NHL hockey is back! It’s prime time to get your fantasy picks locked and loaded.
This year the best Canadian NHL players will compete for the Cup and also have a chance to defend Olympic hockey gold.
Anatoliy Metter – The Hockey Writers
Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins – C)
What else can be said about Sid the Kid that hasn’t already been said before? The Penguins’ superstar will undoubtedly be a consensus number one overall pick for many fantasy managers on draft day, and there is certainly no reason to see otherwise. As long as Crosby stays relatively healthy, he should be a safe bet to register anywhere between 90-100 points for fantasy managers lucky enough to draft or acquire him through the trade market.
Last season, Crosby put up 56 points (15 Goals, 41 Assists, 124 SOG, +26, 17 PPP) in 36 games played and would have arguably had more if not for suffering a broken jaw that required him to miss a substantial part of the lockout shortened season. Even though staying healthy has been a problem for Crosby over the last couple of seasons, hockey fans must also remember that the Pittsburgh captain has been a bit unlucky as well. Not many will refuse drafting Crosby with the number one overall pick, but if fantasy managers get a chance to pick the forward in any further slots, then they surely shouldn’t hesitate to hit the ‘draft’ button.
John Tavares (New York Islanders – C)
Over the last four years, John Tavares has been developing into an NHL superstar. Not only has Tavares built up his point totals over each of his four seasons, he has garnered the respect and ears of his fellow players through his actions on and off the ice – something that helped the centerman earn his captaincy. Fantasy managers who have owned Tavares and seen the forward’s feats know exactly what the 23 year old is about.
During the 2012-2013 NHL season, Tavares amassed 47 points (28 Goals, 19 Assists, 162 SOG, 16 PPP) and finished just shy of being a point per game player. While Tavares might not have had an overwhelming amount of points, hockey fans shouldn’t forget that the forward was also one of the three finalists for Hart Trophy honors and could mean just as much to his fantasy team as he does to his physical team. With Tavares’ stock rising every year, fantasy managers should absolutely keep the Islanders’ centerman queued up in their top ten list as he will likely go higher and higher with every passing draft year.
Claude Giroux (Philadelphia Flyers – C/W)
Claude Giroux’s name continues to be mentioned in discussions that focus on the most underrated players in the NHL. Over the last three years, Giroux has quietly played himself into an integral role with the Philadelphia Flyers, and fantasy managers are definitely starting to take note. Not only has Giroux been at least a point per game player over the last two seasons, he has only missed five total games since the 2009-2010 NHL season.
Although the Flyers missed out on the postseason last year, Giroux still had a stellar campaign posting 48 points (13 Goals, 35 Assists, 137 SOG, 21 PPP) in 48 games played. Despite the fact that the Flyers did not have the season they were hoping to have in a lockout shortened year, fans should expect Giroux to enter the ’13-’14 NHL season with the same tenacity that he always has as the captain of the Flyers will do everything in his power to bring his team back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Much like Tavares, Giroux’s value has been increasing in fantasy leagues every season, and his dual-position eligibility makes him that much more of an enticing pick in the first round of fantasy drafts.
Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks – C)
Jonathan Toews certainly put up a noteworthy ’12-’13 NHL regular season for the Chicago Blackhawks en route to the team’s Stanley Cup Championship run. Similarly to the previous three offensive members of this list, Toews is also the captain of his team, and he sure handles his responsibilities as a captain both on and off the ice. As a matter of fact, Toews has been one of those rare players that has applied a “no-nonsense” approach to his job since he started playing in the NHL.
One only has to look at Toews’ resume to understand what kind of talent the centerman possesses as he has never scored less than 54 points in a season where he has played in at least 60 games. Toews’ 48 points (23 Goals, 25 Assists, +28, 143 SOG) from ’12-’13 NHL season were very well balanced and there is no reason for fantasy managers to think that the center won’t reproduce such statistics over a full season’s worth of work. Toews is another candidate to be selected in the first round of many fantasy drafts, and fantasy managers would be wise to keep track of the center’s availability with each passing pick as he can be an anchor for any team that selects him.
Kris Letang (Pittsburgh Penguins – D)
With defenseman such as Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Weber, P.K Subban, and a slew of other talented blue-liners looking to make Team Canada’s 2014 Olympic roster, it was hard to single out Kris Letang. However, the d-man is certainly not undeserving of the selection as he has set the bar for offensive defensemen over the last three years. Even though Letang only played in 35 games last year, he managed to accumulate 38 points (5 Goals, 33 Assists, 95 SOG, +16, 13 PPP) and averaged more than a point per game while missing a fourth of the abbreviated NHL season – a feat that is certainly worth mentioning as there aren’t many defensemen that could sustain a point per game scoring pace.
Fantasy managers that have an opportunity to select Letang should certainly do so as it is more than likely that the defenseman will be a hot commodity on draft day. While Letang has missed portions of the last two NHL seasons, there should be no reason for fantasy managers to shy away from choosing the defender.
Steve Laidlaw - Dobber Hockey
Taylor Hall (Edmonton Oilers – LW)
Considering he is a former first overall selection, Hall doesn’t get the respect he deserves. Barring injury, he is a lock to make Team Canada but there aren’t too many people who see it that way. Obviously he will have to prove himself again this year, which could be fantastic news for your fantasy squad. Hall has already proven that he has top 10 potential. He proved as much finishing ninth in scoring last season. There are caveats that go with that – the main one being sample size issues – but you cannot ignore that potential exists.
