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Morning Skate: The Average 8

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci has covered hockey for Rotowire since 2002 and is the author of Blue Line Buzz since 2011 as well as being the co-author of Morning Skate. He also is a contributor to Talking Red, a New Jersey Devils blog and podcast. He is an English teacher and formerly wrote for The Coast Star in Manasquan, New Jersey where he and his sports section won several New Jersey Press Association awards. Dan Pennucci is a supporter of the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC. He's attended sporting events in six countries.

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson is a four-time winner of the Hockey Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.


Morning Skate - Week 2

Dan Pennucci to Janet Eagleson
Sunday, February 3
Subject: Peeking Through

How's it going there? So some of your points about PK Subban have been proven in his first two games. Kid's delivered some big hits and has two power play assists already, albeit the one from Saturday was stat padding. I'm intrigued to see how long he will stay on the second power play unit.

Speaking of players coming back, nice to see Adam Henrique back for the Devils and Max Pacioretty well ahead of schedule for the Habs. As a Devils fan it’s great that Henrique, former Windsor Spitfire, is back in the lineup, kid has a knack for being in the right place.

Okay, what does one do right now if they are a Corey Schneider owner and drafted him expecting 35-plus starts with great production. Roberto Luongo looked pretty good against Chicago on Friday in addition to his shutting out of Colorado earlier in the week. He's started the Canucks’ last three games. Is this just putting him in the shop window or will Vancouver hang onto him and the accompanying media storm.

Ciao,
-DAN-

Janet Eagleson to Dan Pennucci
Sunday, February 3
Subject: The Average 8

Hey,

P.K. Subban will ascend to the top unit in short order BUT ... my gut says he will drop back to the second unit if he doesn't immediately make an impact. The Andrei Markov-Raphael Diaz duo had been instrumental in getting the Habs on track this season, so I think they'll quickly go back to Diaz if P.K. hits a speed wobble up there. It's a sprint this season -- they cannot afford to go on a skid for long.

Max Pacioretty has proven before that he's a quick healer, but this is downright ridiculous. Mind you, laparoscopic appendectomies are minimally invasive and he clearly got lucky there was no sepsis. Wait -- I gotta get out of my medical head. Sorry 'bout that. Henrique? I love him. I've long drawn the Brad Richards comparison and I think it's apt. Both were reliable, yet high-performing players behind uber studs (Taylor Hall in Windsor; Vincent Lecavalier in Rimouski). OK -- Hall and Henrique were two years apart in the draft while Vinny and Brad came out the same year, but still -- it was the Taylor Hall show in Windsor. I'm not sure Henrique can hit the offensive highs Richards did, simply because of the defensive system in Jersey. But you must be a happy Devils' fan!

I never bought into the idea that the Orcas would really give Cory Schneider 35 -- or even 30 -- starts. Mike Gillis has been living with a goalie controversy for two years now, so I don't think he's going to be pressured into just any deal. He's content to wait. Then again, there is marked desperation coming out of some Eastern Conference teams, so there might be someone who pays him his price. I'm actually tired of it all. I think a lot of people are, too.

Now, I've been dying to drop this on you for several days now, but I wanted to make sure we talked about it here and not on the sidelines. Is Alexander Ovechkin a candidate for a compliance buyout? His cap hit is $9 mil, but he has an embarrassing two goals and two assists in nine games. New coach Adam Oates tried to flip him to right wing in the hope Ovi would get the same boost that Ilya Kovalchuk got when Oates did the same thing in Jersey. It failed. [Ovechkin] is one of the most predictable players in the NHL and I continue to hear he just will not focus on improving the weaknesses in his game.

Would you buy out Alexander the Gr8? And/or Mike Green ($6 mil) for that matter? And what should fantasy owners in both single-year and keeper formats do with these guys?

Eagle out

Dan Pennucci to Janet Eagleson
Monday, February 4
Subject:  Ovi over in DC?

Tired of hearing about Luongo? Next you'll tell me that Leaf fans have unrealistic expectations. I'm getting a bit tired of it too, only because I own Schneider in a league and it's been maddening wondering when the guy will play.

Great to hear of your admiration for Adam Henrique. The last three games, it's been nice to see him bring some stability to the team's top six. He played very well alongside Ilya Kovalchuk last season, but did fall off a bit toward the end of the season before he came up huge in the playoffs. Kid has great hockey sense. The Devils have been getting production out of him and fellow OHL alum, former Kitchener Ranger David Clarkson. Nine points in eight games from the grinder, as well as this tremendous commercial for a hockey equipment store in northern New Jersey. It's a slight understatement to say those two have become fan favorites.

Speaking of someone from Vancouver not named Schneider or Luongo, the Twins have been awfully quiet the last week. Have to believe they'll pick up their play, but their ceiling may not get much higher.

