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Morning Skate: Defending the Devils

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: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci (@dpennucci)
Subject: APB For Ryan O'Reilly
Sent: Monday, February 18
Dan, I have to ask this -- how can you sit through Devils' hockey? I know they've sipped from Lord Stanley, but the style of play is akin to Chinese water torture. But I digress ...

So what do you make of the Flyers? The Jekyll and Hide act is grating. Today, they opened up a can of old-fashioned whup-arse and handed the Isles their worst-ever beating at Nassau Coliseum 7-0. Yet they barely showed up against the Leafs and Habs last week. Their talent base is strong, although I still think Paul Holmgren underestimated the challenge of replacing Mike Richards. Ilya Bryzgalov is certainly an enigma, wrapped in mystery, inside a riddle, but I don't think their current troubles are his fault. Pull out your stethoscope, Dr. Dan, and tell me your diagnosis -- for the on-ice roster and for fantasy, too.

Jiri Tlusty has come a long, long way since those ill-fated nude pictures that "somehow" ended up on the Internet back when he was a Leaf. He had wicked production last week, but he's streaky. I find it hard to believe that he's the best finisher on a line with Eric Staal and Alexander Semin, but he's delivering nonetheless. Do you think he's just a late bloomer? He is a first-round pick after all. Do you think he can be a Matt Moulson-type 30-35 goal scorer in the NHL? And if you had one waiver pick to use in a single-year, standard scoring league, would you pick Tlusty or Brad Boyes, and why?

We're seeing a lot of young goaltenders get action in the last few weeks. There's Ben Scrivens in Toronto, Jake Allen in St. Loo, Darcy Kuemper in Minny, Richard Bachman in Dallas and Peter Mrazek in Detroit. Braden Holtby seems to be getting his groove on [in Washington] and Ben Bishop did well Monday [in Ottawa's win over New Jersey.] Plus we can't forget Matt Hackett in Minny's system, Jacob Markstrom in Florida's system and Robin Lehner in Ottawa's system. How would you rank all of these younger goalies now and for three years in the future? And do you think we're seeing a "greening" of the netminding position? Goalies used to mature close to 30 (enter [Anaheim's] Viktor Fasth), but a lot of teams are going younger (and cheaper) these days ...

Last shot (for now). We touched on [Colorado holdout] Ryan O'Reilly in 140 characters or less last week, but let's dissect his situation a little bit more. Part of me thought he'd give in and sign after P.K. Subban inked his deal, but the young man and his agent appear resolute. Is he a good kid with morals who just won't be taken advantage of in a bad city or is he a troublemaker who'll bring a full set of luggage crap with him to a new team? There's a lot of interest out there and Sabres' radio keeps yowling about the need to bring him to the city of fires. Where does he land, what does he bring with him and is he really a Travis Zajac-like, two-way, top center?

Eagle out.
From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Subject: Crease Creature Futures
Sent: Monday, February 18
If you're referring to Monday's amazing game against Ottawa, then yes, I can understand why people might not want to watch the Devils. It's an argument I've been battling since the mid-1990's when all other teams were playing defense in the NHL and some variation of the "T" word (we've been issued directives from the mothership not to use the word "trap"). I look at Monday's loss as giving young Ottawa players confidence and helping the Senators showcase Ben Bishop for a trade. Honestly, Monday's game was a horrible sample for the Devils. Looked like they read about injuries to Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza a bit too much and figured it would be easy after juggernaut Stephen Gionta scored 79 seconds into the game. I too digress...

As you can imagine, I don't like the Flyers too much. Prejudice aside, they are far too talented of a team to play as inconsistently as they have and Giroux looks like a shell of the man we saw last year. Obviously, missing Scott Hartnell gives him less space, but it's obvious they miss Jagr's ability to possess the puck and create lanes. Giroux broke out a bit today against the Isles, but I could have scored some of those goals.

The whole Atlantic Division is wacky. The Devils beat Philly last Friday but then lost to the Isles on Saturday who then spanked the Islanders on Monday. Bryz, as wacky as he is, has been great. (Ed note: This was written prior to Wednesday and Thursday's games). Bryz not been the problem save for one or two games. Guy is playing composed just getting no help thanks to a slow defense and inconsistent offense.

Wow, somehow I missed the Jiri Tlusty pictures. That'd never happen to a good ole Canadian boy, which the Leafs should have an entire roster of. Tlusty is enjoying the view on that top line with Eric Staal and Alexander Semin. He was all over the place against the Devils last week and had a nice game against Philadelphia. It seems like a combination of things. Tlusty was always rumored to be long on talent and seems like he has more space on a line with a great power forward and a dangler who can be elite when he chooses to be. It's always ironic when you see guys from the Leafs producing elsewhere. 

