Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Interview with Stuttgart GM, Josh Deitell

1. what is your most exciting hockey memory? Your earliest hockey memory?

They're one and the same for me. I went to Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals where the Kings, after their upset of the Red Wings in the first round, were down 3 games to 2 against the heavily favored Colorado Avalanche. I was in the last row at Staples' Center and the game ended up going to double overtime as a 0-0 tie, it was an incredible goaltending duel between Felix Potvin and Patrick Roy. Finally, Glen Murray took a slapshot from the point on a rush and while Roy made the initial save, it trickled behind him and before it even crossed the line, the place erupted. I'll never forget it.

2. You're Gary Bettman for a day. Which current NHL teams, if any, do you relocate? Where to?

I've always thought Minnesota could support two hockey teams, and I think Canada could manage a few more. I'd move the Islanders (New York would still have two teams, and there'd be another in the same city), Coyotes (they've got some good fans but not enough to financially support a team), and the Blue Jackets (ditto Phoenix). Some of the teams in the South could be candidates to move as well.

3. Why Stuttgart? Do you have any connections to Germany or are you just a fan of the name (it's awesome by the way).

Three of my friends and I took a trip to Europe two summers ago and while we were in Munich, we ended up drinking with a soccer team from Stuttgart. They were really friendly and ended up inviting us back to their hometown, Herrenberg (which is just outside of Stuttgart). They housed us and fed us food and beer and just showed us an all around good time, so I remember Germany, and especially Stuttgart, very fondly. The Stuttgart Scorpions are actually an American Football team over there.

4. Tell us a bit about your fantasy hockey experience. Any championships or particularly fond seasons?

This is really my first year keeping track of my team throughout the season. Unfortunately, I've been in leagues where all the managers bail halfway through, and that makes it hard to maintain my own team when there's really no competition. I did play a lot of Eastside Hockey Manager 2005.

5. Paul Kariya, Teemu Selanne, Pavel Bure (all in their prime) and Alex Ovechkin in a fastest skater competition. Who takes the cake?

Kariya in his prime was one of the quickest players I've ever seen, and Ovechkin and Selanne both have an intimidating shot/speed combination, but nobody can match Panthers era Pavel Bure at full stride.

6. It's early, but take your best stab at a Cup prediction. Who will come out of the East and West?

My East pick is New Jersey, my West pick is Chicago.

7. Do you have a message for your new fan base in Stuttgart? What brand of hockey should they expect this year and in the future?

I'm not going to sugarcoat anything, I'm blowing it up and rebuilding, but this will be a competitive team next year, you can count on that. I like run-and-gun hockey that involves the point men and depends on turnovers to create outnumbered attacks. This is going to be a smart, gritty team with guys who aren't afraid to get creative in the offensive zone.

Fantasy Roundup at The Dark Horse Corral

By Mark Edwards

When a player is placed on the IR, the only predictable result is another roster move. But who gets the call? Do you sign a promising rookie before someone else does? Or, do you opt for a grinder or proven vet who is finally getting an opportunity? Sometimes, a Dark Horse is an injury away.

Here, in no particular order, are some injured players and potential free agent beneficiaries.

Milan Lucic (LW): Out indefinitely with an unspecified ailment in his left foot. The Byron Bitz experiment on Boston's top line might be temporary, but monitor the situation. Bitz's long-term fantasy value will drop if he can't score with the big guns.

Jason Spezza (C): Out 4-6 weeks with a torn MCL. Jesse Winchester's ice time has doubled while centering Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek. No guarantee to stick, but the opportunity is his to lose. Peter Regin gets a temporary boost while Nick Foligno is out for at least 2 weeks.

Joe Corvo (D): Out 8-12 weeks with a lacerated calf. Not a good year for leg protection in Carolina (see Cam Ward), or for Carolina in general. Bryan Rodney figures to be part of the youth movement in Raleigh and has short-term value while Tim Gleason and Niclas Wallin are nursing injuries.

The Detroit Red Wings: With Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Fillpula, Dan Cleary, and Jason Williams all on the shelf, ice time is ripe for the earning in Motor City. Justin Abdelkader and Drew Miller are the guys to watch here. Both offer short-term value on LW. Center Kris Newbury also has an outside shot if he can string together some points.

