Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Fantasy Guide 2013

Just in time for fantasy season, here is my fantasy guide for 2013. I was going to do a top 5 for each, but there were too many young players I thought were ready for big seasons. When talking about break out players I avoid choosing rookies, and keep in mind I'm not saying to complete avoid my under-performers, just be wary. Enjoy.

Top 10 Break Out Players

Viktor Hedman (TB)
Hedman is entering his fourth full year in the league, and is poised to solidify his spot as Tampa Bay's #1 defenseman. The 6-6 220 pound Hedman has increased his points per game(PPG) totals each season (0.27, 0.33, 0.38) and expect that trend to continue. Like many players on this list, Hedman has been a beneficiary of staying active during the lockout and it has really helped his offensive game; posting an impressive 21 points in 26 KHL games.

Semyon Varlamov (COL)
Another player looking to continue his hot play from the KHL is Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov has been on fire since last year's All-Star Break posting a 0.928 save percentage (sv%) in the last 23 games of the season. He followed that up with a World Championship gold medal where he went 8-0 with a 1.77 GAA and 0.939sv%. So far in the KHL, Varly hasn't slowed down putting up a 1.74 GAA and 0.946sv%. The numbers don't lie, and if he can remain healthy the 24 year old could begin to establish himself as one of the game's top goaltenders.

Jakub Voracek (PHI)
Voracek is a player that I have been waiting to break out for the past few seasons. The former 7th overall pick is entering his 5th season in the league and second as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. The biggest advantage Voracek will have this year is replacing Jaromir Jagr along side Claude Giroux. He has put up 20 points in 23 KHL games this year and look for him to carry that momentum into this season to put up a career high in PPG - somewhere in the realm of 0.8.

Jamie Benn (DAL)
Some people may think that the next few players already had their breakout seasons last year. While that is true in some respect, I think it was just a sign of what's to come. Jamie Benn is one of those players. Not only does this guy contribute on the scoreboard, but he hits, fights and plays a 200 foot game. He put up 63 points last year and like Hedman has increased his PPG totals in each of his first three seasons (0.5, 0.81, 0.89). I expect that trend to continue centering a line between Loui Eriksson and Jaromir Jagr. Look for him to (at least) hit the 1.0 PPG mark, while establishing himself as one of the best all-around centers in the league.

John Tavares (NYI)
John Tavares is already considered one of the top players in the league. However, I think this year is when he enters the Giroux, Stamkos, Crosby and Malkin level as one of the league's elite. He has consistently increased his PPG stat from 0.66 to 0.85 to last year's high of 0.99 with 81 points in 82 games. He has done all of this with virtually no help on Long Island. I expect this upward trend to continue because he can create offense on his own. He has not been idle over the lockout, tearing up the top league in Switzerland and if there were an 82 game season he would be flirting with the elusive 100 point marker; over 48 expect around 55 points.

Gabriel Landeskog (COL)
Gabriel Landeskog had a big year in 2012. Not only did he have an impressive rookie year that earned him the Calder Trophy, he was also named the youngest captain in NHL history in the offseason when Milan Hejduk stepped down. Some might consider this a lot of pressure for such a young player, but like Jonathon Toews I believe he is the type that will thrive in the role. After starting out slow (on the score sheet) last season, Landeskog put up 25 points in the last 30 games. I don't see him exploding offensively, but continue scoring at a similar clip. I see him ending up in the 38 point range in this shortened season while doing everything else on the ice.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson (PHO)
Oliver Ekman-Larsson might be the best kept secret in the league. The former 6th overall pick is only entering his third full season but is already one of the best young defenseman in the game. Although many young Swedish defenders get the "Niklas Lidstrom" comparison, he might be the only one that deserves it. He really emerged last season putting up 32 points for the Coyotes and was an important part of them reaching the conference finals. In 20 games this year in the AHL, Ekman-Larsson has amassed 21 points. Look for him to continue his hot play and put up close to 0.5 PPG for the Yotes this year.

Dmitri Kulikov (FLA)
Kulikov is another defender from the 2009 draft poised to have a big season. Unlike his counter parts he hasn't been lighting up the KHL when it comes to points; but his contribution is felt in other areas. He did manage to put up 28 points in 58 games last season and that pace could be eclipsed given more power play time with Jason Garrison gone. Like Ekman-Larsson, he is hidden in a small market but is another guy who will be a big part of his team's success this year and will emerge as a top young defenseman.

