I watched the Blue Jackets disembowel the Penguins on Thursday night and my gut torqued in the third period. Jackets-Wild in the Cup Finals?
Maybe pigs can fly.
John Tortorella has the Jackets purring like one of those V-12 Jaguar engines of the 1990s. They’re first in power-play proficiency and third in goals scored this season. And they’ve also allowed the second-fewest goals against.
They played hungry harp seal and chomped those flightless birds Thursday night. Wow.
Out West, Bruce Boudreau has the Wild rolling over opponents much like one of those 1980s Toyota Land Cruisers. There wasn’t anything those trucks couldn’t just plow over. Or plow down, for that matter. The Wild are riding the league’s best goaltending (fewest goals allowed) and a fantastic penalty kill. And they’re still right on the cusp of the top-10 for offense.
Both vehicles had their time in the sun. So, is it the same with the Jackets and Wild?
A Jackets-Wild Final would be about the worst thing that could happen to the NHL since 2003. That’s when the (yawn) Devils took on the Disney boys, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
I’m not convinced these two teams will finish anywhere near the Final. Maybe the Wild, but not with Eric Staal as their top scorer.
Wasn’t he supposed to be finished last year?
The Torts factor will crush the spirits of the Jackets at some point after the trade deadline. And Bruce Boudreau just hasn’t been able to get over the Cup hump. Yet.
But it sure is a fun storyline to watch. And I’ll ride the boys from Columbus in my fantasy league, at least short term.
Mid-January, though, I’m trading a bunch of them. Sticks will get tight. And Sam Gagner is not a 70-point player. Cam Atkinson is cute like an elf, but he’ll get hurt.
But I’ll keep both Sergei Bobrovsky and Devan Dubnyk. I happen to own both. Vezina nominees make great offseason trade value in keeper formats.
Now, let’s take a look at who caught my eye this week.
Patrik Berglund, C, St. Louis (2 percent Yahoo! owned) – Once compared to Mats Sundin, Berglund has settled into a lunch bucket role with the Blues. But Paul Stastny’s trip to the DL means Berglund will soon climb the lines. He’s already surging with four goals in five games heading into the Christmas break. Yes, the matchups will be more challenging for him but Berglund has the size and smarts to deliver. I’m stashing him.
Brian Boyle, LW/C, Tampa Bay (2 percent Yahoo! owned) – The Bolts have been beset with injuries – seriously, could it get much worse? So, Boyle has started to pick up the slack and he’s way under the radar. The big boy had four goals, including two on the power play, and five points in the five games heading into Friday’s loss. And 17 shots in that span. Multi-categorical goodness and only two percent owned? Run. Don’t walk.
Brandon Dubinsky, C, Columbus (13 percent Yahoo! owned) – Dubinsky is abrasive and a bit cocky. I never liked him in New York; maybe the bright lights of the city made his head that big. But Dubinsky has found a groove with John Tortorella and his confidence is exploding. He had seven points in his last seven games heading into Friday’s match, including five in his last three. I’m swallowing my distaste and rostering him. For now.
Joel Edmundson, D, St. Louis (0 percent Yahoo! owned) – Edmundson is on a roll. He has six assists in his last nine games, including a trio in a loss against Chicago. And that’s in a lineup with Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko also toiling on the blue line. Edmundson won’t displace any of them, but he’s more than a shutdown guy. And if the Blues trade Shattenkirk, which they’ve been trying to do for more than a season, you just never know…
Mark Letestu, C, Edmonton (5 percent Yahoo! owned) – Letestu caught my eye Thursday night with his Gordie Howe hat trick (look it up if you’re a millennial; you have to learn this stuff!). I knew he was surging, but I had no clue he had eight points, including three goals, in seven games heading into Friday’s game – as a freaking fourth liner! Snag, plug and play. And then ditch his carcass when the rest of the Oil catch back up to the world. Letestu is a classic, short-term wire play that will move you up the ranks … if you roll him the right way.
Zack Smith, LW/C, Ottawa (3 percent Yahoo! owned) – Smith had a rather forgettable six points in his first 26 games and like you, I punted him to the back of my brain. He reentered my consciousness the last couple weeks with eight points and a plus-9 rating in his last eight games. It won’t last; Smith’s pedigree doesn’t exactly scream stud. But he did score 25 goals last season, which was second best on the team and most by a forward. The guy clearly has something going on.
Radim Vrbata, RW, Arizona (12 percent Yahoo! owned) – Vrbata is the greybeard in the desert, a place where he first found his game. Aside from one good season in Vancouver, Vrbata’s home is Phoenix and he’s starting to warm up again. He had five helpers in seven games heading into Friday’s tilt with Toronto and 22 points in 33 games overall. The slick Czech always brings a grace to the ice and he’s now the mentor for a bunch of snot-nosed desert puppies. Coyotes often go overlooked in fantasy, unless they’re young and shiny. That works to your advantage here.
Nikita Zaitsev, D, Toronto (7 percent Yahoo! owned) – I’m pretty sure I’ve pumped his tires earlier in the year, but he’s worth inflating again. This veteran KHLer is on a three-game, four-point streak heading into Friday and he’s seeing time on the power play. Zaitsev is steady and confident, and coach Mike Babcock loves the guy. And he’s on a 36-point pace. Just saying.
Back to flying pigs.
I spent Friday night at the Canada-Switzerland pre-tourney tilt at the Air Canada Centre. Some of the best young players in the world are in town for the World Juniors.
Canada got a real scare, courtesy of Nico Hischier and his two goals. He’s a product of the great Halifax Moosehead factory. Hischier is fast, agile and has a nose to the net.
And he’s climbing the draft ranks fast. Could a Swiss player really go first overall?
Yes, piggies really can fly.
Until next week.