Fantasy Hockey: Late Round Sleepers

The fantasy definition of “sleeper” is an under-the-radar draft pick with a lot of potential. Every year, there are several players that you kick yourself for allowing to slip past you. It happens to us all. We forget about the trade or signing that sets a player up in a perfect situation, or a young player ready to make the big leap from 30-35 points into the 55-60 range. Bottom line? Do your homework!

Here are five I’m keeping a close eye on in the coming days:

Patric Hornqvist, RW (Penguins): Talk about leaving the Nashville outhouse and entering the Pittsburgh penthouse! Hornqvist has been underrated in fantasy for the last several years because of playing in the offensive hockey version of Siberia known as Nashville. Hornqvist is projected to play on a line centered by Evgeni Malkin, and in all likelihood, play on Pittsburgh’s #1 power play unit. For a player that has scored 35% of his career points on the man advantage, the former Predator could be in for the best season of his career. Look for Hornqvist to blow his single-season career high of 53 points completely out of the water. Oh yeah, he plays with a little sandpaper too, so he’s got a legit shot at 50 PIM. My projection: 33 goals, 35 assists, +15, 20 PPP, 245 SOG, 38 PIM

Loui Eriksson, LW (Bruins): Someone will slide very comfortably into Jarome Iginla’s open wing spot next to David Krejci and Milan Lucic, and who better for the job than the slick, 29 year-old Swedish winger who is only two years removed from a streak of four consecutive 25-goal seasons and three straight 70-point campaigns? He missed more than 20 games this past season with injuries, including a nasty concussion courtesy of Brooks Orpik. A healthy season from Loui could result in a possible return to the 70-point range. Eriksson has fantasy steal written all over him, so draft the winger in the ninth round and beyond in standard drafts. My projection: 28 goals, 38 assists, +25, 13 PPP, 185 SOG

Chris Stewart, RW (Sabres): Remember him? Players like Stewart are extremely rare in fantasy hockey: 50+ point and 125+ PIM potential. Stewart fell way out of favor in St. Louis under Ken Hitchcock and was shipped to Buffalo. His arrival in Buffalo was to a rudderless ship, and his fantasy value plummeted accordingly. New season, new start, Stewart has big power forward upside, and that can be very tempting for fantasy owners if he is on his game. Depending on linemates (projected to play with Matt Moulson and Tyler Eniss on Sabres’ top line), Stewart is a low-risk, high-reward investment at the end of your draft. Another important factor for Stewart heading into 2014-15: he’s an unrestricted free agent (UFA). Those three letters, when put in acronym form for professional athletes, means monster performance = monster contract. Pair Stewart’s abilities with his contract status, and very few NHL players have the boom-or-bust capability like Stewart. My projection: 27 goals, 25 assists, -7, 13 PPP, 115 PIM, 185 SOG

Christian Erhoff, D (Penguins): Another new addition to the Penguins’ lineup (Like Hornqvist) that will see a nice jump in fantasy value due to an address change. I think we can all agree Pittsburgh is not Buffalo; for that reason, Erhoff should see a substantial bump right across the board in all statistical categories. Now toss in the potential to play on a top pairing with Kris Letang and also see significant time on the Pens’ #1 power play unit, and the 32 year-old German becomes a very attractive pick for your fantasy blueline. Draft him anywhere in rounds 12-14 and watch him blossom into a top-20 fantasy rearguard. My projection: 13 G, 36 Assists, +5, 17 PPP, 42 PIM, 174 SOG

HoltbyBraden Holtby, G (Capitals): What, you thought I was gonna forget to include a goalie in my sleeper picks? Not a chance! New Caps’ head coach Barry Trotz has officially handed the #1 backstop job to Holtby, and at 25, he is poised to take control of it this year and several more. Another promising sign for Holtby was the hiring of goalie coach Mitch Korn, who was the Predators’ goaltending coach for the past 16 years alongside Trotz. Korn has a way with goalies and should be able to get Holtby back on track. The overall commitment to team defense from Trotz and his staff can only help Holtby return to his 2012-13 season of a .920 Saves Percentage. He finished last season as the 30th ranked fantasy goalie; that will not happen this year. Look to draft him anywhere around the 10th round, and sit back and enjoy his climb into fantasy hockey’s top 15 goalies. My projection: 36 wins, .920 SV%, 4 Shutouts, 2.52 GAA

Statistical credits: ESPN.com, CapGeek.com
Photo cred: isportsweb.com, bleachereport.com, gettyimages.com, USAtoday.com and CSNwashington.com

Derek is The Sports Script’s resident fantasy hockey guru. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @Sons_of_Fuller!