Roman Josi (NSH)
Keeping with the trend of young defenseman in larger roles, look no further than Roman Josi. Josi will be given the tough task of replacing Ryan Suter along side Shea Weber. The Swiss defender put up 40 points in his first season in the AHL and 16 points in 52 games for the Preds last year. Like Kulikov, I'm not expecting any outrageous numbers but with an increased role as well as powerplay time, I do expect him to become a household name and play very well next to Weber.
Jordan Staal (CAR)
Last but not least, Jordan Staal is an obvious choice for breakout player of the year. The talented center has been stuck behind the two best players in the league his whole career thus far, and has still managed to put up impressive point totals while in a defensive role. Now in Carolina with his big brother Eric, look for the former #2 overall pick to drastically increase his point production with more ice time and skilled line mates like Jeff Skinner. If anyone doubts his ability to score, just look at who the Penguins passed over to pick him in the 2006 draft- Jonathon Toews and Niklas Backstrom.

Honorable Mentions: Cam Atkinson (CLB) , Travis Hamonic (NYI), James van Riemsdyk (TOR), Slava Voynov (LA), Jake Gardiner (TOR)

Top 5 Bounce Back Players

Matt Duchene (COL)
Matt Duchene looked poised to have huge offensive numbers last season after putting up 67 points the year before, but bad luck with injuries and chemistry with team mates held him to only 28 points in 58 games. Duchene has used last season's woes as a learning experience for what it means to be a professional, and look for him to have a big year. He has been active playing in Sweden and Switzerland, and was named the Spengler Cup's best center over players like Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron and Jason Spezza.

Patrick Kane (CHI)
Most players wish that they could consider 66 points to be an off year like Patrick Kane's 2012 season. The talented winger was forced to play center for a portion of the year with Jonathon Toews out with injury, and it clearly hurt his numbers. With a healthy Chicago lineup I expect him to at least go a PPG, and we will see if he can eclipse that mark for the second time in his career.

Mikko Koivu (MIN)
Another player ravaged by injuries last year, Koivu was only able to play in 55 games for the Wild where he amassed 44 points. In a regular 82 game season, the center is always good for ~ 70 points, but expectations are higher this year. Playing between Zach Parise and Dany Heatley, Koivu finally has some help on the wings and I expect him to hit a career high in points and really get noticed as one of the best two way centers in the league.

Alexander Ovechkin (WSH)
Ovechkin is a wild card heading into this year. While everyone knows what he is capable of, his numbers have been on a steady decline since the 2009/10 season mainly due to predictability in his game. However, the entire Capitals organization has been a roller coaster the past few years and with Adam Oates behind the bench and the addition of Mike Ribeiro to spread out the offense, I think OV can get back on track. He has also been playing in the KHL this season, with 40 points in 31 games. I won't make any point total predictions, except that his production will increase.

Ryan Getzlaf (ANA)
The 27 year old Getzlaf is not only one of the most purely skilled players in the league, but he is also entering the prime of his career. The only thing that has ever been in question is his motivation during the regular season. After putting up over a point per game for the previous 4 years, Getzlaf's production fell to a career low last season. The fact that he is an unrestricted free agent this summer and playing for a contract means he should have no shortage of motivation this season. Look for him to return to form with 1.0+ ppg numbers.

Honorable Mentions: Bobby Ryan (ANA), Jeff Carter (LA), Drew Doughty (LA), Alex Semin (CAR), Mike Green (WSH)

Top 5 Under-Performers

Erik Karlsson (OTT)
I'm still upset that a defenseman that does not play on the PK won the Norris last year. I have no doubt that Karlsson will put up points, just do not expect a repeat year out of him. A defenseman has not led the league in scoring for his position for back to back years since Mike Green in the 2008/09-2009/10 seasons. Given the fact that Ottawa's depleted blue line will mean more defensive responsibility for Karlsson and that the opposition will begin to make him a main part of their game plan, it will likely lead to a drop in his numbers.

Joffrey Lupul (TOR)
Joffrey Lupul hit a career high in points last season playing along side Phil Kessel. I don't think that the chemistry is going to be completely lost between them, but I'm not sure he will be able to repeat his 2012 campaign. He has battled injuries throughout his career, and in Carlyle's system he will be forced to play a defensively responsible game. Don't rule out the chance of van Riemsdyk replacing him on the top line if the Leafs struggle to score early on.