I can't see Tlusty hitting Matt Moulson-type levels this season and, as for a waiver claim on either him or Boyes, I like Tlusty better. Even if Tlusty ends up on a second line, it'd be with Jordan Staal, with Jussi Jokinen in that mix somewhere as well. Boyes seems to be the odd man out on the Tavares-Moulson combo and with Mark Streit and Lubomir Visnovsky dishing the puck, not to mention Kyle Okposo (will we ever see this "potential" he's rumored to have), Tlusty can have a larger role. I like what he brings to the duo of Eric Staal and Alexander Semin.

Those goalies you mentioned seem like a who's who I read about every year prior to drafts. Bachman and Hackett played well in limited roles last year and I can't see Florida holding Markstrom back any longer. Theodore is never going to be more than a serviceable starter this point of his career and Scott Clemmensen can't seem to hold on to the job when Theodore falters. True, Florida isn't a great team, but there's hope there with Jonathan Huberdeau and Eric Gudbranson.

I'll look at your list in terms of the teams the goalies are on, which will factor into the talent I've seen from those guys. Viktor Fasth is not a rookie.

1. Robin Lehner, OTT: I like this guy a lot and I can see the Sens more than willing to let Craig Anderson go when his contract expires. Bishop is a moveable asset, but Lehner's been outstanding in Binghamton. Can't see him being a backup much longer.

2. Jacob Markstrom, Florida: It's his time. You can't tell me that Theodore or Clemmensen are going to give them anything more. Let the kid play, but he could be seeing more rubber than a Goodyear factory when he does get the call.

3. Peter Mrazek, Detroit: Great system that creates winning goaltenders, albeit Mrazek will have the challenge of doing it without Nick Lidstrom. Guy has looked good save for Sunday against Minny.

4. Matt Hackett, Minnesota: Seems like his path to the NHL is the shortest. Sadly, Josh Harding's medical condition factors into this, but if I'm Minnesota, I let Niklas Backstrom walk this summer. Give the reins to Hackett. Talk about a loaded young team: Parise, Suter (okay, not too young there), buyout Heatley and Setoguchi, give the keys to Coyle, Granlund, Dumba etc. 

5. Richard Bachman, Dallas: Jake Allen, St. Louis: Like what he offers, but Halak will be there a bit. Elliott is as good as gone. In Big D, when healthy, Lehtonen can be great. The operative word there being “can.” However, Bachman doesn't have the luxury of Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Pietrangelo and Barrett Jackman in front of him in Dallas. 

6. Ben Scrivens, Toronto: I can't actively endorse a Leafs goalie. Let him get shutouts against other than the depleted Sens or Panthers; too hostile of an environment for a goalie to succeed. Is he that much of an upgrade over James Reimer?

I'm a bit surprised O'Reilly hasn't signed yet, but the Avs looked good today against Nashville, regardless of the offsides goal from Matt Duchene (I own him in one league, so I'll take it). The Avs are starting to take form with their top few forwards. Stastny appears to be waking up and David Jones and Jamie McGinn have potential there. O'Reilly is just a damn good two-way player. Apparently he wants a deal to take him straight to UFA status.

I can see the Avs moving him, and Buffalo would be interesting, seeing him slot in at that second line. (Can't see the unstoppable trio to Vanek-Hodgson-Pominville going anywhere soon.). O'Reilly strikes me as having more of a spark to his game than Zajac. Don't get me wrong, I have a white Zajac sweater, but the guy could be more consistent. A lot of teams out there would love to have a budding two-way talent, but who has the leverage here? Colorado or O'Reilly? Is his highly touted rep from junior creating more of a buzz around him too? Or has that stigma dissipated? I can't see O'Reilly being a locker room problem somewhere.

What weaknesses do you see in Anaheim right now? Getzlaf and Perry are starting to heat up, as is Bobby Ryan, but the team has a solid support in the likes of Teemu, Saku Koivu, Matt Belesky and Daniel Winnik (great checking forward). With the way Fasth is playing, they're definitely staking a claim in the West. 

Watching the Montreal-Carolina game currently, Habs up 1-0 in 3rd, I like what I'm seeing from Alex Galchenyuk this season. Is he the top rookie outside of Justin Schultz or Vladimir Tarasenko? Also, the Brandon Prust signing seems to be rather understated by Montreal. 

Till next time,

From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Subject: Duck Season...Rabbit Season
Sent: Tuesday, February 19
Your goalie list is interesting and close to mine -- there's plenty of gold in that list of names I gave you. There's little to choose from in Markstrom, Lehner and Hackett who I'd rank 1-2-3. Opportunity is knocking for all three, but given the supporting casts, I think Hackett has the softest cushion followed by Lehner and then Markstrom. I really like Mrazek next -- he has exploded this season -- and would put Scrivens and his smarts ahead of Bachman and Allen. I'd actually slide Kevin Poulin on the Island in a hair ahead of Scrivens -- Poulin is good and there's a lot of opportunity with that squad. 

