TRADE DEADLINE, FANTASY PLAYOFFS DRAWING NEAR, PRICE SOARING IN CALIFORNIA
BOSTON, MA—With Olympic hockey in the books and both the trade deadline and fantasy playoffs rapidly approaching, precious time is ticking away as WHL managers finalize their rosters for the stretch run. The deadline for in-season wheeling and dealing arrives at Noon (Eastern Time) on Wednesday, March 12th--a full week after the NHL trading deadline. Just five days later on Monday, March 17th, the puck will drop for fantasy quarterfinals and the opening round of consolation fisticuffs. The WHL postseason, which will be just the second tournament in the league's seven-year history, will encapsulate the final four weeks of NHL regular season games and 209 total games.
Broken down by NHL team, 8 teams will play 15 games (BOS, DET, MIN, OTT, PHI, PIT, STL, TBL), 13 teams will play 14 games (ANA, BUF, CAR, CBJ, CGY, CHI, COL, DAL, FLA, LAK, NJD, NSH, PHX), another 8 clubs will throw down 13 times (EDM, MTL, NYI, NYR, SJS, TOR, WPG, WSH), and VAN will see the least action during our playoffs, with 12 games.
Olympic Review: 122 WHL players represented their country in the XXII Winter Olympic Games. Tayutic Team Rasta and the Saginaw Spirit sent the most athletes at 13 apiece, however, looking at the top 100 point scorers and goalies with at least 1 game started-- les Canadiens de Montreal and Tayutic Team Rasta each contributed a league-high seven skaters along with one tender. From a total points perspective, Saginaw skaters edged Montreal with a whopping 25 points from six skaters (compared to Montreal's 24 points from seven)--including a pleasantly surprising 3 goals and 2 assists from Finnish youngling, Olli Maatta. Meanwhile, looking at average points per participant, it was a three-way draw between Portland, Moscow and the Boston Beernuts, all racking up 14 points from 3 skaters, or 4.7 points per shooter.
Beernuts winger Phil Kessel and Moscow defender Erik Karlsson were deservedly selected by the IIHF as best at their respective positions, along with a more ceremonious selection of Tayutic's Teemu Selanne as the tournament's Most Valuable Player. If one were inclined to select an Olympic MVP based purely on on-ice performance, that process would likely start and end with California Kwijibos guardian Carey Price. Even with the full brunt of Hockey Canada in front of him, Price maintained a microscopic 0.59 GAA and .972 save percentage through five starts en route to a gold medal finish. West Palm's Henrik Lundqivst also had himself a stellar tournament, logging the most starts (6) along with a kingly 1.50/.943 peripheral split and a silver medal. Stuttgart Scorpions rookie Valeri Nichushkin was the youngest Men's hockey player at the Olympics, edging Porter Pirates rookie Aleksander Barkov by six months. Best player name from Sochi? Why, that would be Austria's Thomas Hundertpfund.
Most Improved Race Update: Two months into 2014, Mike Greeley’s Wolfsburg Vipers find themselves in an interesting position--simultaneously atop the most improved standings and in the 8th and final playoff seed. Without a 2014 1st round pick to attempt to transform into the first overall selection come September, it seems as though Wolfsburg intends to take a run at the big money. Meanwhile, Bob Guarascio’s West Palm Beach Rangers, the current top two seeds--California and Sparta, and Rich Abbondante's Team Rasta round out the Top 5 most-improved clubs in the new year. At the other end of the spectrum, Chet Merola's Blades of Mount Vernon have understandably struggled to improve since Jan. 1 after unloading impact players Thomas Vanek, Matt Moulson and Jimmy Howard in late December, followed swiftly by Dustin Byfuglien, Marty St. Louis and Blake Wheeler on January 10th.
Youngbloods: By now everyone knows Stuttgart’s Nathan MacKinnon as the undisputed front-runner for the Calder trophy. The wunderkind is currently leading all rookie skaters in goals, assists, and has about 40 more shots on goal than the next guy in line. What's more, as much as Patrick Roy loves his golden child, Mack Attack is averaging roughly 16 minutes of ice time, which ranks just 6th among newbie forwards. The two rookie forwards leading in TOI/g, Tyler Johnson (WPB) and Ondrej Palat (TTR) are putting together impressive seasons in their own right—both play for Tampa Bay in real life and currently sit 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in total points among first year skaters. Nipping at their collective heels are Wolfsburg skaters Mark Scheifele and Torey Krug, and Mount Vernon’s Chris Kreider. Total points are the obvious measure, but if you look at which rookies are ripping the most shots on net--after MacKinnon, of course, Nick Bjugstad (WLF), Alex Chiasson (BOS), and Sean Monahan (MVB) begin to creep their way into the outer limits of the R.O.Y bubble.
Night Vision Googles: Introducing the latest release from Colin’s laboratory—the Guesstimator. Available in its own tab in the Keeper Cost Doc, this tool is designed to help managers estimate what a player will cost at the end of the season. While total accuracy cannot be guaranteed, it can be a handy supplement to your own intuition and research, especially if you find yourself torn over whether to sign a player in-season or during the summer.
RFA Auction: Starting one week following fantasy playoffs, the WHL will hold its first Restricted Free Agent auction. For our purposes, an RFA is any player that entered this season on a contract, but is not yet signed for next year (full list available in its own tab in the keeper cost doc). So, how exactly will this auction work and how long will it last? Answer(s)--it will run for a full week from Sunday, April 20th through Sunday, April 27th, during which all contract signing will be frozen. Owners will have the opportunity to submit a max of two RFA offer sheets, which will essentially be blind bids for a one-year contract (one of these bids may be conditional on NOT receiving the other player). The minimum opening bid will be the player's final keeper cost, and however much a bid exceeds the Y1 keeper cost may be used to extend an RFA deal to two or three years. For example, if a player would cost $18/22/25 and you bid $21, your multi-year options would be $21/24/27 (+$3 for each year). All successful bids will be binding and will be announced at the end of the week. Also, in true RFA fashion, original owners will have the chance to match the highest bid on any of their RFA's.
A final thought about auctions in general--you may recall a league survey last summer, in which owners voted heavily in favor of moving to a dynasty format. For the record, this has been my hope for many years, but it made sense to Colin and me to gradually move the league in that direction. Part of this transition--which may go into effect as soon as next season--will be shifting from a full draft to a smaller rookie draft and, you guessed it, an auction! So, while participation in the RFA auction will be optional, it would be a solid plan to at least check it out.
Game on and good hunting.