Is Matt Carle's hot start for real or just a mirage?
Flyers defenseman Matt Carle has come out of the gates on fire notching 8 points in his first five games, leading all NHL defensemen heading into Wednesday's action. The former Hobey Baker winner out of the University of Denver has had a bumpy road since entering the NHL in 2006. After tallying 42 points in his first full season with San Jose, Carle found himself shipped to Tampa Bay in the deal that had Dan Boyle heading to the Sharks. His stay with the Lightning didn't last long and Carle finally landed in Philadelphia last season.
Mike Colligan: I'm always skeptical of fast starts by defensemen, especially when they include a ton of assists (See '08-09 version of Filip Kuba), but I think Carle is for real. He finished the 08-09 regular season with 6 points in his final 9 games and now finds himself paired with newcomer Chris Pronger at even strength and on the powerplay. Kimmo Timonen has been the powerplay QB for the last two seasons but at the age of 35, I think he's beginning to slow down, creating a void the 25-year-old Carle looks to seize.
Joe Romano: I’m not buying it, and it doesn’t have so much to do with Carle as it does with the rest of the Flyers. I just don’t think their is enough room for Carle. Much like hot streaks, there will be cold streaks. Philly, in all sports, hasn’t been known for their patience and one cold streak from Carle has him off the top power play unit and toiling with the second unit, or even worse. I love his talent and he showed us what he is capable of while in San Jose, but for him to keep this up, he must remain a top-two defenseman in Philly. I’m just not sure I see that happening all season. Carle may be a usable defensemen all year, but more like the third or fourth variety rather than the first or second.
What 2009 playoff outcast will find themselves battling for Lord Stanley this spring?
Mike Colligan: I'm going to go with the Los Angeles Kings. Their top line of Justin Williams, Ryan Smyth, and Anze Kopitar has been lights out so far as Kopitar seems to have found an excellent chemistry with his new linemates. Unloading Kyle Quincey for Smyth over the summer was a big loss, but one a team like the Kings can handle with their depth and talent on the back end. Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty are emerging stars and Rob Scuderi brings in the shutdown capabilities the team needs to handle division foes like Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton. Jon Quick is a very underrated goaltender and should be able to lead this team to a berth in the playoffs this season and for many years to come.
On the flip side, expect the Detroit Red Wings to miss the playoffs for the first time in what seems like decades (yes I know, call me crazy). I tossed this idea around before the season after Hossa, Hudler, and Samuelsson skipped town, and the loss of Johan Franzen now means the Wings are down 116 goals from those four players alone. I won't even start on Chris Osgood...Detroit is missing the playoffs, I will guarantee it.
Joe Romano: I love the Kings and they would have been my choice, but I also like Tampa Bay. I know, I slammed them numerous times for the dysfunction and lack of leadership throughout the entire organization. I mean they were considering trading Vinny Lecavalier, really? But somehow, someway, management got it right. They brought in some good young talent, made some key signings and possess one of the better offenses in the league.
Mike Smith is a very underrated goaltender who put up very solid numbers as a backup in Dallas. I also love Steve Stamkos. This super soph will put his name on the map this year and average a point per game through the entire season. Their weak spot is, and will be all season, defense. Bringing in Victor Hedman will pay dividends right away. Many forget he already has a season and a half of professional hockey in Europe under his belt. I think Tampa makes the jump to the playoffs this year, especially considering their weak division. I expect them to finish second behind the Caps, with the Hurricanes, Panthers and Thrashers on the outside looking in.
Mike Colligan: While I agree on your pick, I disagree a little on the reasoning. The top 5 forwards are excellent, but I think a pair of under the radar offseason moves will be the key. Hedman appropriately got all the attention on the back end, but Tampa really upgraded on D with Matthias Ohlund leading the way. He, like Hedman, hails from Sweden and will be a great mentor for the #2 pick. He has size, skating ability, a huge shot and is capable of shutting down the best forwards the Eastern Conference has to offer.
While Smith has performed decent at times, I love the addition of Antero Niittymaki in goal. He's been around the block and although can be inconsistent at times, he plays with poise and is more than you could ask for as a backup. (Oh yeah, and don't forget his love for the division foe Thrashers)
Through two weeks, what fantasy hockey player is still flying under the radar?
Joe Romano: For me, this answer is simple, Justin Williams in Los Angeles. Through five games, he has one goal, four assists, four PIM, two power play points and is a plus 3. He is the diet version of Brenden Morrow, he doesn’t dominate a category, but contributes across the board. The last few seasons Williams has struggled with injuries, but prior to that, he was just shy of notching a point per game and matching that with solid numbers in PIM, PPP, and +/-.
I’ll admit, I even forgot about him in a pretty deep “experts” draft, but so did everyone else. I was able to grab him from the free agent bin on the first day of the season. He can be streaky, but when he isn’t scoring, he will still be helping you in other categories. A premium is always placed on five tool guys in fantasy baseball, and Williams fits that role in hockey.
Mike Colligan: I'll stay in California with my pick and say Ryan Whitney of the Ducks, a guy I was very high on coming into the season. He put up a career high 59 points with Pittsburgh in 06-07, his second season, yet underwent heel surgery last summer. Whitney only appeared in 28 underwhelming games for the Penguins before they shipped him to Anaheim in the Chris Kunitz trade. So what do I like so much about this year?
In addition to the major surgery, Whitney was also hampered by a suffocating defensive style former Penguins coach Michel Therrien had implemented. The free-wheeling defenseman has one goal, four assists, 8 PIM's, 2 powerplay pts, and a +4 rating through five games. The departure of workhorse Chris Pronger has allowed Whitney to log an average of 26 min/game, a number that should only increase with the injury to James Wisniewski. Throw in the fact that Whitney hasn't even cracked the forward-heavy top powerplay unit in Anaheim yet and I think his season is waiting to explode.