Anaheim is intriguing and baffling, all at the same time. I think it's now or never for them. Teemu Selanne is still fantastic, but his totals so far have come in big bunches and he'll turn 43 just after the Cup is awarded. Saku Koivu is on borrowed time and their younger guys are primarily supplemental scorers. I do like Emerson Etem and Kyle Palmieri, but their system is littered with two-way players -- they don't have the elite guy (or two) coming and Justin Schultz rejected them outright. Corey Perry caught lightning in a bottle two years ago and I don't think they can manage to keep Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan. Viktor Fasth has been great, but I don't think Jonas Hiller is done yet -- he's been fine at even strength so he'll be fine once the D tightens a little in front of him. He's a good buy-low candidate. 

I really like Alex Galchenyuk -- I think he's just what the doctor ordered in Montreal. Brendan Gallagher could be a 70-point guy some day -- he's pesky, persistent and a fantastic leader; he comes with smarts and skill. He and P.K. Subban will be fan faves in Montreal for a long time. The Brandon Prust signing was overlooked by many, but he's been one of the keys that has given the Habs' smaller players a bit of room to play. I like Prust in bleu, blanc et rouge. 

I really like the idea of the lightning round, so I'm going to fire some more at you. Pick only one from each of the following sets and give me one sentence explanation for your reason. And one last criteria -- fantasy perspective only:

- Which style of hockey has the greatest success over the next five years -- the big, strong, power game of the Kings or speed, skill and swagger of the Oil?
- Kevin Shattenkirk or Alex Pietrangelo?
- Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Nail Yakupov?
- Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall?
- Vladimir Tarasenko or Nail Yakupov?
- Ryan Callahan or Dustin Brown?
- Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos?

Lastly, WTF was Jannik Hansen thinking? He delivered a forearm shiver to the back of Marian Hossa's previously concussed noggin. I'm a Hawks' fan. I am not happy.

Eagle out.
From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Subject: Ride The Lightning (round)
Sent: Wednesday, February 20
As we're typing this, I'm seeing Pittsburgh and Philly slug it out with defensive play akin to Europe in the late 1930's. I honestly think the Germans faced more resistance when they entered Paris than the defense these two teams are offering to the opposition. Not good for Bryzgalov owners like myself or those that rolled the dice on Vokoun for a spot start. (Bryz blitzed Thursday night too).

I honestly think my praise for Galchenyuk is borne out of my using the Habs in a dynasty game on NHL 13, guy has skills and I have both him and Gallagher...(back to digressing). I know several Rangers fans, our colleague Jan Levine, being one, that were not happy to see Prust take Amtrak's Adirondack line from the Garden up to Montreal.

Speaking of Anaheim, think they MAY have jumped the gun a bit on signing Fasth to a two-year extension worth $5.8 million. Given, the guy is 8-0-1 and has the Ducks near the top of the Western Conference, but there is going to be extreme regression back to the mean. I liken hot rookie goalies to stud rookie pitchers in baseball. They're great for about half a year, then once someone has a book on them, the same things don't seem to work. I'm eager to see how Fasth reacts once the West has an idea of his play. It seems every few years Anaheim goalies usurp one another. Giguere by Bryzgalov, Bryz by Hiller, now Hiller by Fasth. Talk about eating your young. Not to mention they have vanquisher of Canada John Gibson in the system (for a nice touch of irony, was selected with a pick from the Leafs. Not quite Kurvers for Niedermayer or Kessel for Seguin/Hamilton, but still).

As for your reaction to Jannik Hansen, entirely justified. The sentence has been handed down and I honestly thought it would have been more than one game. Was expecting closer to three. It's one of the most boneheaded plays I've ever seen...seems like he decided to bash Hossa in the back of the head once he was out of position for the puck. Is there some karmic force making Hossa a harbinger for injuries to himself? Before this, his second goal was such a power stride around Schneider, it's easy to forget how hard he can be to handle physically when he chooses to assert himself.

Lightning round...fantasy only.

Kings/Bruins/Blues nasty or Slick Oil? Numbers wise, the Oilers, provided your league doesn't count plus minus.

Shattenkirk or Pietrangelo? Pietrangelo. More goal potential, although both will be elite (I believe St. Louis has become my mistress team. Backes, Shattenkirk, Oshie etc....)

Hall, Eberle, RNH or Yakupov? Eberle. With skill levels and numbers equal, I follow the shots and goals. Eberle will benefit many owners with RNH, Schultz and Yakupov dishing him the puck.

