Fantasy Hockey: Survival Of The Fittest
by George Kurtz
Hockey is really the forever Fantasy season. Its actually longer than baseball season by a couple of weeks, although, the fact that teams dont play every day will make it seem much longer. Ive been playing Fantasy Hockey since 1992, thats 21 years for the mathematically challenged, and I can honestly never remember another season when it seemed like there was a sniper picking off goaltenders. Ive devoted quite a few words to goaltenders in this column recently, and I have also admitted that if I was lucky enough to still have two healthy goaltenders (Im not), I would seriously think about claiming their backups. Roberto Luongo was just the latest net minder to go down, as he went on IR Friday with, what else, a groin injury. His injury now makes it six of the Top 10 goaltenders (Jimmy Howard, Sergei Bobrovsky, Corey Crawford, Pekka Rinne, Jonathan Quick, and Luongo), at draft time, that are currently on the IR. This doesnt even include several other backstops: Craig Anderson, Henrik Lundqvist, and Braden Holtby, that have played so poorly this season that they have been losing time to their backups. It really has been a mess between the pipes, and you have to wonder if thats going to change any time soon. One would think this will open up the trading floor in the NHL, but before you start thinking that someone like a Ryan Miller could end up on a better team, thus making him more valuable; remember, all of the injured goaltenders mentioned here should be back within the next two or three weeks.
Is there a team that is more beat up injury-wise, right now than the Penguins? At one point, they lost four of their top six defensemen including Kris Letang. Letang was a Top 5 pick at defense this season, who was off to a slow start anyway (6G, 5A) but his loss is still being felt. Evgeni Malkin who has been out of the lineup now for a little over a week is especially frustrating for Fantasy owners, as he was just starting to play like the Top 4 pick he was this season. As if that werent enough, Pascal Dupuis was lost for the season with a torn ACL this week. Now, Dupuis isnt a superstar like Malkin or Sidney Crosby, but his loss will still be felt.
Speaking of injuries, the probable Fantasy MVP so far this season, Alexander Steen, was just put on the IR due to a concussion. Steen has 24 goals and 38 points this season. Hes the MVP of the first half because no one saw this offensive output coming. In most drafts, he was taken after round 10 and was paying off handsomely, but now we will have to wait for his concussion symptoms to subside and like with most head injuries, there is no timetable for his return.
The outdoor games are set to begin this week. Now, I love these contests and they are fun to watch, but for those who are wondering: you should not be making any lineup decisions based on whether or not a player is participating in the classic, start your normal lineups.
For those Fantasy owners looking for an update on Steven Stamkos: he looks good, his rehab is ahead of schedule, but hes still not expected to return until after the Olympic break. Team Canada will more than likely add Stamkos to their lineup so if youre an optimist, Stamkos should be ready to hit the ground running when the NHL schedule kicks off again in mid-February.
The Islanders Ryan Strome may have been a hot pickup in your league when he was finally called up by the Islanders two weeks ago but the Isles have buried him on the third line where he has accumulated one point in five games. Im not saying you should release him, but you should certainly temper your expectations. If the Isles arent going to surround him with talent, hes not going to do very much for them or your Fantasy team. Players in keeper or dynasty leagues should be much more patient with Strome than those in redraft leagues, as he still has a bright future.
Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer have sort of been running 1A and 1B in goal but its starting to look like Bernier is pulling away and will become the true starting goaltender for the Leafs. Im not saying you should be rushing out to acquire him as this team has plenty of defensive issues and Berniers ratios will suffer because of it, but if you were debating between the two, not you know which one you should be targeting.
Zach Parise was placed on IR Saturday with what looks like a re-aggravation of his foot injury. If you remember, Parise took a puck off the foot a couple of weeks ago and it was originally thought that he would be out of the lineup for a few weeks but he miraculously returned after missing just one game. Well, this is what happens when teams or players rush back before truly healthy, they get injured again, and now he is back on the IR although it doesnt look to be a long term stay.
Jimmy Howard looks like he should return from the IR on Monday for Detroit, but before you automatically put him back in your lineup, Id check on what the latest news is as far as how Detroit will use him. Howard wasnt playing well before he got hurt and Jonas Gustavsson was eating into some of his playing time. Detroit is far from a great team in this day and age and they likely will be in a fight to make the playoffs all season long, they cant afford to let Howard work out his kinks, they will have to play the goaltender that gives them the best chance to win.
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