The NHL season is mere weeks away, even if some of you hadn't noticed. In this piece I'll break down my thoughts on the face of the NHL, Sidney Crosby, and share my thoughts on some forwards that are signing a different zip code on their mail these days.
What do you do with Sidney Crosby?
In my recently released 2011-12 NHL Fantasy Hockey Guide, I've got Sid the Kid ranked 12th at the center position. Craziness you say? Possibly. I mean the guy has recorded 215 goals and 572 points in just 412 games since the start of the 2005 season. How do those totals shape up with others? Crosby is tied for fifth in goals, is third in assists (357) and third in points. However, because of injuries, Crosby has appeared in far fewer games than some of the other scoring leaders. As a result, Crosby's point per game mark of 1.39 is the highest in the league (Alexander Ovechkin is second at 1.29).
So why is Crosby so far down my rankings list? Obviously this decision is all about the concussion situation he is dealing with. Crosby has been skating with his mates, and in fact he skated in five straight practices before taking a day off on Thursday last week. Still, he's not been cleared for contact, and until he is I think everyone in the hockey universe is biting their finger nails. Even when he starts taking contact, there will always be that little concern in that back of one's mind – is the next hit going to send him to the sidelines again (think Justin Morneau and Denard Span in baseball, guys who had concussions, seemingly were over the issue, only to have the symptoms return yet again)? Maybe Crosby will be fine, and if he is there is no reason whatsoever to think that he won't at least be a top-10 scorer with a legitimate chance at leading the league in points. Still, are you willing to take the chance that your first-round pick might only play a handful of games? It's a huge risk taking him early, though it might even be a bigger risk to pass over him, but it's a decision that each person has to make on their own.
Old Faces, New Places - Forwards
Jeff Carter, Blue Jackets
Carter was said to be furious when he was dealt from the Flyers to the Blue Jackets, especially after he signed a contract to cement himself as a building block of the Flyers' organization. Apparently he spent some time thinking about it, and realized he would be skating with the beast that is Rick Nash and thought – maybe this isn't so bad. Carter, who has recorded at least 33 goals in each of the last three seasons, will likely be looking to pass a bit more to the shot machine that is Nash. It is therefore conceivable that Carter will set a new career best in assists (38), and if he clicks with Nash he could also threaten to produce his second 70-point season of his career (his career best was 84 in 2008).
Tim Connolly, Maple Leafs
One word – health. If Connolly has it, look for him to be a solid point producer. Over his last four seasons in Buffalo he appeared in 70 games just one time, and twice was held to fewer than 50 games. Still, the guy produced when he was on the ice with 194 points in 237 games. That pace over 82 games would equate to 67 points. I'd place a bet that if he skates in 80 games feeding the puck to Phil Kessel that he will surpass the 70-point plateau - would you?
Simon Gagne, Mike Richards, Kings
Early word is that Gagne will be reunited with his former Flyers teammate in LA. That could mean a ton of points for the Kings as Gagne recorded 34 goals playing mostly alongside Richards in the 2008 season. "I had a lot of success with Mike in Philly for many years. It's always a plus to have the chemistry building right away," said Gagne. Like Connolly, Gagne's key is staying healthy as he's appeared in just 121 games the past two years. As for Richards, the guy does everything well. The last four years he has recorded at least 23 goals and 62 points, and he's also a beast on the power-play (an average of eight goals and 21 assists with the man advantage the past four years).
Dany Heatley, Wild
Martin Havlat, San Jose Sharks
These two wingers were traded for one another as each of their previous employers believed they could use a new environment to re-energize them.
After recording at least 39 goals in five straight seasons, Heatley fell to just 26 markers last season. He had no excuse either as the Sharks possessed a plethora of point producers that Heatley skated with, not the least of which was Joe Thornton. Heatley also failed to record 70 points for the first time since 2003 as he finished the year with only 64. Worse yet, he continued a mystifying trend of continuing to disappear when his club needed him most. He's only 30 years old so a rebound to his previous levels is possible, but he has a lot to prove.
Havlat, like others on this list, is often unable to drag his weary body onto the ice. Still, he has averaged 77 games the past three years, so perhaps he has slain that dragon. Three months younger than Heatley, Havlat brings more of a speed game to the ice, though he too is a strong point producer (the last three years he's averaged 0.83 points a game). The current plan in San Jose appears to have him lining up on the second line with Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe, and that trio could out-produce some first lines around the league.
Jaromir Jagr, Flyers
When we last we saw Jagr it was 2008 and he was on Broadway. In that season he scored 25 goals and recorded 71 points as he finished a third straight season of 82 games played. The past couple of years he's been skating in the KHL in Russia, and last season he appeared in 49 games, recording 19 goals and 31 assists. Obviously he shouldn't be looked at as a point per game performer as a 39 year old, but Jagr has always been an effective offensive force, and he should give the Flyers plenty of production with the man advantage.
Brad Richards, New York Rangers
Marian Gaborik is one of those rare skaters that actually brings people out of their seats. He possesses a wicked wrister and his speed his breathtaking. Who gets to feed him the puck? That would be Mr. Richards. Over his 772 game career Richards has been a near point per game producer with 716 points, and over his last three seasons in Dallas he registered 216 points in 208 games despite never having a talent like Gaborik on his wing. That means that if Gaborik can stay healthy Richards could match last season's point total of 77 with relative ease. One other note - Richards has averaged over 260 shots on goal a season during his illustrious career for those of you in leagues that track that category.
Marco Sturm, Canucks
A seven-time 20 goal scorer, each of the last seven times he's skated in more than 60 games actually, Sturm moves to the Pacific Northwest to join the impressive group of forwards with the Canucks. With Ryan Kesler (labrum tear) and Mason Raymond (vertebrae compression) slated to miss the start of the season, there's a legitimate chance Sturm will start the year out on one of the top-2 scoring lines. If he impresses early, he figures to have a big role with the club.
Steve Sullivan, Penguins
Talk about a guy who needs to stay healthy (he's appeared in less than 45 games in two of the past three years). If everything breaks right, Sullivan could be an excellent late round pick (of course, he's already dealing with a groin strain). If he ends up on a line with Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, the points could flow. Add in the fact that the Pens are planning on giving him some time on the point on the power-play and you have a guy who could produce at a high level when he's on the ice.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87. Ray's baseball analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute-to-minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account. To e-mail Ray a question for next week's piece, drop him a line at email@example.com.