Getty

An ode to Burns, Byfuglien, dual positions (Fantasy Thursday)

The year 2016 was, by most measures, pretty kind to Brent Burns and Dustin Byfuglien.

Most obviously, both high-scoring, oddball defensemen inked contracts that provide them with long-term security. In February 2016, Byfuglien killed trade rumors with a five-year, $38 million extension. Burns went even bigger in November of that same year, landing an eight-year, $64M pact.

Instead, 2016 was a sad moment in a far more esoteric way with Burns and Byfuglien: fantasy hockey leagues no longer gave them the bizarre, not-particularly-functional, but totally awesome dual position designation of D/RW.

Yes, in case you forgot or didn’t pay attention to fantasy then, Byfuglien and Burns could slot in as right-wingers and defensemen not that long ago.

Rotoworld goes deep on Brent Burns’ scoring struggles

Now, this designation wasn’t that useful, at least beyond Byfuglien and Burns being stat-category-stuffing monsters. Generally speaking, you probably won’t run into many fantasy situations where you have more defensemen than “D” spots to fill, while not having the same problem at RW.

Granted, it’s plausible, just not a consistent concern.

More than anything else, it was just fun that the two All-Stars could be used in such ways. It’s also a reminder that the two aren’t that far removed from debates about how they should be deployed. Think about this: Brent Burns, eventual Norris Trophy-winner, was quite reasonably depicted as a guy who might have been better suited as a forward.

To an extent, these two might feel like they stepped out of time machines from the future. Hockey is a flowing game where forwards can act as defensemen and vice versa; it’s easy to picture mad science where positions become irrelevant in favor of five skaters with increasingly similar job descriptions.

(OK, maybe that future isn’t too near, but who knows?)

It’s possible that the Jets are concerned about Byfuglien considering his size and style; just recently Tyler Dellow brought up tough questions about Buffy’s defensive work for The Athletic (subscription required). At 32, Burns’ contract could become a hairy problem if the Sharks start to hit the wall with an aging core.

Fantasy owners might argue that both defensemen deserve every penny, even if it’s for past work. Part of that is because they’re both so good and so unusual. Part of that is because some of us frequently smile at the thought of those weird D/RW days.

Speaking of dual positions …

With this being a weekly column, certain bits of advice will evolve over time, while others might be a little more reliable. (The debut column is likely to remain static, as you should always be honest with yourself about how much effort you’re expecting to put into a given league).

The Rotoworld Hockey Podcast

One evolving question: how much of a difference does it make to have a roster heavy on dual position options?

Many of us go into drafts assuming that we’ll load up on LW/RW guys, only to stray in the heat of the moment, when the few difference-making goalies keep drying up (or other concerns). It’s also conceivable that you can trick yourself into taking the wrong guy while being enticed by the siren call of those multiple positions.

Ideally, there are an array of strategies that open up with a well-tuned gameplan.

Maybe you can justify taking goalies earlier – but getting one of the handful of more reliable netminders – because of such moves? Perhaps you can grab that Erik Karlsson or, yes, Burns because of your situation? At minimum, the glut of centers might turn into an advantage if you can grab undervalued ones later in drafts instead of scrambling to cover tougher-to-settle wing spots.

Full disclosure: I’m not certain how much of a difference this makes, but I’ve always been curious. With that in mind, share your own tales, whether you prefer Twitter, email or the comments.

You never know, we might just win some fantasy duels together with the right dual-position players.

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.

Elvis thrives: Merzlikins is on fire for Blue Jackets

Leave a comment

Elvis Merzlikins advanced a bold goal lately: to be more than just a funny name. He’s leaving opponents all shook  up is absolutely red-hot for the Columbus Blue Jackets right now.

Elvis absolutely hound-dogged shut out the New Jersey Devils in Columbus’ 5-0 on Saturday, and that 41-save performance was far from his first standout evening. Merzlikins generated three shutouts in his last four games, allowing just two goals overall. The Blue Jackets won all four of those games.

(OK, this post includes enough cheesy Elvis jokes … arguably.)

During seven appearances between October and November, the 25-year-old goalie languished with sub-.900 save percentages. Since then, he’s started to take off.

