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PHT on Fantasy: The Monthly Method

As we get deeper into the 2017-18 season, it’s tougher and tougher to add difference-makers in fantasy hockey. At least if you’re in a league with people who even try to know what they’re doing.

To get an edge and land the sort of players who might help you in playoff series (or to make the playoffs), sometimes it requires breaking things down in different ways. For one thing, you should definitely check out Joey Alfieri’s weekly add/drops, not to mention the great offerings from the fine folks at Rotoworld’s NHL section.

One thing I like to look at is: which players are really rising over the last month or two? Using various sites – both Yahoo’s fantasy section and NHL.com are among the ways to check these things out – I thought I’d share some observations that might help you in fantasy.

  • As far as the tippy top goes, it’s mostly players you’d expect, and thus players who’ve already been taken. The closest thing to an upset in the top 10 scorers during the last two months is Mikko Rantanen, a player many at least recognized was very good. (Rantanen is owned in 76 percent of Yahoo leagues. If he’s available … what are you waiting for? Sheesh.)

With that in mind, you’re probably wisest to break things down into different categories, whether that means narrowing lists down to positions or looking for specific stats.

  • If you look at defensemen, Marc-Edouard Vlasic pops up, especially (but not only) if you look at January. For one thing, he’s picking up his shooting a bit the last two years, with his current 2.06 SOG per game representing a career-high. “Pickles” is a stat-stuffer thanks to his blocked shots, but even more simply, he’s scoring at a much higher level. Vlasic already has 20 points in 49 games after managing only 28 in 75 last season.

You might miss something like that because Vlasic’s 20 points would only rank him 50th among defensemen from a full-season standpoint. His 11 points in January rank third among defensemen; it’s clear that he is along for the ride with Brent Burns, who topped all blueliners that month with 17 points. Vlasic is only owned in 44 percent of leagues. While he’s not necessarily guaranteed to be a top-10 guy for the rest of the season, he’s probably better than the lower-ranking blueliners on your team, particularly if you didn’t invest heavily in the position with high draft picks.

  • Checking out rising players from a monthly perspective could also help you identify people to watch list, even if you don’t add them. Sorting for time on ice, for instance, may help you clue into a player who’s rising in the eyes of a coach. If the luck comes in a wave, maybe you’d grab someone – even for a limited time – who might deliver?

Jordan Oesterle of the Chicago Blackhawks is an intriguing case, for one.

After barely being used in October and November, Coach Q rolled him out for an average of 21:47 in nine December games, and then almost 24 minutes per night in January. His 10 points this season won’t blow your mind, but note that nine of them have come in the last two months.

That’s not mind-blowing, naturally, but in deeper leagues he could be the sort of guy who might be intriguing, particularly if he rides a surge if Chicago manages to get it together.

Ivan Provorov and Esa Lindell are examples of higher-ceiling defensemen who might be available, too, but there are ways to dig deep if you really need to.

  • The monthly method can help you eyeball a goalie who’s finishing the season on a hot streak. After all, the past is the past, and a rough start could deflate a netminder’s value too much at times.

(That said, check their career stats, as a hot streak could just as easily go ice cold once you actually invest in a guy.)

Usual suspects

Using Yahoo’s monthly ranking tool, some familiar names came up. Here’s some quick context for a few of them, going from higher to lower rankings. Please note that I’m skipping heavily owned goalies since you won’t be able to get them anyway:

  • Jonathan Bernier (59 percent owned): Obviously, Bernier’s been a huge part of Colorado’s surge up the rankings. There’s some pedigree there, as a former first-rounder. There’s also plenty of motivation, as he’s fighting for a new contract. Just note that Semyon Varlamov could elbow his way back in if Bernier goes on a prolonged cold streak.
  • Carter Hutton (64 percent): Fantastic month, building a growing resume as a quality backup. Still, the Blues are very much devoted to Jake Allen; Hutton might benefit from a trade, at least in fantasy terms.
  • Jaroslav Halak (57 percent): Last season, Halak made a “too little, too late” run for the Islanders … but it was quite a run in March and April. Like Hutton and Bernier, he’s on an expiring contract. The Islanders are committed to Thomas Greiss contract-wise, with his deal expiring after 2019-20, but there’s not much luxury to just hope that Greiss works out of his awful rut. Halak is an intriguing goalie to watch.

