Sunday, March 1, 2015



PORTLAND, ME—As the final three weeks count down on the WHL regular season, more than half of the league's 18 clubs have at least a puncher's chance at cracking the postseason. No one is catching the runaway Beantown Ball Busters at this point. If the playoffs began today and Beantown's league-leading 520 fantasy points from goalies were cut in half, they would still be the #4 seed. If those points disappeared entirely, Beantown would only be ~20 points out of the final playoff spot. The other seven playoffs seeds, meanwhile, are very much in flux. The Portland Pints, Altoona Angry Beavers, and California Kwijibos appear destined to finish in the top four, but actual seeding remains fungible. 5th seeded Stuttgart and 8th ranked Montreal are separated by 70 points while 8th and 12th sit roughly 70 points removed as well, promising much leap-frogging and tough sledding down the stretch. 

Vipers Loosen Coils 
While most GM’s are playing things close to the chest, third year Wolfsburg GM Mike Greeley has made a conscious decision to sell, sell, sell his team's way into the consolation ranks. The Vipers shifted into full rebuild mode with a flurry of trades in mid February, reeling in three 1st round picks, a 2nd round pick and four promising young players--Morgan Rielly, Micheal Dal Colle, Matt Dumba, and goalie Alex Stalock--across four separate transactions. This infusion of futures came at a price, though. Gone are fantasy regulars Craig Anderson, David Krejci and Chris Kunitz, along with Jonathan Bernier and his highly favorable $19 contract for next season. 
"I'm selling high because a lot of my players have been on the decline all year,” said Greeley. “I was in this same spot last year and I did the opposite to barely squeak in and get eliminated anyways, which kinda screwed me for this year. So I'm trying this approach. I have a lot of young guys now as well as 2 first rounders and 2 seconds as well. So next year probably won’t be a huge year but the year after that I should be in good shape for years to come!”
On the other side of these trades, the Pints and Scorpions shored up their goaltending by bringing in Anderson and Bernier, respectively. Once Anderson and Sergei Bobrovsky awake from their IR slumber and join Kari Lehtonen, Portland figures to have itself a stout trio of tenders for the playoff push. For Stuttgart, Bernier will provide a much-welcomed 1B complement to workhorse Jonathan Quick for the duration of the season and beyond. Meanwhile, the Northern CHEEFS, perhaps fueled by a desire to impress fans in their inaugural campaign, doled out its top draft choices for the next two seasons to make a run now. Steady production from Kunitz and Krejci will certainly help in that regard, but time will tell if Brian Elliott and an army of backups will be able to get the job done in net for rookie GM Kyle Hamel. 

Signed, Sealed, Pending Delivery 
In addition to owners swapping players and picks, we’ve also seen an influx of owners putting pen to paper. Six teams have signed a combined 27 contracts since in-season eligibility conditions were met (40GP for skates, 30 GS for goalies), with the Wolfsburg Vipers and Saginaw Spirit combining for half of those deals. Most recently, the Altoona Angry Beavers protected their future in net by committing a combined $229 to proven All Stars Pekka Rinne and Marc-Andre Fleury. The Boston Beernuts, meanwhile, threw big money at a red-hot, but ultimately less-proven commodity, Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk will earn a combined $188 over the next four seasons, just $10 less than what Portland's Sidney Crosby will collect over that same span. Speaking of The Kid, Crosby was the recipient of the WHL's first four-year contract back in January. 

The most valuable contract as of 2/15 belongs to Frederik Andersen of the Beantown Ball Busters. Andersen will earn $17 next year, a $30 savings over his current price tag. In a similar vein, Mount Vernon Blades forward Valdimir Tarasenko and Cory Schnieder of Sparta Praha are currently delivering a $21 savings to their respective owners. In all, 104 players are under contract for the 2015-16 season, with an average savings of $1. 47 of the 104 deals (45%) are saving owners money, including 10 deals saving $10 or more. 18 contracts (17%) are neither saving nor losing, while the remaining 39 deals are losing money on next season due to on-ice performance, injuries, and the flat rate contract structure, which is designed to swap a short term loss for longer term savings. 

Second Half Turnaround 
The suddenly awake Porter Pirates are leading the way in the Most Improve Race, clicking at over 77% improvement since January 1st. Porter is followed by a pack of four teams—Montreal, New Jersey, Sparta, and Northern—which are rolling between 65 and 68% improvement in the New Year as of February 22nd. The Beernuts and West Palm Rangers are sitting right there as well in the 62% range, and could move up in a hurry. M.I. standing will be used to seed teams in the consolation bracket and to resolve draft order tiebreaker scenarios when teams are eliminated simultaneously. 

Around the Rink 
The Mount Vernon Blades currently own the most productive day of the 2014-15 season with +58.6 on 11/28/14*** This sounds about right: Beantown holds the top two most productive months of the season, plus three of the top five weeks. *** No goalie has more fantasy points than Boston's Devan Dubnyk over the last 30 days ***Vezina Alert--we all know Pekka Rinne is good, but 34-8-3 through 45 starts? I'm struggling to remember a more dominant regular season performance *** I thought it would be noteworthy to point out Alex Ovechkin's average of five shots per game over the last month, but turns out he's been doing that since October. *** Only three skaters have been hotter than the Great Eight over the last two weeks: Max Pacioretty, John Tavares, and blossoming Saginaw star, Anders Lee. 

WHL playoffs begin Sunday, March 15th and run through Saturday, April 11th. 

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