Tuukka Rask carrying the Bruins into the postseason

Rask3.jpgWashington Capitals vs. Boston Bruins
Noon EST – Sunday, April 11, 2010
Live on NBC

You have to wonder how the Boston Bruins’ season might have gone had they known what they had in Tuukka Rask just six months ago. He has always been decent in the AHL, but never exactly dominant. In fact, a few years back I would have told you his success in Providence was a direct result of playing for an incredibly efficient defensive team.

Now the Bruins are paying a 35-year old goaltender $5 million a season for the next three years (four including this season), and he’s already been passed up by younger a much cheaper goaltender who has held this team together through an insane amount of late-season adversity.

It’s tough to exactly fault the Bruins, however. Here they have a goaltender who was coming off an incredible, Vezina-winning season who did everything he possibly could to carry his team in the playoffs. Sure, the warning signs were there — yet, the Bruins finally had some solid goaltending on a team that was ready to contend once more.

So they give Thomas the big contract, and gave Rask the modest two-year extension after just nine total NHL games.

Rask has since taken the starting goaltender’s spot from Thomas, and will be starting for the Bruins once the playoffs begin. With just 45 games under his belt this season, it’s tough to directly compare him with the other goaltenders in the NHL — but Thomas won the Vezina with just 54 games last season, so what the heck.

Rask leads the NHL in both goals-against average (1.97) and save percentage (0.931), but more importantly he’s winning more than losing. Thomas wasn’t exactly putting up bad numbers this season; he just couldn’t win. For a team that had high playoff hopes after last season, it was a tough pill to swallow that their champion goaltender was seemingly unable to win any games.

So now we have Rask, with two shutouts and a 8-5-1 record since the Olympic break as the Bruins lost some their most important player (Marc Savard) and faced a drought of  scoring. The Bruins will be the least-offensive team in the playoffs and Rask will be called upon to be the savior for the Bruins as he’s been all season long.

And the $5 million goaltender who can’t win any longer? He’ll be on the bench, ready to jump in if needed and watching his much cheaper counterpart in net.

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    The most important question to ask yourself in any fantasy hockey league

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    In many cases, the most pressing questions you’ll ask yourself as a young fantasy hockey manager – when you have all that glorious time – is “How do I finally win this league?”

    (Sometimes, you’ll be more specific, asking “How do I beat my best friend/colleague/frenemy/potential romantic partner/all of the above?”)

    Time can change a lot of things, and sometimes life foists different priorities upon your mind. You might find yourself more interested in less glorious things like taking care of debts or aiming for promotions. This pivots, then, to what I believe is the most important question a potential fantasy GM must ask: “How much work do I really want to do in this league?”

    Every week, PHT plans on running at least two fantasy-focused columns, and the beauty of these is that they can appeal to fantasy owners of all types. Joey Alfieri’s add/drops can be helpful to those who crunch spreadsheets like potato chips, but it can also be a one-stop guide for those who don’t have time to go deep on every Rotoworld column.

    Speaking of Rotoworld, it’s a fantastic resource for fantasy hockey and other sports. Check out Gus Katsaros’ bit on struggling forwards such as Joe Thornton as just one great example.

    This Thursday space is going to serve as an open-ended discussion of fantasy hockey: the narrow triumphs, crushing and seemingly arbitrary defeats, and tactics that may lie a little outside of the box.

    In this specific case, here are a few suggestions if you possess the rare (but valuable) self-awareness to realize that you might not always be able to give your team(s) your maximum attention.

    Lean on workhorse goalies

    In many cases, it’s wise to fight the urge to take big name goalies in fantasy. Instead, you are often better off loading up on true difference-makers, whether they be the true high-scoring defensemen like Brent Burns or game-breaking forwards who still might be around in, say, rounds 3-5.

    It’s a little different if you know you’re not going to monitor every goalie battle, or merely want to keep things simple.

    A workhorse such as Braden Holtby shoots up your rankings in this case. On the other hand, someone facing a backup threat (say Steve Mason vs. Connor Hellebuyck) might not be worth the hassle.

    Old over new

    It’s exciting to identify the next breakthrough stars. Young players can be exciting because they have the chance to make those quantum leaps. The lockout that knocked out the 2004-05 season was memorable in that way:

    Eric Staal in 2003-04: 31 points in 81 games

    Eric Staal in 2005-06: 100 points in 81 games

    Being able to forecast those leaps provides one of the most precious sensations in fantasy: feeling smart.

    On the other hand, that takes its fair share of research, aside from instances where you’ve specifically keyed on prospects that interest you. Rookies can be big risks in fantasy drafts because of the threat of them only getting a “nine-game audition” before their teams avoid burning years off entry-level deals.

    (Note: this might not apply to the Edmonton Oilers.)

    If you know you don’t have time to make contingency plans and/or don’t want to study points per minute to try to find the next Viktor Arvidsson, you might just want to stick with more stable, established veterans.

    Rotoworld Podcast: Can’t Stop Kucherov

    Avoid the Gaboriks

    Injuries can be random in sports, hockey included. Just ask Steven Stamkos, whose poor luck seems borderline freakish. Hockey history is dotted with painful “What if?” questions about icons like Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux down to nice scorers such as Ales Hemsky and Marian Gaborik.

    (Sami Salo, meanwhile, likely often asked “Why me?”)

