Today, From the Pressbox:
A review of the early scoring leaders and some related observations.
To Sid or not to Sid?
Sidney Crosby already has 17 points in only nine games played and already has a five-point bulge over the rest of the field. This pace does not surprise me at all as he has clearly shown that he is the most skilled attacker in the game in recent years. He also has a deep and prolific group of top-end skill players on the Penguins roster to support his efforts and yet Kris Letang, arguably the top offensive defenseman in hockey has yet to suit up in a game with him this year.
There are many people who probably shied away from selecting Crosby due to the much-publicized concussions issues he has dealt with in his career. He has tallied 682 points in 479 career regular season games. That's an average of 117 points in an 82-game season. Even if he plays 60 games that would work out to 85 points, a pace that only eight other players topped last year (in 48 games), if they repeat their performances over this full season.
Every time Crosby has returned from injury, he has scored at something approaching his usual torrid pace. Another point to consider is that injuries can happen to anyone.
I had no fear and chose him in my pool and am reaping the early benefits.
Can a projected bottom ranking team offer good scoring options?
In a word, yes!
Every team will try to settle on regular components of their power play and those are great players to target in your pools.
Consider the Calgary Flames, whom many projected to be the worst team in the league this year. It was expected that Captain, and their top overall defenseman, Mark Giordano, would quarterback the power play and log upwards of 25 minutes per game. Well, guess what, he has nine points in the Flames' first eight games. Is he likely to keep that pace up? Not likely at all, but he is a skilled offensive defenseman who has reached the 40 point plateau before and may be very capable of reaching it again, given this hot start.
Similarly, Jiri Hudler is playing among the top two lines and on the power play in Calgary and he has 11 points in the bank already. He's going to get every chance to keep this up given the fact he is one of their main offensive threats.
What to do about top scoring rookies.
A number of young stars are having very impressive debuts in the first weeks of this season. As they do retain junior eligibility, their NHL teams do have the option of sending them back to their junior teams, in order that they don't accelerate the clock on their careers toward arbitration and free agency.
As we are going to see most active players reach that 10-game mark, we will soon know whether the likes of Sean Monahan (Calgary), Seth Jones (Nashville), and Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado), among others, are going to be with their parent clubs through the full NHL schedule. If some of those names are available in the free agent portion of your pools that would be a great time to pick these first year players. If you make a mistake and pick a player who is demoted, that would represent a missed opportunity elsewhere and you can't have those errors starting to mount in the early going.
Don't be swayed by the performance of secondary options.
We note that J.S. Giguere (36 yeas old) has two shutouts in his first three games played for the Colorado Avalanche. At that rate he should reach the single-season shutout record (15, by Tony Esposito in 1969-70) by February. Seriously though, no one (anywhere) expects that to continue. Colorado was another of those clubs that was not expected to be a playoff contender this year and Giguere understands that Semyon Varlamov, who has played in six of the first nine games for the Avs, is still regarded as their number one goalie and has a glittering 1.68 gaa of his own so far.
Similarly, Ben Scrivens has a 1.22 gaa in three appearances for Los Angeles, while number one goalie Jonathan Quick has a 2.56 mark in nine appearances. Their roles are not going to change anytime soon, I promise you.
Veteran defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic is off to a career best start with two goals and five assists in nine games. I don't expect that to continue for a couple of reasons. He has never scored more than six goals in any single season during his seven previous years in the league. He also doesn't possess the natural offensive instincts of the better-known offensive defensemen in the league.
It's nice to see...
There are a number of things that are very pleasing to keen hockey fans.
The return to prominence of Alexander Ovechkin tops this list for me. He was neck and neck with Crosby as the future face of the game, until Bruce Boudreau came to coach Washington and tried to impose a defensive structure, at the expense of a freewheeling offense. That, in terms of proper use of Ovechkin, was like turning Secretariat into a plough-horse.
Now that Adam Oates is the new bench boss of the Caps, Ovechkin is back to his flashy offensive game and it's only a matter of time before the Crosby comparisons resurface. That will be great for the game.
The Original Six teams - Five of the oldest franchises in the NHL are off to great starts, with only the New York Rangers posting a sub-500 record so far. This is important for the marketing of the sport in North America, where these six teams still represent the deep end of the pool, in terms of established and educated fan bases. That will also translate into big dollars in multi-media sales and ancillary avenues.
It's also great to see the rebirth of rivalries between Detroit, Montreal and Toronto, among the oldest in all of professional sports.
The injection of quality youth throughout the league - A generation ago, it was an exception if an 18 or 19 year-old player made the successful jump to the NHL, while giving up future time in Junior Hockey. It is still advisable for most such players to fulfill their junior time allotment, if only to further develop their skill sets. But more recently we have seen many young phenoms make the grade and improve the depth of talent across the league.
Goalies returning to prominence - While most people would prefer an 8-6 hockey game to a 3-1 affair, I am really pleased to see that goalies can aspire to hold their goals against to less than three per game. In the 80s and 90s, most goalies were smaller in stature and the equipment they used was not of the quality and size, though recently reduced, that we see today.
The longevity of great players is still possible - I also enjoy the opportunity to watch aging veterans like Teemu Selanne (43), Jaromir Jagr (41) and Daniel Alfredsson (40) who still play prominent roles within their clubs. While it's becoming a younger man's game, there is still room for these players, who are still able to move up on the all-time scoring leader boards.
What is it that you like about today's game and its style points?
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).