BRYZGALOV HELPS KWIJIBOS RECLAIM SERIES LEAD DESPITE KEY INJURIES
BOSTON, MA—Mere hours after learning that his team would be without the services of Dustin Byfuglien (and possibly Andrew Ladd and Jarome Iginla) for the rest of the year, free agent acquisition Ilya Bryzgalov gave GM Paul Zeman a much needed reason to smile by positing his second shutout in as many games. The California Kwijibos and Sparta Praha entered part deux of the Championship series separated by less than two points, and it's highly unlikely that this will be the final swapping of the series lead. Meanwhile, Portland and Stuttgart continue to duke it out for 3rd place, and les Canadiens de Montreal and Altoona Angry Beavers have advanced to compete for the consolation crown and the fist overall pick. All prize money will be distributed on the morning of Monday, April 14th in the following denominations: $300 for Playoff Champion, $200 for Playoff Runner-Up, $200 for Total Points Winner, $100 for Playoff 3rd-Place Finisher, and last but not least, $100 for Consolation Bracket Winner.
Fighting for Inches
After crushing it for most of March, and most of the regular season for that matter, California and Sparta did not live up to expectations in the first half of the Championship final. The Kwijibos mustered just under 126 points last week after finishing in the 160-170 range in each of the previous three weeks. Sparta didn't fare much better, crossing the half way series mark with a scant 1.6 point advantage over the top seed. Carey Price wasn't bad by any means, but the most productive goalie for Paul Zeman's gang last weeek was Anders Nilsson, who now sits firmly on the waiver wire. Meanwhile, Prague's crease wasn't quite as barren as in previous weeks, as Cory Scheider bounced back with a cool 20 fantasy points through his last three starts. Dampening that performance, however, was Craig Anderson's inexcusable lack of focus and intensity which manifested itself in a delicious .877 save percentage over the last seven days.
Compounding the Spartan's week 1 struggles was Steven Stamkos being held to just one goal and nine shots through four games, along with P.K. Subban registering an ugly -4 with zero points and Evander Kane's uninspiring play resulting in the 22-year old being a healthy scratch on a crucial Saturday night. California also had its share of disappointing performances in round one of championship play, with the likes of Martin St. Louis and Shane Doan continuing to fire blanks, however, the Kwijbos did see a return to form from Mikko Koivu, who combined with Blake Wheeler and Francois Beachemin for just under 30 points last week. When all was said and done, California out-shot and outhit the Spartans last week, but things just didn't go as planned, for either team, between the pipes.
Home Cookin' Saving Portland's Bacon
Despite being out-scored by Stuttgart in the first leg of the battle for 3rd place, Colin Smith's Portland Pints enter Week 2 with roughly a 14-point series lead thanks to their double digit (17) home ice advantage. The familiar saying goes that a team's best players need to be at their best during the biggest moments of the season, and Portland's stars were exactly that last week. Last week's WHL points leader, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Kari Lehtonen combined for a hefty 45 points, with both tenders averaging over 5 fantasy points per start. Driving the boat on offense, Sidney Crosby and Nicklas Backstrom have been phenomenal down the middle, racking up a combined 22.9 points over the last seven days. Stuttgart's goalies have been just a shade less spectacular in the bronze bonanza, despite strong single outings from Jonathan Quick and Marc-Andre Fleury. What is truly keeping Josh Deitell's stingers alive is their youthful spark-plug offense led by Tyler Seguin, Charlie Coyle, Nathan MacKinnon and Taylor Hall. Stuttgart's 45 points last week (17 goals, 28 assists) was far and away the best mark among the four remaining playoff teams. Taylor Hall in particular has been white hot lately, dishing out the most fantasy points among skaters over the past week.
And Then There Were Two
Persistent Vezina-worthy goaltending from Semyon Varlamov and appropriate spikes in production from real-life Canadiens Brian Gionta and Alex Galchenyuk have propelled Ty Ladd's Canadiens de Montreal past the top-seeded West Palm Beach Rangers and into the consolation Final. Like countless playoff teams before them, Montreal was carried through by inspired play between the iron despite being out shot and outscored in the series with West Palm. Meeting Montreal is Joe Dahms and his unrelenting band of Angry Beavers. At the core of Altoona's semifinal victory over the Porter Pirates was a quintessential WHL performance from forward Brandon Dubinksy, who unloaded 18 shots and 20 hits last week. Meanwhile, versatile forwards Ryan Garbutt and Curtis Glencross continue to fill in admirably for the injured Patrick Kane and Matt Duchene. Moving forward against a hot Montreal club, however, Pekka Rinne will need to recapture some of the magic which made him an elite goalie in 2012.
With just six teams maintaining a pulse in the 2013-14 season, the 2014 Draft Order is falling into place. The consolation winner and runner-up (Montreal of Altoona) will draft first and second, respectively, followed by West Palm (3rd), Porter (4th) and Tayutic (5th) to round out the top 5 picks. Lokomotiv Yukon will draft 6th overall, followed by Brooklyn (7th), Mount Vernon (8th), New Jersey (9th) and CSKA Moscow (10th) to complete the top ten. Wolfsburg will pick 11th, followed suit by Beantown (12th), Saginaw (13th), and Boston (14th). The final four teams to approach the podium in the first round will be the 3rd place runner-up (Stuttgart or Portland), followed by the 3rd place winner, the championship runner-up, and finally, the 2013-14 WHL Champion.
Ready Your Bids
Starting one week after the conclusion of our playoffs, we will be holding our first ever auction for Restricted Free Agents (RFAs). As previously mentioned, an RFA is any player that was on a contract entering this season, but is not yet under contract for next year. Rules are fully defined in the rulebook, and you can see a full list of RFAs in its own tab in the keeper doc, but here's a condensed timeline to help you prepare:
Monday, April 14th - Sunday April 20th
Teams will be free to resume making trades and may sign players to protect them from reaching the auction. While participation in the auction is encouraged, it will not be required, so this will be an important week for owners that want to focus on signing their own RFAs before the bids start rolling in.
Monday, April 21st - Sunday April 27th
* All transactions and contract signing will be frozen for one week. During this week, owners will be able to submit up to two blind bids through Survey Monkey.
* Placing a bid is essentially submitting an offer sheet for a one-year contract, which will be binding if successful. The minimum bid is the player's final keeper cost, and one bid may be conditional on not receiving the other player.
* Owners will have the opportunity to extend a winning bid to 2 or 3 years by however much the bid exceeds the Y1 cost. For example, if a player would be $20/$25/$30 and you bid $22, your options would be one year for $22, two years for $22/$27 or three years for $22/$27/$32 (+2 each year).
* Original owners will have 48 hours to match the highest bid on any of his RFAs.
* All bids will be revealed on Wednesday morning, April 30th. Once all bids are announced, owners will be free to resume trading until the keeper deadline in late August.
Good luck to all remaining combatants!