In The Crease: Goaltender Handcuffs

Priest Holmes/Larry Johnson, Ladanian Tomlinson/Michael Turner, Arian Foster/Ben Tate; the term “handcuff” is synonymous to fantasy football players. It is now no different in fantasy hockey. Gone are the days of goalies making 75 starts in a single season, it just does not happen anymore. The physical taxation on the body due to the butterfly position style necessitates that goalies get their proper rest, and having a competent backup is a must. Prior to your upcoming draft, let’s take a look at 3 potential goalie handcuff pairings that could bring you success throughout the season. Not only could you benefit from both goalies, but you may also be able to take advantage of great value in the mid to later rounds with both the starter and backup.

Brian Elliott/Jake Allen (St Louis): This is the perfect example of a handcuffing situation that could be a big hit this season. The veteran Elliott and the up and coming youngster Allen. Elliott will be the starter, coming off a great year with a 1.96 GAA and .922 SV%, but he is best served in slightly better than small sample sizes. His career high in starts is 48 in 2009-10 with Ottawa; the 2014-15 St Louis Blues are a far superior team to that Senators squad, as they bring back essentially the same lineup from last year’s 111 point team (add in strong two-way possession center Paul Stastny). If Elliott gets 45-50 starts, look for a slight regression in his SV% (career of .911), but the wins will be there as well as excellent shutout opportunities; in the last 3 years, he has 16 shutouts in 81 starts, better than 1 in every 5 starts.  The 24-year-old Allen earned AHL Goalie of the Year honors in 2013-14 while playing for AHL Chicago, where he went 33-16-0 with a 2.03 GAA and .927 save percentage. His numbers were predictably less impressive in a 15-game cameo with the Blues in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, but he’s developed significantly since then and should make for a good spot start option most any time he’s guaranteed to be in the net.

Handcuff Potential: This is a 5-handcuff goldmine; the Blues should win anywhere from 47-52 games. Draft both with confidence of those numbers, plus chip in 8-10 team shutouts and this handcuff pair is well worth it.

Ben Scrivens/Victor Fasth (Edmonton): Everyone in the fantasy hockey community is well aware of Ben Scrivens and possibly the greatest fantasy start ever:

However, Scrivens is much more than just a one-hit wonder. He’s a quality goalie with a career .917 SV%. The problem for him and Fasth will be the stigma of playing for Edmonton, an abysmal possession team that most nights seemed to have almost no structure in their defensive end. Compare Scriv Master B’s statistical splits with Edmonton and the Kings:

Team:               GS:            GAA:                 SV:               SV%:

LA                      15             1.97                 432                  .931

EDM                  20             3.01                 679                  .916

Yes, LA is the defensive-minded and advanced statistical possession team Edmonton’s front office only dreams of being, but from a Yahoo! standard scoring perspective, Scrivens is actually not a bad, late-round option. He averaged seeing 28 shots/game for the Kings, and 34 shots/game for the Oilers. Take out the 59 save gem, and it’s still 32 per outing. So, he will see plenty of rubber regardless, and the Oilers, believe it or not, should be much-improved in their own zone, adding possession darling Mark Fayne on the blueline. Their Corsi numbers should improve from 28th in the league to somewhere in the low 20’s, which could mean a slight dip in shots on goal, but the win total for the team could see a spike from last years paltry 29. Scrivens has potential for 20-25 wins.

Victor Fasth is a definite wild card heading into 2014-15. He came into the NHL later than most goaltenders, but has shown plenty of talent and poise. After pushing Jonas Hiller for a starting job in his rookie season with Anaheim, Fasth dealt with injuries before being traded to the Oilers in 2013-14. He played only seven games in net for the Oilers, but put up better numbers than Ben Scrivens (2.73 GAA and .914 SV%). At 32, Fasth should expect to see 30-35 starts and could potentially beat out Scrivens. The two will battle for the starting gig, and could end up in a timeshare.

Handcuff Potential: Both will see their fair share of rubber regardless of who is playing, and fantasy value comes into play only if  the Oilers become a much better defensive team. Both should be available some time after round 10, so the gamble may be worth while.

