Dobber checks in every Thursday to force-feed you the latest fantasy hockey trends. The founder of DobberHockey.com and a columnist for The Hockey News website, he long ago immersed himself into this rollercoaster world and is unable to escape.
In a year that began with no NHL hockey at all, and then nearly had it in July, there's no shortage of big stories that impacted the world of fantasy hockey. The fact that the lockout ended was the biggest story in all of hockey, let alone fantasy, goes without saying. Without the handshake between Donald Fehr (remember him?) and Gary Bettman, we'd have had to resort to spending more time with the family in lieu of tweaking our fantasy team. Crazy, I know.
But there were some big stories on the ice too. Stories that changed the face of fantasy hockey. Events that unfolded that sent ripples throughout keeper, head-to-head and rotisserie leagues around the world. Here are my picks for the biggest ones
20. Vincent Lecavalier - same ol' same ol'
Lecavalier, a former 108-point player, has fallen well short of a point-per-game pace over the last several seasons. And he's also been hit with an abundance of injuries that limited him to 65 games, give or take, during that span. But when he was bought out this past summer and immediately signed with Philadelphia, the fantasy world was abuzz with speculation.
Would he play on the wing with Claude Giroux?
Now that he's out from behind Steven Stamkos he'll flourish!
It turns out that, as is the case with most players, Lecavalier is indeed the same guy in one city as he was in the other. He'll still be well short of a point per game and he'll still be held to just 65 games or so.
19. Claude Giroux's bounce-back
It took Giroux six games to get his first point of the season and 16 games to pop in his first goal. So his 93-point campaign was a fluke? Add in the team making Craig Berube head coach - and all the scary stories about clamping down defensively - and owners were trading Giroux to the first bidder, forget about the highest bidder. Poolies aren't known for their patience. But Giroux has 30 points in 25 games since.
18. Alexander Semin's contract
Fantasy owners are well aware of what Semin "can" do. We're also pretty clear on what he actually does. Last year he signed a one-year contract with Carolina and proceeded to post 30 points in 30 games to go with a plus-18 rating. The Hurricanes signed him to a five-year deal on March 25 and after that Semin has managed 29 points in 42 games and a minus-8.
17. The Tyler Seguin/Loui…Smith trade
The Boston Bruins are a deep team and fantasy owners knew - they just knew - that if Tyler Seguin could become 'the man' on another team then he would flourish immediately. Meanwhile, Loui Eriksson owners felt that a change of scenery was just what the doctor ordered for the three-time 70-point player coming off such a poor season. As for Reilly Smith owners - well, they didn't exist.
Three months into the season and so far so good for Seguin and Smith. The latter is firmly in the Top 50 scorers with 31 points, while Seguin sits in the Top 15 with 39. Eriksson has struggled at times with his new team, as well as injuries.
16. Playoff deception
After watching the postseason in May and June, we came away from it convinced of two indisputable facts.
1. Bryan Bickell is a budding star
2. Marc-Andre Fleury can't stop a beach ball.
So a "smart" fantasy owner drafted Bickell in the 11th or 12th round, while Fleury was avoided, or else grabbed in the sixth or seventh round if he was still there.
It turns out that Fleury should have been drafted in the first or second round, given his league-leading 22 wins. Bickell, well, let's not go there.
15. Hartnell down!
Scott Hartnell finished the 2011-12 season as the second-best fantasy player in a basic six-category rotisserie league. His 37 goals, 67 points, 136 PIM, 16 PPG and 232 shots - as a left wing I might add - were the stuff of legends. Chosen in the first two rounds of most leagues last January, Hartnell has been a shadow of his former self ever since. He barely justified a 12th-round selection. He has six points and is plus-7 in his last five games, so perhaps things are turning back around.
14. Goalie injuries
If you're an owner of Jonathan Quick or Pekka Rinne, two of the "Big 3" when it comes to fantasy goaltenders in the summer, and you're slow on the waiver wire, your season was over before it even began. Combined, the two normally reliable studs have played 29 games and have 14 wins. Rinne is still recovering from a hip ailment and looks as though he won't be back until February. Quick has been out for a couple of months with a hip injury, but is set to return to NHL duty in a week or two. He'll have a conditioning stint in the AHL first.
13. P.K. Subban's emergence
The reigning Norris Trophy winner had seasons of 38 and 36 points before 2013. In 2013 he had 67 points in 83 games, nearly totaling his prior two seasons combined.
12. Ben Bishop's emergence
With all the injuries taking out top goalies, including the one to Henrik Lundqvist which hasn't been identified or announced yet, poolies have been crippled when it comes to the goalie categories. That is, except for the ones who had Bishop as their No.3. Because suddenly, that guy is their No.1 with a 20-5-1 record and a GAA that sits under 2.00.
11. Alex Steen's breakout
This would make for an even nicer story had Steen not suffered a concussion recently. But his 24 goals in 35 games turned the fantasy hockey world on its ear. We're all very much aware of his injury history and the fact that he's really only expected to play about 70 games. But at the way he's going, he'll top 70 points despite missing time. Yet he was drafted for 50 or 55.
