Excuses. Misdirections. Conspiracies. It seems the hockey world is full of them this week.
What the heck is in the water?
First, Semyon Varlamov pulled a Patrick Roy and ended up in cuffs. Varly's father proclaimed his innocence and one Russian official went so far as to suggest his arrest was one big conspiracy against Mother Russia's Olympic hopes in Sochi.
The Avs then played the distraction card and traded a top-line power winger they "said" they really, really liked for 29-year-old penalty-killing specialist. And then announced Varlamov would be between the pipes Friday night.
There are problems in Dodge. Or in this case Denver.
Then again, things are weird in the east, too. On Devil's Eve, Braden Holtby publicly ripped his Washington teammates about their pre-game prep. His coach and teammates made darn sure the media - and Holtby - knew they didn't have his back. And then they let him get pummeled by Sugar Ray Emery on Friday night.
One team has its goalie's back; the other, not so much.
So...why should fantasy owners worry? This goes well beyond the bad behavior of a few goalies. Yes, the charges against Varlamov are serious - kidnapping is considered an aggravated felony in the U.S. Prison time and deportation are both possible. I own him; I know I'm in trouble, but I'm even more worried about the impact` on a young team that was already dealing with something sketchy in the room.
Why else would they trade Downie? I don't buy the impending UFA argument.
I just don't think there's enough veteran leadership to help the young Avs through this issue. Their hot start is in jeopardy in my eyes. I'm looking to sell.
I'm selling on Holtby, too. Goalies can be flaky, but he's beyond intense. And it looks like he's on an island all by himself - did you notice how no one came to his aid when Ray Emery was re-arranging his face? Michal Neuvirth is waiting in the wings and a lot of people think he's better than Holtby anyway.
Guys on a team don't have to get along to be able to play together - or win. But it's rare that a team will respect a guy who has thrown them under the bus. Holtby would have a lot less single-year value in the orange and blue of the Oil...
Start preparing for the worst. And start watching other teams for other potential points of friction. It wasn't that long ago that the Flyers suffered through the Eric Lindros-Rod Brind'Amour "wife issue"...
Your fantasy team's standing is going to take a hit. Try to be creative and shuffle the deck chairs. Just don't wait too long.
Now let's take a look at who caught my eye.
Artem Anisimov, LW/C, Columbus (7 percent owned) - Soooo...what would you do if I told you there was a first-line, top PP-unit player available in 93 percent of leagues? I know - that's rhetorical. I picked him up, too. Anisimov can be maddeningly inconsistent, but he has a whole lot of talent...plus a gig beside Marian Gaborik. Heading into action Friday, he had six points in his last six games with a point in five of those six. Sure, the Jackets aren't exactly big scorers, but Anisimov is worth riding when he's hot. And he is just that right now.
Jason Chimera, LW, Washington (2 percent owned) - Lightning - meet bottle. Chimera is officially en fuego, but that's not really a surprise. He's consistently inconsistent - when he streaks, he really streaks. And right now, the torpedo-like forechecker is riding high - he's on a four-game goal streak and has nine points in those same games. These streaks don't last long, so get ready to jump off as fast as you jumped on. But every little bit helps. Take advantage.
Derek Dorsett, RW, NY Rangers (3 percent owned) - This meathead is on pace to deliver career penalty minute totals for you. But he's more than just your average agitator - this guy can actually play. He's averaging more than 11 minutes of ice a night and his hands once delivered 12 goals in a season. Twenty points are a stretch, but still possible. So are delicious sin-bin totals. He's proof positive that you don't need a pylon to win your meathead categories.
Jhonas Enroth, G, Buffalo (6 percent owned) - This little Swede is on this list for one reason and one reason alone - Semyon Varlamov. The Avs appear to have a "need" and Ryan Miller might fit the bill. And that would leave Enroth as the top dog in the land of fires. Now, this is pure speculation on my part - it's not even a rumor yet. And it's not like the Sabres will win games. But Enroth has already shown he can deliver good ratios even when surrounded by the Timbits. Stash and hold.
Brian Gionta, RW, Monteal (8 percent owned) - Guess who's in a contract year. Yup, Gionta is in a full-out rebound from his injury-riddled recent past - it's remarkable what a little motivation will do for a guy. His seven points in 13 games may not look like much, but five of those have come in his last eight games. At 34, he's probably looking at his last deal and there's a lot to be said about getting a four-year deal rather than a two-year sniff. Combine that motivation with opportunity and he's approaching a fantasy sweet spot - he's still got his hands on a second-line gig and he's leading all Habs forwards in power-play ice time. Milk it, baybee. Someone else will if you don't...
Radko Gudas, D, Tampa Bay (26 percent owned) - In Detroit, you'll get Kronwalled. In Tampa Bay, you'll get Rad-KO'd. Gudas became a fan fave last season with his tooth-rattling checks and he has picked up this season right where he left off. He was second in the NHL in PIMs and 10th in hits heading into action on Friday night, but he also had four points, too. At this rate, he could finish with close to 30 points and be in the top-10 - or maybe, top-five - in both hits and PIMs at season's end. KO your competition by sliding this bearded menace into your bottom defense spot. You won't be sorry.
Kris Russell, D, Calgary (3 percent owned) - Home cooking sure has its benefits, eh? This fleet-footed defender was raised two hours from Calgary and coming home seems to have settled his game. He's not really a natural point producer, but rather a smooth-skating puck mover not unlike a (shorter) Jay Bouwmeester. But he's showing his offensive side now that he's filling Mark Giordano's boots beside Dennis Wideman. Add, rinse and then release when Giordano returns. Every little bit helps.
Mike Santorelli, C, Vancouver (9 percent owned) - Santorelli has found his fit - who knew it would be in Vancouver? The guy had 11 points in 60 games with the Floridian kitties in 2011-12, but he already has nine (four goals, five assists) in 15 games with the Orcas this season. And then there's his role. Santorelli has moved to second-line center, replacing none other than Ryan Kesler. Yah - second line. Even Kesler is impressed with Santorelli. Center is deep, but you always need to take a look at guys on the top two lines, particularly on decent teams.
Tommy Wingels, RW/C, San Jose (10 percent owned) - Wingels has a sweet scoring touch and an 80-grit edge to his game, and like most Sharks, he's riding an early-season wave of success. His nine points (three goals, six assists) and plus-7 rating in 13 games put him on a 55-60 point pace. One word - wow! He's even getting a sliver of power-play time, too. There are a lot of owners sleeping on this potential multi-categorical fantasy micro-stud. Don't be one of them.
Mika Zibanejad, C, Ottawa (4 percent owned) - Five games, four points...including three goals. That's pretty sweet, but that's just scratching the surface of this impressive 20-year-old. His two-way game is remarkably polished for a player his age, his skating is strong and his hockey smarts are sharp. Combine those things with a natural sniping ability and a power forward's mentality, and he's a fantasy owner's dream. He won't continue to deliver at this pace and his ultimate upside may be limited to 70-75 points. But he will bring you some short-term, multi-category goodness right now.
Back to the conspiracy.
Sometimes the world is just out to get people. Heaven forbid you take responsibility for your own actions and behaviors...
The Varlamov story is an ugly one. There's going to be a dark cloud around the goalie and the team for a long time. Deservedly so if the accusations are true. And there's almost no way to keep that from affecting that young squad.
The Holtby story? That guy is either stupid or has no political acuity at all. Or both. It's actually sad when someone just doesn't "get it"...
Bottom line, I'm eyeballing trades for both these guys AND the more fragile guys from each of their teams. I'm not interested in having my year destroyed by someone else's stupidity. Or conspiracy.
Until next week.