Kevin Brown

In The Crease

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Don't Bench Your Enforcer!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


As always, here is my bi-weekly collection of notes, observations and opinions for you to digest at your leisure.

What to make of Marian Gaborik? Entering this season, Gaborik was a pretty easy player to project. Sure, he had a history of missing long stretches of time due to injury, but few players in the league were more explosive when healthy. This season, however, the Rangers' sniper has recorded just 31 points in 38 games, numbers that are propped up by his five point outburst against the Maple Leafs last week. Remove that game and his stats look downright dreadful. If Gaborik were to finish the season with less than a point per game, it would be the first time this has happened since his 2003-04 campaign with Minnesota. A common argument put forth by Gaborik apologists to explain his struggles is the fact that he isn't surrounded by any major talent in New York but I don't buy that, since he has played his entire career in essentially the same situation and has managed to produce in spite of this. Due to his long track record of success, I'm inclined to think Gabby will revert to the player we're used to seeing after the All-Star break, which means he should be very productive – or he'll be injured. There's obviously some risk involved, but I think it's a good time to buy.

If you decide to catch a few Rangers games in order to do your own scouting of Gaborik, another player to keep an eye on is Mats Zuccarello-Aasen. The undersized Zuccarello is a very exciting player to watch and his skill level is immediately apparent when you watch him. While he started the season in the AHL, the Rangers' dearth of talented forwards makes it almost certain that the Norwegian will be with the big club for the remainder of the season. He's worth a pickup if your team is in need of a quick scoring boost.

Another young player I have been very impressed by this season is Jeff Skinner. Despite his relative youth, the Hurricanes forward displays a level of creativity and patience few veterans possess. There aren't many weaknesses in the rookie's game and he has shown he is equally capable of distributing the puck as he is of depositing it into the back of the net. He'll continue to be a useful player this season, with a chance at super-stardom in the future. If you're in a keeper league, he should be at or near the top of your list of players to target.

Is anyone else just a little bit concerned about Jimmy Howard? After finishing last season on an incredible hot streak and starting off this year in similar fashion, it wasn't that long ago that Howard was being referred to as The Next Big Thing in Motown. But as his save percentage gradually tumbles down towards .900, the Red Wings may not have as much confidence in their number one goalkeeper as they once did. Prior to sustaining a groin injury, Chris Osgood seemed to be stealing the occasional start from Howard and the Wings' more recent attempt to sign Evgeni Nabokov could be a telling indicator that they aren't comfortable riding him through the season. Before the overreacting begins, I'd like to make clear that I don't think Howard days in Detroit are numbered just yet and I'm not advocating you trade him for whatever you can get. A well-timed hot streak could definitely quell the fears about his ability to carry the load, but I do think Howard's long-term job security is a notch below that of other franchise goalies, such as Henrik Lundqvist, Jonas Hiller, Marc-Andre Fleury, Carey Price and Ryan Miller, to name a handful. If given the option to move Howard for one of these goalies, I would endorse the move.

If your fantasy squad isn't lucky enough to own a top-tier goaltender like the ones I mentioned above, this issue can be solved in one of two ways. The first, most obvious solution is to make a trade, but due to the scarcity of premier netminders, it's often difficult to acquire one without agreeing to relinquish your first born child. If you have found this to be the case, a strategy I recommend employing is to stockpile backup goaltenders and wait passively for a starter to get injured. Depending on the size of your league, it's quite possible Anders Lindback, Andrew Raycroft, Jonathan Bernier and Jason LaBarbera are sitting unclaimed on the waiver wire. This tactic is very similar to the football strategy of acquiring multiple backup running backs and viewing each of them as a lottery ticket with the potential for future returns. While the chances of any particular player being thrust into a starting role are typically slim, by grabbing a number of these types of players, you're increasing the likelihood that one could pay off.

It's astounding to me that Teemu Selanne has been able to maintain his level of production this far into the season. With 45 points through 43 games, the Finnish Flash has been one of the NHL's biggest surprises this season. What's not surprising is that nearly half of his points have come with the man advantage; in this situation he is one of the most dangerous operators around. Selanne has been very open about the fact that he is strongly considering retirement at the end of this season, but I see no reason why he can't continue to be a force on the power play for a few more years if he decides to return.

As my colleague Brett Lockwood pointed out in last week's instalment of In The Crease, the inclusion of penalty minutes as a standard scoring category has brought a number of unlikely players into consideration for fantasy owners. My advice for adding an enforcer to your lineup is to choose a player and stick with him. The reality is that many of the league's most penalized players accumulate their minutes in bunches due to misconduct calls, which are virtually impossible to predict. Sean Avery is a great example of this. From October 24th to November 11th (10 games) the Rangers' pest amassed a grand total of four PIMs. On November 14th, he was given17 minutes for various infractions and five days later he received another 10-minute misconduct in a game against the Avalanche. Had you decided to remove him from your lineup after his dry spell, you would have missed out on the outbursts that followed. There's truly nothing more frustrating than seeing an enforcer you just removed from your lineup rack up PIMs your team won't get credit for. Save yourself the aggravation and don't try to over-manage your squad.




Kevin Brown is fantasy hockey writer for Rotoworld. You can find him on Twitter @kbrownroto.
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