Discussing NHL.com's list of fantasy hockey 'sleepers'

jamiebennsleeper.jpgIn the season premiere of the solid fantasy football focused comedy “The League,” one character’s adorable wife wants to be a part of the league very badly. Her husband fears her knowledge and eventually keeps her out, but her knowledge of “sleepers” is used against her spouse.

A sleeper is, quite simply, a player who coasts under the radar for one reason or another. NHL.com listed its 10 fantasy hockey sleepers, some of which I don’t necessarily agree with (the best example is potential dud Dustin Byuglien, although he could be very interesting if he is eligible to be a winger and a defenseman). Here are a few that I particularly see eye-to-eye with Matt Cubeta, though.

Jame Benn, LW, Dallas Stars

Benn came out of nowhere last season to chip in 22 goals and 41 points while playing in all 82 games for the Stars. After a full season in Dallas, Benn went back to the AHL and played for the Texas Stars in the playoffs, where he put up 14 goals and 26 points in 24 contests, helping the first-year team make the Calder Cup Finals. Benn has good hands and plenty of drive; for those of you who play in a league with the new “hits” category, Benn will be of help as he had 186 last season. While the Stars appear very deep offensively (Morrow, Richards, Ribeiro, Eriksson, Neal), Benn has a good chance at cracking the lineup as a top-six forward — and if that’s the case, he should easily improve on last season’s stat line. Look for the 21-year-old to score around 25 goals and 50 points with around 200 shots and 200 hits.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for jonathanberniergoalie.jpgBenn gets lost in the shuffle with all of the attention paid to James Neal, but if you have hits in your league he could be a solid depth player … especially when you consider that LW is not a very deep position.

Jonathan Bernier, G, LA Kings

In what looks like the best goaltending battle as we inch closer to the start of the regular season, it’s possible that Bernier will take the starting job from Jonathan Quick in L.A. At just 22 years old, Bernier looks ready to carry the load, but with the job Quick turned in last season, it’s very possible the two goalies could find themselves sharing time. Bernier appeared in three NHL games for the Kings last year and was nothing short of spectacular, going 3-0-0 with a 1.30 GAA. In his first start he surrendered just one goal on 30 shots; he followed that performance with a 34-save shutout against the Predators. Even if Bernier is given the No. 1 job at the start of the season, temper your expectations as he’s still a rookie. Play it safe and expect about 35-40 starts while splitting time with Quick.

Thumbnail image for codyfransonhappy.jpgBernier could very well steal the starting job outright, but as much as he’s a sleeper many could fall into a trap of drafting Jonathan Quick too early this year. Chances are that Quick won’t get the same Brodeurian number of starts next season, so be warned. (Click here for more discussion of goalie tandems.)

Cody Franson, D, Nashville Predators

The 23-year-old defenseman will have the chance to shine in Nashville with the departure of veteran blueliner Dan Hamhuis. After finishing his rookie season with 6 goals and 15 assists in 61 games last year, Franson will likely be the third D-man in Nashville behind Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. As a rookie in the AHL in 2007-08 Franson posted 36 points, then notched 52 points in his second season before getting an NHL call-up last season. He averaged just 14:12 of ice time in his first NHL season, but should easily get 18 minutes per game this season. The talented defenseman was awarded a two-year deal in the off-season and could crack 10 goals and put up 35-plus points.

Thumbnail image for petermuellersigns.jpgHe won’t be an elite offensive defenseman, but he could be on that Lubomir Visnovsky/Marek Zidlicky tier of guys who can put up a nice amount of points on the powerplay while only requiring a very late round pick.

Peter Mueller, C, LW, Colorado Avalanche

After being selected by Phoenix with the No. 8 pick in the 2006 Entry Draft, Mueller looked like he was headed for stardom early on in his career. He recorded 54 points as a rookie in the 2007-08 season, but then posted just 53 points in his next 126 games with the Coyotes. Phoenix gave up on the talented youngster at the trade deadline in March and shipped him to Colorado, where Mueller rediscovered his game, scoring 9 goals and 11 assists in just 15 games for the Avs before going down with a concussion. Heading into this season, Mueller could end up on Colorado’s top line alongside Paul Stastny and Chris Stewart. At 22, Mueller could be in line for his biggest season after the much-needed change of scenery. Lock him in for 20-plus goals and 50 or more points, but there’s potential for a lot more.

Mueller could be one heck of a sleeper, especially if he has C/LW eligibility (I’m a sucker for guys you can put in two different positions because it gives you a lot of day-to-day flexibility). He probably won’t sustain the pace he achieved after the trade deadline, much like Lee Stempniak won’t be able to do the same for the Phoenix Coyotes, but that doesn’t mean he cannot produce some nice results himself.

Expect some of my own picks for sleepers in the next week.

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    Draisaitl on signing with Oilers: ‘We have something really special’

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    As a restricted free agent, Leon Draisaitl only had so much say regarding his future with the Edmonton Oilers, especially since teams rarely send offer sheets around in the NHL.

    Even so, Draisaitl could have opted for a “bridge” deal; instead, he signed for the maximum of eight years for a whopping $68 million on Wednesday.

    Some would probably grumble but understand if Draisaitl explained his rational by pointing at one of those big checks or at a calculator. Instead, the promising young forward explained that he believes that the Oilers have a bright future, and he wants to be a part of it.

    In case you’re wondering, additional details have surfaced regarding the year-to-year breakdown of Draisaitl’s deal. TVA’s Renaud Lavoie also reports that Draisaitl has a no-movement clause, thus making it that much more likely that he’ll get his wish to stick with the Oilers:

    Of course, with Draisaitl and Connor McDavid combining for a $21M cap hit beginning in 2018-19, the bigger question is not whether they will stay, but who the Oilers will manage to keep in the fold.

    Still, that’s for GM Peter Chiarelli & Co. to decide. For Draisaitl, this is a great moment, and he might even be able to back up that big contract with big results on the ice.

    Cullen explains why he chose Wild over Penguins

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    If you check out a bio on Matt Cullen, you’ll notice that he’s from Minnesota. It doesn’t take a leak, then, to explain why Cullen signed a one-year deal with the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday.

    As Cullen explained to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “this is a family decision.” As he goes deeper into his logic, even especially sore Pittsburgh Penguins fans should probably understand Cullen’s perspective.

    “Minnesota is home and it’s a special place for me,” Cullen said. “It’s not easy to say goodbye and it’s not easy to walk away [from Pittsburgh]. I’m confident in the decision we’re making and it’s the right thing for our family. But at the same time, it’s not an easy one.

    Now, to be fair, Cullen also told Russo that he believes the Wild are a “hungry” team that might have been the West’s best in 2016-17. It’s not like he’s roughing it, and surely the $1 million (and $700K in performance bonuses that Wild GM Chuck Fletcher hopes Cullen collects) didn’t hurt, either.

    Still, such a decision makes extra sense for a 40-year-old who’s played for eight different NHL teams during his impressive career. Russo’s story about Cullen attending his kids games and seeing his brothers is worth a read just for those warm and fuzzy feelings we often forget about in crunching the numbers and pondering which teams might be big-time contenders in 2017-18.

    This isn’t to say that getting a fourth Stanley Cup ring wouldn’t be appealing to Cullen, but perhaps he’ll get his family time and win big, too?

    There’s also the familiarity that comes with playing three fairly recent seasons with the Wild, so Cullen’s choice seems like it checks a lot of the boxes.

    In other positive Wild news, Russo reports that Eric Staal is feeling 100 percent after suffering a concussion during the playoffs.

    Tuesday was Wild day at PHT, but perhaps this feels more like Wild week?

    Bovada gives McDavid higher odds than Crosby to win Hart in 2017-18

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    In handing Connor McDavid an eight-year, $100 million extension, the Edmonton Oilers essentially are paying the 20-year-old star based on the assumption that he’ll provide MVP-quality play.

    At least one Vegas oddsmaker agrees, as Bovada tabbed McDavid as the favorite to win the Hart Trophy, edging Sidney Crosby.

    That’s interesting, yet it might be even more interesting to note where other players fall in the rankings. Auston Matthews coming in third is particularly intriguing.

    Who are some of the more interesting choices? The 20/1 range seems appealing, as Carey Price is one of the few goalies with the notoriety to push for such honors while John Tavares has the skill and financial motivation to produce the best work of his career next season.

    Anyway, entertain yourself with those odds, via Bovada: (Quick note: Bovada originally had Artemi Panarin listed as still playing with Chicago. PHT went ahead and fixed that in the bit below.)

    2017 – 2018 – Who will win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player?
    Connor McDavid (EDM)                         3/2
    Sidney Crosby (PIT)                              5/2
    Auston Matthews (TOR)                         17/2
    Alex Ovechkin (WAS)                            9/1
    Patrick Kane (CHI)                                 14/1
    Vladimir Tarasenko (STL)                       15/1
    Evgeni Malkin (PIT)                                16/1
    Carey Price (MON)                                 20/1
    John Tavares (NYI)                                20/1
    Jamie Benn (DAL)                                 25/1
    Steven Stamkos (TB)                             25/1
    Erik Karlsson (OTT)                               33/1
    Nikita Kucherov (TB)                              33/1
    Jack Eichel (BUF)                                  50/1
    Ryan Getzlaf (ANA)                               50/1
    Patrik Laine (WPG)                                50/1
    Brad Marchand (BOS)                            50/1
    Tyler Seguin (DAL)                                50/1
    Nicklas Backstrom (WAS)                      60/1
    Brent Burns (SJ)                                    60/1
    Braden Holtby (WAS)                            60/1
    Phil Kessel (PIT)                                    60/1
    Artemi Panarin (CBJ)                              60/1
    Joe Pavelski (SJ)                                  60/1

    Oilers cap situation is scary, and not just because of Draisaitl, McDavid

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    The Edmonton Oilers pulled the trigger – and likely made teams with big RFA headaches like the Boston Bruins grimace – in signing Leon Draisaitl to a massive eight-year, $68 million contract on Wednesday.

    You have to do a little stretching to call it a good deal, although credit Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshysnki with some reasonably stated optimism.

    Either way, the per-year cap bill for Connor McDavid and Draisaitl is $21 million once McDavid’s extension kicks in starting in 2018-19; that’s the same combined cost that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane receive … and those two got those paydays after they won three Stanley Cups for the Chicago Blackhawks.

    Now, if the Oilers struggle in the near future, plenty of people will heap blame on McDavid and/or Draisaitl. Really, though, the true scapegoats should be a management team with more strikeouts than homers.

    (As usual, Cap Friendly was a key resource in studying Edmonton’s salary structure.)

    Bloated supporting cast

    There are some frightening contracts on the books in Edmonton, especially if a few situations work out unfavorably.

    At 29, there’s severe risk of regression with Milan Lucic, even if he enjoys a more stable second season with Edmonton. He carries a $6M cap hit through 2022-23, so he’ll be on the books for all but two years of Draisaitl’s new deal.

    Kris Russell costs $4.167M during a four-year stretch, and even now, he has plenty of critics. Those complaints may only get louder if, at 30, he also starts to slip from his already debatable spot.

    Andrej Sekera‘s been a useful blueliner, yet there’s some concern that time won’t treat him kindly. He’s dealing with injuries heading into 2017-18, and at 31, there’s always the risk that his best days are behind him. Not great for a guy carrying a $5.5M cap hit through 2020-21.

    One can’t help but wonder if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins might be an odd man out once the shackles of the salary cap really tighten. Just consider how much Edmonton is spending on a limited number of players, and you wonder if the 24-year-old will be deemed too pricey at his $6M clip.

    Yeah, not ideal.

    It’s not all bad

    Now, let’s be fair.

    RNH could easily grow into being well worth that $6M. Draisaitl may also justify his hefty price tag. McDavid honestly cut the Oilers a relative deal by taking $12.5M instead of the maximum.

    The Oilers also have two quality, 24-year-old defensemen locked up to team-friendly deals: Oscar Klefbom ($4.167M through 2022-23) and Adam Larsson ($4.167M through 2020-21). They need every bargain they can get, and those two figure to fit the bill.

    Crucial future negotiations

    GM Peter Chiarelli’s had a questionable history of getting good deals. He’ll need to get together soon, or the Oilers will really struggle to surround their core with helpful support.

    Cam Talbot is a brilliant bargain at the strangely familiar cap hit of $4.167M, but that value only lasts through 2018-19. After that, he’s eligible to become a UFA, and could be massively expensive if he produces two more strong seasons.

    The bright side is that the Oilers aren’t locked into an expensive goalie, so they can look for deals. That isn’t as sunny a situation if you don’t trust management to have much success in the bargain bin.

    Talbot isn’t the only upcoming expiring contract. The Oilers have serious questions to answer with Darnell Nurse and Ryan Strome. Also, will they need to let Lucic-like winger Patrick Maroon go? Even with mild relief in Mark Fayne‘s money coming off the books, the Oilers might regret this buffet when the bills start piling up next summer.

    ***

    Look, the truth is that management is likely to be propped up by the top-end in Edmonton, particularly in the case of McDavid’s otherworldly skills. As much as that Draisaitl deal looks like an overpay – possibly a massive one – there’s a chance that he lives up to that $8.5M, too.

    It’s not just about those stars, though.

    The Pittsburgh Penguins gained new life by complimenting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with the likes of Phil Kessel. The Blackhawks have struggled once they couldn’t afford as much help for Kane and Toews.

    You have to mix your premium items with bargains, and one wonders if the Oilers will be able to spot sufficient value beyond the no-brainer top guys. Their recent history in that area certainly leaves a lot to be desired.