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Morning Skate: Cursing the Leafs

Dan Pennucci

Dan is a former sportswriter and English teacher. He has been covering hockey for Rotowire since 2002. Supports the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC.

Janet Eagleson

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

From: Dan Pennucci (@dpennucci)
Sent: Monday, Feb. 11
To: Janet Eagleson
Subject: Cult Followings.
All is right in the world of the Leafs I see. Phil Kessel is back to scoring goals and the Leafs mopped the floor with Montreal.

With the truncated schedule, I'm wondering what your take on being aggressive in terms of improving your team is since there isn't that whole, "I'll wait a week and see how things shake out," excuse that we tend to fall back on. It seems there have been enough games to identify emerging trends and patterns and the more concentrated schedule made me more vigilant in terms of assessing my squad's shortcomings after draft.
I made a few deals over the last week in my rotisserie league to boost my team in an area where I was lacking: assists. After the first week, I felt my team was already behind in helpers and that can snowball quickly. Whether these moves will pay off, I do not know yet, but I've positioned my squad by trading from a spot of strength in terms of goal scoring and plenty of defensemen to correct the slow start. One player I dealt was PK Subban, whom I was a bit reluctant to move, but felt my team was doing okay before he signed, so let's roll the dice. (Of course, PK proceeded to have a point in each of his first four games, but I digress). If the moves backfire, I'm glad I made the attempt to help my squad, but I also have acquired some attractive keeper options.

The second I saw Brent Burns was playing for San Jose against Phoenix on Saturday, I jumped to see what leagues Burns was available in and lucked out in one league. I don't know if we'll see the usual double-digit goal version of Brent Burns, but a player with his track record is well worth a gamble. I'd figured he would be out a bit longer with a nagging lower body injury, but he's back and it can only get better for the Sharks who have been abysmal of late. I figured Marleau, Jumbo Joe and Co. would regress a bit, but not to the point where Marleau would fail to notch even an assist for five games.

We saw a few trades last week, one for an actual player with Florida's Keaton Ellberby going to solidify the Kings' defensive depth and then we saw the phantom trade. Tim Thomas, still under contract with the Bruins while holed up somewhere in the American Rockies, (I'm picturing a cabin plastered with anti-government rhetoric) was traded to the Islanders. You touched on this in Frozen Fantasy last week and it's baffling that the Bruins can literally make his contract disappear. Kudos to Peter Chiarelli on that one. With that cap space, how would Jarome Iginla look in black and gold? Bobby Ryan?

Lastly, I'm entertained by how when the media talks about New Jersey's David Clarkson, owner of nine goals after two more tallies on Sunday, how they always have to mention he was undrafted out of junior. The Toronto native is gaining a cult following in New Jersey and the confidence with which he's playing is astounding. It's not just cleaning up messes in front either. He shielded the puck expertly on the rush before firing a wrister past Thomas Vokoun on Sunday for the game's opening goal, all with a defender draped on him. 

From: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Monday, February 11
To: Dan Pennucci
Subject: Long Island Glory Days
Geez -- you cursed the Leafs with your words. James Reimer left Monday's game after an awkward push across the crease and it didn't look pretty. He couldn't even put weight on his left leg. Ben Scivens looked solid and I'll get Jussi Rynnas will get the call ... that is, if the Leafs don't go trolling from a goalie. Just don't count on it being Roberto Luongo. I think he's in blue and green through the playoffs. (Note: Reimer will be out roughly a week or more with an MCL strain).

Clarkson is an interesting guy -- he's really surprised me. That 30-goal season last year doesn't seem to be a fluke. But tied for second in the league in goals? That will not last. But he's developing huge fantasy value with the goals/PIMs combo -- the cult following isn't going away. Burns is a guy who has a whole different cult following -- the hair, the tats and the crazy menagerie of pets. The guy's weird, but darn good. Still, I fear he's one of those players whose promise will never truly be fulfilled and will always be too much of a risk to be valuable in fantasy. Then again, I own him so I'm not even taking my own advice. I have a thing about stud defenders who can score and snarl. 

The Tim Thomas deal is nuts and sickening, all at the same time. I invoked the wrath of one of our readers who just happens to be an Isles' fan with my words in Frozen Fantasy. I was never an Isles' fan back in the heyday and I'll freely admit I hated Mike Bossy -- he reminded me of the jerk, Ted, who was a couple years older and lived a couple farms down the road. But as I said to the reader, "It's incredibly sad that modern-day equivalents of the likes of Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin, Bill Torrey and Al Arbour will likely never been seen together again in blue and orange, either on the island or in Brooklyn. Is money lost because of a poor team or poor management, or both? It's an ugly, vicious circle. And the Tim Thomas trade sadly just makes that circle tighten like a noose on a once-storied franchise."  The legacy has been tarnished, perhaps beyond repair. 
I don't mind your P.K. Subban trade -- your best move is one made from strength. This season is crazy and does require early intervention to stay on track. That was actually the subject of my first Frozen Fantasy article this season -- run, don't walk, to make deals. We're already at the quarter pole and some leagues are running two games per week in head-to-head. You have little choice to be aggressive to change your fortunes. It's a lot harder to make up points in any format this season if you lag out of the gate. Jack rabbits could just get too far ahead and bunching could keep a whole lot of teams in the mediocre middle. 

