2012-13 NHL Experts League
I've been fortunate enough to have been invited to be a part of the preeminent fantasy hockey league in existence the past few years, and Monday night we had our draft in preparation for the 2012-13 season. Sites represented include Rotoworld, TSN.ca, Fantasy Hockey Scouts, Dobber Hockey, KuklasKorner, The Sports Forecaster, Yahoo!, NHL.com, NHL Trade Tracker, SiriusXM and, of course, RotoWire. Talk about a powerhouse lineup.
Here are the rules that govern the league.
Skaters: G, A, +/-, PP points, shots, hits, blocks
Keepers: Wins, GAA, SV%
Starting Lineup: Four centers, Four left wingers, Four right wingers, six defensemen, two keepers.
Bench: Five spots
Each of the 12 teams was allowed to keep four players from last season (maximum one keeper). There were no other rules for keepers. No salaries, no rounds to consider, just four keepers.
So how did my team turn out? Let's take a look.
* () round player was drafted.
CENTER: Patrick Sharp (5), Henrik Zetterberg (7), Olli Jokinen (14), Cody Hodgson (15)
LEFT WING: Rick Nash (K), Johan Franzen (8), Andrew Ladd (12), Matt Martin (22)
RIGHT WING: Corey Perry (K), Marian Gaborik (6), Blake Wheeler (10), David Clarkson (11)
DEFENSEMEN: Zdeno Chara (K), Mark Streit (9), Dennis Seidenberg (19), Sheldon Souray (20), Braydon Coburn (21), Francois Beauchemin (24)
GOALIE: Antti Niemi (K), Ondrej Pavelec (13)
BENCH: Sergei Bobrovsky (16), Evgeni Nabokov (17), Sean Couturier (18), Colin Wilson (23), Eric Tangradi (25)
My keeper skaters? I felt great about them. Nash has a chance to lead LWs in goals, and should benefit from the move to NY where is looks like he will skate with the first elite center of his career in Brad Richards. Nash has long been one of the most talented players in hockey, and he'll be hungry to overcome what was his worst season in five years (30g, 29a, -19). Perry is feisty – the exact kind of guy you hate if he isn't on your squad. Corey has recorded at least 27 goals and 100 PIMs the last five yeas, and the last two seasons he's averaged 44 goals, 79 points and 116 PIMs. He could be the most complete right wing in the league. Chara simply put is a beast. He's posted at least 86 PIMs in 12-straight seasons, and he's recorded at least 40 points in 8-straight seasons as well. Toss in that he's been at least a +19 skater the past four years, +33 in each of the last two actually, and you are looking at a HOF bound skater. My keeper choice was Niemi. I figure he's got a shot to suit up 40 times this season, he seems to thrive on a heavy workload and the Sharks seem willing to give it to him. He's not an elite option though so I knew I would have to jump into the mix early to add a strong second keeper.
Usually I go from the top to the bottom, and while that almost always makes the most sense, I'm gonna start at the end, or at least the last line of defense – the goalkeepers. I knew I didn't have an elite net presence. I knew I needed to get a keeper early. I had no idea the league would go goalie crazy at the top. And I mean out of control spending spree. Granted, there were 48 keepers, and with our rule limiting teams to just one hold, the owners deemed the first and second round the time to load up on goalies.
