Around the Rink
It only took five games for the Edmonton Oilers to sink to the bottom of the NHL standings in 2014-15.
The Oilers have opened up the season with five straight losses, averaging an NHL-worst 4.80 goals-against per game. Known for starting strong out of the gate before falling off completely, the Oilers have changed things up this season, getting off to their worst start in franchise history.
How is it that a team with first-round draft picks Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov can be so atrociously bad? Hall, for one, is doing everything he can to try and put the Oilers on his back. Through five games, Hall is pacing the team with three goals and four points, to go with a minus-1 rating. Although the Oilers havenít made the playoffs in Hallís first four seasons with the team, the speedy winger has managed to turn himself into a valuable fantasy asset. Hall managed 27 goals and a team-high 80 points in 2013-14, which was seventh-best in the league.
One of the problems pertains to Hallís linemates. It wasnít long ago when many were projecting Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, and Hall to become the most feared line in the league. Eberleís production has dropped off following a career-high 76-point season in 2010-11. After that game-changing year, many thought Eberle would turn into a superstar. That simply wasnít the case. Dating back to last season, Eberle has managed 67 points in his last 84 games. Nobody is complaining about that type of production, but we canít help but want just a little bit more from a player that has shown such tremendous scoring potential in the past.
The last member of the top line, Nugent-Hopkins, is trying to get back on track following a somewhat disappointing 56-point season in 2013-14. Considering the 21-year-old managed 52 points (18 goals) in just 62 games as a rookie in 2011-12, it was reasonable to think he could evolve into a point-per-game player in the following years. Once again, though, that simply did not happen. Through three games this season, Nugent-Hopkins looks flat, recording one assist, to go with a minus-4 rating. Note the age of this trio. The average age of the Oilersí top line is just over 22-years-old. There is no reason to give up on these youngsters, as all three of them possess the potential to dominate at the NHL level.
The Oilers top-end offense, however, is the least of their worries. The defense this season in Edmonton has been atrocious. The Oilersí top-six consisting of Justin Schultz, Mark Fayne, Nikita Nikitin, Brad Hunt, Andrew Ference, and Jeff Petry is a combined minus-18 and have scored just five points in five games. There are five defensemen in the NHL right now who have more points than the entire Oilersí defense combined. That is bad, very bad.
Schultz is the man on the hot seat on the blueline. How is it that despite averaging 24:14 of ice time per game, Schultz has managed just one assist on the season? He is also a minus-5 and has recorded just seven shots on goal, despite averaging 3:18 of power-play time per game. After putting up 48 points with the Barons of the AHL during the lockout, Schultz has failed to live up to the very high expectations many have set out for him in Edmonton. At 24 years of age, the potential is still there for him to turn things around, but itís frustrating for fantasy owners who draft him early, only to be plagued with disappointment as the season wears on.
Itís another busy Saturday in the NHL, so here is all you need to know to dominate your fantasy hockey league.
Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)
Bruins (Tuukka Rask) at Sabres (Jhonas Enroth), 7:00
Avalanche (Calvin Pickard) at Canadiens (Carey Price*), 7:00
Panthers (Al Montoya*) at Capitals (Braden Holtby), 7:00
Islanders (Jaroslav Halak) at Penguins (Marc-Andre Fleury), 7:00
Sharks (Antti Niemi) at Devils (Cory Schneider*), 7:00
Leafs (Jonathan Bernier) at Red Wings (Jonas Gustavsson*), 7:00
Blue Jackets (Curtis McElhinney) at Senators (Robin Lehner*), 7:00
Flyers (Steve Mason) at Stars (Kari Lehtonen), 8:00
Predators (Pekka Rinne) at Blackhawks (Corey Crawford*), 8:30
Blues (Jake Allen*) at Coyotes (Mike Smith), 9:00
Lightning (Ben Bishop) at Canucks (Eddie Lack), 10:00
For updates on the projected goalies later in the day, check out our Projected Goalies Grid.
Injury News For Teams Playing Saturday
Patrick Kaleta, RW (facial surgery) -- Practicing, but no timetable for return.
Kris Versteeg, LW (lower body) -- Skated at Friday morning's practice ahead of schedule.
Michal Rozsival, D (upper body) -- Will play Saturday vs. Predators.
Jesse Winchester, LW (concussion) -- Moved to Injured Reserve Thursday.
Reto Berra, G (undisclosed) -- Listed as day-to-day with no timetable for return
Semyon Varlamov, G (groin) -- Placed on Injured Reserve with no timetable for return
Boone Jenner, LW (broken hand) -- Return is likely mid-to-late November.
Ryan Murray, D (knee) -- Possible for Saturdayís game vs. Senators.
Nathan Horton, RW (back) -- Out indefinitely.
Brandon Dubinsky, C (abdominal) -- Out another 2-4 weeks.
Rich Peverley, C (chest) -- Is on long-term IR (LTIR).
Valeri Nichushkin, LW (groin) -- Expected to return next week.
Sergei Gonchar, D (ankle) - Remains on IR with no time table for his return.
Pavel Datsyuk, C (shoulder) -- Not expected to play this weekend.
Shawn Thornton, LW (lower body) -- Questionable Saturday vs. Capitals
Dave Bolland, C (lower body) -- Left Friday's game with injury, no timetable for return
Matt Cullen, C (lower body) -- Practiced Tuesday, listed as day-to-day.
Mike Fisher, C (Achilles) -- No timetable for return.
Viktor Stalberg, LW (lower body) -- Practicing and is close to returning.
Martin Havlat, LW (upper body) -- Unlikely to play in home-opener Saturday, day-to-day.
