident he had in September?
There's no excuse for including Colby Armstrong on this list, however. He's been horrible, a major bust this season, as has Raffi Torres of the Oilers and Red Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall.
We did a little bit better with fantasy forecasts for the likes of Marc Denis, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Erik Cole.
This corner was also astute in tabbing Whitney, Keith Tkachuk, Alexander Semin and Matthew Carle as quality sleeper picks. But we'd rather not discuss Marco Sturm, Chuck Kobasew, Johan Franzen and Steve Bernier, all of whom are apparently comatose and were never actually sleepers.
Hopefully, your fantasy team this year contains more surprises than disappointments. If that's the case, you are likely floating near the top of your pool.
If not, well, there's always next year.
We're warming up the 2007-2008 crystal ball already.
Greg Dennis can be reached at cp.pool(at)hotmail.com.
At the break: The surprising studs and disappointing duds in fantasy hockey:
Top 10 Surprises
1. LW Ray Whitney, Hurricanes. Having his best-ever year and not slowing down.
2. C Evgeni Malkin, Penguins. Sure, we knew he would be good. But wow!
3. G Ray Emery, Senators. Didn't Ottawa get Gerber to take the top job in goal?
4. C Saku Koivu, Canadiens. Considering his obstacles, this is a remarkable story.
5. C Daymond Langkow, Flames. Point-per-game pace will net him a career year.
6. LW Thomas Vanek, Sabres. Trails only Crosby and Ovechkin in sophomore scoring.
7. G Dominik Hasek, Wings. The Dominator shows critics he's not brittle or a quitter.
8. C Marc Savard, Bruins. Thought he'd be lost without wingers Hossa and Kovalchuk.
9. LW Erik Cole, Hurricanes. Might get 70 points, 100 PIM one year after broken neck.
10. C Anze Kopitar, Kings. Would certainly be rookie of the year if not for Malkin.
Top 10 Disappointments
1. LW Rick Nash, Coyotes. Pre-season Rocket Richard candidate might not get 20 goals.
2. G Jose Theodore, Avalanche. Hair today and gone tomorrow as No. 1 target.
3. RW Joffrey Lupul, Oilers. Pronger trade was worst since Gretzky left Alberta.
4. RW Colby Armstrong, Penguins. Sid's fave sidekick takes a gift and destroys it.
5. D Marek Zidlicky, Predators. Points are down and no goals in last 27 games.
6. RW Mark Bell, Sharks. Legal problems now overshadow terrible year on ice.
7. G Evgeni Nabokov, Sharks. Inconsistent play has him playing behind Toskala.
8. C Tuomo Ruutu, Blackhawks. Stood up patient poolies waiting for healthy return.
9. C Peter Forsberg, Flyers. The risk clearly winning out over reward this season.
10. C Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings. Falls way off his potential as a top-10 scorer.