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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    The Panthers are healthy scratching Bolland, and he is their highest-paid forward, but they insist they’re not sending a message

    Dave Bolland, Derek Nansen
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    It feels like there’s a story brewing in Florida, where Dave Bolland — the team’s most-expensive forward, at $5.5 million a season — has been a healthy scratch for three consecutive games.

    But according to head coach Gerard Gallant, there’s nothing to see here. Move along.

    “There’s nothing to talk about,” Gallant said, per the Miami Herald. “He sat out, our team is playing well. There’s nothing more than that. We have to sit two guys and I like the way we’re playing. The next game is a different game. We may change something up, who knows.”

    Bolland had just one goal and five points in 18 games prior to getting parked in the press box. Well, technically he got dropped to the fourth line before hitting the press box, but you get the idea. He’s not exactly in Gallant’s good graces.

    Not helping Bolland’s case is the fact that, as Gallant pointed out, the club is playing pretty well without him. The Panthers have rebounded from a rough start to November by winning back-to-back games against the Islanders and Red Wings, which set them up nicely for the remainder of this current five-game road swing.

    Florida has games still to play in St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus and New Jersey. It’ll be interesting to see when — or, if — he draws back into the lineup.

    In closing, a reminder that Bolland’s in the second of a five-year, $27.5 million deal.

    Canucks rookie Virtanen exits with upper-body injury, won’t return

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    After sitting out Friday’s game in Dallas, Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen had to be excited at drawing back in for tonight’s game against the Ducks.

    Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last long.

    Virtanen suffered an upper-body injury after playing just 1:45 in the opening frame, and was ruled out of the contest during the intermission. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but it looks like Virtanen was injured on a hit by Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf.

    Virtanen didn’t take another shift following the incident, and Getzlaf was given a minor penalty on the play.

    While we don’t know what the injury is or it’s severity, losing Virtanen for any length of time would have ramifications for the Canucks and this year’s Canadian entry at the World Juniors. There has been talk of Virtanen possibly being released by the Canucks to participate in the tournament; last year, he was part of the team that captured gold in Montreal and Toronto.

    Virtanen has played in 18 games for the Canucks this year, scoring one goal and four points while averaging 10:17 TOI per night.

    McLellan sounds off on Oilers after shutout loss in Toronto

    Todd McLellan

    Edmonton lost for the fourth time in five games on Monday, a 3-0 defeat in Toronto that marked the second time in a week the Oilers have been shut out.

    Needless to say, the head coach wasn’t happy.

    In a fairly blunt and harsh assessment aimed at a variety of players, Todd McLellan had some choice words for what he called a “disappointing” effort.

    Some of the more choice quotes:

    “I didn’t think we were a very hard team. I didn’t think we stood over a lot of pucks. I didn’t think we won a lot of battles along the boards. I didn’t think we were competitive enough in a lot of areas.”

    “When I look at the trip as a whole, we had some key, key people really under-perform on the trip. Significant minus numbers, not hitting the score sheet. It can’t always be the [Leon DraisaitlTaylor Hall line] that provides that.”

    It’s fair to suggest that last one was directed at Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

    Nugent-Hopkins has just two points and zero goals in his last five games, with a minus-8 rating. Eberle is pointless entirely, and also at minus-8 over the same stretch.

    They’re hardly the only Oilers not pulling their weight at the moment, however. Edmonton has lost 15 times in its first 25 games, a figure that suggests there are more problems that just a couple of underachieving forwards.

    Just ask McLellan, who all but admitted his team has issues matching up.

    “We’re not where we need to be,” he said. “We’ve got work to do as a team, work to do as an organization to get bigger, stronger, harder, and physically win more battles than we lose.”

    Roy: Avs ‘need, expect more’ from Varlamov


    The tough times continue for Semyon Varlamov.

    After another unsuccessful outing on Monday — allowing four goals on 27 shots in a loss to the Islanders — Varlamov was subjected to a familiar refrain: Patrick Roy saying the Avs need more from their No. 1 netminder.


    You can hear all of the head coach’s comments in the video above but, for brevity’s sake, here’s the Varlamov stuff:

    “It’s not easy for him. Obviously we need that extra save and we didn’t get it on the road. It’s hard to win if you’re giving four goals on the road.

    “We just need more from him. He’s our No. 1 guy and we’re behind him, but we need, we expect more from him.”

    There has to be serious concern about Varlamov right now, if there wasn’t already.

    His save percentage through seven games in November (.891) is marginally better than it was through seven games in October (.889), and that’s not the only alarming stat. Varlamov’s yet to record a shutout this year, yet to record back-to-back victories and has given up at least three goals in six of his last seven starts.

    Not good.

    Compounding things for Colorado are the standings. The Avs are now 9-14-1 and mired in the Central Division basement, meaning that — if they have any hope of going on a tear and getting back into playoff content — they’ll need to do it soon.

    Which means they might not have the time, or the patience, for Varlamov to find his game.