James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Smith the stellar steal

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Rotoworld programming note: Brian Rosenbaum will host a special fantasy hockey playoff chat on Monday April 9th from 7:30-8:30 pm ET. Playoff pools can be a volatile bunch, so making better decisions is a much bigger deal than nailing your fantasy draft since you (usually or always?) cannot make up for mistakes with savvy add/drops like a normal fantasy season. Long story short, you should check it out.


Actually, savvy add/drops carry into today’s main focus …


As you may remember, the Daily Dose is winding down as the regular season does – at least in its Monday-Friday form. In hopes of justifying all the time you’ve put into reading this bad boy, I’d like to point out perhaps this season’s best bit of advice in light of Mike Smith’s amazing stretch of recent hockey, which probably peaked on Tuesday night when he stopped all 54 Columbus Blue Jackets shot for a 2-0 regulation shutout – setting a new NHL record for saves in a regulation shutout in the process.


(Quick note: I’m not claiming to be a superhuman soothsayer or anything; it’s just nice to see the occasional experiment turn into something a little more handsome than the typical fantasy hockey Frankenstein monster.)


Anyway, here is a part of the advice I gave out and pleaded for people to follow in the Nov. 3, 2011 edition of the DD:


Almost every fantasy league has a disproportionate amount of stat categories devoted to goalies; some even have half. Maybe that matches up with reality in a way (goalies can make or break a team more than any one skater), but what it really means is that owners must stock up on options in net.

Let me bring your attention to a player you should pick up under almost any circumstance, then: Phoenix Coyotes goalie Mike Smith.


Does that mean that Smitty will be so strong all season long? Most would probably bet "No," but he’s a) clearly the top guy in Phoenix and b) currently available as a free agent in a lot of leagues. This is about as low-risk, high-reward as you get a month into a fantasy season (at least as far as already-established goalies are concerned). Honestly, I don’t care if your team is already strong in net, either.  You can never have enough strong goaltending in fantasy hockey, even if one or more of your netminders end up being glorified trade bait.

Ultimately, if the idea of getting Bryzgalov-lite for nothing more than a roster spot doesn’t entice you, then I don’t know what will.


As it turns out, Smith is arguably putting up better numbers than Bryzgalov even did in the Tippett system – especially lately. That record-breaking 54 save deal puts a huge exclamation point on his three-game shutout streak, which would be the best in Coyotes franchise history if it weren’t for that pesky NHL modern one set by Brian Boucher.


While there’s virtually no chance that Smith gets the Vezina Trophy (unless he’s already allowed his final regular season goal, perhaps), he has at least an argument to hover around the final three. Smith’s record is impressive with a 36-18-10 mark and his individual stats are up there, too: a .929 save percentage, 2.25 GAA and those wonderful eight goose eggs. Even without looking up the exact stats, I know that guys like Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick probably have better credentials, but for all the amazing defensive support he received he hasn’t had a big goal cushion very often.


If nothing else, he’s certainly the “fantasy value” Vezina winner. If you made solid-to-good fantasy moves and draft picks this season along with bringing on Smith, you probably were at least in the conversation to win your league. Giving you some kind of winning edge is the goal of both the Dose in a micro sense and Rotoworld in a macro one, so hopefully these tools have steered you in the right direction.  Even if you didn’t win, hopefully you felt like a shrewd manager of imaginary talent – or at least got a few chuckles along the way.


(Too bad Mike Smith’s name doesn’t exactly lend itself to anything but the blandest nicknames.)



Well, the Philadelphia Flyers got me this time. It’s almost like the team who cried injury wolf – they’ve been excessively “optimistic” about injury reports for so long that it was hard not to chuckle when they said that Ilya Bryzgalov might be back soon. As it turns out, Paul Holmgren wasn’t fibbing/thinking wishfully (depending upon your opinion about his tendency to be honest) this time around.


Maybe he should have, though, because the team and its should-be No. 1 guy looked awfully out of sync. Bryzgalov allowed four goals in the first period and probably would have been pulled in other situations, but it seemed as if Peter Laviolette wanted to let him get his feet wet. The rest of the game went much more smoothly as the New York Rangers only scored one more goal in a 5-3 win that guaranteed them the Atlantic Division crown and the East’s No. 1 seed, but it does make me wonder if the Flyers will face another playoff summer full of – or maybe more appropriately, abbreviated by – goalie indecision and incompetence.


That’s especially intriguing because Sergei Bobrovsky is a sterling 5-0 at the Consol Energy Center, which the Flyers may play up to four out of seven games at if the Penguins end up with the fourth seed as expected.


It is obviously cause for a big concern for Bobrovsky owners. Unless Bryzgalov’s fitness is an issue, it’s likely that the team will try to get Breezy back into shape and rhythm by playoffs time, which might mean the end of Bob’s fantasy relevance for this season. Honestly, I’d consider dropping him, although it’s far from an easy choice.



I still don’t think Sidney Crosby was worth a top 20-type high pick, but at least he’s providing quality over quantity. Crosby added three points to his total last night, giving him 34 points in just 20 games this season. He’s been especially effective during money time in fantasy lately, with three goals and nine points in his last three contests … Derek Roy scored two power-play goals (including a boisterous game-winner) in the Sabres’ unlikely comeback on Tuesday. He picked a great time to wake up two points after going five games without a point … Andrew Ladd is quietly being a very effective player outside Chicago, pushing his season total to 27 goals on Tuesday … Logan Couture broke a 10-game streak without a goal with a big one to help the San Jose Sharks beat the Dallas Stars 5-2 … After choking away a 3-0 lead against the Jets, it’s clear that Thursday’s game will mean something for both the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals. Awful news for desperate Florida fans, great news for fantasy owners.



Henrik Lundqvist had a stiff arm at the end of his big win. Beware – he should lose a start, if not both of the remaining ones. Keep your eyes open … Cam Ward is quietly packing away spiteful little wins for the Hurricanes, so hopefully you stayed patient or took advantage of the restlessness of someone else … Henrik Sedin is thriving without his brother. Maybe he gets extra motivation once he loses his safety net or perhaps it’s just a coincidence ... Jonathan Toews seems to be aiming for a Thursday return. Stay tuned on that … Jamie McGinn is day-to-day with a back issue. (Click here for the full injury list.)

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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