With the 2014 Winter Olympics rapidly approaching, I will soon be summoned to Stamford, CT to help cover the triple corks, double axels and singular performances in Sochi (also, some hockey will probably sneak in there).
Because of that, I’ll be handing the Hockey Dose torch to the Rotoworld gang for approximately one month, although certain details - will it remain daily during the Olympics? - might need hashing out. While I’ll miss making bad pun soup in this format, I promise I won’t ask someone to spoil other people's’ dinner just to make myself look better, like Mrs. Patmore manipulating Daisy in Downton Abbey.
(Uh oh, did I just admit that I’m a Downton Abbey fan? Woops.)
Anyway, with three days left before my hiatus, I thought I’d look back at some of the storylines that are developing/have developed by splitting things off into a section per day: one for forwards, one for defensemen and then one for goalies.
This will mean that you’d be wise to absorb Rotoworld’s suite of hockey columns by people who don’t make (as many?) references to Masterpiece Theater if you want more timely stuff.
THE FANTASTIC FOUR
My guess is that if a forward was selected first overall in a fantasy hockey draft the past few years, one of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Steve Stamkos and Evgeni Malkin came up about 99.9 percent of the time. It’s been an interesting partial season for all four.
Crosby: Faced with the No. 1 overall pick in a random fantasy draft, I was confronted with that unusual luxury and/or burden of going with my gut (Crosby) or going with a player who has had a better track record of health (just about all of the other options). I chose Crosby.
Simply put, I was intoxicated by his point-per-game averages (1.61 in 2010-11, 1.68 in 2011-12 and 1.56 in 2012-13) and thought, at some point, he's going to play in more than 41 games (the most in that group) ... right? How could a player so blessed also be so strangely cursed?
So far, Crosby's been electric, collecting his most points since he generated 109 in 2009-10. His point-per-pace is understandably less frenetic over a larger sample size, but it's still delectable at 1.38.
A lot can happen between now and the 2014-15 drafts, but I bet fewer people will have cold feet about The Kid than they did last summer.
Ovechkin: While Crosby's point production is insane and Ovechkin's become more-and-more goal-oriented (35 tallies vs. 14 assists), Ovechkin does so much - and at the rarer wing position - that you cannot totally disregard him as the top choice. It's honestly surprising that he has pretty pedestrian PIM numbers, because he throws his body and pucks around with abandon. He's a top-20 player in hits and is an absolute SOG machine - he's already blown away last season's numbers in basically the same amount of time - so you could do worse than to model your team on peripheral dominance and standard category competitiveness.
Of course, his plus/minus isn’t ideal, but I’d blame a crumbling structure in Washington far more than the Capitals captain. Besides, it’s tiresome to blame Ovi, as reflexive as that might be for many.
Stamkos: As much as Ovechkin was tempting as a No. 1 alternative, Stamkos seemed like an interesting Plan C.
Beyond the “he’s amazing at scoring goals” essentials, there was a more abstract logic to going with Stamkos last summer. Considering Ovechkin’s reckless abandon might catch up with him as he’s aging (which might be a little true, especially after Sochi) and Crosby’s Wile E. Coyote injury luck, Stamkos might win the quantity battle by attrition. At least that was the thought until he suffered that freakish and disturbing broken tibia that he probably shouldn’t be rushing back from for the Olympics.*
Of the big four, Stamkos’ stock dropped the most, even if it was due to the bad luck he’s avoided for most of his still-young career.
Malkin: For a spell, “Geno” was a more-than-reasonable top overall pick. While his higher profile teammate kept getting hurt and Ovechkin struggled with consistency (relatively speaking, of course), Malkin has three 100+ point seasons to his name, racks up solid PIM (about one minute per game in his career) and developed into a solid SOG guy to boot.
At this point, Malkin is in a comfortable place for fantasy owners; you get him probably in the 4-7th pick range and then you end up with a better second pick option than those who draw Crosby, Ovechkin and others (jeez, I find myself hesitating to put Stamkos in that group before seeing him play ... get well soon, snipin' Stevie). In a given season, it's conceivable he'd be the best of the bunch. Not bad for a guy who can fall into the "consolation prize" section of the first round in certain drafts.
It’s my unscientific opinion that hits are becoming a more common statistic in fantasy leagues, or at least they should. While I think that they can be overvalued during in-game analysis - a lot of times a team is “winning” the hits battle because the other squad is dominating puck possession - I’d rather fantasy leagues reward gritty players via the hit category than PIMs.
That being said, PIMs and hits often go together, and I’ve focused more and more attention on guys who can bring you some combination of points, PIM, hits and SOG. (Blocked shots are boring, especially at the forward level, but there’s the occasional guy who can move the needle in that regard, too.)
If you’re a Dose regular, you know some of the favorites: Brandon Dubinsky, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Scott Hartnell, Chris Kreider and so on.
Once you get beyond the top tier players, I believe that it’s best to sock away stats that are reliable and easily ignored; I enjoyed FW as a category for quite some time because it was a stat I could grab almost every week in less sophisticated leagues. (Jarome Iginla and Teemu Selanne still get bonus love for being solid FW generators as wingers during their primes.)
To some extent, the aim of the Dose is to augment. If you don’t have good star players, scrape away at those peripheral categories and hope you grab some goalie stats … and all of a sudden, you might win more often than your drafted group would indicate. And I believe hit generators who are decent scorers can make a difference, as they’re likely to do a little (or a lot) right every night.
THE OLYMPIC FACTOR
Martin St. Louis keeps chugging along either because of the galling insult of being left off the team after winning the 2013 Art Ross Trophy (among other callously disregarded accomplishments) or because he just scores points, no matter what. Still, that anger may very well have given him a boost and a few weeks of rest could really help the 38-year-old.
Another “coincidence or not?” surge happens to come from Rick Nash, a guy many cited as someone who should’ve been left off the Canadian roster for St. Louis. If you buy into proving critics wrong, Nash seems to be doing it with each spectacular goal.
Finally - and again, it’s important not to ignore the possibility of coincidences here - there’s Bobby Ryan. The young star likely doesn’t need the rest quite as much as St. Louis and he’s been struggling offensively lately. Then again, maybe just a little while to decompress - he was snubbed and insulted publicly during his first season in Ottawa, a very different place than Anaheim - could do a lot for Ryan. Especially since the Senators aren’t depleted too badly by the Olympics.
A lot can change between today and the last day of the regular season (April 13), but it’s been an interesting ride already. Tune in on Tuesday and Wednesday for pieces on defensemen and goaltenders.
* - Sorry, but I basically point to RGIII in all of these matters, among other cautionary tales of trying to be superhuman when you should stick with just being a special human.