In the first round of the draft, remember it's actually the fifth round because each team kept four players, three keepers were taken in the first four selections, four in the first five and five in the first nine picks. In the second round four more keepers were taken. So there I am, sitting at the last pick of the second round, the seventh round overall, and literally 20 goalies are off the board. Twenty. Remember too that in this league there are seven categories for skaters and just three for keepers. I'm not really sure I understand why everyone went so heavy on goalies (to be fair though, it's been that way for years in this league so I really shouldn't have been surprised). So what did I do when faced with that situation? I did what I think most of you would hopefully do as well – I saw a need that I had (goalie), but realized that my resources would be better spent if I directed them to a place that would net me better/more productive players. So I skipped on the Semyon Varlamov's of the world and rostered Gaborik and Zetterberg with my next two picks. Alas, Jonas Hiller was taken two picks before my next selection, and I would have felt much better about my backstops if he was my number two. As it stands I've got a rather motley crew of four keepers. Still, I have some hope. Pavelec has always been up and down, and conditioning is sometimes an issue (that might be big in this shortened season), but he's clearly the lead dog for the Jets. Bobrovsky is on a bad team, but do any of you really think that Steve Mason is going to run with the starting gig in Columbus? And the only creature injured more than Rick DiPietro is Wolverine of X-Men fame, though of course he heals almost instantaneously whereas DiPietro never seems to be intact.
Multi-position eligibility was/is always a big deal for me. Here is the list of players I was able to roster that qualify at two spots (this is a Yahoo League).
Patrick Sharp, C/RW
Henrik Zetterberg, C/LW
Cody Hodgson, C/RW
Johan Franzen, LW/RW
Colin Wilson, C/LW
That gives me a lot of coverage in case injury strikes, I like that. I would also add in that my final round pick, a shot in the dark to be sure, was Eric Tangradi who is getting a chance to skate on the left wing with Malkin and Neal in Pittsburgh. Not only could he pick up LW eligibility early in the year, he could also produce copious amounts of points if he were to stick on that line long term. There is also the case of Gaborik. It was reported that Marian will open up the year skating on the left wing, adding another potential bit of flexibility to my squad.
Looking at my groupings...
At center I've got two stars, and two maybe's. Sharp and Zetterberg are veterans who should produce near a point per game pace. They also fire the puck on net an awful lot – both were over 265 shots this year, and in this league that matters. Jokinen also never met a puck he didn't like to shoot, he was over 340 shots 3-straight years back in the day and has been over 200 the last nine years. He'll center the top line in Winnipeg and could have a strong year if Evander Kane continues to grow. Hodgson is a bit of a risk, but it looks like he could center the Sabres top line. He's pretty darn talented and coming off a 19 goals season in his first full year in the league.
My left wingers are similarly top heavy. Nash and Franzen give me a great duo of goals, points and shots. Ladd has pretty quietly in some circles posted back-to-back seasons of 29 and 28 goals, and last season he fired a career best 265 shots on net. My fourth winger on the port side is Matt Martin. Who you might be asking? This was a category play. You may or may not know that Martin led all NHL skaters last year with 374 hits – 81 more than any other player in the league. My team is filled with high skilled but somewhat "soft" skaters up front, so I took the plunge on this one category producer even though he's unlikely to help in other areas (7g, 7a, -17). He'll be one of my first cuts if it doesn't work out.
On the right side I've got my strong duo (Perry and Gaborik – whose shoulder is healthy, and thanks to the lockout he isn't likely to miss any games). I've also got my solid RW3 in Wheeler. The fifth overall selection in 2004, Wheeler took a long while to find his legs at the NHL level. Last season he burst through with 64 points and more than 100 hits and 200 shots. He was dynamic in the second half (31 points in 31 games with 103 shots on net). Finally there is Clarkson. His combo of punching someone in the face and offensive skill is tough to match, and it looks like he may spend some time on the Devils' first scoring line as well.
On the blue line it was all about category filling. After Chara and Streit I don't really have a point producer. Seidenberg went over the 150 mark in hits, blocks and shots last season. Beauchemin went over the 135 mark in all three categories. Coburn was over 115 in all three categories. Souray is a total wild card. He could be a power-play maven on the point or he could end up completely ineffective and injured as is often his M.O. Time will tell there.
In the end, this is a solid team, though one that does have weaknesses. It will be important for the club to stay healthy, for me to get lucky off the waiver-wire (tougher to do in a league with this many rostered players), and I'm gonna need someone to step up in net. If that happens I'll be in good shape. If it doesn't... ?
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday at 5 PM EDT. Ray's analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.