With most fantasy football leagues reaching their conclusions this coming weekend, it stands to reason that many of your hockey league-mates might soon begin to pay more attention, giving you only a few days left to tinker while they remain asleep at the switch.
There’s no question that Evgeni Malkin’s aggressive style of play is a large part of the reason he so often suffers injuries. There’s a school of thought, most prevalent in fantasy football circles, that injuries are generally random and that value can be derived by targeting players with a recent history of ailments while avoiding more durable commodities. However, I don’t think that logic is applicable in all cases. Keeping with the football example, it’s no coincidence that Robert Griffin III so often exposes himself to big hits while Russell Wilson seems to avoid them, despite the fact they are both quarterbacks who have a penchant for scrambling. Going back to Malkin, there’s just no way a player like, say, Martin St. Louis would have put himself in the situation that most recently placed the Penguins forward on the shelf with a lower body injury, but that style is also part of the reason Geno is such an effective player. His production in the month of November alone proved how valuable an asset he is when healthy, but if you’re going to roster him, it would be prudent to factor about a dozen missed games into your pre-season projection.
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It seems the only group of Maple Leafs forwards that has enjoyed any kind of success of late has been the newly-formed second line of Joffrey Lupul, Mason Raymond and Peter Holland. Lupul is a known commodity so there’s not much I can add to the conversation on him and Holland seems to always be on the verge of a demotion to a checking line or the press box so I can’t recommend him in good conscience. That leaves Raymond, who has turned out to be a steal for the Leafs on a one-year, $1 million deal. Anyone who has watched much of the Leafs this year would likely have observed that he has been a real difference maker and has earned his expanded role, which includes a regular spot on the second power play unit. His speed makes him an especially dangerous weapon coming down the wing, but his decision making and patience with the puck have also been a nice bonus. If there’s a drawback to his style of play, it’s that he’s the closest thing there is in the league today to the skinny player from the old Nintendo Ice Hockey game, for those of you who remember video games prior to Grand Theft Auto. In the game, that player was the fastest option, but was also the weakest, meaning it was easy to move him off the puck. My point here is that Raymond has a skill set that can be of great use to a NHL team, as well as your fantasy squad, provided he is deployed in the proper situations. Given how much difficulty Toronto coach Randy Carlyle experienced while operating a toaster in the first episode of HBO’s NHL 24/7, I can’t say I’m confident in his ability to press the right buttons with his lineup.
I think the recent slump endured by Martin Hanzal offers a perfect opportunity to buy low since his peripherals haven’t significantly changed during that span. With 22 points in 30 games this season, he’s on pace for about 60 over a full year, which is more aligned to where expectations should have been prior to the season even though he was scoring at a point-per-game pace as recently as two weeks ago. Similar to the aforementioned Evgeni Malkin, Hanzal’s reckless style of play makes him prone to injury, but there’s nothing not to like about his game otherwise, especially in rotisserie formats. The 26-year-old power forward is second to only Radim Vrbata on the Coyotes in terms of shots on goal and he leads the club in penalty minutes with 39 and hits with 95. All told, he’s one of the best players in the league whose name is not known by casual fans and he’s available in over 60 percent of Yahoo leagues.
With the holidays approaching, we are the nearing the NHL’s Christmas break, which serves as the unofficial mid-way point of the season even though it’s not exactly that in terms of games played. I bring this up as an excuse to provide you with a quick rundown of the five players I think are currently the most over and undervalued from a fantasy perspective. In short, these are players I think will provide the most rest-of-season value relative to what it will cost to acquire them.
1. Claude Giroux – He has been dragged down by the sinking ship that is the Flyers this year, but he continues to shoot the puck at his regular pace and earns his typical amount of time with the man advantage. A shooting percentage of 7.3 percent is virtually unheard of for a player of his caliber. With a few more bounces, he could be back to his point-per-game ways.
2. Cory Schneider – Yes, Martin Brodeur has been relatively hot of late and has started 20 games this season to Schneider’s 15, but in the battle of peripheral stats, it’s actually not that close. The former Canuck’s excellent play has been masked by his team’s inability to score goals. He’s going to win a lot of fantasy leagues this year.
3. Mike Green – Consistency isn’t exactly his thing, but he always seems to string together a torrid stretch in the middle of the season, like his month of April last year, in which he ended the season with 15 points in 13 games. We have yet to see that sort of hot streak this season, partially due to a shooting percentage of 2.4 (his career mark is 8.6 percent). He plays on the league’s second best power play alongside the league’s best goal scorer. I’m still a believer.
4. Cam Atkinson – He’s a bit of an unknown commodity, but Atkinson is a pure goal scorer who simply has suffered a bout of bad luck this year. The Blue Jackets value him very highly and you should too.
5. Alexander Semin – This one is more about a gut feel than it is statistical in nature. Unlike some of the players above, Semin can’t point to bad luck as the primary cause of his struggles, but given that he started the year with a nagging wrist injury, I’ll make the argument that he hasn’t been completely healthy yet. His history suggests a strong second half is in store.
1. Mikhail Grabovski – Grabovski and I have had a tumultuous relationship this year, as he was a player I loved before the year and one I’m aggressively trying to sell now. While I believe in his skill, I don’t trust the way he’s being deployed by coach Adam Oates or his reluctance to shoot the puck.
2. Martin Brodeur – This shouldn’t be a surprise, given how bullish I am on Cory Schneider. The torch will be passed.
3. Martin St. Louis – The absence of Steve Stamkos will eventually take its toll on the veteran, who will continue to be good, but won’t be elite without his trigger man.
4. Ryan Getzlaf – He’s an excellent player and one of my favorites in the league, given that he is always a good source of penalty minutes in addition to hefty scoring totals. I just don’t see how he can keep up his current goal-scoring pace. Don’t give him away, please, but if you find someone willing to treat him as a top-five asset, you should definitely sell.
5. Jason Pominville – His 15 goals look nice, but he hasn’t actually been involved in many scoring plays, as proven by his meager eight assists. His deployment really can’t be more biased toward offensive situations than it already is so I can’t fathom a scenario where he improves from here.
Bargain Bin Finds
Finding new bargains to bring to your attention every week probably sounds difficult, but they’re not as scarce as you might think. As usual, these players are owned in fewer than 20 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Eric Gélinas (14 percent) – Quick story. In my home keeper league, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Editor Mike Finewax and I recently made a deal, but before we started negotiating, he informed me he wouldn’t trade Gélinas, which tells you all you need to know about his potential. With 15 points and perhaps just as importantly, 63 shots on goal in 26 games, the Devils blueliner is worth an add in leagues of most sizes.
Alex Killorn (11 percent) – If you picked up Killorn towards the tail end of his hot streak in November, then you have already suffered through a 10-game stretch in which the second-year player has picked up one measly point, but don’t let that cloud your judgment. The injury to Steve Stamkos has created an opportunity I think Killorn can still take advantage of.
Cam Atkinson (10 percent) – I mentioned Atkinson as an undervalued commodity above, but it bears repeating. He is severely underappreciated at the moment. There are players such as Tyler Bozak (21 percent) and Tyler Ennis (34 percent) in whom I have significantly less faith than I do in the Columbus sniper.