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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    Rangers punch playoff ticket to wrap up night of clinched spots

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    The New York Rangers weren’t ecstatic that Chris Tierney‘s 4-4 goal sent their game to overtime against the San Jose Sharks, but either way, getting beyond regulation punched their ticket to the playoffs on Tuesday night.

    For the seventh season in a row, the Rangers are in the NHL’s postseason. They fell to the Sharks 5-4 in overtime, so they haven’t locked down the first wild-card spot in the East … yet. It seems like a matter of time, however.

    The Rangers have now made the playoffs in 11 of their last 12 tries, a far cry from the barren stretch when they failed to make the playoffs from 1997-98 through 2003-04 (with the lockout season punctuating the end of that incompetent era).

    New York has pivoted from the John Tortorella days to the Vigneault era, and this season has been especially interesting as they reacted to a 2016 first-round loss to the Penguins by instituting a more attacking style. The Metropolitan Division’s greatness has overshadowed, to some extent, how dramatic the improvement has been.

    This result seems like a tidy way to discuss Tuesday’s other events.

    The drama ends up being low for the Rangers going forward, and while there might be a shortage of life-or-death playoff struggles, the battles for seeding look to be fierce.

    Oilers end NHL’s longest playoff drought; Sharks, Ducks also clinch

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    There’s something beautiful about the symmetry on Tuesday … unless you’re a Detroit Red Wings fan, maybe.

    On the same night that the longest active NHL playoff streak ended at 25 for Detroit, the longest playoff drought concluded when the Edmonton Oilers clinched a postseason spot by beating the Los Angeles Kings 2-1.

    The Oilers haven’t reached the playoffs since 2005-06, when Chris Pronger lifted them to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

    In doing so, other dominoes fell. Both the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks also punched their tickets to the postseason.

    The Sharks, of course, hope to exceed last season’s surprising run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

    Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks continue their run of strong regular seasons, even as memories of their Cup win start to fade into the distance. All three teams are currently vying for the Pacific Division title.

    The Western Conference’s eight teams are dangerously close to being locked into place, as the Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues are all close to looking down their spots as well.

    Want the East perspective? Check out this summary of Tuesday’s events from the perspective of the other conference.

    Craig Anderson took his blunder hard – probably too hard – in Sens loss

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    Members of the Ottawa Senators were quick to defend Craig Anderson following his blunder (see above) in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and it’s easy to see why.

    It’s not just about his personal struggles, either. When Anderson’s managed to play, he’s been flat-out phenomenal, generating a .927 save percentage that ranks near a Vezina-type level (if he managed to play more than 35 games).

    Goaltending has been a huge reason why Ottawa has at least a shot of winning the Atlantic or at least grabbing a round of home-ice advantage, so unlike certain instances where teams shield a goalie’s failures, the defenses are absolutely justified.

    Anderson, on the other hand, was very hard on himself.

    You have to admire Anderson for taking the blame, even if in very much “hockey player” fashion, he’s not exactly demanding the same sort of credit for his great work this season.

    It’s official: Red Wings’ playoff streak ends at 25 seasons

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    When we look back at the 2016-17 season for the Detroit Red Wings, it will be remembered for some sad endings.

    It began without Pavel Datsyuk. We knew that their last game at Joe Louis Arena this season would be their last ever. And now we know that Joe Louis Arena won’t be home to another playoff run.

    After 25 straight seasons of making the playoffs – quite often managing deep runs – the Red Wings were officially eliminated on Tuesday night. In getting this far, they enjoyed one of the greatest runs of longevity in NHL history:

    Tonight revolves largely around East teams winning and teams clinching bids – the Edmonton Oilers could very well end the league’s longest playoff drought this evening – but this story is more solemn.

    EA Sports tweeted out a great infographic:

    “Right now it’s hard to talk about it, because you’re a big reason why it’s not continuing,” Henrik Zetterberg said in an NHL.com report absolutely worth your time.

    Mike “Doc” Emrick narrated a great look back at Joe Louis Arena here: