SPIRITS HIGH IN SAGINAW DESPITE TIGHT STANDINGS, YUKON PANNING FOR GOLD
BOSTON, MA—It's been an exciting start to the 2013-14 season with several teams charging out of the gate, and a few historically strong teams struggling to find their footing. As we all know, the fantasy hockey season is a marathon, but sometimes a team insists on sprinting. Case in point, the Saginaw Spirit. After capturing the crown in our inaugural 2008-09 ESPN campaign, Tom Lusty's crew churned out a string of decent yet underwhelming seasons. Now, riding the stalwart play of Tuukka Rask and the goalscoring prowess of Joffrey Lupul and Daniel Sedin, the reinvigorated Spirit have already posted TWO 50+ point nights.
Defending champion Lokomotiv Yukon, on the other hand, is making waves in a different way. Darryl Schnarr's typically robust squad has finished 2nd, 1st and 1st dating back to the 2010-2011 season, but now finds itself struggling to gain momentum. Not to take away from their individual performance, but you know things aren't 100% when Matt Niskanen and Jiri Hudler are the leading scorers on a team that boasts the likes of Malkin, Jamie Benn, Kesler, and Henrik Sedin. Goalies--generally the pillar of Yukon's success, are sputtering in the early going. Ryan Miller is doing work (ranked 2nd in saves despite an 0-4 record). It's Devan Dubnyk that is the real head-scratcher so far, posting negative points in all four of his starts along with a hideous 5.43/.829 peripheral stat line.
Again, it's a long season with plenty of time to turn things around. And if you look back through the annals of league history, you will be reminded that Lokomitv won it's first league championship not as a juggernaut, but as the #7 playoff seed.
ROOKS ON THE RISE: By now you've hopefully seen the four-goal effort from Tomas Hertl, which is a big part of why the rookie is leading all California Kwijibos skaters in fantasy points. Many had Sean Monahan pegged as one pup that might stay in the NHL beyond nine games mostly out of necessity, but the Mount Vernon greenhorn has at least a point in each of his first five games, including a four game goal-scoring streak. A feel good surprise from the kid that was largely overshadowed by MacKinnon, Drouin, Jones, Barkov, etc.
PATIENCE PAYING OFF: Pint-sized Nathan Gerbe is finally getting an honest chance to strut his stuff on the main stage. After averaging just 12:30 TOI/G last season, Gerbe is logging over 18 minutes a night for Portland and currently ranks among the Top 10 leaders in shots on goal. After plugging away as a grinder for most of the last four seasons, Justin Abdelkader is getting a golden chance to stick on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. And after being on the Stuttgart Scorpion's trading block for the better part of the last two seasons,Jack Johnson has more fantasy points through the first two weeks than Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin. Not exactly a bankable trend, but surely a welcome change for GM Josh Deitell.
EARLY RETURNS: How about that Alex Killorn? Two goals and four assists through his first five games and is currently CSKA Moscow's top scoring left winger. What a solid start for arguably the most surprising pick of the draft (43rd overall, round 3). Also, how did more NHL teams not offer Brad Boyes a one year deal this past summer? The former 43-goal scorer has potted four goals through his first five games with Wolfsburg, tops among all Vipers skaters.
CANADIAN COMEBACK:My super early and completely unbiased nomination for bounce back of the year goes toSemyon Varlamov of le Canadiens de Montreal. After averaging a paltry 2.2 fantasy points per game last season, Varly is rocking a 4-0 record along with a 1.00/.970 split and a robust 8.4 points per game average. What a MONSTER. Also, Patrick Roy is the greatest coach in league history. See? Totally unbiased. Just sweet, pure, truth.
Great start to the year, guys! Keep fighting and don't forget to take the longview as we navigate through the coming months.