Last year, I would have built my fantasy team – single-year or keeper, regardless of format – on the back of Alexander Ovechkin, the guy I tabbed as the best player in the world.
I’ve changed my mind.
Who cares about positional scarcity? Throw charisma out the window. Sidney Crosby is head and shoulders above every other player in the world. Including the Great Eight and the fair-haired wonder in Tampa.
Granted, I think Ovie is hiding an injury. How else do you explain just 12 goals and 35 points in 30 games? And Steven Stamkos is a fantastic talent but is he honestly in the same stratosphere as those other two guys? This current slump doesn’t come as a surprise.
Sid the Kid is accumulating points like it’s the early 1990s. He’s on a 17-game point streak in which he has 20 goals and 15 assists; his team is 14-2-1 in that span. He’s carrying that team on his back and he’s doing it alone – invisible Evgeni Malkin, no Jordan Staal.
He’s winning faceoffs (and leading the league in percentage won). He’s blocking shots. And he’s making everyone around him better. And he needs just 24 goals in his next 20 games to become just the sixth player to ever score 50 goals in his team’s first 50 games.
Will he maintain his current pace? Maybe, maybe not. Seventy-plus goals and 136 points are huge tallies in a league where it’s rare to have players crack the century mark.
Would I kick Ovie or Stammer out of my bed? Not a chance. But I’d switch sheets in a heartbeat if I could get my hands on Sid.
Now let’s take a look at who caught my eye this week.
Matt Carle, D, Philadelphia (17 percent owned) – Separated at birth – that’s Matt Carle and Toronto’s Tomas Kaberle (90 percent), at least by stats alone. Advantage Kaberle on power-play production but that’s about it – last year’s October darling has just one less point than his more-owned “twin.” Carle’s situation in a strong Philly lineup is a lot more stable than Kaberle’s in the flux that is blue and white. Carle is just the kind of smart waiver grab who can back-fill a roster spot when you trade away a bigger-name defender for an upgrade up front. Does the name on the jersey really matter when you win your league? Thought not.
Logan Couture, C, San Jose (43 percent owned) – What a leap! Couture’s recent hot streak has ratcheted up his ownership a whopping 20 percent in just a couple days this week. He’s a smart, every-man’s hockey player whose great skills are disguised beneath his boy-next-door appearance. He busts it every shift and has pounded in six goals and two assists on his current five-game scoring streak. It’s not a mirage – he has 15 points in his last 14 games and his 14 goals leads the Sharks. And that makes him relevant in every format. He’s in a good situation; you will be, too, if you nab him while you can.
Corey Crawford, G, Chicago (39 percent owned) – Look what the wind blew in – a goalie controversy in Chicago. Don’t look now but CC has strung together seven consecutive wins (with no losses) since November 14; Marty Turco is just 1-3 with one shutout but 14 goals against. Sure, Crawford’s skills are still relatively raw. And Turco will be the starter approaching the postseason. But in the short term, Crawford will get a decent shot at starter’s time if he can keep this up. Just watch him closely – coach Joel Quenneville likes to keep a tight leash on his goalies. He won’t be afraid to yank him if he falters. But you’ll get a fantasy boost before that happens.
Martin Erat, RW, Nashville (7 percent owned) – Grab this guy right now. Sure, your league-mates will ridicule you and question your sanity. But you’ll be smug in your belief that long shots can deliver – just look at what Erat did last season. He suffered through a slow first quarter to post 13 goals and 10 points in his next 20 games. And after just six points in his first 16 games this season (consider it a full quarter; he did miss those games at the start of November), he has six points in his last four games. Erat needs a creative playmaker to shine and it seems eHarmony has matched him with the moodmeister, Sergei Kostitsyn. Who cares if the latter is a train wreck waiting to happen? Erat is having the time of his life and so will you. That is, if you can stand the short-term ridicule.
Roman Hamrlik, D, Montreal (38 percent owned) – Long, long ago in a land far, far away, there lived a first-overall draft pick who patrolled the blue line with aggression (103 PIMs) and skill (65 points). But that was a one-hit wonder some 15 years ago; today, Hamrlik is a 30-point shutdown stabilizer who brings maturity and focus to the Montreal blue line. He still shows occasional flashes of his former offensive self and right now, the Hammer is pounding it (a little) in the absence of Andrei Markov and the benching of P.K. Subban. He has two goals, four assists, six PIMs and a plus-4 rating in four December games. That’s good enough to rank him as the fourth-best defender over the seven days heading into play Thursday night. Use him while he’s hot.
