The unveiling of the U.S. Olympic team has caused quite a stir in the hockey world, but it’s only the beginning of the discussion surrounding February’s international tournament to be played in Sochi. Team Canada will announce its roster on Tuesday, January 7th and there are sure to be more than a few words spoken about the selections made. Let’s jump into this week’s nuggets fresh off a one-week hiatus imposed by Mother Nature and the ice storm she brought to Toronto in late December.
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The lead story on most hockey-related programming at the moment is the perceived snub of Bobby Ryan by David Poile and the USA Hockey selection committee. I won’t try to take the unpopular viewpoint because I agree with the majority who believe Ryan should have been named to the squad, but I’d like to point out how little fanfare there has been about Keith Yandle being excluded. The argument against Ryan has something to do with logistics, as Poile’s desire to bring five centers to Russia created space for arguably inferior commodities, such as Paul Stastny and Derek Stepan. In the case of Yandle however, the argument that he’s not responsible enough defensively doesn’t hold water with me when players like Justin Faulk and Cam Fowler were named to the team. From a fantasy perspective, I’m higher on the Phoenix blueliner than I’ve ever been, as offensive-minded rearguards are difficult to come by and a two-week break in the middle of the season might just be a blessing.
Regular readers of this column probably noticed I didn’t mention Blake Wheeler among the lesser names above who were selected ahead of Bobby Ryan, but despite my monstrous mancrush on Wheeler, even I can’t advocate for him above Ryan. I recognize the combined experience of the group making these decisions dwarfs mine and they have their reasons for going in the direction they did, but I’d have made room for the former Duck in a heartbeat. Speaking of Wheeler, this is probably as good a time as any to point out that the Winnipeg forward has recorded eight markers in 10 games since I mentioned in my December 12th column that his low goal total was an anomaly. I’m just sayin’.
Also among those chosen to represent the U.S. in Sochi was forward T.J. Oshie, who was reportedly someone Dan Bylsma and his coaching staff fought hard to have added to the roster and it’s not hard to see why. Given that he’s on a team with a plethora of capable forwards, Oshie doesn’t get star treatment when it comes to ice time, but he is still quietly on pace for a career-best 69 points, despite having recorded only six goals so far to go along with his plus-11 rating. Alexander Steen is the only forward on the team who has skated for a greater number of power play minutes so his offensive production strikes as being sustainable. To boot, Oshie is also one of the Blues’ primary penalty killers, which gives him the potential to have added value in leagues where shorthanded tallies are rewarded.
As expected, the trade of Thomas Vanek to the Islanders has made him a more valuable fantasy commodity and the numbers he has posted playing alongside John Tavares took more like what we should be expecting from him. Let’s take a closer look at his splits this year:
With Buffalo: 13GP-4G-5A, minus-5 rating, 4 PIM, 4 PPP
With New York: 25GP-9G-13A, plus-5 rating, 20 PIM, 4 PPP
You’ll see that Vanek’s pace on Long Island, when extrapolated over an entire season, places him at about 72 points, but if you’ll allow me to pick a few nits, I’ll point out his goal-scoring rate puts him a shade below 30. For a player who has shown an ability to net 35-40 on a regular basis, this is disappointing but I think we can point to his greater propensity for assists with the Isles as evidence he has altered his game slightly to accommodate playing with a player at the level of John Tavares. In short, I wouldn’t hesitate to place my trust in Vanek for the remainder of the season.
The injury sustained by Zach Parise has me very worried, considering the timetable for his return is anybody’s guess at the moment. You’ll recall Parise blocked a shot in late November and was initially expected to miss a few weeks to recover but ultimately didn’t miss any time at all. Well, it’s believed playing through pain might have cost the Minnesota forward, as was what initially a foot contusion has become a stress fracture. He has already been sidelined for four games and could be out quite a while longer. If you’re counting on either of Minnesota’s goaltenders, Parise’s ailment is a bad omen for you as well, as the team has lost all four games they have played in his absence and have dropped six straight overall.
Bargain Bin Finds
As always, the players listed below are owned in fewer than 20-percent of Yahoo leagues.
Tyler Johnson (6 percent) – No player has benefitted more from the opportunity created by the injury to Steve Stamkos than Johnson, who has notched eight goals and seven assists for 15 points in 23 games without the Lightning superstar. Not bad for an undrafted free agent.
Mark Scheifele (7 percent) – The 20-year-old is starting to find his stride in the NHL and proved it with 11 points in 14 December contests. His ice time has gradually ticked up as well and he now receives a regular shift on the Jets’ second power play unit. He’s useful in deep re-draft formats, but especially valuable in all keeper leagues.
Paul Martin (14 percent) – The Olympian’s ownership rate has plummeted with good reason, due to the broken leg he suffered in late November, but he could return any day and will be a valuable addition once he does. He has racked up 34 points in 59 games spread across the past two seasons.