Fighting is down in the NHL… but there are more incidents of "suspendable" fouls. Is there a correlation? Ottawa flavor to the All-Star Game as captains are picked. Does this game/event need to be revitalized? Next Year's Winter Classic is set to be officially announced in coming days. We have the details. The St Louis Blues have risen to the top of the West. How did they do it? In looking around the league, we will identify hot players who can provide good value in the fantasy space.
The pundits who follow the daily life of the NHL have been trumpeting the decline of fighting in the NHL this season. Looking across the NHL landscape, it seems as though more teams are emphasizing the need to roll four offensive lines on a nightly basis. This trend is as a result of the blueprint employed by last year's Cup finalist, the Canucks and the Bruins, who were both able to ice 12 skilled forwards who would not be a detriment in a regular shift environment. Until last season, a routine review of individual game ice time would identify enforcers who would dress and play less than five minutes.
This season more teams have slowly followed suit and demoted their former enforcers in favor of more skilled players. The 2011-12 version of the NHL is becoming known as a faster game than ever.
There is a downside, though. Part of that speed is borne of a reckless tendency as players no longer have to fear retribution if they knock into an opponent while operating at top speed regardless of their intention.
Some observers are blaming the higher incidence of head and other injuries to this new brand of high-octane hockey.
Daniel Alfredsson and Zdeno Chara have been nominated as the captains who will choose sides in the upcoming All-Star game. These are clever choices to establish a rooting interest as the Senators captain will represent the good guys and the gigantic former Sen will lead the bad guys in the annual classic scheduled for Ottawa later this month. In the absence of a real meaning or point of competition for this event, these choices were sensible. But the reality is that the NHL All-Star game really only generates a buzz in the host city. The skills competition is usually worth a look but the game needs to be meaningful. I would highly recommend that they revert to an East versus West format with the winning side earning home ice for their Conference Champion.
The NHL does have a good thing going with the annual outdoor hockey game and the recent tilt between the Rangers and Flyers went off with all the usual bells and whistles to herald the beginning of the second half of the schedule and heightened coverage across the United States. The next game is going to be the biggest event ever as the league is preparing to stage the game at the "Big House" in the University of Michigan. This historic venue will house well over 100,000 fans (current capacity is over 109,000 for football). Of course the Red Wings will be there but the interesting choice is that the Toronto Maple Leafs will be the visiting team. People who are in the know about such matters are well aware that these two teams have legions of fans who travel well. The Canada/USA flavor, as well as the revival of one of the games greatest historic rivalries will fuel the anticipation around this event.
In terms of revivals, the St. Louis Blues have staged a remarkable one of their own as they have rebounded from a subpar beginning, where they fired their second-year head coach, Davis Payne, and replaced him with veteran bench boss Ken Hitchcock. The Blues immediately responded and have soared to a 21-5-6 record and are duking it out with the perennial powers of the Western Conference.
The biggest strength of the Blues is the stingy defensive record, which is largely attributed to the outstanding tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott and the attention to defensive detail, which is central to Hitchcock's overall approach. At this time, the Blues are tied with the Rangers in allowing 1.98 goals per game. Even more surprising is the fact that Elliott has raised his game and has shed the profile of the backup to the more expensive (contract-wise) Halak. Elliott has the lowest goals against (1.68) among goalies who have appeared in at least 20 games. To their credit the Blues have avoided any potential for controversy with the upcoming trade deadline, as they have signed Elliott to a 2-year $4M contract extension. Now both goalies are locked up for the foreseeable future and the Blues retain great flexibility in shaping their roster with plenty of room under their salary cap.
The beauty of the modern NHL, if you enjoy the fact that there is no one dominant team or player this season, is that from one week to the next, different players are rising from the depths of their rosters to make solid contributions.
When you look at his overall record, Derek Brassard's ledger of seven goals and eight assists for his 37 games played sure doesn't sound too impressive, but the former first round pick of the Blue Jackets is looking like the real deal in recent weeks. He has three goals and two assists in his last six starts and is playing with a great deal of confidence. Given that the Jackets are at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, there are some hockey analysts who expect Columbus to shop Brassard round the league, hoping to capitalize on his recent hot streak. Opposing scouts are watching closely and his trade value may never be higher, given that he is a five-year pro and has never before looked as worthy of his lofty draft status. If he is moved, he will be going to a better, likely, a contending team and that could really catapult his fantasy value.
The Philadelphia Flyers have proven to be something of an anomaly in that they have retooled their roster, survived a potential crippling loss of their captain Chris Pronger (likely to a season ending injury) and continue to rank among the top teams in the Eastern Conference. They have recently seen their first round pick from the 2011 Amateur Draft, Sean Couturier, find a groove that has seen the 19 year old light the lamp with goals in each of his last five games. That gives him 10 goals for his first 40 games and he has avoided being labeled as a liability in achieving a (+13) rating. He is looking like a worthy long-term option for fantasy owners, taking his current situation into consideration.
The Colorado Avalanche in the middle of a rebuild that has introduced several young forwards to NHL fans in recent years. Ryan O'Reilly is in his third year wit the club and has already posted a career high in total points with 33 in 47 contests. He has been rewarded with a regular turn on the club's power play and seems like he is finally settled in to a role among the top two scoring lines with Colorado, surrounded by similarly talented young stars.
If goaltending is important to your hockey pool landscape a couple of recent developments merit your consideration.
In Buffalo, Ryan Miller has been the signature player on the Sabres roster for the past six seasons. He has been known as one of the league's top goalies that whole time. This season, in a year that he has been sidelined with concussion issues, he has toiled at an unprecedented subpar rate. In fact, he is currently sporting a losing record and his highest single season goals against mark. His frustration appears to be bubbling to the surface as he has made remarks that have been viewed as disparaging comments in some areas of the Sabres' locker room. Meanwhile his backup, Jhonas Enroth, has certainly outperformed him with his 2.42 goals against average serving as Exhibit A. As Miller carries a hefty price tag, there is some sense in trying to peddle him to teams looking for veteran goalie help, if only to take him away from the controversy that surrounds him in Buffalo. If he is truly talking his way out of town, Enroth is poised to step into the breach on a team that has played well below expectations. At the very least, Enroth is deserving of more playing time in the existing tandem with the disgruntled Miller.
If you look past the poor overall record of the Columbus Blue Jackets, you might want to consider the recent work of Curtis Sanford, who appears to have taken over the reigns from starter Steve Mason. Sanford has started all but one game since the New Year began and he has limited opponents to two goals in four of those six contests. His overall record is 8-10 on the basis of an excellent 2.54 goals against mark fir the cellar-dwelling Blue Jackets. I know I had to check numerous sources to verify those surprising statistics.
That's all part of doing your homework for your fantasy leagues.
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