Before I get into contemporary fantasy hockey talk, I think today is as good a day as any to kick off a mini-series reminiscing about some of the best/worst/oddest fantasy hockey playoff memories we have. I’m not totally certain how many entries I’ll be able to share with you, but hopefully I’ll pass along a few beyond my own story.
Feel free to share some of your memorable moments through e-mail or Twitter, even if it’s unclear when/if they can ever be published. (So, to reiterate, no guarantees … but still, fire away.)
Tales of Fantasy Playoff Woe and Wonderment: Huet says “Not today.”
Nostalgia has a way of clouding memories and dates, blurring details along the way. To some extent, I honestly figured that I jumbled all of my recollections about my most explosive fantasy hockey defeat into one chronologically incorrect blur of teeth gnashing.
Maybe negative nostalgia tattoos facts into your brain in an opposite way to the plump shakiness of positive thoughts, because I was stunned to realize that I actually recalled THE WEEK OF CRISTOBAL HUET a lot more accurately than I ever expected.
I’d guess that the time when fantasy hockey meant a little too much to me (emotionally speaking, as it obviously means more in just about every way now) spanned 2003-04 season to maybe 2008-09. Those were the years in which the fervor shown by characters from “The League” didn't seem that different from my own.
That time may also be called Dany Heatley’s prime,* which works well for this anecdote because Heatley was a part of that team.
A MEMORABLE GROUP
I’ve won in fantasy leagues before (as I imagine you’d hope), including that all-important college league at least twice, and it’s possible that I’ve assembled a better roster or two. Still, in my heart, that collection of fantasy talent will never be topped. It all happened in that first post-lockout season from the second-most-recent** lockout, so everything felt that much more exciting.
Perhaps that season set the tone for the Dose all these years later. I don’t remember every player, but consider this:
-- I grabbed Jason Spezza in an appropriate pick but Heatley at a criminally low choice since he came off that weird last season in Atlanta.
In case you understandably forgot, this was the year that the Spezza - Heatley - Daniel Alfredsson line tore up the NHL; Heater had 50 goals and 103 points while Spezza managed 90 despite being limited to 68 games.
-- Also a big steal from the draft that I can remember: I selected Eric Staal with my final pick.
You may remember that as Staal's only 100-point season, which followed a 31-point rookie campaign that was obviously misleading for many reasons, including the whole "him getting an extra year of development outside of the NHL" factor. (I'm sure many of you have some interesting stories about grabbing value in 2005-06 thanks to the oddest of the lockout.)
-- There were some in-season doozies that year, too. I picked up Henrik Lundqvist as a rookie, who proceeded to be … well, Henrik Lundqvist.
-- Maybe the biggest move that brings a smile to my face was grabbing Jonathan Cheechoo the moment it became clear that my gut reaction (“He could be on a line with Joe Thornton” /hyperventilates) was justified. There are few moments that beat the rush of adding a player you just know will be a star, and I did that either after his first or second goal on Dec. 2, 2005. He went on to enjoy a 56-goal season and contract that was so powered by Jumbo Joe that Thornton should still be getting royalties.
Anyway, there were other players on that team, but I’m probably already trying your patience. Still, let it be clear: there will never be a fantasy team I assemble that will ever elicit that weird pride that the 2005-06 [Insert Dopey Team Name]s did.
HUET FINDS A WAY
And yet, somehow, they bowed out in their first playoff round thanks to what I called at the time the only week that Cristobal Huet was ever useful.
(Looking at his career numbers even before he swindled the Chicago Blackhawks out of a hilarious amount of money in a doomed contract in 2008, that wasn’t fair. Still, I was steaming mad.)
From March 27 - April 1, 2006, Huet played three outstanding games in a goalie stat-heavy league that drowned my fantasy hopes and dreams, doing to my fake roster what Jean-Sebastien Giguere did to the Detroit Red Wings in the 2003 playoffs.
-- On March 28, 2006, he bested a red-hot Rick DiPietro (stop laughing) with a 36-save shutout.
