We've reached the quarter-pole of the NHL season. Do you love the new NHL – your NHL, if you will – or do you hate it? Conventional wisdom says scoring is up, so everyone is happy. Not so. And it's not just goalies who are raising a stink. Detroit captain Steve Yzerman is the latest high-profile star to counter the goals-are-good logic.
"It's not hockey," Yzerman told the Detroit Free Press. Sure his comments came after a tough loss, but he's not the only established veteran who thinks referees should have some discretion when enforcing obstruction. He has no tolerance for zero tolerance. Sorry, Steve, but you won't find many allies on the fantasy front. Fantasy games are based on stats, and the game is decidedly more compelling when stats are actually accumulated. You can actually make up a deficit in all scoring category these days and – get this – there is legitimate help available on the waiver wire.
WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days
Mark Bell narrowly missed a hat trick on Nov. 13 when he shot wide at an open net late in a 3-1 win over Edmonton. Bell, a physical forward more accustomed to time in the penalty box than curtain calls, hasn't missed much since. He scored two more goals Friday and added a goal and two assists Saturday as Chicago won back-to-back games in Calgary and Edmonton for the first time since 1995. In his past six games, Bell has six goals, three assists and a plus-6 rating.
The rest of Bell's line is sizzling, too. Winger Kyle Calder has six assists and is a plus-7 in his past three games. Then there's Rene Bourque, who scored twice Saturday, including the game-winner, after assisting on two tallies the night before. Bell is regularly logging 18-20 minutes per game after beginning the season as a 10-14 minute guy. Chicago has been decimated by injuries this year, particularly at the center position. Expect Bell and his mates to continue to see increased ice time and productivity.
Normally, a few nights off is the last thing you want when you're on one of those can't-miss streaks. For Shawn Bates, the NHL's leader in shooting percentage and one of the league's hottest snipers, a little rest might be just the tonic. Bates scored two goals at Florida Saturday, giving the center eight goals and two assists in his past seven games. Unfortunately for the Islanders, he left the game late in the third period after a collision with Martin Gelinas. He was on crutches after the game, nursing what the team is calling a hamstring injury.
New York is off until Wednesday, so it is possible Bates won't miss any game action. As of Sunday Bates, was owned in fewer than 10 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Linemate Jason Blake is owned in roughly half of all leagues, but both remain solid fantasy bargains. Blake has benefited from Bates' hot streak with five points in three games, including two assists Saturday.
In fantasy football circles, there is a lot of talk about handcuffing on draft day. The logic being that if you have a No. 1 running back with a questionable performance or injury track record, you can't afford not to own his backup. Normally the same doesn't hold true in hockey. An established No. 1 goalie is going to start 60-plus games, leaving only 10-20 games for a backup, hardly enough to justify a roster spot.
Things are different this year. More shots, more rebounds and more traffic in front of the net have all added up to make the crease a dangerous place to set up shop. Officials are beginning to crack down on goalie interference, but we'll still likely see a record number of goalie games lost due to injury. And physical problems aren't the only thing forcing fantasy owners to scramble to acquire backups. There have been struggles, too. Most recently Peter Budaj moved back into a time-share with David Aebischer in Colorado. Hannu Toivonen should see increased time in Boston. And there are health issues with starters in Washington and Anaheim. Don't hesitate to dedicate your No. 3 goalie spot to a backup. Ray Emery, anyone?
BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
- Chuck Kobasew, RW, Cal
When you think of top-line forwards, the name Chuck Kobasew probably isn't the first to come to mind. His career numbers (10 goals in 93 games entering the season) scream checking line. But the speedy winger recorded 38 goals last year in the AHL and now finds himself opposite Jarome Iginla on Calgary's featured line. He's more than justifying the promotion. Kobasew scored a goal Friday, his fifth tally in the past six games. As long as he keeps pressuring the net – he is averaging 4.7 shots in his past seven – you can expect him to maintain that scoring pace.
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Brian Sutherby, C, Was – He didn't score a point in October, and by the end of the month he was logging a mere six minutes per game. Suddenly among team leaders in ice time for forwards, Sutherby is a scoring machine. He scored twice Saturday and now has seven points in his past six games.
Alexei Zhamnov, C, Bos – He played the best game of his young season Sunday, recording an assist in 14:38 of ice time. Projected as Boston's No. 2 center before injuries delayed the start of his season, he now has points in back-to-back games.
Alexei Ponikarovsky, LW, Tor – This physical winger took a season-high six shots Saturday, finding the net twice and adding an assist. He has four goals in his past six games and appears to have found a home on the Jason Allison line.
Justin Williams, RW, Car – With goals in three straight games and points in four straight, Williams is lobbying for more ice time in Carolina.
Brian Campbell, D, Buf – Campbell has at least one power-play point in five of nine November games. He scored two goals Thursday on a season-high six shots.
Pierre Turgeon, C, Col – He hasn't averaged a point per game since 2000-01 with St. Louis, but the Colorado veteran is on that pace so far this year. Turgeon scored two goals Saturday to run his current point streak to seven in three games.
Mikko Koivu, C, Min – You may remember that Koivu won the No. 1 center job in training camp before injuries delayed the start of the season. Well he's back now, and he recorded three assists Saturday. He also scored his second goal of the season in his previous start.
Milan Hejduk, RW, Col – Hejduk scored a goal Thursday, but the tally represented only his fourth point in nine November games.
Sean Hill, D, Fla – After matching a career-high with 13 goals last season, Hill was a popular defenseman on draft day. So far, he hasn't matched those lofty expectations. Hill has only two points in November and no goals overall this season.
Steve Sullivan, RW, Nas – Like many in the league, Sullivan has been slowed by a groin injury. He missed Nashville's past two games and is considered day-to-day.
Marco Sturm, LW, SJ – He's been shuffled between lines frequently as coach Ron Wilson continues to search for a combination that complements his speed. The search goes on, as Sturm hasn't scored since Oct. 26.