Teemu Selanne and Joffrey Lupul (RW): He's taken, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention Dan Sexton. Fresh out of Bowling Green State University, Sexton has transitioned seamlessly into the pro game and onto Anaheim's second line. Even when Selanne comes back after Christmas, this type of production should keep Sexton around. He is someone to remember at the draft next year if he isn't kept.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Brighter Days Ahead for Defending Champs

By Mark Edwards

SAGINAW, Michigan--After the champagne is gone, the parade is over, and crumbs dot the world's finest cereal bowl, reality sets in. You are the defending Stanley Cup champions and every hot shot in town will be gunning for you.

On September 30th, 2009, Saginaw faithful and general manager Tom Lusty did not seem fazed one bit by the lofty expectations that come with a title defense. And for good reason. Last October, Lusty's Saginaw Spirit built a colossal lead and never looked back. With the end game in play, Lusty acquired a second 1st round selection to boost his chances in 2009-2010.

Saginaw used both 1st round picks on elite goaltenders Niklas Backstrom and Cam Ward - two selections that none would criticize at the time. All engines go. Start printing T-shirts. Another year, another cup. That would just be too simple, wouldn't it?

Hockey is the fastest sport on Earth, not counting NASCAR or Jai alai, and a team's fortunes can crumble faster than a Joe Sakic wrister. A freak injury and multiple slow starts later, the defending champs find themselves underachieving. No one could predict Cam Ward getting his left quadricep lacerated by Rick Nash's skate blade, but are Saginaw's repeat-season struggles really that surprising?

In addition to being the coolest championship trophy in sports, the Stanley Cup has become one of the hardest to retain. Quite a change. Until Montreal ended the Pittsburgh Penguins' two-year cup run in 1993, it seemed that the Stanley Cup was available only for long-term leasing. The Flyers won it in 1974 and '75. For the next four year it was monopolized by the Montreal Canadiens, who were dethroned by the New York Islanders, who won four straight titles before yielding to the Edmonton Oilers, who won five Cups between 1984 and '90. No NHL team has won back-to-back since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and '98.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Interview with Saginaw GM, Tom Lusty

Q: What is your earliest hockey memory? Your most memorable hockey moment(s)?
A: Earliest hockey memory has to be attempting to play goalie in my driveway with make shift pads. I didn't have a blocker so I just used 2 roller blading knee pads. Yea I wasn't so hot at goalie back then either...Most memorable would have to be watching the Stanley cup finals between the Avs v Devils. Roy v Brodeur, Sakic, Forsberg, Bourque. A ton of hall of famers duking it out, and when you factor in that we traded Bourque just so that he could have a chance to win, it was great!

Q: Favorite hockey team/players. Why?
A: I don't really have huge favorites. I find myself more a fan of the game in general. A good game is a good game, and will pull me in whoever is playing.

Q: Why do you like hockey?
A: Hockey takes more than just a strength in any one skill. It takes a much more balanced athlete to be good at hockey. You can take someone who is very strong, or fast, or someone who is very bright and they all have a slot on a football, or baseball, or most teams. But in hockey you can't have such a concentration of talent in individual players. Players need to be more well rounded if they want to have a future in the sport, and that feels more natural (and fun) to me.

Q: What did you do on your day with the Stanley Cup?
A: Well the misses and I threw a lovely party and used it as a jello mold. And I certainly had a few bowls of cereal out of it. Everything just tastes so much better when eating out of Lord Stanley's Cup :)

Q: What was your key to success last year?
A: Good goal tending drove my success last year. That and some solid sleeper picks. I just had a solid, not amazing, not poor, team of skaters, with a very very strong pair of goaltenders. And it worked like a champ (see what I did there?)

Q: You knew this was coming. Why is your team struggling in 2009?
A: Well as you might have noticed I've been ravaged by injuries. I had 2 first round picks this year, and picked goalies that historically are very very good, and they are on track for career lows this season. Hell Carolina is the worst team in the league, that means they don't win much, meaning I don't get many points. That definitely hurts when he was a 1st round pick. Oh, and then he got injured. Minnesota hasn't exactly been hot either. I think those two high picks doing SO poorly is a big reason why we're in the middle of the pack and not near the top.

Q: Who do you like in the Olympics?
A: USA! Is there any other?! I don't have a favorite NHL team, but the national pride runs deep. Whether we have a shot or not, I haven't the slightest, but hopefully we'll put up a good fight.

