Today, From the Pressbox:
A difficult decision upcoming in Vancouver
The Canucks are off to an ordinary 3-3 start and do not appear well equipped to challenge a number of other clubs which appear to have move depth and talent in the Western Conference. That is probably a bitter realization for the Canucks' management team, which must be weigh this start and outlook against the fact that the franchise has had a very nice run in recent years, where they have consistently been among the top teams in the regular season points race.
The key issue, which will garner a great deal of attention as this season plays out, will be the contract speculation and negotiations between the Canucks and the Sedin Twins. Daniel and Henrik are now 33 years old and each in the last year of a multi-year pact that carries an annual cap hit of $6.1 M. Of course, most observers fully expect that the Sedins will re-sign in Vancouver, but the interesting aspect will focus on the term and dollars that the Canucks might be willing to commit here. It seems pretty clear that the window of opportunity for ultimate success, with the two Swedes pacing this attack, must be closing.
It would be difficult to justify a new pact that would extend their stay in Vancouver by more than another four or five years. No one would expect them to be point per game players in their late 30s. Indeed, it should be that consideration that should guide GM Mike Gillis in these negotiations. The trouble with that expectation is the fact that, too often, players are rewarded with contracts based on past performance and less on the likelihood of repeating that same level of play in the future.
A bad result in these negotiations could set the Canucks way back at a time where they might be better off changing the look of their on-ice leadership.
Colorado shines with a great start
To the surprise of many, the Avalanche has burst from the starting gate with a 6-0 start. Much of the credit fort this perfect record is being directed at new head coach Patrick Roy. The former goaltending great made a lot of headlines for the way he behaved behind the bench as a head coach in Junior Hockey in Quebec. Instead of continuing to make some headlines as a distraction in his debut as the new Colorado bench boss, Roy has earned high praise as a great motivator.
The quick reference point that marks this early success is found in the four goals allowed through the club's first five games. Semyon Varlamov has parlayed his four starts into a very popular choice as a goalie upgrade option in the fantasy game. His backup, J.S. Giguere, registered a 39-save shutout against in his only appearance (against Boston, no less) but is clearly expected to remain the number two option, charged with mentoring his young partner.
A young, balanced attack is being led by top draft pick Nathan MacKinnon who has tallied six points in his first five games as a pro. P.A. Parenteau is continuing where he left off last year as a solid veteran who was underrated as a playmaker and he has already chipped in three goals and two assists.
In addition to rolling three lines, punctuated by talented offensive centers, the Avs also lean on a fourth pivot, John Mitchell, to give them an edge against most opponents fourth line depth, as a guy who will win more than his share of face-offs and can also generate scoring chances on a regular basis.
Goaltending wealth in Toronto
When the Leafs made an offseason deal to acquire goalie Jonathan Bernier from Los Angeles, the knee-jerk reaction in Toronto was that a goalie controversy was going to unfold in Leafland with him battling incumbent James Reimer. While fantasy owners are likely well advised to look for starting goalies who are clear number ones on their teams depth charts, these two young goalies are waging quite a battle for control of the Toronto net.
Through the first six games, Bernier had the early edge with a 4-1 record and a 1.75 goals against average. At the same time, many pundits were already anointing him as the early leader in this internal competition. He did surrender the net after allowing five goals in a 6-5 win over Edmonton, though. Reimer responded to his opportunity by turning aside 37 of 38 shots in Tuesday's 4-1 win over Minnesota.
The curious aspect of this season's schedule, which is often overlooked, is that the Leafs will play 23 sets of back-to-back games during this condensed schedule (which makes way for the Olympic break in February). Teams with two quality goalies, like the Leafs, will be able to split those assignments and always ice a well-rested netminder in each game. That could prove to be a key advantage over other clubs that will lean heavily on their clear top option.
When teams, like the Leafs, approach the playoffs, they like to lean on one goalie, in order to run with that choice through the postseason and that may the time when we see who coach Randy Carlyle favors, but until then you should expect Bernier and Reimer to volley the number one perception back and forth.
Calgary - another surprising beginning
The Flames have also started off this campaign on the right foot, with points in each of their first five games. Career backup goalie Joey MacDonald was expected to continue in that role here, but instead, he has a 3-0-1 mark after limiting opponents to a 2.98 goals against average. Karri Ramo, who was brought in as the new number one goalie, gave up the net after an ordinary effort in a 4-3 SO loss against Washington. Over the long haul, it should be Ramo who will get most of the workload here, but we should expect the Flames to ride MacDonald's current hot streak.
A Calgary offense that has totaled 18 goals in that same five game stretch is just as big a surprise as the Calgary goalie situation. Jiri Hudler's hot start bodes well, as he leads the attack with seven points and is expected to be among the club's top offensive stars all year long. Mark Giordano slumped offensively last season, but the Flames new captain has rediscovered his offensive form as the club's top scoring blueliner and power play quarterback with two goals and four assists.
The big shot in the arm has come from raw rookie center, Sean Monahan, who has tallied six points as well. He looks like he will stick with Calgary, even though he has a year of junior eligibility left as a 19 year old player. This may be a good situation for him to continue his development as a pro, in an environment when expectations for Calgary are very low.
Beyond these names, a number of second tier players, namely, Curtis Glencross, David Jones and Lee Stempniak have provided early offense, too. Before anointing this team as a playoff contender, we need to see this current level of play extend to the 20-game mark. We fully expect that will not happen, so we caution fantasy owners everywhere to stay away from the Calgary bandwagon until a greater sample size of games played is in the books.
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).