NHL Skinny: First-round fiascos

Matt Romig
Yahoo! Sports


1st Chair: Joey MacDonald(notes)
2nd Chair: Jonas Gustavsson(notes), Vesa Toskala(notes)
Skinny: A six-day break in the schedule gives fantasy owners a respite from ratio killing in an empty search for wins. If you're invested here, the Toronto Sun reports that MacDonald will start Saturday, but coach Ron Wilson is hopeful Gustavsson (groin) might be ready Oct. 26 against Anaheim. If you're desperate at the position, tuck the 24-percent owned Monster in your IR spot. There's no risk there.

1st Chair: Dan Ellis(notes)
2nd Chair: Pekka Rinne(notes) (1a)
Skinny: Ellis rebounded nicely from allowing goals on all three shots he faced Wednesday by allowing just two regulation goals in a 3-2 shootout loss in Washington on Saturday. While there's been no official extension of the even work split employed by coach Barry Trotz, you have to figure the rotation will continue until either Ellis or Rinne steps up to claim the starting job.

1st Chair: Jose Theodore(notes)
2nd Chair: Semyon Varlamov(notes)
Skinny: Last week we discussed Bruce Boudreau's plan to stick with Theodore as his No. 1. This week's topic of discussion: Theodore's back spasms. Such is life when you own the 2002 Vezina winner. It looks like we might see Varlamov on Thursday regardless of Theodore's health, but the injury does not appear to be serious. Consistency/reliability issues aside, there's no reason Theodore should be owned in fewer leagues than Varlamov.

1st Chair: Cristobal Huet(notes)
2nd Chair: Antti Niemi(notes)
Skinny: Huet gave up a pair of ugly goals in a Saturday loss to Dallas and all signs right now point to Niemi starting Wednesday. When asked if he no longer had a clear No. 1 goalie, coach Joel Quenneville told the Chicago Tribune, "You can speculate any way you want. We'll make that decision (on a Wednesday starter) tomorrow."

1st Chair: Mike Smith(notes)
2nd Chair: Antero Niittymaki(notes)
Skinny: Coach Rick Tocchet has defended Smith, reminding folks that his netminder hasn't played much in six months. Niittymaki has started three of four, thanks to another Smith injury. Nice to see Tocchet being patient, but fantasy owners can't wait too long if this challenge continues.

1st Chair: Jonas Hiller(notes)
2nd Chair: Jean-Sebastien Giguere(notes)
Skinny: Hiller had his worst start of the season Saturday, allowing three goals on 12 shots in a little over one period of play. His season numbers, however, remain solid (.921 save pct., 2.67 GAA). Jiggy entered Saturday's game and gave the Ducks, "a little bit of an opportunity," according to coach Randy Carlyle. Anaheim has a small break in the schedule. The bulk of the Ducks' problems are up front, but it will be telling who gets the call Wednesday against Dallas.

1st Chair: Carey Price(notes)
2nd Chair: Jaroslav Halak(notes)
Skinny: In Montreal they are calling out Price for playing just well enough to lose when the club desperately needs superb goaltending behind a patchwork blueline. Coach Jacques Martin says he won't decide on a starter for Tuesday until the morning. Halak hasn't made a start since Oct. 6, but with seven games coming up in 12 days, he figures to get some work.

1st Chair: Dwayne Roloson(notes)
2nd Chair: Martin Biron(notes) (1a), Rick DiPietro(notes)
Skinny: DiPietro participated in a full-squad practice Monday, according to Newsday. Roloson and Biron have each made three starts, none of which have been particularly useful for fantasy purposes.

1st Chair: Ondrej Pavelec(notes)
2nd Chair: Kari Lehtonen(notes), Johan Hedberg(notes)
Skinny: Hedberg stopped 40 of 42 shots Saturday in his first start of the season, giving Pavelec a needed night off. The Thrashers are still allowing too many shots, but goalie play has been solid in a surprising start (4-1). At this point there's not much urgency to get Lehtonen (offseason back surgery) back in the lineup.

1st Chair: Chris Mason(notes)
2nd Chair: Ty Conklin(notes)
Skinny: Here we go again: Another season of Conklin as a No. 2 putting up No. 1 numbers. Saturday he picked up his 11th career shutout in a 5-0 win over the Ducks. Mason has been solid, too, in three of four starts, so there's no reason to panic just yet. Conklin was acquired to start one side of back-to-backs, so he should get at least two games between now and Oct. 29.