Q: Positives going forward?
A: I'm excited that I picked up Rask, as he's already paying dividends, and has many years ahead. There are a few younger forwards that I'm looking forward to developing, Stastny is only going to get better, and Clutterbuck has really made an impression on the Saginaw Brass. Good things for the future indeed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

No Surprise: AO Tops Elias Rankings

By Colin Smith

PORTLAND, Maine--There are three things you can count on with Montreal 100’s left winger Alex Ovechkin: he’s going to shoot the puck, he’s going to bang the body, and he’s going to get paid.

No surprise then that the Russian rapscallion is projected to be the World Hockey League’s highest-paid player next year in the Elias Sports Bureau’s first official Player Value Report, which was released Sunday by the bureau’s Portland office.

Ovechkin, who was taken first overall by Montreal in the 2009 WHL draft and received a $99 signing bonus, currently ranks second in the Elias rankings and is projected to earn a slight raise in 2010-11 to $105.10. The next tier of earners--Evgeni Nabokov of the California Kwijibos, Henrik Lundqvist of the Beantown Ball Busters, and Sidney Crosby of the Portland Pints--is currently projected to make $78.10.

Elias, one of the nation’s top statistical companies and the official statistician for a number of professional leagues, was contracted by the WHL following offseason labor negotiations in which owners won the right to retain 5 players from one year to the next. Similar to the Free Agent rankings that the bureau provides for Major League Baseball, Elias’s WHL Player Value Reports are used by arbitrators to determine how much of a raise or pay cut each player will receive. An updated reported is issued at least monthly throughout the season.

Though the season is still young, New Jersey Wall Flowers goaltender Craig Anderson has put himself in a position to earn a hefty raise. Given a $37 bonus as the 94th pick in the draft, Anderson currently sits atop the Elias rankings and could be due as much as $74.80 next season.

Moving in the other direction is Hartford Whalers center Pavel Datsyuk. While Datsyuk has not performed poorly, his numbers are not up to the lofty standards of a third overall pick. He could be facing a nearly $27 pay cut from his $85 bonus if he doesn’t play at an elite level.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Draft Day Bargains

For the third consecutive season the Montreal 100's were first to the podium, and this year, Le Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge hope to make it count.

13 teams have returned, including the defending Stanley Cup Champion Saginaw Spirit. Six new teams have also joined in what is projected to be a fiercely competitive campaign.

Alex Ovechkin going 1st was a forgone conclusion. The rest of the draft was sprinkled with surprises - some auto-pick related, and some actually worth mentioning.

Round 1: Malkin and Datsyuk going 2nd and 3rd overall paved the way for Saginaw to reclaim goalie Niklas Backstrom. Marc Savard and Zdeno Chara were also picked, bumping some marquee goalies to Round 2 as a result.

Round 2: Tomas Vokoun hanging around until the 31st overall pick blows my mind. Vokoun (.926%) ranked second in save percentage last year. Portland Pints fans rejoice.

Round 3: No jaw-dropping picks here, but I was a bit surprised to see Patrick Marleau (11th in goals scored last year) go 50th overall. Youngster Claude Giroux might have been available in a later round, but he could prove to be a steal for the Wall Flowers.

Round 4: Wunderkind John Tavares was plucked 76th overall by Montreal. Short term overpayment, long term gem.

Round 5: Craig Anderson is a major dark horse for 2009. He had the third best save percentage last season (.924%), but has never played more than 31 games.

Round 8: John Tavares goes in the 4th and no Stamkos until the 8th? What a keeper bargain for the Mount Vernon Blades who get a young center on the verge of stardom.

Round 10: Bryan Little (Ilya Kovalchuk's center) must have used his small stature to avoid detection until the 10th round. Robbery for Yucca Valley.

Round 11: Ryan Whitney (194th overall) should reap the benefits of Chris Pronger's departure. Mike Smith and Brandon Dubinsky were other notable selections.

Round 15: Wojtek Wolski (275th overall) will see first line minutes for the Providence Bruins and is entering the magical 4th season in which forwards usually blossom. Erik Johnson (281st overall) could be a money pick as well for the California Kwijibos. Just keep him away from golf carts.

Round 19: Don't be surprised when Peter Mueller (345th) turns out to be one of the top 5 steals of the draft. Mueller is a young center entering his third season after a "sophomore slump". Things will only improve for this kid.