Frederick Andersen/John Gibson (Anaheim): This another high-profile goaltending duo that warrants careful monitoring during training camp. Both Andersen and competitor Gibson ended up surpassing incumbent Jonas Hiller on the depth chart for the Ducks during the postseason, but Andersen suffered an MCL sprain in round 2 against the Kings that allowed Gibson to leave the lasting impression (3-0, 1.33 GAA .954 SV% in regular season action & 2-2/2.59/.919 vs LA). Andersen, however was nearly as good as Gibson over a much larger sample of last season (20-5-0 with a 2.29 GAA and .923 save percentage). The greater amount of experience confers an early advantage to Andersen in the job battle, but whomever opens the season as the No. 1 goalie will largely earn the gig based on training camp performance. Gibson is the future, and if you can, draft/stash him in keeper formats, but Andersen has done nothing to convince me he won’t be fighting for a starting gig with the Ducks this season. And, based on his rookie numbers as Jonas Hiller’s backup this past season, he deserves a shot.

The Ducks’ coaching staff may just have to choose their ‘tender based on mask creativity; Gibson (left) and Anderson (right).

Gibson MaskAnderson Mask

Handcuff Potential: This battle is right up there comparable to St. Louis, based on Anaheim being a superb regular season team that had 116 points last year and added Ryan Kesler. The only red flag to me is that Andersen could very well seize the starting gig and see 57-62 starts, leaving Gibson as a true backup. But if you can get Andersen — and Gibson for that matter — late enough in a draft as a No. 3 and No. 4 goaltender, you could hit a fantasy goldmine should one emerge over the other.

Other Potential Duos:

Robin Lehner/Craig Anderson, Ottawa

Anton Khudobin/Cam Ward, Carolina

Jonathan Bernier/James Reimer, Toronto (Aren’t there always goaltending issues in Toronto?)

Marc-Andre Fluery/Thomas Greiss, Pittsburgh (Keep an eye out on this one)

Antti Niemi/Alex Stalock, San Jose (Just like in Pittsburgh, the longtime starter could be unseated)

Good luck!

Statistical credits: thehockeynews.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/0Kk4n8 (Gibson mask), http://goo.gl/xp11HU (Anderson mask)

Derek is The Sports Script’s resident fantasy hockey guru. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @Sons_of_Fuller!

Stanley Cup Finals Preview

Finally, the Stanley Cup Finals are upon us. After months of frustration due to a fruitless lockout, a shortened regular season, and intense playoffs, we finally see the culmination of this season. From the Western Conference we have the Chicago Blackhawks, champions from three years ago and the number one seed in the West. From the Eastern Conference we have the Boston Bruins, champions from two years ago and the number four seed in the East. This matchup consists of 2 of the original 6 teams in the NHL, the first time since 1979. Lets take a quick look at some keys to this series.

Both teams in this series have shown amazing resiliency and fortitude to get to where they are now. The Blackhawks were all but finished in the Conference Semifinals to the Detroit Red Wings when they went down 3-1, but managed to force and win a game 7 to take the series. For the Bruins, things almost ended in the first round to the Toronto Maple Leafs after they had surrendered a 3-1 lead of their own. They were down 4-2 in game 7 with only a few minutes remaining. As we all know now, they completed one of the greatest single game comebacks in NHL history after they tied things up and sent the game into overtime where they won 5-4. I’ll give the advantage in grit and determination to the Bruins, as that’s what this team is built off with players like Chara, Bergeron, Krug, Lucic and Marchand.

Stanley Cup in Hockey Hall of Fame

Stanley Cup in Hockey Hall of Fame (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In terms of offense and the ability to score at will, the Blackhawks should have the advantage; as they were the second best offensive team in all of hockey this year with 3.1 goals per game. Patrick Kane found his scoring touch again after a hat trick against the LA Kings in game 5, and the likes of Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa providing offense as well, they should be good for goals. As for the Bruins, they will need to rely upon Chara and Seidenberg to try to slow down the Hawks top line, and limit their scoring chances, which is easier said than done.

Speaking of defense, I’d give that advantage to the Bruins as they have shut down the top lines of the Rangers and Penguins respectively in the last two series. So much so in the last series that Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla and Kris Letang did not register a single point among themselves. That’s arguably the two most talented offensive players in the league in Crosby and Malkin, completely shut down. Much will be expected out of Patrice Bergeron and the other talented two-way forwards on the Bruins as well, in shutting down the vaunted Blackhawks offense.

