The compressed NHL season is already a quarter of the way through and we’re beginning to see some patterns and form some opinions. Here are a few:
If you’re like me, the departure of Ray Whitney from Phoenix during the off-season made it quite confusing to determine whom the Coyotes would be leaning on for offense this season, especially when a look at their lineup reveals a number of potential candidates. Well, after watching a couple of the Desert Dogs’ recent games, I have no doubt the line of Martin Hanzal, Mikkel Boedker and Radim Vrbata form the team’s top unit. Boedker in particular was very impressive in the games I watched and despite scoring only 24 points last season, the native of Denmark is a player to watch out for. In addition, Hanzal’s big body is a force in front of their opponents’ net and his absence has been noticeable during the games he has missed due to nagging injuries. With due respect to Shane Doan, Antoine Vermette, Lauri Korpikoski and Steve Sullivan, these three are the only ones I would be seeking out in fantasy leagues.
Sticking with Phoenix, I think the window to acquire Mike Smith on the cheap is closing quickly. When I take a closer look at his situation, I see a number of positive attributes. Firstly, Dave Tippett’s defensive system has consistently produced star goaltenders, dating back to Ilya Bryzgalov’s glory days – you remember, before he became the media’s best source for quotes in Philadelphia. Secondly, the Coyotes’ top two blueliners, Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, are as good a duo as you’ll find anywhere in the league. Finally, Smith’s stats this season outside of two nightmarish outings against the Blackhawks are actually quite strong. Against all non-Chicago teams, Smith sports a 3-1-1 record with a 1.50 GAA and a .935 save percentage entering Monday’s tilt with the Avalanche. Yes, I understand that even games against the Hawks count in the standings, but consider that the league as a whole has surrendered 42 goals to Chicago in 12 games and it’s fair to look at the fact the Coyotes only face them once more this season as a point in his favor.
As an owner of P.A. Parenteau for $1 in my hometown keeper league, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone more excited about the seven goals he has scored in his first 10 games with the Avalanche, but if I’m being realistic I have to admit that his current pace just isn’t sustainable. Even in his breakout campaign with the Islanders last year, Parenteau registered only 167 shots on goal, an average of about two per game that he has sustained with Colorado by firing 20 shots on goal thus far. What has changed is that the player who entered the year scoring on 11.0 percent of his shots on goal has clicked on 35 percent of his attempts this year, a rate that just can’t continue. If you can cash in on some of the recognition he is getting at the moment, you have my endorsement to do so.
His numbers certainly don’t support this at the moment --in fact, they are a direct contradiction of this theory-- but I’ll trust what my eyes tell me and recommend you try to acquire the Flames Mark Giordano while the price tag is still reasonable. In rotisserie formats he is typically an every-category producer and I’ll chalk up his poor start to small sample size fluctuations since I’ve been as impressed with his play as I have ever been.
Cody Hodgson is off to a fantastic start to the season playing on the Sabres’ top line and his leap now has me taking a second look at any player who begins training with former NHLer Gary Roberts in the off-season. Roberts, a noted fitness freak during his playing days, operates a fitness institute outside of Toronto and trains privately with a number of young NHL players. Hodgson is one of his pupils and he has previously mentored players such as Steve Stamkos, Jeff Skinner, James Neal and Jordan Staal, just to name a few. He clearly has a knack for helping players achieve their full potential and I think there’s something to the notion that his involvement gives a player a better chance of succeeding at the NHL level.
One of the difficulties with writing a column every two weeks is that sometimes a player I intend to write about as a buy-low target breaks out before I have the opportunity to mention him. You’ll have to take my word for it, but this happened recently with Kevin Bieksa, whom I have stopped underestimating, now that he has proven himself to be a consistent producer. He may not be a top-unit power play contributor, but so much of his value is derived from his ability to post a strong plus/minus rating and rack up penalty minutes that he doesn’t need to be a supreme offensive player to retain value. Of course, your opportunity to fleece his owner has probably gone up in smoke by now.
With nearly 100 games of exceptional production over the past two years, I think we can all agree Erik Karlsson is in a class of his own among NHL defensemen, right? That said, the discussion around who should be number two in that group is open to a healthy debate, but if forced to choose, I think I’d cast a vote for Dustin Byfuglien. I can understand if you have a preference towards Kris Letang or Zdeno Chara and I wouldn’t ridicule either selection, nor would I scoff at Alex Pietrangelo or even Shea Weber, despite his recent struggles, but I think Big Buff often gets overlooked when this discussion occurs. His current lower body ailment aside, I wouldn’t think twice about making the Jets rearguard one of the cornerstones of my fantasy squad.
With only four points in 10 contests this year, Slava Voynov hasn’t exactly taken the league by storm, but there are very few blueliners I would be in more of a hurry to acquire shares of than the young Russian. The Kings as a team have struggled mightily to score goals, but he has performed well enough to gain the trust of the coaching staff and routinely plays over 20 minutes per game.
For anyone interested, you can follow my Twitter feed at @kbrownroto.