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Hopefully this week’s column gave you some names to consider, but most importantly, some tools to use to find even more.

Really, it might be fun for you to look at who’s been hot in January, even if you’re not a fantasy hockey type. Perhaps it could help you in Daily Fantasy, too?

(If so, I expect royalties.)

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.

Jay Bouwmeester will not play again for Blues this season

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Jay Bouwmeester met with the media on Wednesday for the first time since suffering a cardiac episode during a Feb. 11 game in Anaheim.

The defenseman, who began the press conference by thanking the training staffs of the Blues and Ducks, will not play again this season, according to general manager Doug Armstrong. While a comeback this season is out of reach, Bouwmeester has not closed the door on his future.

“There’s been a lot going on,” he said. “I think that’s something I’m going to definitely have to evaluate, but to say I’ve done that, I wouldn’t say fully yet. There’s decisions I’m going to have to make. That’ll come later.”

“We talked about longer term things that may or may not happen and both feel that it’s February,” added Armstrong. “You don’t have to make long term decisions at this point. He’s going to take time and again back in with his family and get around the team and he’ll address those things as the summer progresses.”

Bouwmeester, who will turn 37 in September, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. He was revived with defibrillator and quickly taken from Honda Center to a local hospital. He later had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator procedure to restore the normal rhythm of his heart.

“I’m at the point now where I feel pretty good,” Bouwmeester said. “That’s kind of the weird thing about this is you go from something that happened totally out of the blue and unexpected to being in the hospital for a couple of days and then now there’s some restrictions as to what I can do.”

The Blues-Ducks game was postponed and rescheduled for March 11.

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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.

Can Maple Leafs survive on defense with Muzzin out one month?

Maple Leafs defense with Jake Muzzin out one month
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A season of extremes continues for the Maple Leafs, as their defense must find answers with Jake Muzzin out about one month. Muzzin broke his hand blocking a shot, souring Tuesday’s otherwise sweet win against the Lightning.

Everything about the timing fits the soap opera narrative of “As the Maple Leaf turns …”

  • Toronto lost Muzzin for a month in the first game after signing him to a contract extension.
  • It’s also the first game following a trade deadline that mixed the good with the bad. On one hand, it turns out that keeping Tyson Barrie was wise, warts and all. On the other, GM Kyle Dubas’ critics will argue that he still didn’t do enough.
  • Oh yeah, the Maple Leafs follow up this potentially devastating injury with an enormous Thursday game against the Panthers in Florida.

Woof. Dubas is a different cat, so naturally he tweeted out this very Zen approach to dealing with the Muzzin news.

(If you’re like me, you’re imagining Dubas trying to meditate after being thrown under the bus by Toronto media and fans. It’s kind of fun.)

The Maple Leafs defense has been, uh, flawed for some time now. Subtract Muzzin, and put him on an injured list that already includes Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci, and you might feel very UnDude.

Let’s take a look at the tattered remains of a Maple Leafs defense that may resemble seven wild horses.

Looking at the Maple Leafs defense with Muzzin out

Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston and others shared the Maple Leafs’ defense pairings from practice:

Travis DermottJustin Holl
Rasmus Sandin – Tyson Barrie
Martin MarincinTimothy Liljegren
Extra: Calle Rosen

Do you look at that group as seven wild horses, or seven broken ones? (Don’t make any glue factory jokes, please.)

Long story short, this leaves the Maple Leafs with a relatively inexperienced group.

If you want a glimpse at Toronto’s confidence level in certain players, consider how Sheldon Keefe deployed Sandin on Tuesday. Through two periods, Sandin received just 5:27 time on ice. Once it was clear Muzzin wouldn’t return, Sandin’s ice time skyrocketed to 9:34 during the third period alone.

