BOSTON, MA—As we inch closer to the halfway point in mid January, every team in the top half of the standings has someone nipping at its heels. Even top ranked Saignaw, after building a fairly comfortable lead in the early months, now has a big hairy Kwijibo breathing down its neck. Behind those leviathans, we've got the two Boston teams, Stuttgart, New Jersey, defending Champion Yukon and your fearless Commissioners slugging it out for playoff positioning. In the bottom half of the standings, there is still plenty of time for the likes of Montreal, Moscow, Wolfsburg, and others to make a push, but most GMs are playing their cards pretty close to the chest.
Contract season is nearly upon us! Skaters can be signed in-season once they reach 40 games played (GP) or 30 games started (GS) for goalies.
For those who might benefit from a quick refresher on how player costs work, the keeper cost document puts everything you need at your fingertips. If you aren't already, I highly recommend scouting players in the "Player Rater" tab. First, get familiar with the "Value Tables" tab and take note of how close a given player is to moving up or down in the ranking brackets (1, 2, 3, 4-5, 6-10, 11-15, etc.). For example, if Player A ranks 51st in the player rater and you don't expect him to slow down, it might make sense to lock him in before he moves up into the 41-50 bracket, thus commanding more money.
In some respects, our league is a microcosm of the stock market. We evaluate options and data, mining for the right moment to buy or sell. Do you expect this player to keep trending up? Does history show that he runs hot and cold? What barriers, if any, could impede the player from reaching his potential (i.e. does he play for the Islanders)? At the end of the day, most of our decisions as GM's come down to gut feelings. And half of becoming successful at this game is learning how to trust your intuition and experience when making educated guesses in a volatile marketplace.
Enough about future contracts, let's look at some current ones. If not for a shrewd signing by GM Nathan Asdourian over the offseason, Ben Bishop would currently cost $53. Instead, the towering goalie will earn $22 in 2014-15, representing a current savings of $31. Asdourian, a real-life goalie, is also saving $21 on Braden Holtby at press time. Goalies know goalies. Go figure.
Another goalie, Jonathan Bernier, is looking like an absolute steal for Mike Greeley's Wolfsburg Vipers. Bernier is locked in at $20 per season through 2015-16--currently $21 less than what his sticker price would be sans contract. On the skater front, Ryan Kesler (GOLD) and Erik Karlsson (CSKA) are both currently saving their respective GM's $16. Looking at the 43 players that are currently signed through next season, we are collectively saving $2.19 per contract. So, while contracts don't always pan out, we are doing an above average job of retaining players at attractive prices.
* In case you missed it, Ty Ladd's Canadiens de Montreal recently pulled off two trades within 72 hours. The first deal saw Ladd ship veterans Craig Anderson, Jay Bouwmeester and a 12th round draft pick to Sparta Praha for Karri Ramo, Mark Arcobello, and a 2nd round pick. In the second swap, Montreal acquired budding blueliner Ryan Murray and a 10th round pick from the California Kwijibos for Shane Doan and a 13th rounder.
* Remember last season when Mike Milbury criticized Alex Ovechkin for lacking a "full commitment" to hockey? Yeah, Ovie is averaging nearly a full fantasy point more per game than Sidney friggin Crosby. Amazing what a generational goal-scoring talent will do when you stop forcing him to play defense. He's also averaging just over five shots on goal per game, which might have something to do with the scoring.
* Different kind of awesome: Matt Martin (SCOR) is averaging just a shade under five hits per game, far and away the top mark in the league. Most impressive about that is the fact that Martin is doing this on just 12 minutes of ice time per night.
* Mike Smith (WPB) and Ryan Miller (GOLD) are killing it in the total save department, but rank 10th and 20th, respectively in total fantasy points. In completely unrelated news, Buffalo and Phoenix are both in the bottom five in terms of shots allowed per game.
* An observation after poking around on Behindthenet.ca -- when sorting players by average distance from the net when shooting the puck, you predictably get a bunch of goons and grinders on the first page, because these are typically the slower skaters who make their bacon by sniffing around in close. This makes sense, but one name stuck out in a sea of mediocrity: Jonathan Toews. Everyone knows that Toews is a special player, but it's kind of neat to learn that he tends to shoot the puck from a shorter distance than his elite counterparts. This site is worth a perusal if you're into advanced metrics or if you're curious about things like how a players' shooting % is impacted by shot selection.
On the less advanced and probably more fantasy relevant side of things -- consider checking out Dobber's Frozen Pool. It's a straightforward tool that lets you see team-by-team line combinations in every situation (PP, SH, ES, etc.) over a range of time frames. Given how shallow our free agent pool can be, it can't hurt to keep up on which rookies and lesser-known players are earning more PP time, or who is stepping up in the absence of an injury. Knowledge is power.
Game on, and have a very happy holidays!