1st Chair: Tomas Vokoun(notes)
2nd Chair: Scott Clemmensen(notes)
Skinny: Clemmensen will get a second straight start after winning his Florida debut Friday. Vokoun (3.80, .903) hasn't received a lot of support. The Panthers welcomed Clemmensen by allowing a season-low 27 shots.

It's been a rough year for fantasy first rounders.

This is over-simplifying things a bit, but it can be argued that the easiest pick you'll make in a fantasy draft is your No. 1 selection. Generally only a few players fit as acceptable picks at each draft slot, and the anticipated production difference between those players is negligible. So even if you make the "wrong" call at, say, No. 7, it's not like you're making an irrecoverable error. The real tough decisions come in the middle rounds where it's possible to select a future waiver cast-off two picks before the next breakout star flies off the board.

But where are the sure-thing first-rounders in 2009?

Looking back at the Friends and Family baseball draft in March, the first round was a minefield. David Wright, Jose Reyes, Grady Sizemore, Josh Hamilton and Alfonso Soriano each left owners at a distinct disadvantage. You can overcome one bad break, of course, but it's worth noting that owners making the picks above finished no better than fifth (it should come as no surprise that the last-place finisher was responsible for taking Soriano and B.J. Upton at the turn). Underachieving to lesser degrees were first-rounders Jimmy Rollins and Ian Kinsler, who both experienced precipitous drops in batting average.

Our 2008 draft contained only one obvious mulligan, and even that pick (Soriano) packed 29 homers and 75 RBIs into 109 games.

Now let's fast-forward to August. How many owners out there would like a do-over on their first-round football pick? Back to Friends and Family land, no fewer than seven of the top-14 selections have to be considered busts to this point. Back in 2008 only Tom Brady and Joseph Addai were total fails, and both were injury related.

So where does all this leave owners of Roberto Luongo(notes) (.870 save pct.), Ryan Getzlaf(notes) (0 goals), Tim Thomas(notes) (2-3-0), Jarome Iginla(notes) (4 points in 8 games) and anyone else (that means you, Vincent Lecavalier(notes)) who might be underachieving? Well, nowhere, really. Thomas is a self-described slow-starter. Iginla scored three goals in a 19-game span a year ago and still finished as the 18th most valuable player in fantasy leagues. Eric Staal's(notes) slow start this year (2 points in 7 games) looks a lot like his start from 2008-09 (10 points in 19 games).

If these players stay healthy, the production will come around. The worst part of these slow starts should be the buy-low offers that may be flooding your inbox. Dry spells come with the territory in hockey leagues more than any other fantasy sport. Some will come in February, others in October. So what was the point of this exercise? I don't know. Just an observation. Let's get Skinny …

We'll tally hits and misses here every Monday. Last week's semi-endorsement of Steve Bernier(notes) in the wake of Daniel Sedin's(notes) injury certainly lands in the minus column. Bernier did extend his point streak to four games with an assist Friday in Calgary, but at least for now he's not a top-6 forward for the Canucks. Saturday against the Wild it was Mikael Samuelsson(notes) joining Henrik Sedin(notes) and Alex Burrows(notes). The second line was an intriguing speed unit (see below). Bernier did play 15-plus minutes Saturday, but for now the speculative add is Samuelsson, who took five shots and scored a goal to extend his point streak to five games (3 goals, 3 assists).

If you're an Alexander Frolov(notes) owner, you can react to news of Monday's benching one of two ways. The positive takeaway is that players often respond favorably – from a statistical standpoint, anyway – to being a healthy scratch. Frolov could very well return focused and motivated. But if you read coach Terry Murray's comments at lakingsinsider.com (link above), he paints a picture of a careless, lackadaisical player who has frustrated coaches, GMs and teammates for years. Murray sounds like a coach who has had enough. This situation might require more than one night in the press box to smooth over. Think about packaging Frolov in a trade offer if he responds with a short-term bump in energy.

One-timers: Preds captain Jason Arnott(notes) will miss 1-2 weeks with an upper-body injury suffered Sunday. … According to Newsday, Frans Nielsen(notes) will start on a line with Kyle Okposo(notes) when the center returns from injury. … San Jose started with Ryan Vesce(notes) at right wing on a line with Joe Thornton(notes) and Dany Heatley(notes) on Monday. … Milan Lucic(notes) is out of action for 4-6 weeks after finger surgery. … Ryan Kesler(notes), Mason Raymond(notes) and Michael Grabner(notes) combined for 17 shots for Vancouver on Saturday. It's a line worth watching. Kesler (37-percent owned) had eight shots and his third goal in four games. … Good news for Tomas Vanek owners considering the early word on the injury, he should be back no later than Saturday. … Dustin Penner(notes) (43-percent owned) has six points in three games for the Oilers. … Ales Kotalik(notes) has points in six of seven games for the Rangers.

BARGAIN BIN: Top player available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
Marc-Andre Bergeron(notes), D, Mon (3-percent owned) – Bergeron is expected to play about 14 minutes on Tuesday as Paul Mara's(notes) defense partner. More importantly, the Canadiens are counting on Bergeron to jump-start a power play that has converted on just two of its last 22 chances. Last season with Minnesota the 5-foot-9 rearguard tallied 14 goals and 18 power-play points, numbers that no doubt helped a few championship teams from the D3 or D4 position. Bergeron has kicked around, yes, but it's a low-risk move if you cast aside your worst defenseman and there is considerable upside here on a power play that has had its share of recent success.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Anton Stralman(notes), D, CLS – The Jackets are hoping Stralman can energize their power play, so the club was understandably excited when he scored with the man-advantage Tuesday. He's only four games into his Columbus career and he has missed some practice time dealing with some family immigration issues, so take a wait-and-see approach before test driving him as a D4 or D5.

Jamie Benn(notes), LW, Dal – We've already gotten a taste here, with Benn posting six points in seven games playing on a line with Brenden Morrow(notes) and Mike Ribeiro(notes). Benn should have more to offer, however. Morrow is urging the rookie to shoot more, according to the Dallas Morning News. Benn scored 46 goals in 56 WHL games in 2008-09. Through seven games with the Stars he's taken more than two shots only twice.

Gilbert Brule(notes), C, Edm – In the post-hype file, there are similarities between Brule and Flyers defenseman Matt Carle(notes). Both debuted in 2005-06 as high draft picks carrying expectations of filling a glaring need (Carle a puck-moving defenseman in SJ; Brule the Jackets' No. 1 center of the future). Both were gone after parts of three seasons with their respective clubs and both were essentially written off as fantasy assets shortly thereafter. Well, here we are in 2009-10 and Carle is 81-percent owned in Yahoo! leagues and Brule has seven points in seven games for the Oilers. The fantasy masses haven't taken notice yet due to the depth of talent at center, but that recognition might not be far behind.

Matt Moulson(notes), LW, NYI – The Isles are doing some line shuffling but it appears that Moulson isn't going anywhere. He'll remain the team's No. 1 left wing alongside John Tavares(notes). The former 9th-round pick has goals in three straight and four of five and is tied for fourth among all left wings with 26 shots on goal.

Carlo Colaiacovo(notes), D, Stl – At least for now, Colaiacovo has bumped Erik Johnson(notes) from the No. 1 power-play unit in St. Louis. We've seen pockets of production from Colaiacovo in the past (four-game power-play assist streak last season), but nothing sustained. He had a power-play goal Saturday and has points in three straight.

Brendan Morrison(notes), C, Was – It's all about the Ovechkin push here. Since joining Ovie and Mike Knuble(notes) on the Caps' No. 1 line, Morrison has chalked up three helpers in two games.

Patrick O'Sullivan(notes), LW, Edm – He has only one goal in seven games, but the Oilers are happy with his play and if you believe those who observe this team on a daily basis, it's only a matter of time before some of his chances result in goals. A good buy-low LW2 or 3.

Jason Demers(notes), D, SJ – If you missed out on Michael Del Zotto(notes) and Kyle Quincey(notes), Demers might be the next best up-and-coming defenseman to grab. He's not getting a lot of pucks on net (just six shots in nine games), but he hasn't looked out of place at all distributing the biscuit both even strength and on the power-play. Demers picked up two assists Monday in New York and now has six helpers (three on the power-play) in those nine games.

Ilya Bryzgalov(notes), G, Pho – Bryz was 26-22 with a .921 save percentage for the Coyotes when he was acquired during the 2007-08 season. Last year was a loss, obviously, but Dave Tippet is pushing all the right buttons in the desert and Bryzgalov has posted a 5-1 record while facing more than 30 shots only once. This start could be for real.

Radim Vrbata(notes), RW, Pho – He may remain an effective spot play from time to time this season, but a five-game pointless streak serves as a reminder that he's not a legitimate RW option in shallow formats.

Yahoo! Friends and Family League update
It's still Tony from the Fantasy Hockey Café atop the standings, and again shutouts have played a key role (he got another one from Brygalov, giving him a league-high three). This week's virtual callups included Matt Gilroy(notes), Matt Carkner(notes), Tomas Holmstrom(notes), Patric Hornqvist(notes) and the rehabbing James Wisniewski(notes).

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