-- Huet stopped 27 out of 29 shots in a 3-2 win against the Washington Capitals on March 30.
-- Fittingly, Huet completed the dream-crushing on April Fool's Day, generating a 32-save shutout as the Habs beat a then-fairly-unknown Tim Thomas and the Boston Bruins.
(There’s actually an outside chance that Huet ruined me in a two-week playoff championship series - the French netminder actually went on a six-game winning streak before losing his last three games of the regular season [which, no doubt about it, probably made me irate at the time] - but those specifics elude me.)
Whatever the case, Huet's hot run submarined my hopes that season, and prompt me to tell anyone not to get overconfident in head-to-head leagues where a hot goalie can own a week.
You might think that I took sick joy in Huet’s downfall, but my worldview as a hockey observer changed considerably in the intervening years (plus my team won it all a couple times).
That being said, I wonder if that woeful week may have planted the seed for this retrospectively overly harsh post back in the day.
Stay tuned for more tales (that are far less self-indulgent, probably) from others. I hope you enjoyed that look back, even if it’s just to chuckle at my woes in those days.
After the jump, enjoy game summaries of Wednesday’s three-game set.
* - Heatley scored 39 goals and 82 points with San Jose in 2009-10, yet it almost seemed like a letdown at the time ... and was clearly the beginning of the end for the increasingly irrelevant winger.
** - I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: the NHL should be ashamed that there are so many lockouts that such verbal gymnastics are needed. My summer offseason project might be to come up with nicknames for different lockouts, so of like eras for dinosaurs. Also, because dinosaurs.
RANGERS 3, PHILADELPHIA 1
-- The Rangers won their eighth game in a row (at Madison Square Garden) against the Philadelphia Flyers. I’m not sure how much that is mere coincidence - it doesn’t seem like the Rags have been particularly impressive at home, especially earlier this season - so I’m not sure if it’s something I’d put too much weight in when planning. I mean, you were going to start Henrik Lundqvist anyway, right?
-- It's nice to see Lundqvist bounce back, yet it's telling about his up-and-down season that Steve Mason has as many wins (30), as Lundqvist does in 2013-14. It's also wise to note that Mason continues to play well, even if last night wasn't ... ideal.
-- Jakub Voracek is one of the many Flyers who clearly rebounded after that tough start. Hopefully you took advantage, whether that means that you added Voracek, Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds, etc.
-- Ryan McDonagh scored again, added four PIM and two SOG last night. The Dose has been following his breakthrough season for a while now, and it seems like it's becoming a more widely known jump. That's great news for his recognition, but it also means he probably won't slip under many radars.
VANCOUVER 5, MINNESOTA 2
-- Alex Burrows just keeps shaking off scary injuries, as he fought through a disturbing finger ailment to play in general and then managed to come back from a questionable hit from Nino Niederreiter. Impressive, but keep an eye open if he needs to miss time.
-- Nice to see David Booth be semi-useful, but I wouldn't add him.
-- There's already word about the Wild struggling to choose between Ilya Bryzgalov and Darcy Kuemper, but last night's bad performances from both goalies might just make things more complicated. It also implies that the starts might be pretty balanced, making both less worthwhile.
ANAHEIM 3, CALGARY 2
-- Looks like Jiri Hudler is back on track with three points in his last four games back from injury. I wonder if those issues explain his lull. He went four straight games without a point, only had one assist in seven games and failed to score a point in nine of 11 contests from Jan. 22-March 3. He was pretty close to a point-per-game player aside from that rough run, however. He's not a high-end fantasy forward, but could be worth a very late pick in drafts or at least an immediate watch list spot once 2014-15 begins. (As always, it depends, especially on the size of your league.)
-- Brian McGrattan scored a goal in this game, which is symbolic of the game ... in that it's difficult to care about it. Seriously.
-- The most exciting bits are probably goalie-related. Jonas HIller is now 29-11-6 on the season, generating quite the contract year. He's had some bad luck over the years, but he's legit, if you ask me.