Kevin Brown

In The Crease

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Beware: Falling Teams

Thursday, March 20, 2014


The post-trade deadline portion of the NHL season always offers a few surprises. By this point, the league’s contenders have typically bolstered their already-powerful rosters while the also-rans, realizing the playoffs are out of their reach, have seen their lineups get pilfered while they turn their attention to next year. The fantasy implications of this divergence can be significant, often making the difference between winning and losing your league. In this piece, I’ll take a look at some of the teams in an apparent free fall and identify which players on those clubs can still be trusted and which ones should be avoided.

 

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Buffalo

You can probably argue the Sabres have been in “maybe next year” mode since about Halloween and while their offloading of Ryan Miller and Matt Moulson might have netted them a boatload of draft picks, it has also left their current roster relatively bare. Not only has the team dropped their last seven decisions entering play on Thursday, but they have also failed to score more than two goals in any of those defeats so scouring their roster for fantasy options might not turn up a whole lot.

 

Free Fallers

Despite the fact his supporting cast hasn’t offered much help, Cody Hodgson’s 2013-14 has to be considered a pretty big disappointment. His 35 points in 59 games put him on pace for less than 50 over a full season, but he has struggled even more of late, notching just one point in his last seven contests. He can’t be trusted to produce down the stretch with this weak club.

 

Goaltender Jhonas Enroth initially responded to Ryan Miller’s departure by delivering an excellent 43-save performance against the Lightning, but he has since lost four straight decisions and more recently has suffered a lower-body injury that puts his status in question for the foreseeable future.  Considering he holds a 4-17-5 record on the season anyway, there’s no reason to hold him for your fantasy playoffs.

 

Bright Spot

Tyler Ennis currently leads Buffalo in scoring, but that’s damning with faint praise since he has totaled just 36 points on the season. That said, the diminutive forward has actually been a decent source of offense of late and could be of value in deep leagues, but he won’t be much help in rotisserie formats where his poor plus/minus and penalty minute figures are sure to be a drag.

 

Ottawa

If there’s a team that appears to have given up more than the Senators I have yet to see them. Saturday’s heartbreaking loss to the Canadiens seems to have been the stomach punch that precipitated this free fall, but their play in Sunday’s loss to the Avalanche and Tuesday’s debacle against the Rangers leave no doubt.

 

Free Fallers

If Ottawa fans entered the season unsure about whether the team should have retained Robin Lehner and traded away Ben Bishop last season, this year’s results are downright vomit-inducing. While Bishop has played his way into the Vezina Trophy discussion, Lehner has fumbled every opportunity he has received to steal playing time from Craig Anderson. Consider that in his last six starting assignments the Ottawa goaltender has posted a GAA of 5.66 to go along with an .849 save percentage. With Anderson currently sidelined with a shoulder injury and the Senators’ playoff hopes nearly extinguished, I wouldn’t feel comfortable having Lehner anywhere near my lineup.

 

Fantasy owners who took an early-season gamble on Clarke MacArthur have been handsomely rewarded for their faith, but the former Maple Leaf has fallen on hard times of late. He went pointless in the six games he dressed for in the month of February and while he has started to show signs of life again in March, he’s a difficult player to rely on.

 

Bright Spot

We can forgive certain Ottawa players for their poor performance because of the disappointment that comes with underperforming expectations, but one player who isn’t experiencing any malaise is Ales Hemsky, who joined this ship as it was already beginning to sink. With seven points in six games as a member of his new team, Hemsky appears content with just being away from Edmonton and seems a good bet to continue his productive ways for the rest of the season.

 

Vancouver

There has been no shortage of criticism directed towards GM Mike Gillis and the Canucks front office for their handling of the goaltending controversy of the past two seasons, most of it justified, but it’s clear this team is circling the drain despite the fact their goaltender was able to steal two points from the Predators Wednesday. The recent knee injury sustained by Ryan Kesler only serves to reinforce the fact Vancouver should be an easy mark for opponents the rest of the way.

 

Free Fallers

Before posting a 30-save shutout of the Predators Wednesday, Eddie Lack had amassed a 3-4-0 record since inheriting the starting job from Roberto Luongo and that has been accompanied by a 3.21 GAA and an .882 save percentage. You may think his most recent clean sheet is a sign that he is turning things around, but I’m not buying it.  Even if was a believer in Lack’s abilities, the dearth of healthy talent in his supporting cast and the team’s diminished motivation make me very weary.

 

Chris Higgins looked like a nice little option in deep leagues earlier in the year, but his production has fallen in tandem with that of the Canucks as a whole. With four points in 10 March contests to go along with a minus-7 rating, he’s a stay-away for the foreseeable future.

 

Bright Spot

I have no idea what has gotten into Alex Burrows over the past weeks, but it’s reasonable to theorize that he’s capitalizing on the injuries suffered by some of the team’s brighter stars to pad his own stats. The pesky power forward appeared to have contracted Ryane Clowe Disease when he didn’t score a goal this season until his 36th game, but since breaking the seal with a pair of tallies against the Jets last week he has registered three more goals and added three helpers in four games. With 49 penalty minutes in 40 contests and a regained scoring touch, Burrows could be a fantasy difference-maker in your playoffs.

 

New York Islanders

Islanders GM Garth Snow’s attempt to will his team to a playoff berth by acquiring Thomas Vanek from the Sabres early in the year now looks like a disaster because the team didn’t come close to making the postseason, but it would have been heralded a smartly-calculated gamble if the team had obtained something near the price they paid when he was moved at the trade deadline. When we factor in the season-ending knee injury suffered by franchise player John Tavares during the Olympics, we can forgive some of the team’s players for feeling less than thrilled about playing out the string.

 

Free Faller

It shouldn’t be a surprise to find out that a veteran player is struggling now that his team has been eliminated from playoff contention, which is exactly the scenario we’re witnessing with Lubomir Visnovsky. The offensive blueliner did pick up three assists in a recent win over the Sabres, but an otherwise disappointing showing this season and an uncharacteristically low shot rate leave me pessimistic about his prospects. 

 

Bright Spots

Determined to prove he’s not just a byproduct of playing alongside Tavares, Kyle Okposo has continued his career year by remaining productive in the absence of the superstar. In the 10 games he has played since the Tavares injury, Okposo has registered 10 points and maintained his point-per game pace for the year. There are a few reasons for concern, notably the minus-3 rating and lower-than-normal shot rate he has totaled during that span, but it’s refreshing to see he hasn’t completely folded amidst the increased adversity.

 

The Tavares injury and trade of Vanek have created an opportunity at forward for the Isles and nobody has taken greater advantage of this than Anders Lee, who has picked up 10 points in as many games since joining the team after the Olympic break. With a team-leading 35 shots on goal since his call-up, Lee is proving to be a legitimate offensive force.




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