Dicey stuff, but what’s the best approach, Zen-like, or otherwise? What’s a good mantra for the Leafs going forward?

Accepting reality of the Maple Leafs defense with Muzzin out, and considering Panthers

Despite wildly different approaches and markets, the Maple Leafs and Panthers boast notably similar strengths and weaknesses. After all, they are the only teams in the NHL who’ve scored and allowed 200+ goals so far this season.

So maybe the Maple Leafs should embrace the perception of their most prominent, healthy defenseman in Tyson Barrie, and their perceived identity as a team that needs to outscore their problems, in general?

There’s also the potential silver lining of realizing that players like Sandin and Liljegren might be further along in their respective developments than Toronto realized. Interestingly, Dubas sort of touched on this during his trade deadline presser, before Muzzin was injured.

” … We need to see how our own guys develop,” Dubas said, via Pension Plan Puppets’ transcript. “In a perfect world your own guys develop and quell your concerns you have about the roster and that people on the outside may have about them as well.”

Both Sandin and Liljegren carry pedigree as first-rounders, and have produced some offense at the AHL level. Perhaps they can bring almost as much to the table as they risk taking away with mistakes?

Obstacles, and gauntlets thrown down on top Maple Leafs

When you dig deep on the Maple Leafs’ numbers, you get a more complicated look at their hit-and-miss defense. Either way, they need better goaltending going forward — even if that leads to awkward choices.

No, the Leafs don’t make life easy for Frederik Andersen, but he needs to improve on his .906 save percentage (his -4.25 Goals Saved Above Average points to some fault on his end).

Frankly, it might be just as important that the Maple Leafs show a willingness to turn to Jack Campbell instead. Through four games, Campbell’s generated an impressive .919 save percentage, going 3-0-1.

Of course, the onus is also on their big-money forwards. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and John Tavares have mostly delivered in 2019-20, but the team needs them now more than ever.

The challenge comes in balancing attacking with supporting embattled defensemen. Not hanging them out to dry for icing infractions would be a good place to start:

If patterns continue, there will only be more twists and turns for the Maple Leafs. Maybe they can end up better after facing all of these challenges, but either way, it doesn’t look easy, and might not always be pretty.

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.

Laviolette to coach Team USA at world hockey championships

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Peter Laviolette is returning to the bench after being selected as the coach of the United States men’s national team competing at the world hockey championships in May.

The move was announced by USA Hockey on Wednesday, and comes seven weeks after Laviolette was fired by the Nashville Predators.

Laviolette ranks 16th in NHL wins with 637 covering four teams over 18 seasons, including the 2006 Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes. He also coached the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers.

From Massachusetts, the 55-year-old Laviolette also has extensive experience representing the U.S. as a coach and player on the international stage.

The tournament being held in Switzerland will mark the fourth time Laviolette has coached the U.S. at the world championships, and first since 2014, when the Americans lost to Czech Republic in the quarterfinals in Belarus. He was also U.S. coach in 2004, when the team won a bronze medal, and ’05.

Laviolette also coached the national team to an eighth-place finish at the 2006 Olympics.

As a player, Laviolette was a two-time Olympian in representing the U.S. in 1988 and 1994, when he served as team captain.

”Peter is a terrific coach and someone who has had success wherever he’s been,” said USA Hockey’s John Vanbiesbrouck. ”We’re thrilled to have him back as head coach of our men’s national team.”

Team USA’s roster will begin being stocked once the NHL’s regular season concludes during the first weekend in April. The Americans have been limited to winning just six bronze medals since a silver-medal finish in 1950.

The world championships are scheduled to run from May 8 to 24.

Canadiens’ Mete out for season with broken foot

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MONTREAL (AP) — Montreal Canadiens defenseman Victor Mete will miss the rest of the season with a broken foot.

Mete suffered the injury during the game in Detroit on Feb. 18.

The 21-year-old Mete had four goals and 11 assists in 51 games this season. He has four goals and 27 assists in 171 games with Montreal.

Mete was a fourth-round pick of the Canadiens in 2016.