Some “too perfect” moments for Elvis Merzlikins and the Blue Jackets

Maybe Merzlikins made a New Year’s Eve resolution to dominate? Perhaps it was because Elvis asked reporters to leave him alone? Merzlikins suffered only two losses since Dec. 31, winning eight of 10 games.

The lights-out play already makes the story endearing, but there are notes of the surreal. Consider a few facts about his hot streak:

“That’s what you like about him. He’s strong mentally,” Tortorella said after the Jan. 11 Vegas shutout, via Rob Mixer of First Ohio Battery. “He’s a piece of work as far as his personality, which I like. A lot of things have been thrown at him here…but he’s handled himself really well. I’m happy for him.”

  • Merzlikins ended up making it back-to-back shutouts, as he also blanked the Bruins with a 34-save shutout. His three shutouts have upped the ante each time: first 27 saves, then 34, then 41 against the Devils on Saturday.

Tortorella deserves ample credit for creating a cocoon for his goalies, of course.

Regardless, Merzlikins is playing a big role in helping the Blue Jackets stay in the East wild-card races. Here’s hoping that our jokes rise up the charts or we might just need to leave the building.

(Sorry. I’m so, so sorry.)

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.

Hat trick helps Ovechkin pass Lemieux, tie Yzerman for ninth on NHL goals list

3 Comments

An historic week for Alex Ovechkin was capped off with a hat trick Saturday afternoon during a 6-4 win over the Islanders. His three goals pushes him past Mario Lemieux and into ninth place with 692, tying him with Steve Yzerman.

Ovechkin opened the scoring and then passed Mario Lemieux for 10th all-time in the third period as the Capitals mounted their comeback. He ended his day with an empty-netter to seal the win and tie Yzerman. The Islanders led 4-1 entering the third period.

Powered by two consecutive hat tricks, Ovechkin has eight goals in his last three games and 10 in his previous six.

That’s now three consecutive multi-goal games for Ovechkin, the first time he’s done that in his career. Earlier this week he not only passed Teemu Selanne for 11th on the all-time goals list but also hit the 30-goal mark for the 15th time in his career. He, along with Jaromir Jagr and Mike Gartner, are the only players to ever record 15 consecutive 30-goal seasons.

With three goals Saturday — the third time he’s recorded hat tricks in consecutive games — Ovechkin now has 34 on the season as he eyes a ninth 50-goal season. His hat trick was the 26th of his NHL career, tying him with Maurice Richard for eighth all-time.

Next in Ovechkin’s sights? Mark Messier, who finished with 694 goals in his career.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Stars’ Stephen Johns activated after missing almost 22 months

Leave a comment

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Dallas Stars activated Stephen Johns before their game Saturday night in Minnesota, clearing the way for the defenseman’s first game in almost 22 months.

Forward Radek Faksa was placed on injured reserve to make room for Johns on the active roster.

Johns has been out since late in the 2017-18 season because of post-traumatic headaches. The Stars have said the condition isn’t related to concussions.

The 27-year-old Johns hasn’t played since March 29, 2018, at the Wild. It was the last of a career-high 75 games in his third NHL season. Johns missed the last five games that year before sitting out all of last season as headaches persisted.

He played two games on a conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars of the AHL before rejoining Dallas on Thursday.

The return of Johns could coincide with the Stars’ first game without defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The 20-year-old standout left Thursday’s loss to Buffalo with an upper-body injury.

Johns made his debut for Dallas late in the 2014-15 season and played in all 13 of the team’s playoff games as a rookie. He has 13 goals, 15 assists and 306 blocked shots in 150 career regular-season games.

Panthers down another goalie, injured Driedger to miss weeks

Leave a comment

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Florida goalie Chris Driedger will miss several weeks with what’s believed to be a groin injury, the latest health issue at that position for the Panthers.

The Panthers announced the diagnosis Saturday, calling it a lower-body injury.

Driedger was hurt midway through the first period of the Panthers’ 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. He is 5-2-0 in nine appearances for Florida this season, with a 2.48 GAA.

The Panthers have also been without goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for much of January while he recovers from an upper-body injury.

Florida begins a stretch of six consecutive road games Saturday in Detroit. That six-game run also includes the All-Star break and the Panthers’ bye week.