So, tell me what you see in Nazem Kadri, Jordan Schroeder and Cody Hodgson? Those are three guys who may have changed my mind about them. And Teemu Selanne? Wow. When does Loui Eriksson show up? And Drew Doughty? Spit.

Eagle out
From: Dan Pennucci
Sent: Tuesday, February 12
To: Janet Eagleson
Subject: Cursing The Leafs
Yes, I know I am wholly responsible for the injury to Reimer. I accept the consequences of saying positive things about the Leafs. Sounds like it shouldn't be too bad, but I cringe whenever I see leg injuries in any sport, notably football or hockey. I screwed up my knee more than a few times when I was younger and seeing injuries like that or the broken legs of Markus Naslund or Kurtis Foster are sickening to me.
Clarkson's also one of the league's leaders in shots on goal per-game. So yes, I see his Stamkos-esque pace falling off a bit, Clarkson is establishing himself as a force for the Devils. Last year he had value in single season leagues that didn't count PIM, but not as much. This season, he's becoming quite a disher of the puck as well. He's seeing more top-six ice time than he did last year and the space he takes up in front of the opposition goal on the power play opens up so much room for Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias to operate. Last season, Clarkson was one of three players to have over 30 goals and 100 PIM, with Scott Hartnell and Corey Perry being the others.
Yes, it is sad what the Islanders have become. I don't remember much about those teams, but talk about a dynasty. Potvin and Bossy were legends and then you factor in glue guys like Ken Morrow and Clark Gillies. They have an elite talent there in John Tavares and Lube Job (Lubomir Visnovsky) returned from his European backpacking adventure to post two assists Monday. Until they stop making ridiculous transactions, I can't see them taken seriously. 
Kadri has always been an enigma to me. Under the old regime it seemed they gave him almost no chance to prove himself, then, when he didn't, they'd say he isn't ready. Kid's looked good this year and appears laden with potential, but how long can we keep calling it potential. Matt Frattin has surprised the hell out of me. Seems that his name is on every Leafs box score I look at. 
Little Loui will show up soon in Big D. Guy is too consistent and smart of a player not to. 70-plus points in each of the last three seasons, he's one player I'd wait a little longer to see to pan out due to his track record and Jamie Benn back on the Stars. Doughty, I can't believe the regression we've seen since his second season, his breakout year. He doesn't have any major competition in LA for ice time but I'm sure it will be blamed on a Stanley Cup hangover. 
Any interesting trends you've noticed in the first three weeks, disturbing or otherwise?  Also, what seems to be going on in southern Alberta, the Flames look decent. 
From Janet Eagleson
Sent: Wednesday, February 13
To: Dan Pennucci
Subject: Speed 1
Trends, eh? It's so hard to figure out what's a trend, an outlier or just plain whacked this season. Don't you think? These things stand out to me:

- Zach Kassian has two more goals than the Sedins, combined? What did the sisters do during the lockout? Hmmm...
- David Clarkson sitting third on the league goal list and James van Riemsdyk fifth! WT...
- Matt Frattin has the same number of goals as John Tavares and in two fewer games?
- Tomas Plekanec sitting 13th on the NHL scoring list heading into action Tuesday, but only owned in 55 percent of Yahoo! leagues?
- Thomas Vanek! And Corey Crawford
- (Minnesota's) Mikael Granlund was supposed to be good enough to slide right in -- he hasn't. Alexander Ovechkin was supposed to fly. He hasn't either.
- Sam Gagner leading the Oil in points? Who would have thought?
- The Leafs' success and the Kings' and Caps' ... crap? 

This season has reminded me of one of my very favorite amateur sports -- short-track speed skating. The crazy jockeying for position. The elbowing and pushing. The games played by opponents. There is no "normal" this year and that makes fans and fantasy owners crazy. We all love intense hockey and that's what we've gotten right out of the blocks. I'm loving every second of it. 

Calgary? The only thing they have going for them right now is the fewest games played in the NHL. It'll give them a chance to overtake a few teams near the end, but it won't be enough. The Battle of Alberta is going to be won by Edmonton this year and the next and the next and the ... you get my point. I think you're far more optimistic than I am. I think they'll start trading guys before long. 

And speaking of trades, I'm hearing Ryan O'Reilly is done in Denver. I think that's a huge mistake -- he's underrated and deserved more credit for last year's team growth than he got. And just when will the Avs get a goal from the back end? Yikes. 

