Friday, September 18, 2009

Fantasy Hockey Preview - Eastern Conference

1.5 seconds remaining… Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals… The Penguins are up 2-1 in the game… A shot comes from the point and goes off of Fleury and lands to his right… The net is wide open… The only man in sight is Nicklas Lidstrom and his eyes just light up as he shoots the puck towards the open net… As the puck goes toward the net, you can see the fans behind the net begin the stand up… Then out of nowhere, Marc-Andre Fleury, in a moment of desperation, dives to his right, and makes the save… The clock hits 0.0 and the game is over. That is the last memory I have from last year’s hockey season, an exciting end to what was a great season. Now, 3 months later and we are set to begin another year of hockey.

Training camp is underway and with the season slated to begin in a few weeks, you’ve probably already started to think about who you are going to draft for your Fantasy Hockey team this year. No matter what league you’re in, the big three (in no particular order): Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, & Alexander Ovechkin will most likely be the first 3 picks. Most of us have a pretty good idea of who the “big time” players are, and who we would like to draft in those early to mid rounds. But what about those late rounds?

With that being said, I am going to give a pre-season analysis of all the teams in each conference and see if there are any guys you may want to keep an eye on as a possible late rounder. We’ll start with the Eastern Conference first

Atlanta Thrashers:
The Atlanta Thrashers are coming off another disappointing season. With Ilya Kovalchuk going into the final year of his contract, the Thrashers must re-sign their franchise player in order to have any hope in the near future of making the playoffs. They hope that the recent signings of Nik Antropov and Pavel Kubina will hopefully provide some sort of spark to their team (although highly unlikely). However surrendering 280 goals last season (2nd highest in league), and having uncertainty between the pipes, with Kari Lehtonen struggling and coming off of surgery, their chances again look slim to make any sort of impact. Some guys you may want to keep an eye on for the later rounds would be defenseman Zach Bogosian and Pavel Kubina both of which could provide some decent offensive numbers on your blueline. Forward Slava Kozlov may also be available late and can be a good guy for your bench.

Boston Bruins:
The Boston Bruins were the #1 seed in the East last season, partly from a phenomenal year by goalie Tim Thomas and putting together some decent runs late in the season. With the signing of Derek Morris, they have once again solidified their blue line led by Zedno Chara. Phil Kessel is set to be out for the beginning of the year and his future with the B’s seems uncertain, however they have more than enough talent up front if they decide to part ways. The Bruins are poised once again for another playoff run but I don’t think they will experience the same success as last season by being the #1 seed. Some players you may want to keep an eye on for the later rounds are forwards Mark Recchi and Marco Sturm, both of which could provide some offensive pop to your lineup and should still be around for you to pick up.

Buffalo Sabres:
The Buffalo Sabres again missing the playoffs last year hope to rebound and make a strong push this year. The Sabres are stocked with talent up front and have strong goaltending behind Ryan Miller. With the recent addition of Mike Grier to the squad, they hope to add a little grit to their team. The Sabres will have to come out of the gate strong this year to have any chances of making the playoffs this year. Some guys to look out for are defenseman Craig Rivet, as he can give you some good assists and PIM, and also forward Jason Pomminville may be someone to keep an eye on.

Carolina Hurricanes:
The Carolina Hurricanes made a strong push in the playoffs last year before running into the Pittsburgh Penguins. Carolina has a lot of young talent, and their recent signings of Stephane Yelle and defenseman Aaron Ward with give them some experience in their lineup. The return of Erik Cole mid-way last season seemed to give the Hurricanes a much needed boost. With Cam Ward in net and their potential offensive power, look for them to continue their success next year and make another strong run in the playoffs. Some guys you may want to keep an eye on would be defenseman Joni Pitkanen who logs a lot of ice time and has some offensive pop, and also Erik Cole who after reuniting with the team put up some big numbers.

Florida Panthers:
The Florida Panthers after missing the playoffs via a tie-breaker last year must get off to a good start in order to have any chance this year. Even after trading off defenseman Jay Bouwmeester last year, the guys they do have in McCabe, Allen, Leopold, Ballard, and recent acquisition Ville Koistinen are a solid defensive core. The contract extension of goal scorer David Booth in the offseason is also a plus for the organization. Other than Booth, the Panthers really don’t have many other offensive weapons they put on the ice. This makes their chances yet again slim to make the playoffs this year. Some guys to keep an eye on for the later rounds are Nathan Horton and Ville Koistinen.

Montreal Canadiens:
The Montreal Canadiens barely made the playoffs last year and were quickly eliminated by the Bruins. The Canadians have cleaned house both in front of and behind the bench and need to get acclimated with each other quickly in order to have any shot for the playoffs this year. The new acquisitions of Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, and Mike Cammallaeri are what the Canadians hope to re-vitalize their top lines. Even with all this new talent, there has been too many changes in the ownership, on the coaching staff, and even on the ice for there to be any sort of cohesion to develop or maintained this year. I don’t see the Canadiens making any sort of run this year but do see some success for them in the near future. Some players you may find in the late round to take are Andrei Kostitsyn and defenseman Paul Mara.

New Jersey Devils:
The New Jersey Devils are hoping to have a full healthy year of Martin Brodeur this year, even though the team did survive, both Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes, who held the fort in his absence, are both no longer with the team. The loss of both John Madden and Brian Gionta will hurt a team already not known for their offensive prowess. But as long as you have Marty Brodeur in net your chances of winning are good. Some guys to keep in mind later in the draft are defenseman Johnny Oduya and Paul Martin as both will give you good +/- numbers and the occasional G/A.

