Many star players have struggled out of the gate in this young NHL season. Which slumps are reason for panic and which guys will be fine?
That twisted, charred pile of skate blades, black tape and fiberglass used to be your fantasy hockey team. Alas, you WASTED your first picks on bums like Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux, Sergei Bobrovsky and Ryan Getzlaf. You’re in last place a week and a half into your season. You’re finished. FINISHED I say!
…or maybe not. Maybe the season is half a dozen games old for most NHL teams. Maybe you have the best team in the league, and it just had an off week, the kind that would go completely unnoticed in the dog days of February.
You shouldn’t panic. Or should you? That’s the theme of 2015-16’s first fantasy mailbag. Let’s calm a few panicked poolies – and stoke the fires of a few who may be onto something. Thanks to all who tweeted me which players are making them sweat the most. I compiled a list of the most frequent names that popped up.
1. SIDNEY CROSBY AND PHIL KESSEL
So yeah. The Penguins’ offense could not be more disappointing thus far given the expectations entering the season. Zero points for Crosby in five games. One goal and two points for Kessel. There are a few legit red flags here, sure. This team struggled to score last season as well, and losing Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff from the blueline hurts the team’s ability to move the puck from its own zone.
Sid will be fine. There’s been no indication he’s hiding an injury. He’s likely just pressing because he knows the Kessel acquisition means the Penguins want to contend for a Stanley Cup this year. Coach Mike Johnston won’t rest until he finds the right mix, even trying Evgeni Malkin on a super line with Crosby and Kessel.
Ultimately, we should remember what many analysts suggested during the off-season: that Kessel would fit better with Malkin. It’s only a matter of time before those two get a shot together. The guess here is that it will light the spark. Crosby and Kessel are guys I’d try to buy low. Crosby for sure, though Kessel carries a bit more risk coming off a down year. At the very least, Phil is still a “hold” for those who have him.
2. CLAUDE GIROUX AND JAKUB VORACEK
S’all good here, too. Some might worry the Philadelphia Flyers will struggle and miss the playoffs this season. Those people would be right, and those are the same people you should exploit to buy low on Giroux and Voracek. The tandem had no problem finishing 12th and fifth, respectively, in scoring last year on a weak Flyers team. Without another bona fide scoring line to take pressure off them, we may not see Giroux return to his old 90-point heights or Voracek build on last year’s 81, but both should mirror last year’s production when all is said and done. Remember that both are streaky players, too. An explosion looms.
3. RYAN GETZLAF AND COREY PERRY
Getzlaf and Perry have combined for two assists this season. That’s it. Wow. On one hand, they are both too good to hold down. On the other, there’s something off with the Ducks early on, enough so that coach Bruce Boudreau is reportedly on the chopping block. It’s a situation to monitor, as Boudreau is traditionally a fantasy hockey boon. His teams tend to score a lot. Perry and Getzlaf are also both 30 and nearing the ends of their primes. Getzlaf’s point total dropped by 17 last year in the same game total as the year before. I’m not saying you should sell them, as better times obviously lie ahead. But it’s at least something to think about, especially in leagues that don’t count hits and PIM.
4. ANZE KOPITAR AND JONATHAN QUICK
Kopitar will be fine. He started slowly last season, too. Had 10 points in his first 21 games, then 54 in his next 58. If you don’t have him, convince his owner he’s “distracted by his lack of a contract for next year” and that he’s poised for a down season. Then buy low.
Quick, on the other hand…ugh. Sure, he’ll finish with better numbers than a 2.60 goals-against average and .898 save percentage. He trained extremely hard this off-season and has never been fitter. He’s already shown signs of a turnaround, allowing just one goal in consecutive starts. The problem is that, unlike Playoff Jonathan Quick, Regular Season Jonathan Quick is good but not elite. His final rank in standard Yahoo leagues was seventh last year and fifth the year before. I’m not saying you should drop him or even shop him, but he’s not a guy I’d go out of my way to acquire right now, especially when we still don’t know how good this Kings team will be.
