Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Ian Gooding on 08/14/11 at 08:39 PM ET
We’re in the dead days of August, but that will all change in a couple weeks when Yahoo, ESPN, and CBS start forming single-season fantasy hockey leagues. Included in the new leagues will be updated player rankings, which will no doubt be subject to plenty of debate. The first place many will look on the rankings system will be for the name at the top of the list.
In previous seasons, the player selected first overall was an obvious choice; for example, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Martin Brodeur, or in earlier times, Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky. However, the decision of the top-ranked player in fantasy hockey is much more wide-open than it has been in a while. What I have for you is five possible names that could be listed at the top of ranking sheets, along with the cases for making them the first overall pick.
Sid the Kid was well on his way to an Art Ross Trophy, a Hart Trophy, and the first overall ranking in drafts next season until the infamous David Steckel hit to the head during the Winter Classic that nearly every hockey fan in North America witnessed. We may be well out of the dead puck era, yet Crosby’s 32 goals and 66 points in just 41 games before the concussion clearly had no equal over the first half of last season. If not for injuries last season and during the 2007-08 season, Sid the Kid would be a 100-point scorer in each of his six NHL seasons. That is why you know what you will get when you draft Crosby… or will you? Arguably the biggest question in the NHL this season will be the status of Sid – will he be the same player post-concussion?
The onetime undisputed first overall pick in fantasy drafts, Ocho was just simply very good last season. For the first time in his six-year NHL career, he failed to reach 45 goals and 90 points. His 32 goals were 14th in the league last season, while his seven power-play goals were 55th – not exactly the numbers you’d expect from a first overall pick. However, he has led the NHL in shots on goal in each of his six seasons, and he is also a four-time 50-goal and 100-point scorer. Will the Capitals’ increased focus on defense, team play, and winning important games continue to eat into the Great 8’s individual stats? Not if you believe that his more intense offseason workout will make him even hungrier in 2011-12.
Thought to be the heir apparent to Crosby last season once Crosby was injured, Stamkos took over as the league’s scoring leader until he sputtered down the stretch. Stamkos finished second in the NHL with 45 goals last season, yet only seven of those goals were scored after the All-Star break. Having completed just three NHL seasons, Stamkos already has a 50-goal season and back-to-back 90-point seasons under his belt. Since he is only 21 years old, he will likely only get better, meaning that he could be an unquestioned first overall pick in fantasy drafts one day. How much will that terrible second half factor into his preseason ranking, though?
Similar to his style of play in front of the net, Perry barrelled his way into the elite player discussion last season with his first-ever 50-goal season en route to his first ever Hart Trophy win. Just as Stamkos stumbled down the stretch, Perry took his game to a whole new level during the final month of the season with 19 goals in his last 16 games. Prior to his MVP season, Perry was already the very definition of a five-tool fantasy asset, recording superior totals in goals, assists, power-play points, shots on goal, and especially penalty minutes (four consecutive seasons of 100+ PIM). Perry’s previous career high was 76 points, so the question remains as to whether he can keep up offensively with the likes of Crosby, Ovechkin, and Stamkos. But he was without a doubt the top forward option in fantasy hockey last season.
Last season, Thomas posted one of the best statlines for a goalie in recent memory (35-11-0, 2.00 GAA, .938 SV%, 9 SO). He may have saved his best work for the Stanley Cup playoffs, when he seemed to elevate his game as the Bruins went deeper into the playoffs. Given Thomas’ age (37) and the fact that he was a backup goalie this time last season, it may be strange to see his name on this list. If you go by his numbers from two of the past three seasons, though, he certainly deserves mention here. In addition, experienced fantasy leaguers know all too well how difficult it is to find top-notch goaltending from the waiver wire and how quickly goalies can fly off the board during drafts. If Thomas isn’t the first overall pick in fantasy drafts, then would he be the first goalie picked in fantasy drafts? Perhaps that is another question for a future article.
Who would I choose?
As I mentioned before, an appealing case could be made for each one of these players to be the first overall pick in fantasy drafts. But which player seems to stand out? This season is one season where I feel as though I would rather not hold the first overall pick. Instead, I’d rather let the pressure of getting this pick right fall onto someone else’s shoulders. I would be ecstatic if any one of these players fell to me at the number three or four pick, as I have no control over the choices made before mine. Even after the top five, there are still some solid players that I can choose from (Martin St. Louis, Henrik Lundqvist, the Sedins, and even Roberto Luongo if you are willing to focus on his stellar regular seasons and overlook his shaky playoff performances).
Of the five players listed, I’m going to pick the player that is the greatest x-factor of the bunch: Crosby. If Crosby is past his concussion issues, he should assume his role as hockey’s most dynamic scorer. But that is still a big if, even if his recovery over the summer has been positive. All players react differently to concussions, but Crosby wasn’t a player who reacted well to the symptoms. I’ll assume that by taking a half-season and a full summer off, Crosby will be ready to go for training camp. Remember that Crosby’s previous concussion doesn’t mean that he is more likely to receive another concussion, but rather a future concussion would likely be even more severe than the last one. Still, his numbers were simply phenomenal last season and reflective of his status as the player that the NHL needs to market its product around. Until his actual stats take a dip, there’s no reason to assume that he won’t be the same player.
Let’s hope that Crosby can return to his previous form; otherwise, hockey will be much worse off. I would also need to find another player to list first overall!
Do you agree or disagree with my pick? Please weigh in with your comments, and follow me on Twitter.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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