Friday, December 26, 2014



PORTLAND, ME—With a quarter of the 2014-15 WHL season behind us, the standings are really starting to take shape. While the white-hot Beantown Ball Busters have built themselves a 100-point lead over second place California, those same Kwijibos are only 70 points ahead of 8th ranked Saginaw. Plenty of leap frogging will ensue given how fiercely competitive the top half has been so far. South of the border, so to speak, a handful of teams are a good night or two away from joining the playoff pack, illustrating just how many strong teams we have this year. Only four teams look to be at, or very near the point of no return. After 14th place CSKA Moscow, which sits 75 points out of 8th, New Jersey and West Palm are roughly 160 points beyond the grasp of that same target. Rounding out the standings we have the Porter Pirates, who’s owner has been MIA since October, and of course, the Boston Beernuts, who hardily continue Operation McDavid. 

Unlikely Leaders 
On a team stacked with the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Andrew Ladd, and Dustin Byfuglien, it’s Calder frontrunner Filip Forsberg who’s leading all Beantown Ball Buster skaters in fantasy points scored. Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews being the top two scoring forwards for the Portland Pints is about as surprising as football on Thanksgiving, but how about Johnny Boychuk emerging as Portland’s top-scoring defenseman through the first quarter? Speaking of surprising d-men performances, T.J. Brodie is quietly leading all Wolfsburg Vipers skaters in fantasy points scored. Another unanticipated leader is Tyler Bozak of the Altoona Angry Beavers. Bozak currently leads his team in goals and fantasy points—no small task considering that he’s wearing the same virtual jersey as Patrick Kane, Dion Phaneuf and Matt Duchene. Meanwhile, Mount Vernon’s Vladimir Tarasenko has been out-dueling teammates Phil Kessel and Patrice Bergeron to lead his team on the fantasy points front, and trails only Tyler Seguin and Alex Ovechkin in total points among all right wing-eligible players. 

Welcome to the Jungle 
As impressive as Filip Forsberg’s start to the year has been, he’s hardly the only rookie to be making waves in the early going. Jori Lehtera and Johnny Gaudreau have provided key value to a Stuttgart Scorpions team who’s GM has long displayed a keen eye for young talent. Lehtera, in particular, has been producing points at a slightly higher clip than last year’s Calder winner (and fellow Scorpions forward) Nathan MacKinnon. Wolfsburg Vipers forward Tanner Pearson trails only Filip Forsberg in goals scored among rookies, while Saginaw forward Andre Burakovsky and Northern CHEEFs blue-chip defenseman Aaron Ekblad rank 4th and 5th, respectively, in totals goals and assists among rookies. Bolstering Portland’s impressive stable of veteran talent, Mike Hoffman and John Klingberg have been outstanding free-agent finds for Colin Smith’s Pints. Over the last 15 days, only Kris Letang and Alex Pietrangelo have racked up more fantasy points than Klingberg. 

Defending the Keep 
Fans of the defending champion California Kwijibos must be pleased with their team’s title defense thus far. While the Kwijibos have mustered the 8th most fantasy points from skaters so far this season, exceptional play from California veterans Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak has propelled their team into 2nd place in the standings. That’s not to say that California hasn’t received solid contributions from its skaters. When GM Paul Zeman drafted Patric Hornqvist 36th overall, ahead of more proven options like Joe Thornton, Bobby Ryan, and Martin St. Louis, Zeman clearly had a hunch that the Finnish forward was due for a big year. So far that hunch has been proven correct as Hornqvist currently leads all Kwijbo skaters in goals, assists, and fantasy points. Also, I am incapable of writing anything about the Kwijibos without mentioned Radko Gudas, mainly because I love saying Radko Gudas. 

Tweakend Check-in 
So far the off-season scoring tweaks are working as expected. Elite goalies are still dominating the Top 10—Tyler Seguin is currently the only forward in this group, however, Claude Giroux, Ovie, and Mark Giordano (!) are on the cusp of moving up. The 16-20 keeper “tax bracket” (see the value table in the keeper doc for all brackets) is packed with players—Crosby, Rask, Stamkos, Schneider, Tarasenko, that all have high potential to rocket up into more expensive territory. 21-50 is where the scoring tweaks are really felt. For example, Kari Lehtonen, Darcy Kuemper and Braden Holtby have all played reasonably well so far this season, but they aren’t automatically in the top 25 simply for wearing goalie pads. Instead, they, and other comparable goalies, are in the mix with skaters like Shea Weber, Patrice Bergeron, and Evgeni Malkin. 

It’s Still a Goalie’s World 
Swinging back around to the top of the player rater, Altoona’s Pekka Rinne has apparently put his injury issues behind him and is back with a vengeance. Rinne has posted a massive 15-3-1 record along with a 1.86/.932 peripheral split through his first 19 starts. Quick, Fleury and Price are more or less where you’d expect them to be (top 5), followed by another huge bounce-back in Ryan Miller. Miller Time may never live up to the gargantuan contract that Mount Vernon doled out at the last RFA auction, but he has poured it on lately with just one goal against and two shutouts over his last three starts. And Holy Toledo do owners love their goalies. Since lifting the player limit for all positions this season, most teams are carrying the standard 2-4, however some teams are rocking six goalies or more! 

GMs Ready Your Checkbooks 
It’s never too soon to start looking at player prices and to earmark prime candidates for in-season signings. Skaters become eligible for in-season signing once they reach 40 games played this season, or 30 games started for goalies, and as a reminder, you now have the option to sign players for up to four seasons. Another noteworthy refresher—there are two types of contract structures: The traditional escalating structure in which each year of the deal is higher than the previous one, or a flat-rate structure that uses a rounded average of the costs from the escalating structure. You can easily preview player costs under either format using the 2015 Keeper Costs doc below. Happy shopping and good hunting as we plow through winter and towards the new year!