New York Islanders:
The New York Islanders, once again at the bottom of the league, drafted with their #1 pick Jonathan Tavares. Tavares looks to be a player that can score goals, which is something the Isles are definitely looking for. The Islanders also strengthened their goaltending by signing Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron. Franchise goalie, Rick DiPietro looks to be out for the beginning of the season after missing almost all of last season. Defenseman Mark Streit is a plus on an otherwise dismal blue line and should put up some good numbers. The Isles will have to work hard in order to have chance of gaining a playoff spot. Some players to keep an on late are sophomore Kyle Okposo, who after having a slow start put up points consistently every night and Doug Weight who will put up some good offensive numbers but will definitely hit you on the +/- category.

New York Rangers:
The New York Rangers signed Marian Gaborik in the offseason and hope that the injury prone forward can remain healthy and add to the offensive power that this team with needs with the departure of Nikolai Zherdev. They also signed forward Vaclav Prospal reuniting him with head coach John Tortorella in NY. Tortorella believes that Prospal still has some ammo left in him and could be an asset to the team. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist is a top tier goalie and he will be able to steal away his fair share of games. Depending on if Gaborik can stay healthy, look for the Rangers to continue to be a tough team to beat in the East. Christopher Higgins, Ales Kotalik, and Michal Rozsival are players to keep an eye on in the later rounds.

Ottawa Senators:
The big three of Alfredsson, Heatley, and Spezza had a disappointing fantasy year last year. With the recent trade of Dany Heatley to the San Jose Sharks for Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo, the Sens gave up a potential 50 goal scorer for 2 potential 30 goal scorers and capable set-up men (not a bad deal). The Senators have really bolstered their lineup and could be a contender this year. Recently acquired goalie Pascal Leclaire is someone to keep in mind as a sleeper goalie, if he can bounce back from injury he could put up good numbers in Ottawa. Nick Foligno and new addition Alex Kovalev are players to keep in mind in the later rounds as both have potential of putting up big numbers.

Philadelphia Flyers:
The Philadelphia Flyers bolstered their defense with the addition of . Throw into Chris Prongerthe mix Matt Carle & Braydon Coburn the Flyers have one of the best blue lines in hockey. However, even with a strong D, the goalie situation is still a question mark with Brian Boucher or Ray Emery. Simon Gagne is coming off a good season and looks to be poised to have another. Daniel Carcillo, the NHL league leader in PIM is someone you can consider for some spot starts. Someone to definitely keep an eye on is Claude Giroux in the later rounds.

Pittsburgh Penguins:
The Stanley Cup champions Pittsburgh Penguins are stacked with young talent. Even with the departure of defenseman Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill, the Pens are loaded with depth on defense and with the likes of Alex Goligoski, and also with newly acquired Jay McKee ready to join the mix, the defensive core seems to be intact. The Pens did not lose any notable forwards this off season and made a few signings to plug a few holes. With the majority of their team returning next year, the Pens are poised to make another run for the Cup. Basically any player that will play on a line with Sid or Geno is someone you can consider in the later rounds (Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz, or Ruslan Fedetenko) also defenseman Kris Letang would be a good pickup late.

Tampa Bay Lightning:
The Tampa Lightning after a very disappointing season, hope to rebound and have bolstered their defense with newly acquired Mattias Ohlund, Matt Walker, and Kurtis Foster to join Ranger, Meszaros, Smaby and Krajicek. They added to their offense, with the addition of Alex Tanguay, and hope the addition is enough to support Lecavalier, St. Louis, and Stamkos. Steve Stamkos is coming off a good rookie season and looks to only get better. Playing on a line with Martin St. Louis and Ryan Malone will only help the sophomore. As in Philly, even with such a deep blue line, the goalie situation is shaky with Mike Smith and Antero Nittymaki between the pipes. Some guys to keep in mind for the later rounds are Ryan Malone and #2 overall draft choice defenseman Victor Hedman.

Toronto Maple Leafs:
The Toronto Maple Leafs missed the playoffs yet again are still lacking in any offensive power. Forward Jason Blake seems to be the only consistent offensive weapon they have. The acquisition of forward Colton Orr, who for the Rangers last year was #2 in PIM, seems to be a sign they are continuing to toughen up their squad. But never count out Brian Burke, who has the ability to make deals that may help this team out in the season. But as it stands now, the Leafs may be on the outside looking in again this year. The Leafs seems very interested in bringing in Phil Kessel, so keep your ears open for that. Other players to keep note on are forwards Alexei Ponikarovsky and defenseman Francois Beauchemin and Ian White.

Washington Capitals:
The Washington Capitals are another team packed with young talent, with the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and newly acquired Mike Knuble. The Caps don’t just have offense coming from up front but with goal scoring defenseman Mike Green, have some pop on the blue line. The Caps will again be a force to be reckoned with in the East and should make a deep run into the playoffs with all the talent on their squad. Goalie Semyon Varlamov is someone to keep an eye on and may be nice pick-up, even though Jose Theodore is poised as their starter, Varlamov could be pushed into the #1 spot sooner than later. Other guys to keep an eye on are Brendan Morrison and Tom Poti who will be available late and should provide some decent numbers.

So these are some of the guys in the East that you should keep an eye on during the pre-season that could become potential late round
choices for you. Next time we’ll prevew and run through the guys you should keep an eye on the in West.

Until next time: I'll keep you posted... Between the Pipes.

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