Speak of the Devil, or Ovechkin (to some people it's the same thing). I was having this same conversation with a colleague of mine who happens to be a Capitals season ticket holder. I cannot see the Capitals using a compliance buyout on The Average 8 on sheer principle. The team rebranded themselves around Ovechkin. Changed its logo around Ovechkin. Made hockey relevant in DC again around Ovechkin. Marketing campaigns have been built around him and owner Ted Leonsis has taken a bath on the money Ovechkin has brought in. Ovi is undoubtedly the face of the franchise and I can't see them cutting ties with him simply because of his popularity despite the ridiculous level to which his play has plateaued.

Your point about the predictable nature of his play is a massive understatement. He still does the whole "come down the left wing and curl to the high slot." It's either that or he tries to beat three players with one move. He still isn't shy about shooting the puck before looking to pass, 34 shots in nine games with a mere two goals and two assists to show for it. (He added a helper in Sunday's loss to Pittsburgh with the game well out of hand). Considering he went in the first round of most drafts because owners figured it couldn't get worse than last year, Ovechkin is a monumental bust so far this season. He's an average player. Kovalchuk bought in to the Devils' team-first philosophy last season while Oates was one of the assistants, turning himself into a strong two-way player (although currently Kovy is a minus-3 with an assist over the last five games). Conversely, the defending Stanley Cup champs are 14th in the Western Conference. When do they turn it around?

You mentioned Montreal's hot start in your last message. I've been impressed with them, especially after seeing most of Sunday's win over Ottawa. Carey Price is playing well and the team is scoring on the power play. I'd have to include both them and the Islanders as early-season surprises in the East.

What can we make of Craig Anderson's play in Ottawa? Man has been outstanding with ridiculous numbers on an average team. With Spezza out, how long does the Anderson magic last?

Janet Eagleson to Dan Pennucci
Tuesday, February 5
Subject: Not so fast, Isles

Dan, Dan, Dan. I get it that the Caps have built their house on an Ovie foundation. But it's a cinder block foundation with a crap load of leaks, and there comes a point where you have to sell a house like that and move to a place with poured concrete underpinnings. The cap is going down next season and his salary will be proportionately that much greater. Ted Leonsis didn't get rich with bad or stupid investments. Sadly, Ovie is both right now in both fantasy and on the ice. Then again, Steve Yzerman changed his game his late 20s -- any chance Ovie pulls that off, too? I'm leaning to a big "nyet."

Yes, Montreal has surprised me. The Western Conference is shaking out pretty much as I expected ... Los Angeles aside. But the East has been flat out nutty. The Caps, Flyers and Rangers are outside the top eight as I write this and the Habs and Isles are in. I think the Isles have surprised me the most, but I think the boys on the Island of Misfit Toys are playing with fire, though. They're way better on the road than at home and Pittsburgh is the only other playoff team with a similar home record (1-2-0). I know exactly which one of those two teams we're both picking to change that around and it ain't the Isles. Give them another year; then they're "in."

I'm a little surprised that the Desert Dawgs are holding up as well as they are right now. I expected a drop-off in offense with the loss of Ray Whitney, but so far, so good. I'm a big fan of Mikkel Boedker who is following a first-half, offensive explosion overseas with a near point-per-game pace in the NHL. The Great Dane is about to become a household name (and, like David Clarkson he's another Kitchener Rangers' alum).

Craig Anderson? I've never been a big fan. Both Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner are ready and the latter is ripping up the AHL right now. Ottawa's ship is sinking fast. Milan Michalek is just another sidekick -- he can't score without his Batman. His fantasy value is sinking like a stone. And Erik Karlsson cannot do it all. Sorry, Sens' fans -- welcome to the bowels of Ontario alongside the Maple Leafs.

Now to a couple other goalie call-ups -- you and I both know how desperate fantasy owners become for in-season goalie points. I flagged both Jake Allen and Petr Mrazek to you Sunday night. Mrazek's rise has been meteoric since last year's World Juniors and he's catapulted to the top of the Wings' depth chart. I like him. But what happens in Detroit this season? Are they in or are they out? Better yet -- who wins the Nathan McKinnon-Seth Jones sweepstakes?

Eagle out

Dan Pennucci to Janet Eagleson
Wednesday, February 6
Subject: Habbing It All

All points well taken with the Average 8. He's a hopelessly predictable player, but I see Mike Green as a more viable candidate. It's still staggering to remember that this guy cracked 30 goals and was over a point-per-game as a defenseman. Green's a shell of himself and he only scored a goal against Pittsburgh last Sunday because he was launched into the boards by Kris Letang and he began wobbling off the ice only to be in perfect position for a one timer. Great shot, but still. Green hasn't been the same since that wonky leg/groin injury he aggravated last November. He was never much of a defensive player and his salary isn't quite the albatross that Ovechkin's is, but he's a liability. I can still see them keeping Ovechkin, he's too much of an icon. I'm glad I steered away from both Ovie and Green. The foundation of the Verizon Center has a few leaks, but I see them sinking in the good ship Ovie than jettisoning him. If he commits himself to changing his game a la Yzerman and Vinny Lecavalier, I'll be shocked. Best thing they can do in the short term is to strip him of the "C" which should have gone to Brooks Laich a few years ago. My take: Green is out, they'll live and die with Ovie before admitting they're wrong.

