The start of the NHL regular season brings with it another yearly tradition—fantasy hockey pools.
The Canadian Press spoke with Richard Lee of OfficePools.com to discuss some players you should have on your radar, the ones you should avoid, and a group of youngsters who could make an impact this season and beyond.
PLAYERS YOU NEED
Vincent Lecavalier, C, Tampa Bay
The Lightning captain had a disappointing 70 points (24 goals, 46 assists) last season, but look for him to have a strong 2010-11. “Lecavalier is going to have a really good year just because Tampa Bay is going to score a lot of goals,” Lee said. “(Lightning GM Steve) Yzerman is going to push him back to the level that he was a few years ago. He should be up in the 100-point range.”
Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anaheim
Getzlaf was slowed by injury last season but still managed 69 points (19G, 50A) in 66 games. The 25-year-old was named Ducks captain Sunday, following Scott Niedermayer’s retirement in the off-season. He should be primed for a big season with the added responsibility.
New Jersey’s No. 1 line
Rookie head coach John MacLean has used the trio of Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac as his top line in the pre-season. “That line will be the highest-scoring line in the league if they stay together,” Lee said. “I think New Jersey is going to get away from that defensive style this year and those three could light it up.”
Nikolai Zherdev, RW, Philadelphia
The enigmatic winger is back after a stint in the KHL. The fourth pick in 2003 draft had 58 points (23G, 35A) in 82 games with the New York Rangers in 2008-09. “He’s an ultra sleeper (pick) because a lot people don’t know he’s even back in the league,” Lee said. “Philly’s got some pretty talented forwards and he only signed a one-year contract. He’s the type of guy who needs that motivation.”
Kris Versteeg, RW, Toronto
Versteeg came over from Stanley Cup champion Chicago in the off-season and is expected to play alongside Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak on the Maple Leafs’ top line. The 24-year-old should see an improvement on his 2009-10 totals (20G, 24A).
Ryan Malone, LW, Tampa Bay
Like Lecavalier, Malone should be motivated under the Lightning’s new leadership structure. With talented players around him, Malone will have an opportunity to build on last season’s 21 goals and 26 assists. “I look to that Southeast Division as wide open,” Lee said. “Tampa plays 24 games against teams that can’t keep the puck out of the net.”
Alex Goligoski, D, Pittsburgh
The Penguins don’t have a true quarterback on their power play after Sergei Gonchar signed with Ottawa in July. Along with Kris Letang, Goligoski should get the bulk of the time on the point.
Dion Phaneuf and Thomas Kaberle, D, Toronto
Phaneuf is the Maple Leafs’ new captain, while Kaberle survived another summer of trade talk. The Leafs will be in a battle to make the playoffs and both could put up decent numbers. “Those two could be a case of good years on a bad team because Toronto’s going to have to score goals to stay in games,” Lee said.
Jimmy Howard, G, Detroit
The 26-year-old took over the Red Wings’ No. 1 job last season, posting a 37-15-10 record with a 2.26 goals-against average. With other top fantasy netminders like Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur not getting any younger, Howard is a solid option on a Detroit team that should be near the top of the Western Conference.
Jaroslav Halak, G, St. Louis
Halak was the toast of Montreal during last season’s playoff run, but after an off-season trade, the 25-year-old finds himself between the pipes for a young Blues squad. Look for Halak to have a big year as the undisputed No. 1 goaltender in St. Louis.
PLAYERS TO AVOID
Marc Savard, C, Boston
The veteran Bruin is still suffering from post-concussion syndrome and there’s no timetable for his return. Like any player with a history of injury, this should be an automatic red flag for fantasy players.
Patrick Kane, RW, Chicago
Kane was a solid fantasy player last season (30G, 58A), but the Blackhawks traded away some key players in the off-season because of salary cap issues. “I see a major Stanley Cup hangover with the ‘Hawks,” Lee said. “Plus they’ve lost half their team so it might take a little while to jell.”
Nathan Horton, RW, Boston
Almost everyone’s marquee sleeper pick, Horton came over from Florida in the off-season after never really living up to expectations with the Panthers. Many fantasy owners are drafting the 25-year-old too early. Although he should get lots of ice time, a major improvement on last season’s 57 points (20G, 37A) could be a stretch.
Ryan Kesler, C, Vancouver
Kesler had a breakout season in 2009-10 with 25 goals and 50 assists, but armed with a rich new contract, and perhaps a little less hunger, look for his point total to drop.
Jussi Jokinen, LW, Carolina
The 27-year-old exploded for 30 goals and 35 assists in 2009-10 but betting on a repeat is risky. “Jokinen really came out of nowhere last season,” Lee said. “I’d be a little bit leery of him.”
Tyler Myers, D, Buffalo
Last season’s NHL rookie of the year could see a drop-off as opponents put more focus on the lanky defenceman. “Myers is getting taken way too high in drafts,” Lee said. “He’s primed for a sophomore jinx.”
Ilya Bryzgalov, G, Phoenix
The Coyotes netminder was stellar in leading Phoenix to the playoffs last year. Bryzgalov went 42-20-6 with a 2.29 GAA, but don’t expect the same numbers on a Coyotes team that played over its head in 2009-10. “I don’t know how Phoenix did it last year,” said Lee. “I can’t see them repeating that.”
Jonathan Quick, G, Los Angeles
Quick was solid in the regular season with a 39-24-7 record and a GAA of 2.54, but he struggled in the Kings’ playoff exit against the Canucks. Don’t be surprised if backup Jonathan Bernier steals the No. 1 job from Quick at some point this season.
YOUNG PLAYERS TO WATCH
Magnus Paajarvi, LW, Edmonton
Top picks Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin are getting all the headlines, but Paajarvi could outshine his rookie counterparts. The Swede has already played professionally in Europe and could be a valuable pickup in keeper leagues.
Jordan Eberle, RW, Edmonton
Same goes for Eberle. Not afraid of the big stage, Eberle should help keep an exciting Oilers team in a lot of games.
Claude Giroux, RW, Philadelphia
In his first full season, Giroux recorded 16 goals and 31 assists, but it was in the playoffs where he really stood out. Look for Giroux to build off that 10-goal, 11-assist performance as the Flyers look to get back to the Cup final.
P.K. Subban, D, Montreal
Called up during the Canadiens’ playoff run, Subban showed poise on the big stage. With veteran defenceman Andrei Markov out injured to start the season, Subban should get some key power-play time.
Eric Karlsson, D, Ottawa
The addition of Gonchar on the point for the Senators will only help in Karlsson’s development. If Ottawa’s aging stars can stay healthy, the power play should be dangerous all season.