Ask the average sports fan why they don't watch hockey and most will give you one of two answers.
"I can't follow the puck."
Well, the networks tried to help you on that one. Long before the yellow first-down line in football, there was the glowing puck in hockey. Great, wasn't it? You got to see Haley's Comet gliding up and down the ice like they were playing with some mutant meteorite.
The second response you may hear is that "there's not enough scoring."
These are the same people who crowd stadiums to watch a 1-0 soccer match. And that's fine. I understand if you can't skate or to relate to the players, but to cite a lack of scoring? Please people!
Conversely there are folks, and you know who you are, who love the fisticuffs and violent checks that make up NHL games. Some get exposed to a "Don Cherry Presents" at an early age.
Others are introduced to the sport in a minor league or independent league environment where fighting is a way of life.
Still other fans bemoan the lack of hockey fights in the new video games as they did in the classic scene from "Swingers".
The Penalty Minutes category in fantasy hockey is often confusing. From a pure logic sense, you ask yourself – how does this guy add value by taking a stupid penalty? If you were drafting an entire team, another five minutes in the penalty box doesn't help.
But since you're drafting individual players, there has to be a way to add value for those guys whose fame and fortune is made from dropping their gloves.
A quick review of the Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Hockey Head-to-Head leaderboard reveals the importance of the Penalty Minutes (PIM) category. The team currently in possession of the overall lead attributes 10 percent of its total victories to this category.
Sure, nobody's going to match the heroics of Tiger Williams' 4,000 career penalty minutes and Chris Nilan's 4.42 PIM per game over the long haul. But you just might be able to find some trends in the trenches to get you the all-important victory in this head-to-head category. (These trends will also help you to vault a spot or two in this rotisserie category, but as we discussed last week with regard to Fantasy NBA specialists, you're going to take a hit in other categories.)
If you look beneath the surface of the top penalty minute achievers, there is a fairly consistent theme – they've got at least one or two players that they love to fire the gloves to the ground against.
For example, here's a look at a trio of players available in 99 percent of Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Hockey leagues. Their fantasy value is quite low, but they can give you a boost in this category. Krzysztof Oliwa of the Calgary Flames has gone toe-to-toe with Matt Johnson of the Minnesota Wild. They have one more matchup to add some sparks in mid-February.
Oliwa has battled Jody Shelley of the Columbus Blue Jackets five times over the past two seasons. Shelley is tied for the lead in fights for 2003-04 with Oliwa. They will tussle once more on March 18 in Calgary.
Johnson also tends to square off against Georges Laraque of the Edmonton Oilers in another popular matchup of fantasy after-thoughts. They have fought four times in the last two seasons and will meet again on Feb. 13.
Home versus Away
In a quick glance at brawling totals for the 2003-04 season, it appears that players have a tendency to drop the gloves more in front of the home crowd. For most, it's only a difference of three or four fights. Chris Neil of the Ottawa Senators, available in 99 percent of leagues, is a great example of this. Of 13 fighting performances this season, a whopping 10 times have been on home ice. Now there's a showman! He is also averaging about one shot on goal per game so that might help.
John Erskine of the Dallas Stars, available in 99 percent of leagues, has been in nine brawls this season. Six of those have occurred on his home ice. His 79 penalty minutes don't stand out, but he did miss several games with an ankle injury. He's now returned to the squad but only adds value on home ice. The Stars are in the midst of a long road trip, but return to Big D for four games at the end of the month.
Sean Avery of the Los Angeles Kings, who is available in 80 percent of leagues, leads the NHL in penalty minutes even though he has only been in nine fights. He's had four nights of 15 penalty minutes or more. His two biggest outbursts of 29 and 27 minutes came against Phoenix. Avery gets two more cracks at the Coyotes on back-to-back nights in March.
Chris Simon, available in 70 percent of leagues, pads the New York Rangers' league-leading penalty minutes total. But like Avery, he gets his total in bunches and has had four games with more than 15 penalty minutes. Simon is also harder to predict than those players mentioned above, because he doesn't have a natural rival on the ice. He does offer help to a second scoring category, with a +12 in the Plus/Minus column.
One for good measure
Kip Brennan of the Los Angeles Kings had a horrible holiday season, racking up a total of 46 penalty minutes in three games before receiving a 10-game suspension for some bizarre behavior in San Jose on December 26th.
After he was booted from the game, he came back to the ice. It was a scene that resembled the best wrestling script this side of Jeremy Roenick's tirade on Tuesday. He's virtually unowned in Yahoo! Sports Fantasy leagues. We'll see if he comes out of the gates with a rush when his suspension ends this weekend.
When you're playing head-to-head fantasy hockey, each category has to be looked at separately. Just as you may punt the Saves or Stolen Bases categories in fantasy baseball, perhaps the Penalty Minutes category just is not your team's strong suit. Think about it. Out of the top 30 players on the penalty minutes chart, only one (Brendan Shanahan) has scored more than 10 goals.
But who gets the glory? It is the guy skating off to the cheers or boos of the fans as they hit the sin bin. The players outlined above may help bring you an extra victory each week and they make for some great highlights.
See you next week.