With one week to play before the NHL breaks for the Sochi Olympics, we’re changing things up a little in this edition of Nuggets, focusing primarily on the unfortunate happenings in Hockeytown. Don’t worry, I’ve sprinkled in a few other useful tidbits as well. Enjoy.
Disaster in The D. Motor City Massacre. Call it what you want, but the string of injuries suffered by the Red Wings’ most talented players of late has been nothing short of disasterous. Jimmy Howard has battled injury throughout his disappointing campaign; Pavel Datsyuk hasn’t dressed since the Winter Classic; Henrik Zetterberg has missed the last two contests with an upper-body ailment and Johan Franzen recently returned from a concussion that forced him to miss over a month of action, only to have the injury recur after just one outing. While the doom and gloom present in the Michigan air is palpable, I feel it’s my responsibility to point out how you can take advantage of the circumstances in your fantasy league.
The litany of players nursing injuries has created opportunities for many of the Red Wings' young phenoms. Here’s a primer on what to expect from each in the short-and long-term.
Gustav Nyquist (Yahoo ownership rate – 11 percent)
What distinguishes Nyquist from his peers is the fact that coach Mike Babcock has demonstrated a willingness to consistently deploy him on a line with other skilled forwards, identifying the young Swede as an offensive asset. His AHL numbers (81 points in 73 games over the last two seasons) have certainly helped him earn that reputation, and because of his pedigree, I think he’s the best long-term choice among this group. In the short term, I expect his willingness to shoot the puck will make him a reliable scorer at around a 50-point pace, giving him value in deeper formats.
Tomas Tatar (Yahoo ownership rate – 5 percent)
For my money, Tatar is most likely to pay immediate dividends in this group. While his current scoring pace is behind that of Nyquist, it’s important to recognize that he was initially used in a depth role by Babcock, who liked to send him onto the ice alongside a series of grinders. With the barrage of Red Wing players currently spending game nights in the trainer’s room, Tatar has been thrust into a more prominent role and has proven what he’s capable of. With five goals, two assists and 27 shots on goal in the 10 games the team has played without Pavel Datsyuk, it’s clear he can offer more than he has shown to date.
Riley Sheahan (Yahoo ownership rate – 0 percent)
The former first-round pick may have caught your eye if you play in a deep league since he has recorded eight points in 13 games since his call-up, but I’m here to tell you not to buy in. Sheahan profiles as a very solid two-way center who will ultimately contribute more to the Red Wings than he will to your fantasy squad. The fact he has only registered 11 shots on goal is reason enough to believe his production is not sustainable. Like the other two players above, his ice time has increased in recent games due to the circumstances, but he’ll almost definitely be the first player sent back to the AHL if the team ever gets healthy again.
Forgive me for picking on a player I have panned in this space before, but I can’t be the only one to be generally unimpressed by Steve Mason as a fantasy option, can I? His great rookie season was never duplicated as he failed to post a save percentage above .901 in the next three full years with the Blue Jackets. Then, after he dazzled in six starts with the Flyers toward the end of the 2012-13 season (small sample alert!) and followed that up with a 30-game stretch to start 2013-14 that even I must admit was solid, he’s a number one goalie again? I’m not buying it and I haven’t even started to talk about the Spinal Tap drummer-type curse that has plagued Flyers’ netminders in recent history.
The Cory Schneider misfortune is beginning to border on comical. Not only has he been held back by his own coach’s preference for veteran Martin Brodeur, but his teammates apparently have decided not to provide offensive support when he starts. It’s laughable that he has won just nine of his 26 starts despite posting a 1.86 GAA and a .927 save percentage. I would love to see someone with more time and acumen than I perform a research project to determine whether Schneider’s bad luck is historic. If I haven’t made it clear yet, I’m trying to acquire the Devils' goaltender.
Bargain Bin Finds
As usual, the players listed below are owned in fewer than 20-percent of Yahoo leagues.
Michael Frolik (9 percent) - Frolik has always been on my list of players I wish were used in more prominent roles by their head coaches because I think there’s much more to him than he’s given credit for. Consider that Frolik currently ranks 14th on the Jets in terms of percentage of the team’s power-play minutes he’s on the ice for, yet he’s fifth on the club in terms of even strength scoring, ahead of players like Dustin Byfuglien, Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi. If his role were static, there wouldn’t be much reason to discuss him, but coach Paul Maurice’s arrival in Manitoba has added a spring to Frolik’s step and I think he’s a useful addition in deeper leagues.
Jason Demers (19 percent) – He doesn’t have Dan Boyle’s name recognition, but Demers has very quietly scored at a 40-point pace this season, including 12 in his last 18 contests. The Sharks use him regularly with the man advantage, and given the talent on that power play, he should be owned in more leagues.
Adam Henrique (9 percent) – After his 51-point breakout in 2011-12, Henrique became a trendy selection entering last year’s shortened season, but after posting just 16 points in 42 games, most of his backers went scurrying in the other direction. Well, a recent streak of 12 points in 16 games has him back on the radar and with good reason. He’s never been a significant contributor in leagues that reward penalty minutes, but he can be a difference-maker in points-only formats.