Fantasy Hockey Cheat Sheets: Hits leaders

While Pro Hockey Talk doesn’t specialize in fantasy hockey (our Rotoworld cousins do, though), we still think that there are areas where we can help you, the budding imaginary general managers. For that reason, we’re going to discuss different philosophies, strategies and cheat sheets as fantasy drafts begin to increase around North America.

clutterbuckin.jpgPrevious entries: Penalty Minutes, Faceoff winners, Shots on Goal leaders.

Today’s entry: Hits leaders.

One of the biggest developments in fantasy hockey this season is that Yahoo added the hits and blocked shots categories to their fantasy hockey format. Both stats are intriguing because they help to justify the selection of defensive defensemen; after all, the Brooks Orpiks of the world aren’t going to put together big point totals but they earn nice salaries in real life because they protect their goalies at all costs.

Personally, I prefer hits as a category for two reasons. First, forwards are likely to get plenty of hits too so it’s not a category strictly for defenseman. Secondly, stats bloggers succeeding in convincing me that a blocked shot isn’t always a great sign. While it proves that a blueliner has incredible courage, its often a last-ditch effort for a player who is out of position.

If you are choosing between hits and blocked shots, I’d go with hits but there’s nothing wrong with going for both. I’ll still do a post on blocked shots (and perhaps a “five-tool player” entry that ties it all together?) later on, though.

Anyway, I checked Yahoo’s stats and they only have the top hitters for the 2009-10 season. Here are the top 10 hitters from the last three seasons, via NHL.com.

hitsleader0910.JPG

(click to enlarge)

hits0809leaders.JPG

(click to enlarge)

hitters0708.JPG

(click to enlarge)

As I’ve done with shots on goal and penalty minutes leaders, here are the NHL players who ranked in the top 10 in hits at least twice in the last three seasons.

Cal Clutterbuck: 1, 1, NR
Dustin Brown: 2, 3, 1
Ryan Callahan: 3, 4, NR
Stephane Robidas: 4, NR, 10
David Backes: 5, NR, 5
Brooks Orpik: 6, 2, 6
Alex Ovechkin: NR, 9, 9

dustinbrownchecks.jpgClutterbuck only played two games in 07-08, so chances are he’ll be a top hitter next season too. I wouldn’t be surprised if Alex Ovechkin threatened the top 10 last season if he didn’t miss 10 games (then again, more checks might have meant more trouble for Alex O in 09-10). LA Kings captain Dustin Brown’s name will be known in more hockey circles because of the hits category as he’s a perennial hits leader who also scored 24, 24 and 33 goals in the last three seasons.

Ryan Callahan won’t bring in many points, but Orpik could be a very valuable defenseman if you have blocked shots and hits as two categories (especially if you expect him to net a nice plus/minus). David Backes brings a very nice mixture of goals, PIM and hits to the table.

Really, though, it all comes down to the fact that you can now add “hits” to “obvious pun opportunities” on the short list of reasons to draft Cal Clutterbuck. If that’s not good enough for you to add hits as a category, then I don’t want to be in a league with you.

Scroll Down For:

    Which NHL teams face toughest, easiest schedules in 2017-18?

    Getty
    Leave a comment

    For NHL schedule nerds, Tuesday felt a bit like Christmas.*

    On the Forecheck’s Dirk Hoag is mostly retired from hockey blogging, but he still puts out his beloved “super schedule,” and he combined with Alex Daugherty to do a 2017-18 version, which you should absolutely check out here.

    Hoag and Daughtery listed all 31 teams’ total miles traveled and also their number of back-to-back games for next season.

    Here are the top five teams for most miles:

    1. Avalanche – 48,639
    2. Flames – 47,931
    3. Blackhawks – 47,926
    4. Coyotes – 46,856
    5. Oilers – 46,815

    Note: the Panthers are the sixth-ranked team and face easily the most travel among East teams with 44,395, up from 41,891.