The Habs I see having staying power buoyed by Price in goal. Markov stays healthy and they should be consistently solid offensively with their full complement of American scorers, European playmakers and non-francophone Canadian grinders. I like the Isles right now, but I do think they might be a year away. You're more in tune with the junior game than I am, so, I want to get your take on the potential impact of Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Strome if both fulfill their potential. Yes, the Rangers will turn it around, but I think they miss the roles played by Anisimov and Dubinsky much more than they'll admit, but the biggest piece missing might be the boost Brandon Prust provided. They did look out of sorts on Tuesday evening, losing to the Devils without their two on-ice leaders as Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi were both injured. (Despite being a Devils' fan, there's a lot of love about the work those two do on the ice). The Flyers I'm less sure about, but Bryzgalov has been outstanding this season, even in losses. They have a lot more issues to deal with, like the lack of pace on defense and inconsistent scoring.

Back to the Flyers, in addition to Ovechkin, Claude Giroux has been a phantom this season. It's baffling, considering how talented of a player he is.

Phoenix is always surprising. Vrbata is one of the league's most underrated snipers and I'm about a week away from buying an Oliver Ekman-Larsson sweater. As for your comment about Detroit, I think they sneak in at 7th or 8th.

The Charlie Coyle era in Minny has begun, what's the type of talent the Wild fans can expect?

As for McKinnon, I have to think that Columbus will be in the mix for him, as will Florida or Toronto, but it'd be hysterical if Edmonton won the lottery again after they miss the playoffs. Jones seems like a special talent. Has all the athletic gifts, have to wonder what the final package will look like when he develops defensively.

Laters,
-DAN-

Janet Eagleson to Dan Pennucci
Wednesday, February 6
Subject: Coyle Of The Wild

I don't share your optimism on Ovie -- everyone has a tipping point and I think the Caps franchise will get out of that deal. There's little to no return on investment, even with the so-called marketing focus. And Green? I dunno. It just feels as though there's a sense of entitlement that drives a bunch of guys on that team. And that obliterates the concept of team.

There are a lot of great youngsters in the game these days. Ryan Strome will give the Isles the best one-two punch down the middle in the entire NHL. He's that good. He has to add some weight and get stronger to handle the rigors of the NHL, but he'll be elite. He can do things with the puck that few can. Griffin Reinhart rubbed me the wrong way at the recent World Juniors, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He has excellent raw tools, but has been criticized as being a bit soft for his size (6-4). And when he used his size at the World Juniors, he left his brain on the bench. Hopefully he can mature quickly. He'll be running the power play on Long Island (soon to be Brooklyn) for a long time if he can put everything together.

Charlie Coyle is outstanding -- he's a blue chipper on the ice and in the fantasy arena. And he's the perfect first-line winger alongside Zach Parise. Coyle is big and fast, and doesn't mind getting dirty along the wall. And his presence means Parise won't have to be the first man in the zone, something he's pretty much stuck with when he skates with that pylon named Dany Heatley. That leaves Parise at major risk of injury. Yikes. Coyle will solve that -- he'll be the guy who digs out the puck for Parise. And a healthy Parise means a successful team in Minny and lots of points to go round. Coyle will be a point-per-game player with near-equal goals and assists in the near future. Think a more offensive David Backes, who might just be one of the best all-around players in the game.

The top 10 of the 2013 draft is one of the best in years. We've been focused on Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones, and Jonathan Drouin to some extent. But there are plenty of scouts out there who are talking about an interchangeable top-seven. Wow! Aleksander Barkov, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm are in the mix. And so is Valeri Nichushkin -- he's an absolute beast. He's physically dominant with talent and has the chance to be a true game changer. But after the top-10 or so, we're left with solid, sturdy and unspectacular third and fourth liners. Start jockeying for one of those premium top-seven spots now. These guys will be worth it. Or better yet trade your pick if you already know you'll be pushing for a title.

There's always a sick chance that Edmonton could get one of these guys -- it could happen now that each of the 14 teams that miss the playoffs get a chance at the top pick. But what's even sicker is that Alexander Ovechkin and the Caps could go Code Blue and get that top pick. Then again, Columbus could flat line and still get jobbed. But I digress.

Eagle out