It's been a couple
of months now since the fantasy hockey season ended. Plenty of time to gloat in your championships
or lick your wounds (I've done a little of both, being in so many leagues). Now that the dust has settled, it's a good
opportunity to look back on this past season and draw out some lessons from the
past season. If you've been playing
fantasy hockey for many years, few of these should come as shocking
revelations; however, even the 20 year experts need to be reminded that fantasy
seasons rarely pan out the way you script them at the draft table.
Lesson 1 -- Good Old Goalies can be Good Again
After claiming the
title of best goalie in 2008-09, many fantasy players and experts wrote Thomas
off at the start of last season, under the assumption that he would be destined
to back up to the fresh, new Tuukka Rask.
As I wrote in last fall's preview -- "Rask is a sexy-bold pick for
your starting goalie this fall, but don't get overconfident here. Thomas didn't exactly lose his job, as much
as Rask earned it. Things could easily
go the other way this time around."
And go the other
way, they did, from the start of the season through game 7 of the Finals. By no means did I predict Thomas to have the
season he did (I had him ranked 20th). But
even my cautious optimism over Thomas's outlook was stifled by the court of
public opinion (and his age). Instead of
seeing Thomas for what he is (a quality goaltender who happens to have a lot of
experience), we all assumed that his first stumble would mean his inevitable
So what do we take
from this? Is Thomas the exceptional
exception, or part of rule to be considered when ranking your goalies this
fall? Consider, Thomas isn't the only
goalie to have a fantasy rebound in his late 30's and beyond. Consider what Roloson has done, or even
Brodeur following his injury comeback last spring. Bottom line here is that (outside of major
injuries) star goalies don't lose their power overnight. A bump in the road shouldn't cause us to
write a guy off as washed up. Keep this
in mind as you contemplate where to rank the likes of Kiprusoff, Backstrom, and
even Brodeur and Theodore this fall.
Lesson 2 -- Location Matters
As in marketing,
location clearly matters to hockey players.
This has become obvious on two fronts:
1. Strong fantasy
performers who change locations often suffer a setback, even when moving to a
"better situation". Consider a
few examples from last year:
- Ilya Kovalchuk's move to New
Jersey saw him drop to a lousy 60 points last season. Ruined my draft…
- Sergei Gonchar went from
fantasy stud in Pittsburgh to an embarrassment in Ottawa. 27 points with a -15.
- James Neal was a strong
goal-scoring option in Dallas, but completely went dry when he landed in
Aside from Dustin
Byfuglien, can you think of any significant fantasy stars who fared better in
their first season in a new town? It's
rare and should be noted when deciding where to place guys like Mike Richards,
Brad Richards, and Jeff Carter in your draft rankings. Don't bet the farm on any of them to light it
up in their first go in a new sweater.
On the other side of
players can often find new life in a new home.
You see this with
average fantasy options that suddenly burst onto the scene with a new club:
- Clarke MacArthur was
virtually unknown in Buffalo and Atlanta, but emerged as a solid fantasy
forward in Toronto
- Lubomir Visnovsky saw his
stock decline when he landed in Edmonton, but after recovering from injury
in 2009, he exploded in his first full season with the Ducks, registering
a whopping 68 points.
- Alex Tanguay had slowly slid
into irrelevance over the past couple seasons with Montreal and
Tampa. A move back to Calgary
sparked him to a 69-point performance last season.
So it makes sense to
keep an eye out for a few guys finding a new home in hopes of better fantasy
fortunes. In particular, give a bump to
Jakub Voracek landing in Philly, Simon Gagne moving to LA, and Devin Setoguchi
landing in Minnesota. Maybe even give an
outside hope to an old gun named Sheldon Souray in Dallas.
Lesson 3 -- The Top Rookies aren't always the Best
Entering the 2010-11
season, all the attention (as it typically is) was on the top two picks: Taylor
Hall and Tyler Seguin. A few eyes were
glued to the likes of P.K. Subban as well, following his remarkable post-season
run last fall. In the crease, there were
high hopes for some rookies fighting for jobs, such as Crawford in Chicago,
Bernier in LA, and a couple youngsters in Washington. Once the season got moving and the dust
settled late in the year, none of these players (while most having respectable
seasons) finished in the top 3 for the Calder trophy. Logan Couture, Jeff Skinner, and Michael
Grabner were barely in the conversation at the start of last year. And that doesn't even count guys like Derek
Stepan, Cam Fowler, and Brad Marchand who all made noticeable fantasy
contributions this season, despite the lack of early press.
So what can we learn
from this? First of all, don't put too
much faith in drafting rookies. There
are too many factors, many of which are financial, that can throw off your plans. Also, more so than with established players,
you need to comb the waiver wire for rookies starting 2 to 4 weeks into the
season. It's at that point that teams
decide who's staying and who they plan to let ripen another year in the
AHL. Prior to that point, it's too much
of a risk to waste valuable draft picks on promises that rarely come true.
Lesson 4 -- Playoff momentum rarely carries into the
You see this trend
every season, though in our hearts we like to pretend it doesn't exist. Each year at draft time, we give special
weight towards the playoff heroes of the previous spring, only to see them fall
flat. 2010-11 was no exception, so learn
well this rule. Look back at the playoff
leaders of 2010, particularly those who surprised with their numbers:
- Michael Cammalleri led all
players with 13 goals last spring, bounding him up the draft charts. He followed that up with a lousy 19 goal
regular season performance.
- Danny Briere finished 2nd in
goals and points in the 2010 playoffs.
68 points was a bit of a let down for fantasy owners this year.
- Simon Gagne sizzled with 9
playoff goals and followed that up with his 2nd straight 17-goal regular
- Most fantasy players expected
big numbers out of Ville Leino following his monster performance last
spring. 19 goals and 53 points did
not meet those expectations.
- In the pipes, Niemi, Halak,
Leighton, Rask, and Nabokov were the statistical leaders last spring. Did any of them help your fantasy team
So are we to assume
that a strong playoff performance means doom for a fantasy draft? Not necessarily. Superstars tend to put up big numbers in the
regular season as well as the playoffs.
No need to make corrections there.
The lesson learned here is not to put much, if any, weight in how a
player performs in the playoffs. It's a
different animal altogether. In other
words, don't artificially bump up the likes of Joel Ward, Sean Bergenheim,
Michael Ryder or Dwayne Roloson on your draft list this fall. Consider yourself warned.