Round 23: Paul Stastny is to Joe Sakic what Matt Duchene is to Peter Forsberg. Duchene goes 420th overall to CSKA Moscow. With a little patience, Moscow will be feeling great about this pick for a long time - especially next season when Duchene costs next to nothing to keep.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Goalie Watch: July

The draft begins and Alex Ovechkin is off the board. You remain calm as your eyes instinctively scan the available goaltenders.

It may seem fortuitous that the goalie pool is remarkably deep this year. More options = more #1 tenders for all, right? Not necessarily. Outside of the elite options, time shares seem to be "in" in goalie world. Many teams have two capable goalies, which could make it difficult to project draft positioning. Paying close attention to training camp and preseason performances could make the difference between winning your league or just staying afloat.

As of July 22, 2009, 19 teams seem to have a clear #1 goalie. This leaves 11 teams with plans that are hard to predict. In a 20 team fantasy league, I estimate that approximately 12 goalies will be taken in the 1st round. This means that at least six managers in such a league figure to miss the boat on an elite goalie. Not to say that he or she won't build a successful team, but some chances will have to be taken.

Anaheim Ducks: J.S. Giguere struggled last year after the death of his father and Jonas Hiller carried the Ducks into the playoffs. Both guys can start, but a platoon seems likely unless one forces Randy Carlyle's hand.

Atlanta Thrashers: The much improved Thrashers re-signed Kari Lehtonen, who can be a top 5 goalie if healthy. A much delayed breakout season should not shock people.

Boston Bruins: Tim Thomas is the clear #1. Tuukka Rask and Dany Sabourin will battle for backup duties. If Rask wins, look for him to play 15-25 games.

Buffalo Sabres: The Ryan Miller show. No one else should see significant time unless injury strikes.

Calgary Flames: Miikka Kiprusoff - Above average skills + 75 games played = fantasy gold.

Carolina Hurricanes: Cam Ward continues his path towards elite status. Draft with confidence.

Chicago Blackhawks: Cristobal Huet's team now that Khabibulin is gone. Corey Crawford is the S.O.S man if Huet screws the pooch.

Colorado Avalanche: Craig Anderson gets his first crack at being a #1. Look for a 70-30 split with Peter Budaj.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Must be something in the water. Pascal Leclaire had 10 shutouts two years ago. Rookie Steve Mason repeated that feat last year. Mason should go in Round 1.

Dallas Stars: Turco should remain unchallenged as the Texas Tender. Look for a rebound season from the veteran who could challenge for the #3 spot on Team Canada.

Detroit Red Wings: Conklin out, Jimmy Howard in. Chris Osgood should have another painfully average season on a phenomenal team. Do not be shocked if Howard steals the job at some point.

Edmonton Oilers: Dwayne Roloson is gone, leaving starting duties to Nikolai Khabibulin. Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers should see minimal time.

Florida Panthers: Tomas Vokoun will have another strong year out of the hockey spotlight. UFA signee Scott Clemmensen is a solid backup with 1B potential.

Los Angeles Kings: Jonathan Quick should start most nights unless he falters or is challenged by Erik Ersberg or prized youngster Jonathan Bernier. Look for Bernier to spend one more full season in Manchester (AHL), but you never know.

Minnesota Wild: I would take Niklas Backstrom over the brilliant Martin Brodeur. Wade Dubielwicz should not pose any threat and Josh Harding will likely be traded.

Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price is big risk/bigger reward. Bet on a strong rebound, but don't gamble too early.

Nashville Predators: Pekka Rinne will get every opportunity to build on a fantastic rookie campaign.

New Jersey Devils: Can't go wrong with the all-time wins leader.

New York Islanders: An interesting scenario ... Rick DiPietro played in 60+ games for 3 straight seasons before missing most of least season with a knee injury. It appears he may take longer than expected to return as the Isles signed UFA Martin Biron to a 1 year deal. Dwayne Roloson will compete with Biron, but it's anyone's guess who will play more.

New York Rangers: Super Swede King Henrik is clearly a top 5 goalie. Nothing to say here.

Ottawa Senators: Pascal Leclaire will begin the year as the main man, but injuries are a concern. Brian Elliot will press for time, but Leclaire is by no means a poor #2 fantasy goalie.

Philadelphia Flyers: Ray Emery returns from Russia with a proclaimed new attitude and a willingness to adopt a team-first mentality. We will see. Philly could be to Emery what New York is to Sean Avery.