So speed round -- which half of these duos do you take and why (in 140 characters or less):

- Jonathan Huberdeau or Nail Yakupov
- Shea Weber or Ryan Suter
- Vincent Lecavalier or Joe Thornton
- Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider
- Corey Perry or Ryan Getzlaf
- Scott Howson or Brian Burke (or neither)

Go at it. Eagle out.
From: Dan Pennucci
Sent: Wednesday, February 13
To: Janet Eagleson
Subject: Speed 2: Cruise Control

Short track an amateur sport? But it's in the Olympics and the United States devoted an ungodly amount of coverage to it during Vancouver 2010. Therefore, since it's on TV during the Olympics, it must be good. (I have some pointed opinions on NBC's coverage of the Olympics, summer and winter, but most have to do with them only showing athletes from America...I digress).

I can understand the whole outlier vs. trend argument. Truth is I was quite tired when sending that last message and wanted to spur on some debate. Yea, Corey Crawford has been outstanding and Chicago as a whole is just good. Two scoring lines, solid defense and a goalie they figured wouldn't be enough a few years ago. Loving Patrick Kane's season so far, but the tabloids have to be a bit upset he's not the social media train wreck he's been the last few years.
Vanek...this has to stop soon, right? (Didn't we say that two weeks ago?).

Was any of this expected of Frattin? I know he had a solid season with the Marlies last year, but guy is all over the place. Surprising note about Plekanec, especially since he's a guy that has produced before. Nice to see a Leafs trade working out with JVR.
So you're telling me you didn't have Clarkson and JVR in your leading goal scorers prediction like I did. (I didn't. But I would be cooler if I did (random Matthew McConaghey line)). Gagner doesn't surprise me in Edmonton too much as the spotlight off him and he can literally work in the shadows, not like Batman, but the shadows cast by the uber-talented youngsters they have on the roster, not that Gagner's old, but he's been around a little longer.

I saw Calgary play a several times the last two weeks and they looked better than expected, but yes, I do think they jettison Iginla this year. It's not optimism, but maybe more so a surprise that they're not as bad as I'd expected. Edmonton will have a hold on things in Alberta, but I still say the Oil miss the playoffs this season.

Speed round -- which half of these duos do you take and why (in 140 characters or less):
-Jonathan Huberdeau or Nail Yakupov: Huberdeau. I have a thing for power forwards that can put the puck in the goal. Also, Huberdeau doesn't celebrate goals just to draw attention to himself.

- Shea Weber or Ryan Suter: Weber: He's trapped in Nashville, but I miss the Vancouver media's whole "Shea Weber must want to leave Nashville and return to BC. Let's free him." Guy can hit and fire the puck.

- Vincent Lecavalier or Joe Thornton: Vinny. From the years immediately following the lockout before the most recent lockout. I still picture Jumbo Joe in those Bruins' teddy bear sweaters.Present form: Still Vinny.

- Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider: Schneider: He's American. (Note: Complete updated answer given at the urging of email recipient: Honestly, Luongo. I remember him being a wall with Florida and his first few years with Shamu. Guy's elite and much put upon).

- Corey Perry or Ryan Getzlaf: Perry. He's a good ole Canadian boy who fights, therefore he must be good.

- Scott Howson or Brian Burke (or neither): Burke because of his friendly relationship with the media. 

Your speed round:
-World Juniors or Olympics?
-1980's Islanders or 1980's Oilers
-Erik Karlsson or Kris Letang
-Ryan O'Reilly or Matt Duchene
-Toews or Eric Staal?
-Logan Couture or Jamie Benn?


From: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Wednesday, Feb. 13
To: Dan Pennucci
Subject: Speed 3: Keanu Returns

Hey, hey -- short-track speed skating ROCKS, my friend. NBC's coverage of the Olympics? Not so much. At least we get live coverage north of the 49th and we learn about Canadians AND inspirational athletes from around the world. But I digress ...

Speed round, eh? I agree with all but one of your selections and that's based on the rationale. Do you really seriously select players based on nationality? Gimme a better reason that that! As for my questions ...(Note: This egregious error has since been rectified. DP)

World Juniors or Olympics: I love the winter Games, but the juniors are like a religion. I got up at 4 A.M. to watch games. So did my friends. All live, all the time. 

'80s Isles or. '80s Oil: No contest. As a kid, I sorted my hockey cards by team (with dividers). The Isles were at the back of the stack. I had a Great One scrapbook. 

Erik Karlsson or Kris Letang: Both? But forced to choose, I'm a Karlsson girl. But I think you cursed him, too. LOL (Note: Original email from Pennucci sent on Wednesday before Matt Cooke sliced Erik Karlsson's Achilles' tendon in half.)

Ryan O'Reilly or Matt Duchene: Fantasy = Duchene. On the ice = O'Reilly. Remember, O'Reilly was the top pick in the OHL priority draft ahead of Taylor Hall

Jonathan Toews or Eric Staal: I have five hockey jerseys in my closet. Three of them -- yes, three -- have Toews on the back. Hawks' red and black, and 2010 Team Canada.

Logan Couture or Jamie BennCouture. Goal scorers are a rarer breed. Besides, he played minor hockey in Lucan, home of the Black Donnellys and 15 minute from my hometown. 

BTW, I sold my O-Pee-Chee Gretzky rookie card to pay university tuition. Sigh ...

Eagle out.