5. MATT DUCHENE
Duchene’s a guy I pegged for a bounce-back over the summer. He’s maddeningly inconsistent but typically follows a bad year with a good one. That said, sometimes you’re only as good as your team. The Colorado Avalanche have been horrific in puck possession under coach Patrick Roy year after year. And, somehow, they’ve gotten worse. Per puckalytics.com, their Corsi Close percentage is a woeful 36 percent, last in the NHL and lower than even lowly Buffalo’s last year. Normally, we could laugh it off as a small sample size, but the stat is consistent with Colorado’s bugaboo over the past few seasons. The Avs get shelled night in and night out. They rank 29th in shots on goal per game. They can’t score if they don’t have the puck. We should indeed worry about Duchene until this team completely overhauls its system.
6. SERGEI BOBROVSKY
There’s reason to panic about ‘Bob,’ no doubt. He’s even panicking, for Pete’s sake. Bobrovsky has openly spoken about his shattered confidence, and that’s a horrible harbinger. This Columbus team can’t buy a win, either.
That said, Bob has been so bad (5.07 GAA, .835 SP) that he can probably be had for very little right now. Could you flip a hot starter with a low ceiling, like David Krejci, for Bobrovsky? There’s a good chance. Some enraged GMs may have even dropped him in shallower leagues. Better times will come for the Blue Jackets sooner or later, and Bobrovsky isn’t out of leash yet.
7. MARK GIORDANO
Panic. And sell if you can. I’m not knocking Giordano here. He’s a great defenseman, a great leader, likeable person. But he’s struggling, he’s 32, he just signed a massive contract extension carrying big expectations and the Flames don’t look like they’ll sneak up on anyone this season. Even if Calgary bounces back and Giordano does, too – and they will – we can’t forget Giordano has played 61, 64 and 61 games in his past three full seasons. He gets hurt almost as much as Kris Letang. He was a fantasy bust candidate for that reason alone entering the season, and his struggles just make things worse. Trade him to a Flames fan.
8. TUUKKA RASK
Of course Rask will improve on his 4.29 GAA and .851 SP. He’s good for an ugly stretch every year and erases it with much longer stretches of stellar play. The question is how much he bounces back this year versus others, though. You try stopping the puck when your ‘D’ corps loses Dougie Hamilton (trade) and Dennis Seidenberg (injury). Zdeno Chara has a lot of responsibility weighing on his 38-year-old body, too. Rask will still be a strong fantasy goalie this year, but is he still a top three or five guy? He may be more of a top-10 net minder in 2015-16.
9. THE TAMPA TRIPLETS
Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat were arguably hockey’s best all-around line last season, and they carried that greatness into Tampa Bay’s run to the Stanley Cup final. They’ve been ghosts to start this season, though. Johnson at least has four assists, but the Triplets have two goals in total. They’ve taken back seats to the Steven Stamkos/Jonathan Drouin/Ryan Callahan unit.
It’s funny, though – the Stamkos line has actually helped the Triplet Line’s fantasy forecast. The former has helped the Bolts start 4-2-0, giving the Triplet Line plenty of slack to get back on track. It’s not like Tampa is 1-5-0 and Jon Cooper needs to juggle his lines. The Triplets have scored twice on 39 attempts for a shooting percentage of 5.1. That’s insanely low and unlucky. Johnson was destined to start a bit slowly as he recovered from a broken wrist anyway. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make offers for all three of these guys in my leagues.
10. TOMAS TATAR
Mega-prospect Dylan Larkin made the team and has excelled on the wing for Detroit, pushing Tatar into second-line duty. As long as Pavel Datsyuk is sidelined recovering from ankle surgery, it’s a huge drop between line 1 and 2 in Motown. Tatar’s center is Brad Richards or Riley Sheahan instead of Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg.
That said, Tatar’s current deployment is reason not to panic. He’s started very slowly but he’s a gifted sniper who is also a victim of circumstance. He’s worth targeting as a buy-low or scooping off the wire, as his value should spike again once Datsyuk returns and restores’ the Red Wings’ scoring depth at center. The Magic Man is due back in November.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin