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.

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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.

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    What is wrong with the Kings?

    Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar, front, of Slovenia, picks up a loose puck as Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog, of Sweden, pursues in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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    The first year of Anze Kopitar‘s $80 million contract extension may end up being the worst year of his NHL career.

    In a full 82-game season, the 29-year-old center has never put up fewer than 61 points. But with just six goals and 27 assists in 54 games, Kopitar, the reigning Selke Trophy recipient, is on pace for only 46 points in 2016-17.

    Last night, Kopitar was held pointless for a fourth straight game as the Kings fell, 4-1, to the Bruins at Staples Center.

    “Can’t chase the lead,” said head coach Darryl Sutter, per LA Kings Insider. “Early goal, just a constant theme. Chase the lead. Need some production out of the top end of your lineup to overcome that.”

    With the loss, the Kings found themselves four points back of the second wild-card spot with only one game in hand on Calgary.

    Sutter was asked if there was one thing that concerned him above anything else.

    “Yep,” he said. “Production from the top end. Absolutely, 100 percent.”

    Given Jeff Carter has scored more than his share of goals (29), the coach was clearly talking mostly about Kopitar.

    That being said, Marian Gaborik only has six goals himself, and that’s a problem for Kopitar because the Kings, after losing Justin Williams and Milan Lucic in the last two years, aren’t exactly swimming in high-scoring wingers.

    Gaborik, who turned 35 just a few days ago, is signed through 2020-21 for a cap hit of $4.875 million. Combine that with Dustin Brown, 32, being signed through 2021-22 for a cap hit of $5.875 million and the Kings have over $10 million in cap space tied up in two aging wingers who aren’t providing many goals.

    So, that’ll be the challenge for GM Dean Lombardi going forward. It just remains to be seen if there’s a solution.

    The Kings host Anaheim tomorrow.

    Report: Berglund, St. Louis talking contract extension

    SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Patrik Berglund #21 of the St. Louis Blues in action in game four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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    These are busy times for Blues GM Doug Armstrong.

    In addition to dealing with the Kevin Shattenkirk situation, Armstrong has to address the future of Patrik Berglund, the 28-year-old center that, like Shattenkirk, is a pending UFA.

    Here’s the latest, from the Post-Dispatch:

    The club is believed to be in talks with the center and Berglund told the Post-Dispatch that there is is mutual interest from both sides on an extension. His agent, Peter Wallen, did not return a message and Armstrong was unavailable.

    “I would like to still be a Blue,” Berglund said Monday, before the Blues broke for their five-day bye. “I think everybody in here and upstairs knows that I want to be a Blue, too.”

    Berglund has spent his entire nine-year career in St. Louis, emerging as versatile forward that can play the middle or wing. He’s also found the back of the net 17 times this season, and is flirting with matching or surpassing the career-high 22 he scored back in ’10-11.

    As mentioned above, Berglund’s in the last of a three-year, $11.1 million contract that pays $3.7 million annually. With signals of a Shattenkirk trade getting stronger, it’s reasonable to think Berglund will be kept around.

    Simply put, the Blues might be unable to handle more significant roster turnover. The club has moved on from the likes of Barret Jackman, T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Brian Elliott in recent years, and lost some of its identity in the process.

    Welcome Drew Stafford to the trade rumor mill

    Anaheim Ducks v Winnipeg Jets - Game Three
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    Another name to add to the pile as we gear up for next Wednesday’s trade deadline:

    Drew Stafford.

    Stafford, the 31-year-old winger that’s spent the two-and-a-half seasons in Winnipeg, has reportedly been the subject of trade calls, per ESPN.

    Stafford’s had an injury-plagued campaign, limited to just 39 games due to upper- and lower-body injuries, yet still managed to rack up 12 points while averaging just over 13 minutes per night.

    It’s easy to see why teams are making calls.

    Stafford has history as a productive goalscoring winger, finding the back of the net 21 times last season (with a career-high of 31 back in ’10-11). He’s got enough ability to play up and down the lineup and, what’s more, he’s about as pure a rental as they come — Stafford’s a pending UFA, in the last of a two-year deal that pays $4.35 million annually.

    What’s more, the Jets are one of those “are they buyers or are they sellers?” teams.

    Winnipeg is only four points back of Calgary for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference, but would need to leap two teams — the Flames and the Kings — to get there.

    The Jets have also played 63 games, to Calgary’s 61 and Los Angeles’ 60.

    In the end, Stafford’s contractual situation and the team’s glut of forwards could see him move along. In addition to all the youngsters Winnipeg already has up front, the likes of ’15 first-rounders Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic are still looking to make the leap.

    Preds’ Forsberg becomes first player since 2010 to score back-to-back hat tricks

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    Remember when Predators forward Filip Forsberg couldn’t buy a goal at the beginning of the season? Yea, neither do we.

    It may be hard to believe, but Forsberg didn’t find the back of the net until the 14th game of the 2016-17 season. He didn’t score his second until game no. 19. But the 22-year-old has really put it together.

    On Tuesday night, he scored three goals in a 6-5 OT loss to the Calgary Flames and he netted a second hat trick in two games in Thursday’s 4-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche (you can watch his latest hat trick by clicking the video at the top of the page).

    It’s the first time in Predators history that a player has back-to-back three-goal games and he’s the first player in the league to do it since Canucks forward Alex Burrows in 2010.

    Despite his slow start, the two hat tricks now put him on pace to hit the 30-goal mark for the second consecutive year, which is really impressive.

    “It’s tough to explain,” Forsberg said, per NHL.com. “Sometimes it feels great but you don’t score, and sometimes you feel bad but you still score. Tonight was a lot of fun.

    “I think I always felt a responsibility, and I think that goes for every player in this locker room. Everyone wants to contribute and help the team win. Obviously I can’t expect myself to score a hat trick every game, but I just try to work hard and if I can score goals, I’ll take that as well.”

    Not only has he been better, but the whole team is showing that the slow start they endured in the first few weeks of the season was just a fluke.

    The Predators are comfortably sitting in a playoff spot (if that even exists in today’s NHL) with 67 points in 60 games, which puts them in the first Wild Card position. They’re one point ahead of Calgary with a game in hand and five points ahead of Los Angeles, who’s on the outside looking in.

    Nashville is also neck-and-neck with the St. Louis Blues for third in the Central Division. Both teams have the same number of games played and points, but the Blues have three more regulation/overtime victories.