Welcome back, folks. The last time I wrote about a hockey game that mattered it was early June in Southern California, the sun was still out when the puck dropped for the third period and the night ended with the Stanley Cup being presented to a West Coast team for the first time ever. I'm still not exactly sure it was all real, but it's there in my archives and the archives don't lie.
It's good to be following a full field again, with everyone in contention, all our fantasy teams included. For me, I'm managing five teams on two different fantasy platforms against a field of competitors ranging from disinterested co-workers to dedicated message board patrons. It should be an interesting year, with the only certainty being that too many fantasy leagues will once again ensure that I won't enjoy the season. Let's get to the first update:
WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days
• The worst of news came attached with the best possible spin Monday when it was revealed that Toronto Maple Leafs winger Jason Blake is suffering from a rare form of leukemia. Blake, who signed with Toronto after scoring 40 goals with the Islanders a year ago, is undergoing treatment and team doctors believe he will not miss any playing time. Blake is without a goal in three games, but as he told the Toronto Star, he came crashing out of the gate last year with zero goals in five games. In reality it was four games, but his point is valid. Take a three-game snapshot of any goal scorer's season and you'll find a patch or two of barren land.
Blake will turn things around, but it looks like he'll get well with new linemates. He finished Saturday's game on a line with Alex Steen and Matt Stajan. It's a significant shakeup in that it was rumored that captain Mats Sundin insisted that Blake play on his wing. The biggest fantasy beneficiary of coach Paul Maurice's shuffle is Alexei Ponikarovski, who scored two goals on the Sundin-Nik Antropov line. Ponikarovski is coming off back-to-back 21-goal seasons and has 30-goal upside given a season's worth of top line minutes.
• Niklas Backstrom is on pace to start 82 games in goal for the Minnesota Wild. He's as likely to maintain that pace as he is to stay on target for 41 shutouts. But just how many games will Backstrom play now that the Manny Fernandez deal supposedly ended Minnesota's perpetual goalie platoon once and for all? If you believe coach Jacques Lemaire, the answer could be as few as 47. Lemaire told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that backup Josh Harding could play in as many as 35 games.
Now, 47 starts isn't terrible, but 22 No. 1 goalies started 50 or more games a year ago. Backstrom was drafted in fantasy leagues with the expectation that he could make a run at 35-40 wins, and those figures are out of reach if he's limited to fewer than 50 tries. It's hard to downgrade him too much, however, as it's still defense first in Minnesota and Backstrom has all the tools. Rather, this is an endorsement of Harding as a legitimate No. 3 fantasy option. Given 35 starts, he's capable of 20 wins and solid supporting numbers.
• One-timers: Mark Recchi replaced Petr Sykora on Sidney Crosby's line to start Saturday's game. This won't be the last time coach Michel Thierren shuffles his assets. In fact, Sykora spent time with Crosby before the night was out. … Glen Metropolit will center Boston's No. 1 line while Marc Savard nurses a groin injury. … St. Louis goalie Manny Legace left Saturday's game with an injury to his right knee. He had surgery on that knee in February. We'll probably see Hannu Toivonen Wednesday.
BARGAIN BIN: Top player available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
Dustin Brown, LW, LA – I don't have access to ownership data yet, so I'm taking a stab and guessing Brown is still under the radar in more than half of Yahoo! leagues. Brown was a Skinny favorite last season, with the only concern going into 2007-08 being how he would fit in with the veterans the Kings acquired in the offseason. Well, so far, so good. Brown has four points in three games and is clicking with sophomore centerman Anze Kopitar. New arrival Ladislav Nagy, meanwhile, logged just 10 minutes in Saturday's tilt with the Blues.
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Petr Prucha, C, NYR – With Sean Avery out for a month with a shoulder injury, Prucha could fill the void opposite Scott Gomez and Brendan Shanahan. Marcel Hossa is also in the mix after watching the first two games from the press box.
Viktor Kozlov, C, Was – In one of the biggest not-so-fast developments of the young season, it's Kozlov and not pricey free agent Michael Nylander who is centering Alex Ovechkin in Washington. Kozlov is off to a solid start. Keep an eye on Chris Clark and Tomas Fleischmann to see who sticks on the other wing.
Bryan Little, C, Atl – More of a deep league advisory, but this 2006 first-round draft pick turned some heads in the preseason, then scored a goal in his NHL debut. He opened the game centering the third line and closed it playing wing opposite franchise forward Ilya Kovalchuk. Not a bad debut.
Chris Campoli, D, NYI – Two goals in two games is promising. Where things go from here will depend on how the Islanders utilize Bryan Berard, who is expected to sign this week. Campoli is a legit No. 3 or 4 defenseman if he can grab some power-play time.
Peter Schaefer, LW, Bos – After strugging for top-line time in Ottawa, Schaefer finds himself in the company of center Marc Savard, one of the most underrated playmakers in the NHL. Savard may miss a few games, but long-term Schaefer has a shot to become a legitimate No. 2 fantasy left wing.
Ryan Shannon, RW, Van – He needs some polish, yes, but the speedy winger's Vancouver debut against the Sharks was a non-stop scoring chance. He did everything but score that night, and took care of that oversight 24 hours later against Calgary. Also keep an eye on Mason Raymond, another winger with jets who landed on the Sedin line for the opener.
Mike Green, D, Was – After a productive preseason, Green landed on the scoresheet with an assist Friday in Atlanta. He's one of those all-the-tools guys who may finally make the leap in 2007-08. Well, at least a broad jump, anyway.
Eric Belanger, C, Min – Coach Jacques Lemaire says he's good for 80 points this year. Seems a bit aggressive for a guy who has never topped for, but so far he's making coach look good with three points in two games.
Alexander Radulov, RW, Nas – Not sure what Raddy did with his offseason, but conditioning apparently didn't top the list. Radulov reported out of shape, never got up to speed in camp and landed on Nashville's third line to start the season. It's a shame, too, because he really looked ready to break through in the first round of the playoffs last year. He'll come around, but belongs in a reserve role on fantasy teams for now.
Scott Gomez, C, NYR – They're already talking chemistry problems in New York, where Gomez has gone without a point in his first two games with the Blueshirts. Things won't be as bad as the New York media makes them seem, but fantasy owners are feeling short-changed after drafting what they thought was Jaromir Jagr's centerman.
Bobby Ryan, RW, Ana – Was: a popular sleeper pick for the Selanne-less Ducks. Is: being fitted for a puffy jersey as a member of the AHL's Portland Pirates. He'll have his time, but for now Anaheim wants him taking a regular shift in the minors.
Martin Havlat, RW, Chi – According to the Chicago Tribune, it may be weeks until doctors can determine a course of action for rehabbing Havlat's injured shoulder. If you had Havlat over Marian Gaborik in your injury pool, you may now cash your ticket.
Yahoo! Friends and Family League
This year the Friends and Family league welcomes some vocal new members from the Fantasy Hockey Caf. Should spice things up a bit. Jersey defenseman Andy Greene and Preds forward J.D. Dumont are involved in early transactions. After leading nearly wire-to-wire before fading a year ago, the last thing I wanted to do was lead the pack early on, but hot starts from Chris Mason and Dany Heatley have Team Romig out in front.