Hall or Seguin? I love Hall's potential on the Oilers offensively where Seguin and the Bruins are concerned more with that cumbersome task of actually stopping other teams from scoring. Tough call though.

Tarasenko or Yakuov? Both are seasoned in junior and unutterably skilled. I think Tarasenko will find a more regular top scoring role with less friends in the sandbox with whom to share the toys.

Ryan Callahan or Dustin Brown: Assuming it's a mutli-category league, Callahan. Standard league: Still Callahan. Guy can just produce across the board and bag you close to 30.

Evgeni Malkin, Sid The Kid or Stammer? Malkin, but close with him and Stamkos. The injury threat is more ominous, but points-per-game and Malkin can hang with Stamkos in goals department and produce more at even strength and without an elite set-up man.

Crazy ending in Pittsburgh, I pity the person who started both Bryz and Vokoun in a roto league. Off to Denver here on NBC Sports Network....speaking of which, the Avs actually got a goal from a defender. Tyson Barrie is on a quiet tear after lighting up the AHL last year, going to snag him in one league.

May we all have the amount of chances to achieve that Lindy Ruff has had in whatever walk of life we're in. Guess he can take the Brett Hull voodoo doll home now. Guy was a model coach.

From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Subject: Ruffing Around
Sent: Wednesday, February 20
The Fasth contract is a bit bizarre, but the guy isn't your average rookie. He's spent a lot of time toiling overseas and I don't think he'll suffer the same problems as a young goalie. But you are right about players getting a "book" on guys. I do think he'll adapt faster than the young'uns.

The Lindy Ruff firing actually surprised me -- I just never thought that day would ever come. It wasn't that long ago that Darcy Regier said Ruff would be his coach as long as he was the GM. I guess ownership has laid it on the line. I'm quite interested to see how Ron Rolston will help bring Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis along -- they never fit well with Ruff. I'm eager to see how a lot of other players respond, too. It might be a good time to snap some of those guys up. Some of them will be slightly undervalued because of their performances to date ...

I like a lot of your lightning round picks and your explanations actually swayed me in your direction on at least one. But I'm a Shattenkirk fan, simply because Pietrangelo will have to do more heavy lifting in his own zone and over time, that means his focus will be a bit more divided. And as much as I love Eberle for his quote-unquote clutch play, I believe it's Hall who stirs the drink in Oil Country. He generates the offense and the others tend to follow. Yakupov has the highest pure upside, but I agree with you about the sandbox issue -- I think he likes to admire himself in the mirror a little more than others. It's just a gut, but it will be interesting to see how he adapts to being one of many wunderkinds.

The Flyers-Pens game WAS nuts. Jakub Voracek looked like the guy we've all been waiting for and Wayne Simmonds just keeps currying favor with me -- that guy has an outstanding package of skills. But the thing that stuns me -- and I'll give you the last word on it -- is Paul Martin's production. He's now tied with Kris Letang as the Pens' top scorer from the back end. Any chance he keeps it up? What does he finish with this season?

Eagle out. 

From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Subject: Hogdson Loves Voracek
Sent: Thursday, February 21
Fair points about Fasth since he is 30 and been a pro for a number of years. I just worry if now is the time for an owner to deal him. Guy is playing out of his head. 

I too was surprised by Ruff's dismissal, but, Hodgson and Ennis exploding is a pleasant thought. I have to think now is a good time to get in on Tyler Myers or other underachieving Sabres (cough...Ryan Miller...cough). 

While watching the Flyers-Pens game (ref's fault they lost according to Pens' fans btw, don't know if you were aware) I was thinking about Simmonds too. He's a complete player, one of those "love him when he is on your team" guys: size, speed, physical game and good hands. He and Voracek are making up for quite a bit of Giroux's slowly turning play. I pictured Scott Howson screaming at the TV Wednesday night with vindication over Voracek..."See, see. I was right!!!" Either that or "where the hell was this in Columbus?!?!"

Owners of Paul Martin should move him now. Look at his track record. Guy has never been a scorer or a shooter. Even in his career years with the Devils, he never shot much. He's only broke 100 shots twice and has 33 goals in 567 games. He disappears offensively despite monster minutes and never developed that next gear offensively. (Fun fact: Martin is one of several defenseman the Devils had in the system to justify letting Brian Rafalski walk). Kris Letang is a freakishly talented player and one of the strongest skaters in the league, watch Tanger use his edges next time you take in a Pens game. Letang will bounceback, but Martin will have his usual few goals, decent assist numbers, which are usually concentrated over a few spurts of productivity. On that power play, Martin is an option in very deep leagues provided you don't expect much. I love Simon Despres' upside there in Pittsburgh. 

Until next week, keep your head up and feet moving,