So I assume everyone else ranked Phil Kessel
over Alex Ovechkin
and the Sedin twins, right? Well, at least you took Nikolai Khabibulin
over Roberto Luongo
? Yeah, I didn’t either. It’s only natural that some players will get off to hot starts and exceed our collective expectations in the process. However, while a lot of those players will fall back to Earth as the season progresses, not all of them will. So which of these hot starters are the real deal, and which of those should fantasy owners be looking to sell high? And more importantly, if you are going to trade any of them, what should you expect in return? We’ll address those questions in this week’s In The Crease.
– LW/RW – Toronto Maple Leafs
From a fantasy perspective, Lupul has actually been roughly on par with his linemate, Phil Kessel
. Through Sunday’s contests, he has five fewer goals, but one more assist, and 20 extra PIMs. Also, unlike Phil Kessel
, Lupul is someone who might have slipped through your draft entirely, making whomever had the foresight to pick him up early, a very happy poolie. Lupul has gone from never getting more than 28 goals and 53 points in a single season to already recording 10 goals and 25 points in just 21 games. So now is the time to sell, right? Well...depending on your competitors, probably not.
Buying low and selling high is a very basic concept and everyone is looking to do it. But in order to get real value for a player, it’s not enough for him to be exceeding expectations; you also have to find a trading partner who thinks the hot player can maintain his current pace. In the case of Lupul, we don’t think many of you will find such a person. What’s important right now is that you don’t settle for a guy who will probably finish with 55-65 points just because you think Lupul has peaked. He probably has, but he’s still a reliable scorer and he’s cemented his spot on Toronto’s top line. A 30-goal, 70-point season should not be seen as unrealistic at this stage and if you’re looking to trade him, then that’s the kind of a value you should be looking for in return. You probably won’t get it, but all that means is you’ll have Lupul for the foreseeable future, and that’s not a bad thing.
– RW – Toronto Maple Leafs
Let’s get our Toronto players out of the way early. Kessel has had hot starts to the season before, but none as great as this. Although Kessel has been an extremely streaky scorer in the past, he has been nothing but consistent this season. Through 20 games he’s only been held off the scoresheet in four games and his longest goalless streak was four games from October 30th through November 5th – and he still got three points in that span. From my perspective, the key difference between Lupul and Kessel is that more people will regard Kessel’s run as believable. He established himself as a great scorer even before this season began and a 35-40 goal season didn’t seem like a ridiculous prediction over the summer. That being said, Kessel, like Lupul, has probably peaked and while we fully believe he will have a great season, we also anticipate him having a significant cold streak at some point. We’re looking at 70 or so points from Kessel this season. In contrast to Lupul, it’s likely plenty of fantasy owners would question that assertion and say Kessel is worth more. Kessel is not the kind of guy you want to get rid of just for the sake of making a deal, but if you can find someone who is willing to give up a top-tier player for him, then do so. If nothing else, you’d be giving up a bit of a gamble for a safer bet.
– C/LW – Dallas Stars
Ultimately, there are two kinds of hot starters: the players who shock the hockey world with their performances and the sleepers who finally awaken. Benn belongs in the second camp. Last season, when he was a sophomore, Benn’s encouraging play made it possible for the Stars to deal away James Neal
, in what turned out to be a good trade for Dallas. Benn moved up in the depth charts with Neal gone and has been putting up point-per-game numbers since. Benn is only in a mini-slump right now with just one assist in his last five games and the Dallas Stars as a whole have taken a step back. Some fantasy owners might take that as a sign that Benn’s coming down to Earth. Don’t be one of them. Although we will concede that Benn has probably outperformed a little, it’s not by as much as you may think. A 70-point season is within Benn’s reach and for that reason, we’d be very reluctant to recommend trading him.
– C/RW – Boston Bruins
Last season, there was plenty of hype surrounding Seguin, but we cautioned that, given how deep the Bruins were, Seguin probably wouldn’t get the playing time necessary to have much, if any, fantasy relevance. That’s pretty much how things played out and Seguin ended up with 11 goals and 22 points while averaging 12:13 minutes per game. Seguin did give us glimpses of what he’s capable of, especially early in the Bruins’ playoff series against Tampa Bay, but he was also inconsistent. That’s the story of most young players and with that in mind, we’re reluctant to jump on the Seguin bandwagon, even now that he’s getting more minutes. Don’t get us wrong, we think when the dust settles on the 2011-12 season, Seguin’s numbers will still be decent, just not spectacular. Seven of his 11 goals this season were scored in the span of just seven games and his current 21.2% shooting percentage (which would put him above Crosby when he scored 32 goals in 41 games last season), simply doesn’t seem sustainable. If you can find a believer in Seguin who is willing to part with a 65-70 point player for him, we suggest giving it some serious consideration.
– C – Edmonton Oilers
Nugent-Hopkins has surpassed our expectations this season and will likely continue to do so. That being said, we still recommend shopping him around. As we mentioned in regard to Seguin, youngsters are often particularly inconsistent and Nugent-Hopkins has certainly been that. He had a hat trick in his third career game and he followed it up with a stretch of just one goal in nine contests. He had just three points and a minus-five rating in seven November contests before registering five assists in Edmonton’s 9-2 slaughtering of the Chicago Blackhawks. He’s averaged out to be a point-per-game player, but we have serious doubts of his ability to maintain anything close to this level – especially when you consider that eight of his 19 points stem from two amazing games. Since Patrick Kane
, only one rookie has gotten more than 60 points. We could maybe see Nugent-Hopkins being the second and that’s mostly because he would only have to get 41 points in 63 games to accomplish that feat. Sorry, Oiler fans, we’re just not true believers in him – not this season, anyways. If you can find a true believer though – and they’re out there – willing to give you a 60-point player in a different position or a 65-70 point center, that would be a sweet deal.
– G – Edmonton Oilers
Khabibulin was already showing signs of falling to Earth when he stopped 34 of 36 shots on Sunday. He still has an amazing 1.76 GAA and .938 save percentage. At the risk of further alienating Oiler fans, that probably won’t last. In fact, although he’s clearly outplayed Devan Dubnyk
so far this season, we still wouldn’t rule out Dubnyk bouncing back and stealing about a start a week from him. To be fair, the Oilers are a better team this season and Khabibulin doesn’t have a legal battle and the possibility of jail time hanging over his head as he did during his disastrous 2010-11 season. With that in mind, a GAA in the 2.5 range and a save percentage above .910 isn’t too much to expect from him this season and we wouldn’t recommend trading him for a goaltender you think will do worse than that. But if you can trade him for a top-10ish goaltender, especially one that’s down on his luck, that would probably end up benefiting you in the long run.