10. Sergei Bobrovsky's Vezina campaign
As with Bishop above, Bobrovsky was drafted as a No.3 or even No.4 goalie in most leagues last January. He was planted firmly on bench throughout the first month and then owners started to notice something weird. Columbus was winning games. By the end of February, poolies found themselves actually putting him on the active roster. On the flip side, Bobrovsky's big year had him going higher in drafts in September and that hasn't worked out quite so well.
9. King Henrik falls off the throne
Henrik Lundqvist has been so good for so long that even in the middle of crapping the bed with his worst NHL season ever, he still gets offered a $59.5 million contract by the Rangers. Well-deserved, after seven consecutive 35-win seasons. But unless he gives some of that dough to fantasy owners he's been killing this year, it's of small consolation to them. He has a losing record and is in danger of falling short of 30 wins let alone continuing his streak of 35-win seasons.
8. Steve Mason has a career after all
Mason's numbers in Columbus won him a Calder Trophy in 2009. But not only was that his peak, but it was his peak by a wide margin. We're talking - if 2009 he was the Pittsburgh Penguins, then each year after that he was the Buffalo Sabres. Fantasy owners had written him off. Even with a decent performance down the stretch after his trade to Philadelphia, poolies stayed away. He was drafted in just 11% of Yahoo! leagues. Today, he's owned in 67% of leagues and has 16 wins - 11th in the league with a team that only recently re-entered the playoff picture.
7. Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis
For years fantasy owners have been expecting Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin to turn average Joes into full-on superstars. After racing to scoop up Colby Armstrong, Ruslan Fedotenko and Petr Sykora, we were not only disappointed, but also embarrassed as our buddies laughed at us. Who knew that all we had to do was wait for Crosby and Gino to come into their own? The 2013 was the year that Kunitz turned from a 55-point player to an 80-point player, while Dupuis morphed into a 65-point guy from a 45-point guy. That owner who drafted Kunitz in the 9th round last January was quite possibly the winner of your league.
6. Sidney Crosby stops Brooks Orpik shot with his face
Last season Crosby was rolling along, coasting to an Art Ross Trophy win (as he is this year), when this happened:
The ensuing injury (broken jaw) cost him the last 12 games of the season, and his fantasy owners who were coasting to a win suddenly found themselves falling to second…then third. Crosby had such a big lead in the scoring race that he very nearly still won the title, before Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos finally passed him in the final two games.
5. Waiver-wire goalies
Injuries happen. Injuries to goaltenders happen. Slumps happen. Slumps to goaltenders happen. But never before can I remember so many of these things happen so often. Never before have I seen so many goalie options on the waiver wire. Some short-term, some long-term, but the fact is - if you had trouble with goaltending categories early in 2013-14, you were able to plug the hole quickly if you worked the waiver wire. The following goalies were available on the wire and helped fantasy squads for at least a couple of weeks:
Marek Mazanec, Cam Talbot, Martin Jones, Ben Scrivens, Frederik Andersen, Eddie Lack, Al Montoya, Philipp Grubauer, Justin Peters, Antti Raanta, Reto Berra, Jonas Gustavsson, Ilya Bryzgalov, Scott Clemmensen and Robin Lehner.
4. Alexander the Great returns
Let's ignore for a moment the fact that he's gone pointless in four games. Alex Ovechkin is back, and as recent as February that was very much in doubt. After a very un-Ovechkin-line season of 85 points, he managed just 65. And then he started last season with just 10 points in 16 games as he adjusted to the right wing. Then something clicked, and he got it. Since then he has 87 points in 70 games, including 57 goals. Poolies who acquired him at below-market value in early February (such as yours truly) were propelled to the top of their league standings by the end of April.
3. Ilya Kovalchuk retires
On Thursday, July 11, Ilya Kovalchuk's many keeper league owners woke up happy with the fact that they had him on their team. But man, were they in for a shock. In an unprecedented move, Kovalchuk got out of his gazillion-year contract by "retiring" from NHL hockey and returned to Russia. A key piece of thousands of keeper-league teams was suddenly lost in exchange for, well nothing.
2. Steven Stamkos breaks his leg
A top three pick in most leagues and a No.1 pick in some, Stamkos was valued for his ability to consistently produce at a high level, as well as stay healthy for the full 82 games. No other player can make such a claim, because both Crosby and Malkin have consistent injury troubles while Ovechkin has had a couple of off years. Not Stamkos. You can count on him. Until:
The only reason he didn't make No.1 on the list is the rumor of his possible return by early February, which would be a miracle. If he was definitely gone for the entire season, then the impact of his loss would be No.1 here.
1. Erik Karlsson's Achilles
Karlsson is the best defenseman to own in fantasy hockey, hands down. Last year he was chosen in the Top 10 in almost all leagues and he was the top defenseman to chosen without exception. So losing him for almost the entire season was devastating. If you lose your first-round pick in the first month of a campaign, you're either toast…or your competition sucks. Fantasy owners were cursing Matt Cooke for this one:
Good luck to you in your leagues for 2014! And get things rolling in the right direction by picking up my Midseason Fantasy Guide.