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What fantasy hockey players should be grateful for

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Ah, Thanksgiving. A time when families come together to overeat, try to ignore the more problematic elements of the holiday’s roots, watch lopsided football games, and get into arguments.

Not great, honestly, but kudos to my family specifically for at least adding pierogies to the mix.

With the American version of the holiday upon us (it’s in October in Canada … weird!), it seems wise to share gratitude for the players who are powering our fantasy hockey teams to greatness, or at least to help us avoid total mockery at the water cooler.*

Going for seconds, thirds

So far, 2017-18 has been The Year of The Top Lines. It can be seen mostly blatantly in noting that Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are battling for the top scoring spot in the NHL, while Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Jaden Schwartz are also in the top 10.

Much like the satisfaction of eating homemade sides instead of canned vegetables, the real winners have been the less-obvious members of lines who have been incredible values, and some of whom might deliver for a full season.

Schenn is an obvious example, with his 30 points in 22 games (not to mention 20 PIM and +19 rating) making him a blistering steal. His Yahoo pre-season ranking was 85th, and he likely went lower depending upon your given draft.

Sean Couturier might be the most delirious example so far, though. His yahoo ranking was 262, yet he’s ranked 18th by the same standards, as it’s clear that he’s taken the bull by the horns when it comes to getting an increased offensive role with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek on his wings. Vladislav Namestnikov has been glorious, and it sure seems likely that’ll he remain with Stamkos and Kucherov as long as he’s healthy.

Micheal Ferland might spell his name in a funny way, but you’ll make fun of him less often if he’s on your team and manages to stay with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan over the long haul.

On that note, there are still some things to sort out. Will Kyle Connor be the guy that gets to play with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele more often than not? Can the Stars get a consistent third player (aside: we need a third [blank] to go with “second banana”) to dunk in opportunities from Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, at least with Alex Radulov seemingly not being the right fit?

[Rotoworld: Breaking down the first quarter]

Really, the questions about duos makes you appreciate stable trios that much more, especially if you have one or both of them on your teams. You don’t see reasonable answers to the glorious combo of the Dany Heatley – Jason Spezza – Daniel Alfredsson very often in the salary cap era, after all.

Hopefully most of those top lines can at least maintain some of this ridiculous energy, as the dog days of the season will probably cause at least some regression. Sorry, didn’t mean to ruin the holiday spirit.

Trading goods

I can’t really go too long without thanking GM David Poile and others for spicing up the season with some trades. Don’t scoff at this being mentioned in fantasy, as trades can make the process more exciting *and* create new gems.

[The Rotoworld Hockey Podcast]

In six games with the Nashville Predators, Kyle Turris has five points, but I’m most thankful – and intrigued – to see gains from Kevin Fiala (six points in his past five games) and Craig Smith (six in his past six). Fiala and Smith will probably be more worthy of adds in deeper leagues, but it’s a situation to watch, preferably with popcorn.

Turris could also boost guys like P.K. Subban and Roman Josi in a delightful domino effect, so again, a nod of gratitude to Poile.

Big saves

Quite a few goalies are saving their teams’ bacon (or honey-baked ham, to fit the theme?), with Corey Crawford, John Gibson, and Mike Smith coming to mind, in particular. Imagine where the Anaheim Ducks would be without Gibson?

Also: thanks to Braden Holtby, who’s navigating the Capitals’ struggles to remain the new Henrik Lundqvist as far as reliable fantasy hockey star goalies go.

Avoiding turkeys

Finally, all but one owner in each league can be happy to avoid Brent Burns, an awesome, caveman-looking scoring sensation who’s been on a puzzling scoring slump. Sometimes you have to be lucky to be good, even beyond getting a piece of those red-hot lines.

(And hey, maybe you’ll be thankful when you trade for Burns at a discount rate, only to see him bounce back?)

* – For those who grumble about this being a lame gimmick for a fantasy hockey column, allow me to respond with this hex: I hope your Crazy Uncle shares extra ridiculous, patently offensive theories this time around.

And, if *you* are in the crazy uncle role, I hope that a know-it-all nephew totally schools you, to the point that even like-minded family members are giggling at your stammering responses.

Yeah, that’s right. I went there. Maybe all the gravy is making me edgy.

Enjoy the holiday, hockey fans.

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Quick hits: Leafs’ outdoor practice, Czech-German WJC game postponed, Fowler becomes a human X-Mas tree

Here are some quick hits from the hockey world that weren’t quite beefy enough for full posts.

  • It seems like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals (and Michigan-Michigan State “Big Chill” teams) aren’t the only hockey clubs that are getting into the spirit of outdoor hockey over the holidays. The Toronto Maple Leafs will reportedly hold an outdoor practice tomorrow (Wednesday, December 22nd) beginning at 10:45 a.m.

Here’s some info about the event from the team’s press release.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, RONA and Toronto Parks, Forestry & Recreation will unveil upgrades and refurbishments made to Trinity Bellwoods Outdoor Rink as part of the MLSE Team Up Foundation Rink Refurbishment Program. In recognition of the program, the Leafs will hold their annual outdoor practice at the Trinity Bellwoods rink.

The practice will be followed by two Learn to Skate Clinics – the first for local kids and the second for new Canadians. The day will conclude with a community skate at 2:15.

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Your latest hockey sweater travesty: Florida Everblades present their ‘happy holidays’ horror

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Hockey fans were treated to the latest deluge of alternate sweaters in November, presumably in time for Black Friday and the holidays. From the solid but slightly uninspired Columbus Blue Jackets cannon-laced third duds to the far riskier Anaheim Ducks designs, the NHL introduced some passable but far from earth shattering new takes.

We might have our quibbles here and there with new designs, but every now and then, something awful comes along to remind us that sports teams still occasionally step on stylistic land mines.

Enter the ECHL’s wonderfully (or woefully, depending on taste) pun-based Florida Everblades, who provided the hockey world with a particularly monstrous take on their typical uniforms in time for the “holidays.” (I think Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski nails it when he points out that the jersey might as well say “Merry Christmas” since the jersey only seems to focus on that specific holiday.)

With a gaudy look that for whatever reason made me flash back to those once-in-a-generation St. Louis Blues monstrosities from the ’90s, the Everblades have created what might be this season’s most expensive “joke gift.”

You can see for yourself from this post’s main image (via Puck Daddy) and this shot of the back of the jersey, via Mike McKenzie’s Twitter page.

For comparison’s sake, here are the team’s typical white jerseys (from the team’s Web site).

So, as you can see, the team is capable of putting together a respectable jersey.

Anyway, this brings me to a few questions:

1. What were they thinking?
2. Furthermore, did they design them in the most garish way possible to get us talking/laughing about them? If so, they succeeded.
3. Dare I ask: do you like them?

Feel free to share your thoughts on these aesthetic abominations in the comments.