    Now, here are the bottom five for travel time:

    31: Penguins – 34,041
    30: Devils – 34,052
    29. Sabres – 34,175
    28. Red Wings – 34,759
    27. Maple Leafs – 35,689

    The Los Angeles Kings tend to be frequent flyers, but not here; they face the least travel of any West team with 39,915.

    That’s not the entire picture, however. These teams face the most back-to-back sets:

    1 (tied) – Penguins and Senators with 19
    3. Hurricanes – 18
    4 (tied) Blackhawks, Blue Jackets – 17
    6 (tied) Blues, Islanders, Sabres, and Devils – 16

    While these teams face the fewest.

    1. Jets – 9 (Winnipeg faces 43,296 miles of travel.)
    2. Canucks – 10
    3 (tied) – Avalanche, Oilers, Predators, Ducks, and Rangers – 11

    Oh, and in their inaugural season, the Vegas Golden Knights travel 42,128 miles and must endure 12 back-to-back sets, so they deal with a pretty middle-of-the-road haul.

    ***

    As you can see, plenty of teams see their low travel rates balanced out by high back-to-back game totals. The Penguins are a good example of that.

    Then again, some teams just suffer tough draws. As much as conspiracy theorists love to harp on the Blackhawks, they face the third-most travel miles and deal with 17 back-to-back sets.

    On The Forecheck’s full list can be seen here, yet they are not the only outlet to do some interesting schedule analysis. Hockey Viz’s Micah Blake McCurdy put together a list of rested/tired games for each team:

    Though he also narrowed it down in a way that might make the biggest difference: a rested home team facing a tired road opponent.

    Long story short, it’s difficult to really boil down who has the toughest schedule based on one metric. It’s a subjective matter, as you can weigh these “rest/tired” factors, go broad with sheer back-to-back sets, and even lean on jet lag more than anything else.

    Still, if you’re the type to wear a tin foil hat, the lists above could really help you cook up some theories about the bad hand your team allegedly drew.

    (Opinion: it does seem like Chicago faces more than just salary cap challenges next season, however.)

    * – Or whatever holiday resonates. So, Festivus?

    Report: Panthers want Jagr back (just for less money)

    Getty
    3 Comments

    Jaromir Jagr made $4 million with the Florida Panthers last season. The team wants him back in 2017-18, but at least a mild discount, according to the Miami Herald’s George Richards.

    Ultimately, the Panthers may remain the best fit for the 45-year-old, although it would be awfully interesting to see what kind of interest Jagr would draw if he truly put “feelers” out there.

    Jagr saw a reduction in production last season, generating 16 goals and 46 points after a spellbinding 27-goal, 66-point campaign in 2015-16.

    (He actually seemed to rotate such years, as he had 47 points in 2014-15 after generating 67 in 2013-14).

    Of course, beyond the production, Jagr brings name recognition. He also continues to chase history; Jagr currently ranks third all-time in goals (765), with at least an outside chance to be the third NHL player to cross the 800-goal mark. Jagr may also want to boost his second all-time points mark of 1,914 to 2,000.

    For a team struggling for relevance (not to mention a clear direction), having a box office draw isn’t the worst thing in the world.

    Sorting out Jagr’s situation isn’t the only key decision for (reinstated?) Panthers GM Dale Tallon, who gets to assert his viewpoint on a team with about $20 million in cap space. Then again, for the Panthers, there’s always the battle between cap space and their actual budget.

    Will Jagr be worth the money? Could he leave for greener pastures? It likely won’t be long before we get some answers.

    Report: Kings among several teams in contact with Joe Thornton

    Getty
    12 Comments

    Yesterday, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported 12 teams were in contact with San Jose’s Joe Thorton who, on Saturday, will become an unrestricted free agent.

    Now, it’s been revealed that one of those teams is also one of San Jose’s biggest rivals — the Los Angeles Kings.

    Per LA Kings Insider, the Kings have “been in contact” with Thornton, who just wrapped the last of a three-year, $20.25 million deal with a $6.75M average annual cap hit.