Brian Elliott (STL)
Brian Elliott went from zero to hero last season after bouncing around from Ottawa to Colorado and struggling heavily in the process. His career high save percentage jumped from 0.909 to an astounding 0.940. I don't doubt Hitchcock's system will lead to more solid numbers for the netminder, but I do not see him getting as many starts in this shortened season, and struggling to repeat his stellar performance in the games he does play.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM) 
I will probably get a lot of flack for this pick, and I will be the first to admit my fault if I am wrong. However, I just have this feeling that Nugent-Hopkins has sophomore slump written all over him. Do not get me wrong, he is an amazing player who will have a great career, but sophomore slumps do happen. With the amount of inexperience on this Edmonton team combined with lofty expectations, there is a lot of pressure on Nuge. Like Karlsson, teams will no longer be surprised by his skill set but instead design their game plans to defend him. Not only that, but I expect this shortened season to be a much more defensive, physical brand of hockey more akin to the playoffs. He has yet to play a full injury free season in professional hockey (hurt in the AHL earlier this year), and this type of hockey could get him off his game. He will still put up points, but rather than a PPG pace I'd expect more in the 35 point range.

Andrei Markov (MTL)
No real surprise in this selection. Markov has not been able to play more than 45 games since the 2008/09 season. When healthy, he is a top defender in the game, but with his age and injury concern he is a real risk to pick in any fantasy draft. With P.K. Subban's contract dispute not looking promising, he will be depended on even more for the Canadiens and that will mean more attention from the opposition.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Effects of a Shortened Season

Hooray! The lockout is over!!...  So why is everyone left with a bad taste in their mouth? After a ridiculous 113-day work stoppage that should have been over months ago, the best hockey league in the world is ready to get back on the ice. Thinking about the CBA for so long has given me a headache, so let's get to some actual hockey talk. Here's a look at how a shorted NHL season will affect teams.

The 48 Game Schedule Format

The format for the season is very interesting, given that they will eliminate inter-conference games. Each team will play two of their division 'rivals' 5 times, the other two 4 times, and the remaining 30 games will be divided equally between the 10 other conference opponents. This is a messy schedule that will have huge playoff implications (I'll be the first to tell you the predictions I made in the offseason will be way off). For example, the Maple Leafs would much rather play their extra divisional games against Montreal or Ottawa, not Boston or Buffalo. How does the league determine how to split up these games? Ultimately, this format will benefit teams that perform well against division rivals, and hinder those who beat up on inter-conference opponents. Here is a breakdown of each team with the extreme ends of the spectrum emphasized (Green - benefit, Red - hindrance):

Standings (2011/2012)
Vs. Division
Vs. East
Vs. West
New York Rangers*
Boston Bruins*
Florida Panthers*
Pittsburgh Penguins
Philadelphia Flyers
New Jersey Devils
Washington Capitals
Ottawa Senators
Buffalo Sabres
Tampa Bay Lightning
Winnipeg Jets
Carolina Hurricanes
Toronto Maple Leafs
New York Islanders
Montreal Canadiens

Standings (2011/2012)
Vs. Division
Vs. East
Vs. West
Vancouver Canucks*
St. Louis Blues*
Phoenix Coyotes*
Nashville Predators
Detroit Red Wings
Chicago Blackhawks
San Jose Sharks
Los Angeles Kings
Calgary Flames
Dallas Stars
Colorado Avalanche
Minnesota Wild
Anaheim Ducks
Edmonton Oilers
Columbus Blue Jackets

  • The West really beat up the East last year, with only 3 Western Conference teams going below .500 against East opponents 
  • Colorado seems to lose the most from this new setup, whereas Calgary are the largest beneficiaries 
  • If you take out games against the East, Dallas and San Jose would have swapped positions in the standings; with the Stars in the playoffs 
  • Though the Blues did very well last season, they struggled against their division and many of their points were from beating the East
  • Even in the toughest division in hockey last year, the Rangers still dominated 
  • Even though they finished last in the conference, the Canadiens managed to perform well against divisional opponents 
  • The difference in teams that perform well against inter-conference teams but not so well against their own division/conference is mainly due to poor coaching

The abbreviated season will have the largest impact on those bubble teams fighting for a playoff spot, and the schedule makes these races even more interesting. In the East, the Jets fared well against their division but the immense distances they will travel in comparison to any other team could be the difference in earning a few important points. Because of the format, it's unlikely that tough divisions like the Atlantic and Central will once again have 4 teams make the cut again (I'm looking at you New Jersey and Nashville); so look for an extra Northwest and Southeast team to get to the dance this year. Age and chemistry are other factors to consider. Although my summer predictions saw Detroit missing the playoffs, I think the short season will allow for less wear and tear on their veterans and lead to success. If youthful teams like the Avalanche and Leafs get off to a hot start, they can secure a playoff appearance early despite consistent late season woes.On the contrary, a team with a lot of new acquisitions like Dallas could stumble out of the gate while attempting to develop chemistry. Being a bubble team without much room for error, this could leave the Stars on the outside looking in.

Just some food for thought as we prepare for the season beginning January 19th. Next week (in time for Fantasy Hockey) I will have a look at which players will break out in 2013, and which will bounce back from less than stellar 2012 campaigns.