Today, From the Pressbox:
A coaching change already - are they serious in Philly?
Looking for goalies
Key injuries-who steps up early
Hit the ground running
The pressure is off Brad Richards
The Philadelphia Coaching Decision
So, your team starts with an 0-3 mark and three goals for vs. nine goals against. Is that enough evidence that a coaching change is in order? It is in Philadelphia, as Peter Laviolette was fired and replaced by Assistant Coach Craig Berube. The party line on Monday was that the Flyers brass wanted to give Laviolette a full training camp ahead of this projected 82-game season to get this ship pointed in the right direction. Measuring that against this slow start we see a sense of panic here. That makes this a team whose players have a negative fantasy value with the current environment.
We have to balance that view with another strong possibility. On any team, the assistant coach can be the most popular member of staff for most players. The assistants are on the practice ice every day and often are sought by players as the friendly ear to air their beefs. In a pressure environment like the one under fiery owner Ed Snider, the players are more likely to feel that pressure for this bad start.
With Berube now the headmaster, I look for a quick change of fortunes in the short term. We look at the fact that Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds were pointless in these three games and have no qualms about projecting that they will still be among the club's top scorers at season's end.
Just because the Flyers' top management has soured on their head coach doesn't mean you have to bail on the Flyers who are on your fantasy rosters. Three games is not a representative sample size. This point speaks to the need to be patient, as a fantasy owner. Making a knee jerk reaction to your own fantasy squad's potential slow start may only lead you to make your own errors in judgment. Those errors will possibly multiply that tough beginning to your season. Give your roster at least a month to reveal a more telling form chart for your collection of players and measure that against career norms for them before making any rash decisions.
Looking For Goalies
In rotisserie formats, goalies may have an impact in only a couple of categories, but that doesn't mean you throw up your hands and simply punt those categories.
In considering your early season options, you have to do some simple math. Look at last year's stats as a guide in considering which goalies are the clear number one keepers on teams who lean heavily on them. That means in last year's 48 game campaign, you should note that only 21 goalies even appeared in as many as 30 games. That tells you almost a third of the teams had no better than a 60F%/40% spilt between their top two goalies. Even so, of those 21 goalies, only 10 topped the 20-win mark. Those are the goalies and team situations that you should be targeting to populate your roster.
Looking at some early team situations, we all know that barring catastrophic injuries, Tuukka Rask and Carey Price are going to play the lion's share of the games for Montreal and Boston respectively. The same goes for Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles.
What about a circumstance like the one in Toronto? The Leafs were a surprise entry into the playoffs last year, largely on the strength of James Reimer's play. Yet, GM Dave Nonis brought in Jonathan Bernier as a viable competitor for the number one goalie job with the Leafs. Of course this removed Reimer from the list of goalies that were initially expected to play upwards of 50 games this season.
Now, three games into the season, and after seeing Reimer get pulled in as game that the Leafs turned into a surprising win, thanks in large part to Bernier, a quick fantasy owner reaction may have led to support for Bernier. Once again, we point to the small sample of games this season and warn against such a quick overreaction. One game result should not change perceptions so dramatically. Who's to say that Bernier doesn't have a bad night in the near future and is similarly upstaged by Reimer? If you fall for these single-game scenarios, you will be chasing short sighted options. Once again, we urge you to sit back and take a comparative look at the goalie situations on the 30 teams in the NHL. You, as part of a 10-15 team fantasy league, will find good options to consider in season.
Injuries and Slow Starts - The Replacements
Key injuries are always a part of the hockey landscape. Kris Letang (knee) has yet to suit up for the Penguins and top sniper James Neal is also out with upper body injury. The Pens have not missed a bit in winning their first two games and two lesser lights among the Pens star-studded lineup have stepped up into those key vacancies. Veteran winger Craig Adams has fired two goals and Matt Niskanen has been prominent in the top two defense pairs, notched three assists. As long as the two big guns are out, these recently promoted depth players will get a chance to continue to produce. If they succeed you ought to consider them. If they fail, watch for the next options who will try to fill those same roles.
Similarly, in Toronto, Dave Bolland arrived with some fanfare, although he was ticketed as the number three center behind Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri, the club's top scoring centers. When Kadri struggled in the faceoff circle, Coach Randy Carlyle moved Bolland up to the second scoring line and the veteran capitalized for a two-goal game. The fantasy owner who has followed Boland's career will recall that he showed an offensive flair during his time in Chicago, when he stepped up into the Hawks' top two lines periodically and produced similar results. Bolland has established himself as a player who has the coach's trust, is good in the faceoff circle, is defensively responsible and is not afraid to go to the tough areas on the ice.
In Carolina, injuries have sidelined Tim Gleason and Joni Pitkanen, two of the Hurricanes' top defensemen. That has thrust depth player Jay Harrison and Justin Faulk into more significant minutes of playing time and they have each responded with tow points in their first two games. Of the two, Faulk has the greater upside and can be viewed as the more likely player who is capable of a solid offensive contribution. Sometimes, all that a player like Faulk needs is the regular opportunity to share his ability in replacing the expected play of Pitkanen, who was expected to be the team's top offensive defenseman.
Hit the Ground Running
Sometimes a fast start is a portent of a breakthrough season. In Montreal, Lars Eller has long been projected as a scoring center. Well, he has progressed steadily in his first three years as a pro and has gotten off to a great start this year, firmly entrenched in the Canadiens' top two scoring lines. He has ample size at 6'2" and 210 lbs to help withstand the rigors of opposing top defensive checkers and tough defensemen and is not the only offensive weapon that Montreal's attack is predicated on. There's no reason to doubt this early surge and he is a good bet to have this hot start evolve into a breakthrough campaign.
Similarly, Torey Krug, a defenseman with Boston Bruins is off to a fine start. He moved up on Boston's depth chart after a strong playoff run last season. That effort gave the Bruins some comfort when Andrew Ference left the team in favor of Edmonton in free agency. Through two games, he has already tallied a goal and an assist and continues to play well at both ends of the rink. He and Dougie Hamilton are the young components of an otherwise veteran blueline, but these two kids are only behind Zdeno Chara, in terms of what offense they can add from the defense corps.
Brad Richards is a well-decorated veteran of 12 NHL seasons, during which he has been known as a very consistent offensive player. Last year, he found himself miscast in John Tortorella's primarily defensive minded scheme. As a result, he slumped almost to a career-low scoring pace. With the arrival of Alain Vigneault, as the new Rangers' bench boss, Richards was expected to be one of the main beneficiaries of that change. Through two games he has averaged 18.5 minutes of playing time and has already recorded a two-goal game. He may be ready to get back to the 60-70 point range this year.
Similarly, Mikhail Grabovski may not have been given the best chance to thrive in his last season in Toronto, because two other centers with comparable skills were ahead of him on the Leafs' depth chart. Consequently, he was relegated to the third line for much of last season. His year, he has signed on with the Caps and found a great spot on the first line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Three goals and two assists in three games is a good indicator that Grabovski has found an early groove here.
Finally, we want to highlight Jiri Hudler. Here is a veteran player who has scored well in a support role throughout his career. In Calgary, to start this season, Hudler has emerged as a key part of the offense, mainly due to more responsibility and opportunity. He has paid off to the tune of 4 points in only three games.
The sharp fantasy pool owners will keep an eye out for these individual storylines. Choosing from among them will boost your fantasy team significantly.
Paul Bruno has been writing about the fantasy sports scene for several years and is an accredited member of the sports media in Toronto for over 20 years. You are invited to send your feedback and you can follow him on Twitter (statsman22).