Phoenix Coyotes: Ilya Bryzgalov is one of the busiest goalies in the league. Phoenix is loaded with young talent and is slowly fighting towards a playoff spot amid financial struggles. Bryz is a quality #2 with potential for more.

Pittsburgh Penguins: I don't expect M.A. Fleury to put up All-Star numbers after winning the cup, but playing on one of the best teams in the NHL makes him a safe pick.

San Jose Sharks: Nabby could be done in San Jose after this year, but I suspect he is re-signed. Tomas Greiss should backup Nabby barring a trade.

St. Louis Blues: Chris Mason appeared to be the clear #1 until Ty Conklin was signed. Mason should start the season as #1, but Conklin's presence makes me reluctant to recommend Mason in the first 3 rounds.

Tampa Bay Lighting: Mike Smith appeared to be recovering well from his concussion and could quietly put together a 30 win season.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Next to Anaheim, this is the toughest situation for me to predict in July. Brian Burke seems confident that a healthy Vesa Toskala will bounce back with a huge season, while the "#2" is only the most prized goalie to come out of Sweden since Henrik Lundqvist - Jonas Gustavsson. Watch the pre-season like a fox.

Vancouver Canucks - Roberto Luongo is gold, but if he gets injured again, look for Cory Schneider (not Andrew Raycroft) to carry the load.

Washington Capitals - Another toughie. I WANT to say confidently that Simeon Varlamov will be the clear starter and that he will win 40 games as the Caps go on to win the Cup. Unfortunately, Jose Theodore is under contract for one more year and his $6 million price tag could eat into Varlamov's ice time. Then again, Varlamov could be a flash in the pan and Theodore could hoist the cup.

The big message here is to pay attention to what goalies do in the pre-season. With so many starting jobs up in the air, it would be unwise to trust standard rankings or to draft based on names or what was accomplished last year.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Deep Blue Sea of Goalies

The 2008-09 NHL season was arguably the best year of professional hockey over the past decade. This was the first year since the 04' lockout in which every team played each other at least once. Records were set left and right. Martin Brodeur recovered from a torn bicep to supplant Patrick Roy as the NHL's winningest goalie. Sidney Crosby became the youngest NHL captain to hoist silver. Steve Mason laid 10 goose eggs in his rookie season. Perhaps even more captivating was the mad dash for the playoffs. Seven teams missed the postseason by 10 points (5 wins) or less.  

Maybe the most pressing issue facing fantasy GM's is goaltending. Who are the sure bets for 2009-10? Who is on the rise and decline? Who will be the next rookie sensation? It's easy to remember the studs and hot rookies and to forget less flashy options who had an off year or spent time on the IR. Here are a few names to consider when formulating your goalie plans for 2009.  

Follow me if you want to live: Niklas Backstrom, Roberto Luongo, Martin Brodeur, Tim Thomas, Cam Ward, Henrik Lundqvist, Evgeni Nabokov, Tomas Vokoun, Steve Mason, Ryan Miller, Miikka Kiprusoff, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ilya Bryzgalov, Mike Smith, Pekka Rinne, Nikolai Khabibulin.  

Bound to rebound: Marty Turco, Carey Price, Rick DiPietro.  

Welcome back to the NHL: Ray Emery.  

The real deal?: Chris Mason, , Jonathan Quick, Cristobal Huet.  

Duos who can both be #1 (pay attention to off season movement and training camp competition): Jonas Hiller/J.S. Giguere (ANA), Pascal Leclaire/Brian Elliot (OTT), Simeon Varlamov/Jose Theodore (WSH), Chris Mason/Ty Conklin (STL), Craig Anderson/Peter Budaj (COL).  

May press for ice time: Tuukka Rask (BOS), Jonathan Bernier (LA), Corey Crawford (CHI), Cory Schneider (VAN), Ondrej Pavelec (ATL), Jaroslav Halak (MTL), Scott Clemmensen (FLA), Jason LaBarbera (PHX), Brian Boucher (PHI).  

Gambles: Dwayne Roloson, Kari Lehtonen, Chris Osgood, Vesa Toskala.  

UFA watch: Martin Biron, Anterro Nittymaki, Josh Harding, Alex Auld, Manny Fernandez, Kevin Weekes.  

Retirement watch: Curtis Joseph, Olaf Kolzig, Manny Legace.