(all statistics through Saturday, January 26)
Moths are attracted to lights and flames. Bug zappers as well. I have realized that returning each week to watch Coach's Corner in between the first and second periods of the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, I am essentially the moth going back to the bug zapper, skipping the lights altogether. Basically, I've been fried far, far too often. I can't look away, and not just because of the hideous suits, or Ron MacLean's aghast looks at what comes out of Cherry's mouth. It's theater, it's an act and I fall for it every time.
This week's rants from Cherry included praise for Edmonton's Ladislav Smid dropping the gloves in defense of teammate Jordan Eberle because "(Smid's) a Czech, he can't fight," but he tried, claiming the Leafs were beating the Rangers after one period because of fights by Colton Orr and Mike Brown, the team being "pugnacious, truculent and belligerent and all that stuff." The Leafs, leading 2-0 at that time, lost 5-2 to Marian Gaborik and the Rangers.
However, that was topped by essentially saying Zack Kassian's job is not to score goals in Vancouver while skating alongside the Sedins, noting "only thing there is (Kassian) has two goals," before moving along to tell the budding power forward to "remember what you're there for."
Those that had the good fortune to snag Kassian in their leagues are riding a steady crest of production, as he has goals in each of the last three games heading into Sunday. He's clearly enjoying life alongside the Sedin twins and should be an excellent complement to their skill and vision with his speed and ability to drive the net. He's just not supposed to be scoring goals, apparently.
Each week I tell myself to find something else to watch during the intermission of HNIC, but I can't turn away.
With a week gone in the season, some teams have played close to 10 percent of their season's 48 games. The accelerated pace of games will force most owners to make quicker decisions in terms of cutting bait on players or waiting for them to come around. Personally, I tend to value underperforming players that have performed well in the past more than later round picks. I've had to reexamine that this season after a week, cutting ties with some older players who I feel may not reach their levels of former production (last-round pick Mike Cammalleri being one). This season, owners do not have the luxury of waiting for a player to come around. Be more aggressive in terms of picking up players and recognizing where your team is weak and how you can make a trade to improve.
What About Wade?
Wade Redden is back in the NHL. No longer the highest-paid player in the AHL, Redden has been set free from the purgatory known as the Connecticut Whale, having his albatross-like contract bought out by the Rangers. St. Louis felt a pressing need to bolster their blue line with an experienced rearguard and brought Redden to Missouri on a one-year, $800,000 contract. What Redden will the Blues be getting? The one that vanished when he signed his aforementioned monstrous contract with the Rangers or the one that was one of the league's most consistent offensive defensenmen for a large part of the 2000's with Ottawa?
Odds are Redden won't produce anywhere near the clip he did following the lockout before the most recent lockout, but he'll see his name on the scoresheet occasionally. Remember, St. Louis has one of the league's most productive blue line duos in Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk to take care of the dishing the puck on the power play. While Redden has name recognition and he did score a goal in Saturday's win over Dallas, the odds of him being a relevant player in fantasy hockey this season are slim. Let another owner in your league gamble on Redden.
To Hab and To Hab Not
Swiss blueliner Raphael Diaz is currently enjoying boatloads of power-play time in Montreal, averaging 4:41 through three games and recording five assists, with three coming on the man-advantage. The Canadiens have had success in developing Swiss blueliners, notably Mark Streit, and Diaz had a track record of offensive success in the Swiss league before signing with the Habs. In his first season of North American hockey last year, Diaz posted a modest 3-13-16 stat line in 59 games with 61 shots on goal and a minus-7. It's worth noting that Streit exploded in his second season in the NHL as well. Diaz doesn't have Streit's skill and vision, but he's off to an outstanding start, albeit a pace that is highly unlikely to continue.
Another factor that you have to believe can affect Diaz in the future is the drama surrounding unsigned restricted free agent P.K. Subban. However, the word coming out of Subban's camp is that he and the Habs remain far apart on contract talks, according to the Toronto Sun. Subban is too good of a player for Montreal to go without him, either in terms of bringing him back to the team or getting substantial value for him in a trade.
On the other side of Montreal's power play sits the ever-fragile veteran Andrei Markov, a healthy Andrei Markov. It's a rare sight in Montreal, as the crafty puck mover has played a mere 65 total games since the 2009-10 season. Markov is another player benefitting much from the absence of Subban, but the smart money would suggest Markov sees more power-play time than Diaz once Subban returns. Markov has an inhuman three goals on seven shots through Saturday, all of which have come on the power play; also where his lone assist of the season has come. The aging veteran is seeing close to 24 minutes per-game (5:08 on the power play) and he's showing the skill that made him one of the league's most reliable offensive defensemen for a four-year stretch after the previous lockout.
