Saturday, December 14, 2013



BOSTON, MA—We are officially passed the quarter mark of the 2014 NHL season, which means we're about one third of the way through OUR regular season, and about 20 games away from in-season contract signings. 

The standings are still super tight, which is having a big impact on the trade market. With only a small number of teams truly out of contention, it's difficult for GM's to know when they should go all-in with a big trade, pack it up and trade for futures, or--and I think most of us are in this boat right now--stand pat, ride out the storm and see what things look like in the new year. 

Following a 55-point night, Mario Zecca's New Jersey Wallflowers have vaulted into the contender's circle. Very interesting and balanced team here. Justin Williams, JVR, Phaneuf, and a resurgent Dustin Penner are leading the way up front, combined with a formidable trio of Corey Crawford, James Reimer and Ben Scrivens in net. Not sure about Scrivens' long-term value, but he's cleaning up well in the absence of Jonathan Quick. 55 points is the highest daily total so far this season, and if it's not the best mark in league history, it's certainly up there. 

In these notes I usually try to look for unusual or surprising trends, but there is no mystery to what is working well for Joe Mastrangelo's Boston Beernuts. Top five skaters? Ovechkin, Perry, Pavelski, Sharp, Kessel. Sprinkle in wunderkinds Nathan Mackinnon and Valeri Nichuskin, and you've got a nice recipe for both immediate and long-term success. Also, how about Steve Mason in goal? W-L record is misleading as the former Calder winner is letting in about 2 goals per game and stopping roughly 93% of shots fired his way. Great rebound for the kid that has been widely regarded as a one hit wonder. 

Running out of synonyms for 'unstoppable', so Saginaw isn't going to get as much ink in this column as in previous editions. One interesting note- as of this writing, Tommy Wingels has more fantasy points than fellow Spirit forwards Patrice Bergeron, Joffrey Lupul and Brad Richards. Also, here's hoping that Pavel Datsyuk isn't seriously injured after recently sustaining an elbow to the head. Losing him long term, on top of Stamkos, would be a real shame for hockey fans everywhere. 

Generally try not to mention glorious Sparta in these ramblings, but they have 179 more fantasy points from skaters than the league average (696). Next highest above-average number is 94 from Saginaw. W00T, and such. 

As for total fantasy points earned by goalies, Josh Deitell's Stuttgart Scorpions and Nathan Asdourian's Beantown Ball Busters are right up there with the Spirit. For Stuttgart, Josh Harding and MA Fleury have been downright sensational, going a combined 24-6 through the first two months of regular season play. As for Beantown, the rich are getting richer. Braden Holtby has been steady all year, Ben Bishop could end up being one of the best keeper signings ever, Frederick Andersen has shown promise in a limited role, and now Asdourian has Cam Ward back from injury. Lost in it all is prospect Jack Campbell, who is still learning the ropes in the American Hockey League. 

Scary moment for Altoona's Marty Brodeur over the weekend. After taking a puck off the back of the head, Brodeur lay motionless on the ice for a few minutes before shaking off the cobwebs and finishing the game. Personally, i thought Brodeur might get 30 starts max this season, but, health permitting, he's looking at far more than that. I guess if your HOF goalie (ancient or not) is playing halfway decent, you roll him until he says enough.

Speaking of goalies, as we so often do, I got to wondering where the best goalies of our time came from prior to emerging in the NHL. Well, let's wonder no more! 

Tuukka Rask (26) - Honed his craft for three seasons with Ilves Tampere of Finland's SM-liiga before learning the North American pro game for two years in Providence of the AHL. Broke in full-time with Boston in 2009-10. 

Josh Harding (29) - Four years with the Regina Pats and Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League before turning pro with Houston of the AHL in 2004. After 118 AHL starts and a few cups of coffee in the NHL, the original Minnesota Wild 2nd round pick established his role as a 1B tender in 2007-08. 

Carey Price (26) - Another Western Hockey League standout, Price played a full four seasons with the Tri-City Americans before pulling a Patrick Roy and winning a Calder Cup in his first AHL season in 2007. Price has just 12 career regular season GS in the AHL and clearly had nothing to gain from a prolonged stay in the minors. 

Ben Bishop (27) - It's taken some time for the former Hockey East standout to earn a starting gig in the NHL, but he appears to finally have one. After three stellar season with the University of Maine Black Bears, Bishop spent the next five years bouncing between Peoria and Binghampton of the AHL and short NHL stints with St. Louis and Ottawa. 

Antti Niemi (30) - Like fellow countryman Tuukka Rask, Niemi logged three seasons in Finland's SM-liiga before turning pro in the AHL. Also like Rask, Niemi didn't need long in the AHL before prying his way onto hockey's biggest stage. After just one year in the A, injuries to Cristobal Huet and Corey Crawford thrust Niemi into a starting role with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. Many questioned his talent due to how stacked the Hawks were that year, but none can argue with Niemi's results since hoisting the Stanley Cup. 

So, among the top five goalies as of this writing, we've got two Finns, two Western Juniors and a former Black Bear. Extending into the top 10, there's another WHL-er (Holtby), a couple of QMJHL-ers (Fleury, Crawford), an OHL-er (Smith) and a Russian who came to the AHL after just one season in his native land (Varlamov). This super intensive analysis reveals two key findings. One, the WHL churns out better goalies (on average) than either of its Junior League counterparts, and two, one in five Finnish babies are born with tiny catching gloves.