    More:

    On top of Thornton’s abilities are his relationships with key figures in Los Angeles’ front office. He played with Kings General Manager Rob Blake in San Jose, while Senior Advisor to the General Manager/Development Mike O’Connell was Thornton’s general manager when he played in Boston.

    On top of these relationships, Thornton also remains very close with Glen Murray, a figure in Los Angeles’ player development, and I’m told the two, who played together with the Bruins for three and a half seasons, regularly communicate.

    LeBrun reported that staying with the Sharks remains Thornton’s No. 1 option, but it’s pretty clear interest in him is sky-high — and coming from a number of different places.

    Los Angeles has been making moves to clear cap space, recently buying out the remainder of defenseman Matt Greene’s contract. The Kings also lost blueliner Brayden McNabb to Vegas at the expansion draft.

    What happens with Marian Gaborik‘s $4.875M cap hit remains to be seen. The veteran winger underwent an offseason procedure for a “chronic” knee issue and, depending on his recovery, could open the year on long-term injured reserve.

    Thornton would give L.A. a formidable one-two punch at center along with Anze Kopitar (and a truly formidable 1-2-3 punch with Kopitar and Jeff Carter, for that matter). It’s also worth noting that as he’s gotten longer in the tooth, Thornton has successfully platooned as a winger — most notably during San Jose’s Stanley Cup run in 2016.

    Update: The Kings are the most interesting team connected to Thornton thanks to their location and status as San Jose’s rival, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman notes some other interesting suitors: the Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, and New York Rangers.

    5. He’s staying low profile — and there is serious doubt he actually wants to leave San Jose — but there is a list of teams who want to peer inside Joe Thornton’s head. At the draft, there was a lot of talk it would take a three-year deal to lure him. Potential suitors include Columbus, Los Angeles, Montreal and the Rangers. I could see Toronto having interest, but I’m not certain. There was a time Detroit appealed to him, but it doesn’t seem right now for either side. It looks like San Jose is closing in on extensions for Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (both can be announced on Saturday), so we’re all waiting to see what is left for Thornton and/or Patrick Marleau. I’m really fascinated by the Blue Jackets, who are going all-in over the next two years and will try something big. Toronto is quieter about its intentions, but don’t forget that Mike Babcock has plenty of Team Canada history with both Marleau and Thornton.

    Friedman also makes passing mention of Thornton eventually leaving for Switzerland. Interesting stuff.

    Busy Blackhawks bring back Pokka, reportedly let Rasmussen walk

    Getty
    1 Comment

    A busy off-season for the Chicago Blackhawks continued with some smaller moves that may still surprise some.

    The eyebrow-raiser, at least in some quarters, came when the Blackhawks decided not to hand Dennis Rasmussen a qualifying offer, thus allowing the 26-year-old forward to hit free agency. That news comes from The Athletic’s Scott Powers.

    Rasmussen played in 68 games last season (along with three playoff contests), receiving almost 12 minutes of ice time per night. Both were examples of him seeing more of a role in his second year with Chicago.

    Still, he didn’t put up big numbers at either the AHL or NHL level, so apparently the Blackhawks decided to spring him free. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports that the team might have soured on Rasmussen after he rejected an offer for a contract extension back in March.

    Powers also notes that Ville Pokka was signed to a one-year deal, opening the door for him to possibly make Chicago’s roster.

    These developments aren’t likely to add to what’s already been a frustrating off-season for Joel Quenneville in particular, but this still lines up with a pattern of changes. In the latest edition of “30 Thoughts,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman shares some details of Coach Q’s irritation:

    21. Joel Quenneville was at the draft Saturday after not appearing on Friday. He stormed out of a coach’s meeting — in full view of reporters — as news broke of the Chicago trades. It would have been very tough for him to lose Hjalmarsson, one of the NHL’s underappreciated great players.

    Quenneville’s cage was already rattled by the firing of assistant Mike Kitchen, so here’s hoping he at least signed off on these latest moves.