Nikolai Khabibulin, G, Edmonton (32 percent owned) – The Bhulin Wall is a weird dude. But then again, that description pretty much fits the profile of every goalie I’ve ever met, played with or reported on (except for my beer-league mate, Ron Hunt, who’s still even-keeled and kicking butt at 70 – yes, you read that right; happy birthday, my friend). He’s an acrobatic twine-tender with a rap sheet that not only includes a whack of injuries but police charges, too. And given his current employer, his risk-reward profile skews heavily to an all upper-case RISK. But right now, he’s 2-0-1 with a shutout and just three goals against in December and the Oil is 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. I’m not sure I’d drop an underperforming starter on a better team just to nab him. But he can help in leagues with multiple goalie positions.
Nikolai Kulemin, LW, Toronto (11 percent owned) – Kuley has what it takes to be a power winger. He plays strong, particularly along the wall and in the cycle, without going over the PIM edge. And he’s extremely responsible in his own zone. But despite a 50-plus point pace, his offence still comes in fits and spurts. Through Thursday, he had three points in his last three games and seven in his last nine, but he’d also been held scoreless in five of those nine. Still, his line with Mikhail Grabovski (12 percent owned) and Clarke MacArthur (46 percent owned) has been the Leafs’ best of late and I’m starting to see glimpses of the player who’s adored by Pittsburgh stud Evgeni Malkin. He’s a tough roll in head-to-head formats but may be worth it in points leagues if you’re patient.
Chris Kunitz, LW, Pittsburgh (49 percent owned) – Kunitz is hockey’s equivalent of a utility infielder. He’s a dirt-bag, overachieving forechecker who’s neither a natural playmaker nor a gifted sniper. But he works hard, wears a Stanley Cup ring on each hand and is respected by his mates. Oh ya – he’s also currently playing Robin to Sidney Crosby’s Batman. And that has resulted in one goal, six assists and a plus-8 rating on his current four-game scoring streak. Sid is dragging this Robin along with him and I think 55-60 points are within reach this season. That makes him relevant in every standard, 12-team Yahoo! league. Grab him if he’s available in yours.
Michael Leighton, G, Philadelphia (34 percent owned) – So, Flyers’ general manager says Leighton’s back is fine but his leg is “an issue” – a salary cap issue, perhaps? It’s hard to say how much value this guy will have upon his return as the Bullies say they’ll carry three twine tenders. Three-headed monsters only work when there are Swedish twins involved and that just isn’t the case here. But super rookie Sergei Bobrovsky (79 percent owned) has never played more than 35 games in a pro season and he has already hit 22. Bob’s gonna get tired soon. And Leighton was “the man” in last year’s playoffs. Stash him; this salary cap – I mean, leg – issue can’t last for long.
Andrej Meszaros, D, Philadelphia (10 percent owned) – OK, so his recent offensive burst has come against the lowly Isles and Leafs. And he hasn’t suddenly figured out how to get those lead weights off his feet. But four points in three games is still decent production from this once promising defender. He’s still nothing more than a 30-point defender who has lost his PIM edge. But look past the loss of sin bin potential and you’ll see he leads the league in plus-minus. Remember how valuable that was in his rookie season?
Linus Omark, LW, Edmonton (0 percent owned) – Little Linus has left his blanket in the AHL and he’s bringing his flashy offensive game to the Oil Patch. Here’s what you need to know. Step one: go to YouTube and search “Linus Omark Amazing Goal.” You’ll be impressed. Step two: pick him up. He was top-10 in AHL scoring (13 goals and 26 points in 26 games) when he was called up Wednesday; he even had a five-goal game. He’s fast, cocky and supremely skilled, and he will debut Friday on a scoring line against Tampa Bay. He’ll get a real shot with the Oil, what with Ales Hemsky out a month and Shawn Horcoff out two. He’s tiny and talented, and worst-case scenario he’ll make for excellent trade bait – someone in your league is bound to want him. Leverage his first highlight reel goal into something a bit bigger and a lot more stable.
Back to Sid.
He’s starting to take over games the way greats like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and even Jaromir Jagr did in the past. Is he better than those guys? I’m not even going to get into that debate. It’s not easy to compare between generations; I think it’s more appropriate to look at how a guy stacks up against the next best player of the same era.
So relatively speaking, Sid is crushing Ovie right now. And he’s making Stammer look like his kid brother. We know who’s the best. And when you’re that good, you really shouldn’t be fighting.
I know we don’t agree on that. But I’m going to say it again. Captain or not, leader or follower – stars shouldn’t risk their precious paws by fighting.
Just ask Chris Stewart.
Until next week.