James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Chris Pronger dodges a bullet

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Someone made an interesting point on Twitter last night: NHL owners should be the ones who make visors mandatory to protect their expensive investments in players.


Fantasy owners probably wish that visors were mandatory across the board, too. Dealing with injuries ranks high alongside “actually setting your roster” on the universal list of fantasy hockey pet peeves. Eliminating at least one way in which a key player can suddenly be lost for the season – if not their careers – would surely go over well with most of us.


There was a very real feeling that Chris Pronger’s career might be over at 37 years old because of what happened last night. Mikhail Grabovski caught him with a high stick that left the Philadelphia Flyers captain screaming (literally … people could hear his groan of agony during the live telecast) and forced him to make a bee-line toward the locker room. Many wondered if Pronger would suffer the kind of eye injury that forced his former teammate Al MacInnis into a premature retirement. In a bigger picture way, others even worried that his vision would be impaired for the rest of his life.


A lot can change once the swelling goes down and doctors take another look at things, but the indication is that Pronger is OK. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren even hoped that he could be back within two weeks, but fantasy owners would be wise to plan for him to miss more.


Pronger isn’t exactly Mr. Popular, but his blend of scoring and cruelty (aka penalty minutes) have made him a fantasy gem for more than a decade. It’s good to see that he’s almost certainly eligible to remain that way after that frightening close call.



Don’t penalize Phil Kessel for getting the bounces. Instead, you should praise the Toronto Maple Leafs sniper for displaying the cold-blooded cunning to take advantage of his opportunities.


A positive break helped Kessel get a great chance against the Flyers last night and the NHL’s leading scorer made no mistake about it. Sergei Bobrovsky really had no chance as Kessel increased his league-leading goals total to nine and points to 15.


The smart money is still on Kessel slowing down a bit, but there’s plenty of reasons to expect 40-50 goals and 70+ points. Considering where he went in most drafts, Kessel could be the guy who swings a huge number of leagues in 2011-12.



James Wisniewski probably already felt wanted when the Columbus Blue Jackets overpaid to acquire his services. Now he must feel desperately needed after the team went a pitiful 0-7-1 while he sat out a heavy suspension for his late hit on Cal Clutterbuck.


The bottom line is that fantasy hockey owners don’t need him to make the Blue Jackets a winner. Instead, they just want him to generate his fair share of power-play points alongside Rick Nash (and eventually Jeff Carter).


Expecting 50+ points again is a bad idea – always fear the mirage of a contract year. Still, the sheer fact that Wisniewski will be a go-to guy means that a 40-point pace is reasonable; keep in mind that his ceiling is obviously lower after he missed almost 10 percent of the 2011-12 season off the bat, though.


If Wisniewski is available in your league, by all means give him a shot. He’s certainly worth an early look as a depth guy with the potential to be a catalyst on offense. (That plus/minus probably won’t get much better on the embattled Blue Jackets, though.)



If you’re looking for a short-term fix in net, Jacob Markstrom might be an interesting pickup. He made all 18 stops in the third period against the New York Islanders Saturday and then stopped 40 out of 41 shots against the Montreal Canadiens last night.


Just be careful about getting too attached, though. The Florida Panthers could easily send him down once he reaches that entry-level deadline of nine games played; after all, they have the incentive to do so since Scott Clemmensen would create a “three’s a crowd” scenario whenever he returns from his injury.


If all things were equal, he’d be pushing Jose Theodore for the starting job, though. It might not happen that way, but he has some serious upside if you’re careful about monitoring his situation. Who would have thought that the Panthers would provide a strong option so soon after Tomas Vokoun left this summer?



It took Jaromir Jagr eight games to score his first Flyers goal, but he did it style. In fact, he scored two breakaway goals last night and also added an assist.


After that explosion, Jagr is second on the team in scoring with seven points. Most importantly, Jagr is averaging almost four minutes of power play time per game, which ranks just a few seconds behind top scorer Claude Giroux.


Jagr's total minutes per game (15:44) shows that he blends in a bit to the Flyers’ big fleet of forwards, but fantasy owners should be happy with the spry 39-year-old’s solid start and all those man advantage opportunities. We’ll see if he really has something going with Scott Hartnell, too; the mop-headed irritant scored two goals and an assist of his own against the Maple Leafs.



The Chicago Blackhawks aren’t the only team that might use a top American winger as a center in this early season. Zach Parise is also rumored to get some time at the pivot, which makes some sense since the New Jersey Devils are hurting at center and boast an excess of wingers in Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias.


It’s all about Parise winning the proper amount of faceoffs, because he seems like the type of guy who would handle the increased defensive responsibilities quite well. Consider this a “B+” idea; most fantasy owners probably don’t want to see a top-30 pick see a drastic change, but if anyone can handle it, it’s Parise. (Especially if this means he'll line up with Kovalchuk on most shifts.)



Let’s hope that Max Pacioretty’s “upper body injury” has nothing to do with that Zdeno Chara incident from last season – rumor has it it’s only an elbow issue … David Backes said he plans on playing Wednesday, which is great news unless that exposes him to an increased chance of re-injury … Daniel Alfredsson is day-to-day with a  hip issue, which in no way makes me want to crack old man jokes … Zbynek Michalek could be out for six weeks, which is a bigger deal in real-life than it is in fantasy, although it opens the door for other players to shine in Pittsburgh … Mike Green is an offensive assassin, but he finds himself on the shelf more than most would like. He’s day-to-day with an ankle injury this time around ... James Reimer is supposedly “close to 100 percent,” which means he could be back again by Thursday, but stay tuned. (Click here for the full injury list.)



Teams are about to face that point in which they must decide to either demote a rookie after his ninth game or burn that first entry-level year by keeping them with the big clubs. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has justified his 2011 top pick status so far with seven points in as many games, but the Edmonton Oilers still face a tough choice regarding the 10-game deadline. Expect them to keep him around, even if it means that the team will face expensive near-future summers when Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and other prospects ask for their dreaded second contracts.

James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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