    Injuries can be especially deflating for less-hands-on types, so maybe shy away from, say, Kris Letang.

    Find some quick references

    Following PHT is a good start to stay abreast of some of the largest developments in the NHL.

    If you’re trying to make quick decisions, Rotoworld’s injury page can provide a quick reference so you know if someone might come back soon versus a case that might be murkier.

    There’s a solid chance of a future column discussing some resources that might help those in a bind in drafts of even setting lineups. Stay tuned.

    ***

    It’s possible to win your league even if you’re not making weekly tweaks like some of your more obsessive competitors.

    The key is to be practical … and lucky. Yeah, luck is a pretty nice thing to have in fantasy, and life. Here’s to a fun 2017-18 from a fantasy perspective, regardless of your level of commitment.

    (Although, don’t be that person who totally abandons a team, leaving a bunch of players with season-ending injuries in your starting lineup. That’s bad form.)

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Deutschland Cup roster provides early look at U.S. men’s Olympic hopefuls

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    The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea are 111 days away and we got our first look at some of the names who will compete to be on the ice on the men’s side vs. Slovenia for USA Hockey’s opening game.

    There were 29 players named to the U.S. roster for next month’s Deutschland Cup where the Americans will take on Slovakia, Russia and Germany. Tony Granato will serve as head coach and Chris Chelios, Ron Rolston, Scott Young and Keith Allain will serve as assistants. Of the 29 players, 21 have played in the NHL and are names you probably recognize.

    FORWARDS
    Ryan Stoa
    Mark Arcobello
    Chad Kolarik
    Andy Miele
    Brian O’Neill
    Brian Gionta
    Jim Slater
    Dan Sexton
    Broc Little
    Sean Backman
    Drew Shore
    Ryan Malone
    Ryan Lasch
    Robbie Earl
    Garrett Roe

    DEFENSEMEN
    Chad Billins
    Bobby Sanguinetti
    Tom Gilber
    Ryan Gunderson
    Noah Welch
    Matt Gilroy
    Jonathan Blum
    Matt Donovan
    Mark Stuart
    Dylan Reese
    Mike Lundin

    GOALTENDERS
    Ryan Zapolski
    Brandon Maxwell
    David Leggio

    The biggest names on the roster are 38-year-old Gionta and 37-year-old Malone, who have 1,653 games of NHL experience between them. It’s a veteran list, with an average age of 31.

    “There’s a lot of guys here that know how to play and have been successful players and have found a niche for themselves in their career at various stages,” U.S. general manager Jim Johannson told Stephen Whyno of the The Associated Press. “The Deutschland Cup for us is a little bit to find some separation of these guys, whether that’s pure pace of play or performance.”

    USA Hockey submitted a list of 81 eligible players to the IIHF and there is the possibility of seeing a handful of NCAA and AHL players not playing in the Deutschland Cup skating in Pyeongchang. A final 25-man roster is expected to be announced around Jan. 1.

    Canada previously announced two pre-Olympic rosters over the summer and participated in the Sochi Hockey Open and Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov in August.

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

    Where do LA Kings go after Jeff Carter injury?

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    The Los Angeles Kings continued their hot start to the season Wednesday night but lost a big piece of their offense in the process.

    During their 5-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, forward Jeff Carter suffered a lower-body injury in the first period and did not return. A team source told Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider that it’s “going to be a little while,” and TSN’s Bob McKenzie Tweeted Thursday morning that Carter was cut by Jeff Petry’s skate and he’s hearing it will be “multiple weeks” before a return is possible.

    Carter has three assists in six games this season and has been key cog in the productive “That ’70’s Line” with Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson. The Kings are off their best start in franchise history at 5-0-1 and are the only remaining NHL team yet to lose in regulation.

    With Carter now gone for the foreseeable future, where does this leave LA’s center depth? After Anze Kopitar, it’s quite a drop off. And you wonder if the short-term solution here is signing Brooks Laich, who wasn’t signed after attending training camp on a tryout deal but has continued to practice with the club. He’ll come cheap and as long as they don’t need to fill that void for far too long, Laich is a veteran who’s familiar with the organization. He’s a decent first try to take over that spot before general manager Rob Blake needs to look down on the farm or to someone on the outside.

    Blake, who’s expected to address Carter’s situation sometime on Thursday, has time to figure out his next move(s) with the Kings off until Saturday when they begin a six-game road trip.

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

    US women’s hockey team gets Wilma Rudolph Courage Award

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    NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. women’s hockey team received the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award on Wednesday night at the Salute to Women in Sports hosted by the Women’s Sports Foundation.

    In April, the hockey team won its fourth consecutive world title and seventh in eight tries. The U.S. beat Canada 3-2 in overtime in the title game in Plymouth, Michigan. The team had threatened to boycott the world championships on home ice last spring before USA Hockey agreed to improved salary and benefits.

    Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice received the Billie Jean King Leadership Award at the 38th annual gala. Rice, a professor at Stanford and former tennis player and figure skater, was recently selected to lead an NCAA commission to study college basketball after a federal investigation uncovered bribery and fraud.

    Stanford women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer also was honored. The longtime Cardinal coach reached 1,000 NCAA career victories in 2017.

    Minnesota Lynx star Maya Moore and Olympic swimming sensation Katie Ledecky were selected sportswomen of the year.