Both Markov and Diaz present a quandary to owners as both of whom were likely acquired later in drafts or on waiver wires. The looming contract of Subban is going to affect one of these two players, it's time to decide on whom to sell high. Diaz has shown the ability to produce and dish the puck in the Swiss league and could be a great value, but the odds of him keeping up even a semblance of the five assists in three games pace he's established are slim. Markov is showing the ability that made him a househould name amongst fantasy owners and should be worth holding on to, just expect the shooting percentage to regress back toward the mean.
In most leagues, Keith Yandle went well ahead of teammate Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Yandle has proven himself to be a consistent playmaker capable of posting 40-50 points in a regular length season. Ekman-Larsson is a rising star on the Phoenix blue line and provides an excellent complement to Yandle on the Coyotes' power play, and, at a mere 21-years of age, Ekman-Larsson should continue to improve. He made a name for himself last season with 13 goals and 32 total points, chipping in 140 hits as well. This season, Ekman-Larsson struggled in the first two games, but exploded Wednesday against Columbus for two goals and an assist.
Both goals showed Ekman-Larsson joining the rush and finishing from the high slot area with well-placed wrist shots. He also added an assist in Saturday's contest against the Kings, giving him four points over three games. Both of his assists this season have come on the power play and he is averaging over 4:00 of power play time as of yet.
Meanwhile, Yandle is off to a bit of a slower start than owners would have hoped for, going scoreless over a three-game stretch after registering an assist in each of the first two games.
It's not time to panic with a player like Yandle, yet, but don't be afraid to offload him if you can get a decent return. Ekman-Larsson is emerging as sell-high candidate but also as a player worth holding on to. He has double-digit goal upside and sees his value rise even higher in keeper leagues. Depending on your roster's need, he could be a valuable piece, either as a moveable asset or a value in the draft.
There is little to separate the defenseman atop the scoring list so far. Many of the usual suspects and early draft picks are populating that list presently, Through Saturday's contests, Kevin Shattenkirk has six points, all assists, while Erik Karlsson, Justin Schultz, Dustin Byfuglien, Dan Boyle, Alex Pietrangelo, Tobias Enstrom and Diaz are sitting with five points. Markov and Karlsson are tied for the goal-scoring lead through Saturday with three apiece.
As for some trendy pickups this week that could yield a serviceable return, Marek Zidlicky of the Devils had two assists in Friday's win over Washington and is the only defenseman on the Devils' top power-play unit with Ilya Kovalchuk, David Clarkson, Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias. Zidlicky can be a nightmare when handling the puck in the defensive zone, but he can dish it at the other end.
Fedor Tyutin of Columbus always seems to be a player you pick up on waivers after several strong games only to disappear after you insert him into your active lineup. Tyutin has four points (1-3-4) through five games with a typical Columbus minus-6 rating. Tyutin has been a surprise the season's first week vis-à-vis the other offensive-minded defenders on Columbus' roster; Jack Johnson, Nikita Nikitin and James Wisniewski all were drafted ahead of Tyutin and that trio, combined, has three points in 15 games. Of Tyutin's four points, none have come in the last two games, but two have been on the power play. Tyutin currently sits in the fourth spot in terms of average power-play ice time on the Blue Jackets' roster. Tyutin could be worth a gamble on, just be aware there are several roadblocks on his team to consistent production. For all their perceived scoring woes, the Jackets have a handful of blue liners capable of bolstering your team.
Jay Bouwmeester looked quite active in Saturday's win over Edmonton, grabbing a goal and an assist and jumping up into numerous plays. He's always been a great skater and Bouwmeester is in as much need of a redemption season than anyone in the league. He has a big shot and already notched two assists on the power play this season, but Dennis Wideman is eating power play time for Calgary with teammate Mark Giordano following close behind. Bouwmeester is a player to keep an eye on. Monitor his ice time and production, as the Flames have at least one strong scoring line in Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay and Curtis Glencross that can help Bouwmeester rake in assists. Keep in mind Bouwmeester used to register season totals in the high 30 and 40-point range earlier in his career.
Question of the week: Who has been the early-season surprise on your team?
Follow Dan Pennucci on Twitter @dpennucci and contact him here with any questions, comments or suggestions for future pieces.