The Capitals will start Michal Neuvirth in net on Saturday not, not Tomas Vokoun. I can't explain it other than it's clear that the Caps' front office didn't read my Crashing the Net column earlier this week. Why would the Caps sign Vokoun, one of the most statistically excellent net minders in the game the past six years if they were going to go with Neuvirth? I'd still expect Vokoun to make the majority of starts, so don't panic if you are a Vokoun owner.
Zenon Konopka has one of the coolest names in the game. He also has one of the biggest noses out there thanks to getting it punched repeatedly. We could care less about his honker in the fantasy game, all we care about is his ability to rack up PIMs with the best of them. Over the past two seasons he has averaged 286 PIMs, and his total of 572 penalty minutes dwarfs everyone else in the game (no one else has even 400 PIMs). In non-traditional leagues he also has value for what he does in the face-off circle since he was fourth in the NHL last season with a 57.7 percent winning percentage (his total of 620 wins was good enough for 30th in the league).
Why do I bring all of this up? For the simple fact that it appears that he won't be in the lineup for the Senators for their first game – he'll be a healthy scratch. Zenon appeared in 82 games last season with the Islanders and in 74 games with the Lightning the previous year, so this deactivation comes as a surprise. Keep an eye on how the Senators deploy their fists of fury this season because if the Sens decide to go soft some nights, Konopka's value will obviously diminish.
Brandon Dubinsky, not Wojtek Wolski, will start the year on the first line flanking Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. Both Richards and Gaborik have shown point-per-game abilities over the years, so it's no small thing to grab a spot on that line. Dubinsky continues to grow as a player at the NHL level, just take a look at his goal (14, 13, 20 and 24) and point totals (40, 41, 44 and 54) the past four years. A rugged player, Dubinsky has also hit triple-digits in two of the last three seasons in the penalty minute category, another boot to his growing value. Throw in a career best total of 202 shots on goal last season, and you have a player who is growing into a pretty solid option for the Rangers. Tossing him on a line with the other two offensive stars and we might have a player on the verge of a breakout.
What do you do with Wolski? Probably the same thing his coaches have done for years – you love the guy when he's locked in, but given that more often than not he doesn't seem focused he's a pain in the rear end to roster. At this point, unless Wolski is skating on one of the top two lines, he's simply not worth a roster spot unless you're in a very deep league. He's a total enigma.
Nikita Filatov was selected 6th overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft by the Blue Jackets. Unfortunately, Filatov was never able to ingratiate himself with the brain trust in Columbus because of a lack of attention to detail, and an almost palpable disdain for defense. As such, a new start was in order, and he'll get that with the Senators. Boasting one of the youngest and most unproven units in the league, the Sens will likely live with the shortcomings in Nikita's game if that means he lights up the scoreboard as his talents suggest is certainly possible. The Senators seem intent on giving Filatov all the rope he needs to succeed going as far as starting him out on the top line for the first game of the season alongside Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza.
Michalek, coming off yet another knee injury, is a speed demon who has a nose for the net. Oddly for such a brilliant straight ahead skater, his balance seems poor as defenders routinely push him off the puck. Still, there is no denying he knows how to score, posting at least 22 goals in four of the past five seasons. As for Spezza, he's almost as big an enigma as Filatov. Spezza, who has long drawn the ire of the fan base in Ottawa, is an elite offensive performer. For his career he has 532 points in just 526 games, though the past two years he has produced identical efforts of 57 points. So is his scoring prowess is one the wane? Not at all. He's been scoring as well as always. The problem for Spezza is that he has had a hard time stay on the ice appearing in just 60 and 62 games the past two campaigns.
If this trio stays healthy, and together, there is every reason to believe that all three will be fine additions to any fantasy squad this year with Filatov, and his lowly draft day cost, offering the most room for a return on your investment.
YOU GOTSTA KNOW
The Canucks are one of the better teams in all of hockey, and that's a statement I could have typed if all I did was look at how far the club went in the playoffs last year, so I'm sure it didn't impress you. It would also probably be rather mundane for me to suggest that this team is loaded with offensive firepower with the Sedin Twins, Ryan Kesler, Alexandre Burrows and more up front. However, the team did lose its biggest offensive producer from the blue line when Christian Ehrhoff ended up with a 10-year deal from the Sabres. Who will take up the mantle as the top offensive blue liner as well as getting a chance to work the point on the first power-play? Meet Alexander Edler.
Edler, a third round draft choice in 2004, scored 32 points in 49 games last year before the All-Star break, so he was well on his way to a strong point producing effort even with Ehrhoff in the fold. Alas, Alex's regular season ended on a down note as he appeared in only two games after the break because of a wonky back. Fully healthy, Edler would appear to have a solid chance of being the type of producer that Ehrhoff was the last two years when he registered and average of 14 goals and 47 points. Edler certainly started off that way with six shots on goal and a +2 rating in the first game of the season for the Canucks. Hopefully you rostered the Swede, because if you did, it seems like you might have gotten yourself a blue liner who could be one of the top-10 point producers at the position.
THE NUMBERS GAME
I talked about face-offs above when I broke down the plight of Zenon Konopka, but I want to go a bit more in depth here.
With the proliferation of more advanced measures to follow what happens on the ice, not to mention a growing interest in the fantasy game, many leagues are branching out in attempt to get the fantasy game to align more closes with the real life. That's why many leagues are now counting things like shots on goal. Some of the more advanced leagues are also adding hits and blocked shots to the ledger. Another category that is crucial to the real life game is the face-off. Therefore, here are some face-off facts that might help you to see the value in a player that may not light up the scoreboard.
937 – Jonathan Toews
859 – Ryan Kesler
856 – Antoine Vermette
840 – Eric Staal
815 – Patrice Bergeron
810 – Paul Stastny
What's interesting about that group is that only one man skated in fewer than 80 games last year – Stastny. Paul appeared on the ice for 74 games last season meaning he averaged 10.95 face-off wins per outing. Give him another six games to bring him up to 80 for the year and we're talking about adding another 66 face-ff wins to his ledger which would led to him finishing the year with 876 face-off wins, a total that would have vaulted him up to second in the league.
Who was the best face-off man at home? Only three men posted a mark of 60 percent or better at home.
67.7 – David Steckel
63.2 – Manny Maholtra
60.6 – Paul Gaustad
Gaustad was also second in the league in face-offs won while playing shorthanded. He had 152 wins in such situations, 13 fewer than Samuel Pahlsson who led the league.
Since I mentioned home winners, might as well delve into the road warriors. You'll see some of those familiar names again.
60.2 – Manny Maholtra
58.9 – Paul Gaustad
58.0 – Zenon Konopka
So it is with the men in the circle.
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 email Ray a question for next week's piece, drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.