Mikhail Grabovski, C (Upper body) -- Won't travel with the Islanders to Pittsburgh for Saturday's game and has been ruled out indefinitely.
Michael Grabner, RW (sports hernia) -- Will be out four to six weeks following surgery.
Matt Carkner, D (upper body) -- Is still on IR.
Lubomir Visnovsky, D (back) -- Practiced with the team for the first time in nearly two weeks Thursday.
Marc Methot, D (back) -- Remains out with no time table for his return.
Braydon Coburn, D (lower body) -- Is "iffy" for Saturday's game against the Stars.
Vincent Lecavalier, C (lower body) -- Out for at least another week.
Beau Bennett, RW (leg) -- Is still on IR.
Robert Bortuzzo, D (upper body) -- Should return next week
Derrick Pouliot, D (shoulder) -- Is skating, but remains in a no-contact jersey.
Pascal Dupuis, RW (arm) -- Has been medically cleared to play.
Raffi Torres, LW (knee) -- Is far from a return.
Mike Brown, RW (hand) -- Will miss multiple games.
James Sheppard, LW (knee) -- Was sent to AHL Worcester on a conditioning assignment Friday.
Tyler Kennedy, LW (upper body) -- Is still without a timetable.
Carl Gunnarsson, D (lower body) -- Cleared for contact.
Radko Gudas, D (lower body) -- Didnít practice Friday and is most likely doubtful for Saturday's game.
David Booth, LW (lower body) -- No more boot, but no return date set.
Daniel Winnik, C (upper body) -- Will be evaluated Saturday.
Brandon Kozun,RW (lower body) -- Will have an MRI and wonít play Saturday vs. Red Wings.
Bo Horvat, C (shoulder) -- Questionable for Saturday vs. Lightning.
Jay Beagle, C (upper body) -- Could return Saturday.
Dmitry Orlov, D (wrist) -- Is on LTIR.
Aaron Volpatti, LW (neck) -- Is also on LTIR.
Tom Wilson, RW (leg) -- Could return soon.
Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI -- While most of the buzz surrounding the Islandersí 4-0-0 start revolves around superstar John Tavares and rising youngster Brock Nelson, top-line winger Kyle Okposo has also played a key role in the teamís early success. Through four games, the 26-year-old has recorded two goals and seven points, while averaging 20:03 of ice time. Okposo has recorded four power-play points already, helping the Islanders to the second-best power-play in the NHL (42.9 percent). Nobody on the Islanders has put more shots on goal than Okposo, who has been credited with 16 shots through just four games. Skating on the top line with Tavares, Okposo could be in for another point-per-game campaign in 2014-15. After putting up 27 goals and 71 points last season, itís scary to think what Okposo could do this season in New York, especially considering the teamís blueline additions of Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk.
Michael Cammalleri, LW, NJD-- Cammalleri is off to a terrific start in New Jersey, leading the team with four goals and six points through four games. The 32-year-old, who signed with the Devils on the opening day of 2014 NHL free agency, has helped New Jersey start the season with a 3-1-0 record. Playing on the top line and top power-play unit, Cammalleri has delivered in the clutch, netting two-power-play goals and a game-winning marker. The former- Calgary Flame has been credited with an impressive 18 shots on goal through four games, while averaging 18:10 of ice time. When healthy, Cammalleri is a dynamic goal scorer who can maintain close to a point-per-game pace. Health of course, is always the issue for the impressive playoff performer. The last time Cammalleri played 80-plus games in a season was 2008-09 with Montreal. He has missed 23 games due to injury over the last two seasons, which made him an early-round gamble in fantasy drafts this season. Cammalleri is healthy, though, and looking great in New Jersey. He will likely keep producing playing alongside Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr on the top line.
Sam Gagner, C, PHX-- Gagner is off to a slow start with his new team, managing no points in the Yotesí first three games of the season. Currently centering the third line, Gagner has managed just six shots on goal thus far, to go with a minus-2 rating. Gagner, who recorded 37 points (10 goals) in 67 games with the Oilers last season, is averaging over two minutes of power-play time with the Coyotes, meaning the points will come sooner or later. The 25-year-old has never hit 50 points in a season, but should land in the 40-point range in 2014-15. If youíre in a deeper league, Gagner is the type of player you want to be buying low on right now. He will come around.
Tyson Barrie, D, COL-- After recording a career-high 13 goals and 38 assists last season, expectations were sky-high for Barrie entering the 2014-15 campaign. Unfortunately, the 23-year-old, like most of the Avalanche team, has struggled in the early goings this season. Barrie has managed just one assist through six games, to go with a minus-6 rating. With a potent offense in Colorado, it wonít be long before the team, Barrie included, starts living up to their offensive potential. Donít be surprised if Barrie turns things around and turns in a 40-plus point season. If a fellow fantasy owner is looking to deal him, take advantage and buy low.
Andre Burakovsky, C, WSH -- Burakovsky has started strong in his first season with Washington, scoring twice and adding three assists through four games. Currently centering the teamís second line and playing on the second power-play unit, the 19-year-old will get plenty of opportunities to succeed in his rookie season. Burakovsky, who netted 41 goals and 87 points in just 57 games with the Otters in the OHL last season, currently sports an impressive plus-4 rating with the Capitals on the year. He is currently only owned in 8.7 percent of ESPN fantasy hockey leagues, making him worth a look, especially in deeper formats. Burakovsky has a wicked shot and appears destined to turn into a very special player for the Capitals, who are already blessed with offensive superstars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Itís too early to tell, but Burakovsky is well on his way to becoming a potential Calder Trophy candidate in 2014-15.