Goaltending is an advantage I also give to the Bruins. We saw Tuukka Rask dominate the Penguins last series, recording two shutouts, and allowing only two goals total in the four game series. Rask can thank his defense partly for that, as it was definitely a great all around team effort to stop the Penguins offense, but Rask was beyond superb. Corey Crawford has been no slouch himself! He has been very important to the Blackhawks success so far, but his impact has not been as dramatic as Rask’s. Goaltending is the most important aspect in a Stanley Cup championship run and if the Bruins want to get back to the mountaintop, they will need to continue to rely on Rask.

Now onto coaching, where I see a clear advantage for the Blackhawks. Joel Quenneville hasn’t been anything revolutionary in his time as Blackhawks coach, but it’s on the Bruins side where problems can really be seen. Claude Julian doesn’t have the greatest reputation, as he has made some questionable calls including splitting up Chara and Seidenberg earlier in the playoffs. While he has won a Stanley Cup himself, he isn’t the most trusted coach in the league and is prone to questionable decisions.

In conclusion, we’re seeing two very different teams with two very different styles of play clashing. While the Blackhawks like to open space up and score at will, the Bruins like to slow play down and be very physical, at times even just beating up their opponent, essentially what they did to the Penguins. The Bruins should have a ton of confidence when it comes to shutting down top-notch offenses as they did to the Penguins last series. The Blackhawks themselves have dealt with stingy defenses and succeeded as evident when they beat the Kings in only five games. My predication for this series is the Boston Bruins in 7 games, as they take home their second Stanley Cup in three years.

Debate On Concussions Needs Action

Two standard hockey pucks

Two standard hockey pucks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Being from Canada, I am naturally a big Hockey fan. Like most, I was first exposed to the sport as a child and remember the other kids talking about, and cheering for their favorite teams. Unfortunately, my Mother being from England sent me to school in a Flyers jacket. The problem was you see, that I was born and raised in Southern Ontario, home of the beloved Toronto Maple Leafs. Of course I took some ribbing through the years, but I want you to know, that I’m still a loyal Flyers fan.  I’ve always been a fan of Hockey’s physicality, as I have been a Broad Street Bully fan some 40 years.

I think we can all remember certain stars falling to career ending injuries before our very eyes.  Concussions’ happening in the world of contact sports is inevitable. Take Sidney Crosby for example. To try to discount the possibility of concussions in the World of Sports is naive. We’ve had enough talk and studies about this subject, and now is the time for action.

As I have noted my age, I’m sure you can realize that I have seen my fair share of players having to leave the game, but only recently due to concussions. In the greater part of the 70’s and 80’s, the medical field as not as well informed about concussions as they are today, and I mainly remember numerous shoulder or “upper body” injuries that might have been concussions in all reality. We can see the resistance from some in the NHL, more notably the Head Coach of the Maple Leafs, Randy Carlyle, who believes a lot of players are having these issues due to the equipment. The opinions of those such as Coach Carlyle are being swept under the carpet. I honestly do not remember the rash of shoulder and elbow injuries that would warrant such body armor, or as I like to call it, weaponry.

The sticks and equipment for the most part have evolved, but nothing has become more dangerous to the game than the way that shoulder and elbow pads are being worn. Do we really know what is being worn under players’ jerseys these days? Goalies already have their equipment measured by the NHL, but the same does not go for the other players on the ice. In an age of no accountability, it is important that before they even lace up the skates, these players know the damage that could be caused. So please do not try to tell me about “innocent hits” or “the particular way you caught a player” and feel absolved.

In Boxing and the UFC, athletes are inspected for illegal objects and/or equipment, before they’re allowed to enter the ring. After their events take place, the fighters are asked to submit their gloves for inspection because in this day in age, there is no code of conduct or ethics. We would have never come across “loaded” boxing gloves if there wasn’t a need for regulation and I believe the same circumstances should happen in hockey, especially for defensive players. What was wrong with the older shoulder pads, that protected a player, and never had an epidemic of shoulder injuries to require titanium steel anything. Take the armor and weapons off these goons ASAP!

I challenge Gary Bettman and Brendan Shanahan to discuss this with me at their convenience. I will be forwarding this to the NHL headquarters, and as many Hockey related media outlets as I possibly can.  I will also continue my campaign until this is addressed. Enough is enough; all players should be inspected before they enter the field of battle.

Dan Russell

danrusell67@Twitter