Kevin Brown

In The Crease

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It's Always Miller Time!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


As always, here is my bi-weekly collection of notes, observations and opinions:

The news--actually the lack of news--coming out of Pittsburgh regarding Sidney Crosby is disconcerting, to say the least. I'm certainly no closer to the situation than the countless reporters and columnists that have covered it, but from where I sit, the fact that there is no defined timetable for his return means we shouldn't count on him making a return this season. If you're trying to acquire Crosby, my advice is to try and get him at a significant discount due to the risk involved and to prepare yourself for the worst-case scenario. I'm not advocating avoiding him altogether because there's significant upside potential if he returns, but there's a price at which the risk is worth taking.

Call me stubborn, but I'm continuing to wave the flag for James van Riemsdyk. No, his production hasn't taken off the way I expected when I recommended him in this space a few weeks ago, but I remain optimistic. Although he doesn't get top power play minutes, JVR has consistently played alongside talented linemates for the past few months so I think he's set up to succeed. He's still a buy for me.

The return of Vinny Prospal to the Rangers' lineup is being described by many as the catalyst the team needs to kick start the offense, but I'm just not buying it. I'll admit Marian Gaborik has struggled this season and part of that may be due to the absence of his running mate, but the notion that Prospal is the key to the Rangers' offense is way off base in my opinion. Coincidentally, I'm optimistic about the Rangers' chances due to their depth up front, but Prospal is only a small part of that. The emergence of young guns Mats Zuccarello, Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan is the real reason to like this gang of Blueshirts.

After beginning the season with 16 goals and 40 points through his first 42 games, Dustin Byfuglien hit a major rough patch and subsequently went 13 consecutive games without recording a point until he scored a power play goal against Toronto on Monday. There's a fair debate to be had about Byfuglien's value as an NHL player, given his one-dimensional style, but I think his fantasy status is undeniable. Playing alongside a fantastic playmaker like Tobias Enstrom on the Thrashers' power play puts Big Buff in a great situation and there's no reason to think he can't continue firing slapshots past vulnerable goalkeepers at an astounding rate. Hopefully, his recent slump has depressed the price enough for him to be acquired on the cheap.

I have long been a proponent of looking at a player's shooting percentage to uncover over and undervalued commodities with the expectation that the percentage will eventually regress towards the mean, but there are exceptions to this strategy. It stands to reason that a player's shooting percentage on the power play will be higher than at even strength due to the increased number of scoring chances with the man advantage. And a player who suddenly receives more power play time than normal should be expected to maintain an increased shooting percentage. A great example of this is Andrew Ladd, who entered this season with a career shooting percentage of 10.7% in 321 games. His current rate of 13.6% would typically be viewed as an aberration, but the fact that he's been a mainstay on the Atlanta power play for the first time in his career is enough for me to think this could represent his new baseline shooting percentage.

While I've made my feelings clear about the Rangers' forwards, there's no question the glaring need for this team is a power play quarterback. John Tortorella has acknowledged this and it highlights the reality that Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy have been unable to fill this role despite the opportunities they have been given to do so. Like many young defensemen, it's reasonable to think it may take a few years before these young blueliners get fully accustomed to the NHL game, but more was definitely expected of them than they have delivered this season.

It was nice to see Cody Hodgson finally make his NHL debut with the Canucks after the All-Star break. He is one of the most talented prospects in hockey, but a variety of injuries have conspired to slow his ascent through the ranks. Provided he can stay healthy, I'm still very bullish on Hodgson's career potential and his current lack of ice time with Vancouver does not dissuade me whatsoever. He'll need some time to adjust to the pro game, but once he gets over that hump, I think he'll be a great addition to an already-solid Canucks roster.

With the injuries sustained by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, it's assumed that youngster Dustin Jeffrey will be given every opportunity to step up and become a focal point of the Pengins' offense, but I'm not so sure of that beyond the next few weeks. I think Jeffrey's prospects as a NHL player are very encouraging, but since Pittsburgh sees itself as a Stanley Cup contender right now, I'd be willing to bet that GM Ray Shero makes a move to acquire an offensive player who will take away some of the minutes earmarked for him. Some of the names being talked about as available commodities are Alexei Kovalev, Mike Fisher and Jason Arnott and it wouldn't surprise me to hear that any of these players was being acquired by the Penguins.

Has anybody taken notice of the fact that Ryan Miller has started 29 consecutive games (and counting) for the Sabres? The next longest such streak in the NHL this season was a 14 game stretch for Jimmy Howard in Novemeber/December. If that's not an indication of coach Lindy Ruff's lack of trust in backup Patrick Lalime, I don't know what is. I know it's easier said than done, but wherever possible, situations like this one should be exploited in your fantasy league. For example, if one was to project the performances of Miller and Henrik Lundqvist for the remainder of the season, it would be easy to say that both are starting netminders and should therefore play a similar number of games, but that would not be true. There's no question King Henrik will get more nights off than Miller from here on out and coupled with the fact that Buffalo currently holds four games in hand on the Rangers, it's reasonable to think Miller could make as many as eight more starts than Lundqvist between now and the end of the season. This is the type of edge you can use to your advantage in your quest for fantasy league supremacy. Just remember where you received such useful advice.





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