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Fantasy Hockey: Effect of coaching changes; young Oilers shine

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They say that NHL coaches are "hired to be fired", and each season that old mantra holds true for a handful of unfortunate bench-bosses.

This year's casualty list includes the New York Islanders' Scott Gordon, replaced by Jack Capuano on November 15th, and the New Jersey Devils' John MacLean, replaced by Jacques Lemaire on December 23rd (happy holidays!).

And we may not have seen the last of this year's changes - at this point in the 2008-09 season Dan Bylsma was still coaching in the AHL.

But do coaching changes affect your fantasy squad? Here's a brief breakdown of the two head coaching changes made so far during the current NHL campaign:

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So both teams improved in the wake of the coach-swap, and in particular Lemaire has found a way to get the Devils scoring again (especially of late). Although neither replacement has put up Bylsma-esque numbers either (who went an astounding 18-3-4 in the 25 regular season games he coached after taking over the Pittsburgh Penguins' bench in mid-February). Of course, neither has the pleasure of coaching a team like Bylsma was given.

Before giving you a final verdict on the impact of coaching changes, here are some players who might help you in the short term while you perhaps wait for a coaching-change bailout.

All positions as listed in Yahoo! Sports (as accurate as they are), with ownership percentage in parentheses.

Goals

Magnus Paajarvi(notes), LW, Edmonton Oilers (6%)

After kicking off December with a nifty five-game point streak, Paajarvi-Svensson Svensson-Paajarvi Paajarvi got pretty quiet. But since January 13, the youngster has put up points in nine of 12 games. He's found some chemistry with linemates Sam Gagner(notes) and fellow Swede, Linus Omark(notes). In the past week, he's tallied three of his nine goals. Paajarvi claims to have now adjusted to the NHL and life in North America, "I'm getting used to things. Like if you get on an elevator here, it's common to say, ‘Hey how are you doing?' and just finish with, ‘Have a nice day.' In Sweden we just stand there." Wonder how he feels about urinal conversations?

Alex Kovalev(notes), RW, Ottawa Senators (14%)

With three goals and two helpers in the past week, Kovalev is giving us a demonstration of what some have said he should be doing far more often. You know it won't last, but he might give you a lift in the coming days. Plus, it's tempting to consider trade scenarios as Ottawa languishes at the bottom of the league standings.

Assists

Linus Omark, LW, Edmonton Oilers (1%)

Omark hasn't done much on the score sheet until recently (notwithstanding that awesome spin-o-rama shootout winner in December), but the 24-year-old picked up four of his 10 assists this year last week. Edmonton's head coach, Tom Renney, apparently likes what the combination of Omark, Gagner and Paajarvi are doing, because he's kept them together despite a number of other shakeups. With no pressure in Edmonton to win, and a desire to let the team's youth gel, expect Omark to continue to get the ice time.

Shots-on-Goal

Radim Vrbata(notes), RW, Phoenix Coyotes (16%)

He's been mentioned in past weeks, but when a guy is the top shot-taker in the league in the past week (with 24), and you have to sink all the way down to Sean Avery(notes) (with 15) before you find another guy on the list that's available in more than half of all Yahoo! leagues, he's worth another mention. His three goals last week aren't bad either (two of which came on the power play). He even picked up a couple of penalty minutes - something he does every other month or so (on Brian Burke's trade-deadline list, this kid ain't).

Plus/Minus

Anton Volchenkov(notes), D, New Jersey Devils (1%)

New Jersey Devils? Plus/minus? In the past week this category has been owned by the Devils. We've been wrong before (you get what you pay for), but since Lemaire took over on December 23, the Russian has been a minus-player on only three occasions and only once since December 31. Volchenkov is a plus-six in February, the Devils are certainly making things interesting by winning, and he'll pick up right where he left off after his three-game suspension. In unrelated news, according to Google Translate, "Святое дерьмо я рад быть свободным от аварии поезда, который Оттаве" is Russian for "holy crap am I glad to be free of the train wreck that is Ottawa." We're just saying.

PIM

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Matt Cooke(notes), Clown LW, Pittsburgh Penguins (15%)

Let's be clear: The man acts like a donkey on the ice. But last week Cooke accumulated a total of 36 penalty minutes and even scored a game-winner in Buffalo. Not bad if your league counts PIMs, and some of you might be tempted. With Marc Savard(notes) packing it in for the season recently, he may be feeling some extra heat these days and looking to prove something on the ice. Of course, he's going to have to wait four games to show it. Should have been more.

Jim Vandermeer(notes), D, Edmonton Oilers (0%)

Vandermeer has picked up 32 minutes in his past seven games (15 minutes in the past week), and the minutes have been spread out pretty evenly, suggesting that the uptick is more than just a day or two of feeling extra ornery. According to our sophisticated fantasy hockey algorithms, that makes him 37% more consistent than Matt Cooke over the past two weeks in terms of penalty minutes, and also about 567% less likely to destroy someone else's career (plus or minus 5% due to error).

Goalies

Al Montoya(notes), G, New York Islanders (0%)

Monday: Kevin Poulin(notes). Hmmm ... here's an interesting situation with a young goalie who has some opportunity. Three wins in his last five games, a nice 2.00 GAA in the past week ...

Tuesday: Uh-oh, freak accident in warm-ups forces Poulin out of the game and young Mikko Koskinen(notes) must face the juggernaut that is the Maple Leafs in February. Wonder how bad the young Montrealer's knee is?

Wednesday: Bad. The knee is bad. So bad, in fact, that Poulin is out for the season. What was that noise? Garth Snow's head exploding? Which brings us to...

Thursday: If you really, really needed a goalie recommendation this week, well, uh ... Al Montoya?

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Middle-of-the-Pack Jack says: Cory Clouston has got to be packing his desk up soon, the Senators have lost ten in a row. They're battling the Oilers for last overall, and Clouston's obviously not part of the solution - there's no way that he's in Ottawa for much longer! I'm grabbing me some Sens, starting with Spezza, because the bounce-back starts as soon as Clouston's nameplate is ripped off the door of his office!

We say: Good news, Jack - you've got it half right. Clouston is not part of the solution, and it's likely that Senators' owner Eugene Melnyk agrees. But as reported by Chris Yzerman in The Canadian Press, Melnyk has given both Clouston and Murray the reins until the end of the season. So Clouston isn't going anywhere, and in Murray's words the players (and us poolies) are "stuck with us, like it or not, they're with us for the balance."

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The final word on coaching changes and your squad?

No doubt it can improve things for a team and your fantasy squad, but rarely is it a silver bullet as was the case for Bylsma's Penguins in 2009, or Bruce Boudreau's Washington Capitals in the previous year. Perhaps Maple Leaf commentator, Mike Ulmer, said it best when he wrote that any "bump [in performance due to a coaching change] almost invariably comes when the team is grossly underachieving and wasting Grade A talent."

Brent Lemon enjoys sharing his thoughts on hockey, good, bad, or outrageous. Somewhat surprisingly, his work has appeared in several places, including USA Today publications, and his fantasy hockey column, Lemon Aid, appears every so often at DobberHockey.com.

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