Last season’s 48 game campaign raises questions of whether or not Hall can maintain that pace for an 82-game season. Considering how mediocre the Oilers offence was last season (18th in scoring) and how downtrodden they were with injuries (11th most man-games lost) you can’t really say that Hall was propped up by his teammates last season.
You also can’t argue that Hall was the beneficiary of too many good bounces considering he shot 10.4% last season, which is actually below his career average of 11.9%. The only real way to criticize Hall’s scoring from last season is to point out that he only had to play half the year. Considering in Hall’s previous full-seasons he only skated in 65 and 61 games respectively, you have to consider injury a concern. You can’t ignore that Hall has yet to play an 82-game schedule. With a potential Olympic appearance thrown in it could be too much hockey for Hall to stay perfectly healthy. But it’s worth the risk because Hall is an elite talent.
Logan Couture (San Jose Sharks – C)
He may not have the name power of some of the Sharks’ better known forwards but Couture is probably San Jose’s best at this point. Don’t be surprised if he is the only Shark chosen to represent Canada in Sochi. Yes, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle are all Olympic veterans and still productive enough to warrant consideration. Couture is now better than them all. The Sharks made this very clear when they chose to extend Couture’s contract this summer, while Thornton, Marleau and Boyle all appear set to hit unrestricted free agency after this season. Age is obviously a factor as well but the Sharks want Couture to be their franchise player going forward because they believe he is ready for that responsibility.
Couture’s two-way game is his biggest strength, which may ultimately restrict his fantasy upside. However as a two-time 30-goal scorer entering just his fourth NHL season there is strong evidence to believe that Couture has more to offer than his career high of 65 points thus far. Having those veterans around for one more season can only help. Their presence really does not restrict Couture’s offensive opportunities and given they still have gas left in the tank they should hopefully help San Jose’s offense rebound from last season when they finished 24th. There are no guarantees that this will be a breakout year for Couture but with the carrot of an Olympic spot being dangled in front of him, he may just come out extra motivated.
Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars – C)
If you’re looking for a sleeper who did not appear on Canada’s Orientation Camp Roster but could force his way onto the team, you will definitely want to take a look at Jamie Benn. Benn is a physical specimen, in the mould of a young Joe Thornton. Ultimately he may not ever be as dominant as Big Joe but Benn has the size, skill and vision that make him an imposing player to go up against. Benn has been saddled with playing center in Dallas the past couple of years but with Tyler Seguin being added this summer Benn will be able to move back to his natural wing position. Seguin isn’t the only new player in Dallas. The Stars also added veterans Rich Peverley, Shawn Horcoff and Sergei Gonchar along with new head coach Lindy Ruff to their young roster.
All these changes could lead to some initial growing pains but the result should be a much more competitive and higher scoring roster. This could help push Benn to the point-per-game mark for the first time in his career. Benn is certainly ready to do so as he has all the tools – he may just need a push in the right direction.
Rick Nash (New York Rangers – LW)
Nash has a long history of competing for Canada and will almost certainly be on the team going to Sochi in 2014 but also has an even longer history of disappointing fantasy poolies. To be fair, Nash has a career average of 0.82 points-per-game, which is nothing to shake your fist at, except that Nash has potential to do so much more. We want Nash to be great but he has never been anything more than good. His best season (2008-09) saw him score 79 points, good for 18th in the league in scoring and every other season has been even more disappointing.
Enter new Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. The former boss of the Vancouver Canucks credited for unleashing the Sedin twins a few years ago through his extensive use of line-matching and offensive zone starts. If Vigneault attempts a similar strategy with Nash we could see a similar transformation.
If Nash is ever going to be anything more than good, the time is now.
P.K. Subban (Montréal Canadiens – D)
Subban had better be on your fantasy radar after he led defensemen in scoring en route to winning the Norris Trophy, despite holding out to start the season missing six games. He is absolutely the type of player you want on your team. However there are some reasons to be skeptical about the feisty blue-liner:
Subban has never scored at an elite level before. That’s fine but Subban wasn’t necessarily lucky to score at the rate he did. He’s an extremely talented player who was put into positions to succeed and he did. He didn’t shoot an extraordinarily high percentage while on the ice and neither did his teammates. Subban did benefit from Montréal’s elite power play (fifth in the league at 20.7%) scoring 26 of his 38 points with the man advantage last season. He probably cannot maintain a 2:1 ratio of power play points to even strength points. Of course, Subban is and will always be a part of that Montréal power play and in fact, he is an integral part with his dynamic skills, big shot and smart playmaking. Subban makes the Montreal power play as much as it makes him.
On Thursday, Olympic.ca’s Asif Hossain was joined by senior writer with CBC Olympics Mike Brophy (CBC.ca), Steve Glynn from the Steve Dangle Podcast (stevedangle.com) and Anatoliy Metter, NY Islanders correspondent for thehockeywriters.com on a Google + Hangout (follow Canadian Olympic Team on G+) to discuss Team Canada.