Week 2 Schedule Breakdown
Weekly look at the breakdown of home and road teams.
EARLY SEASON CLUES: KEY TO MINI-SEASON SUCCESS
If anyone you know told you they knew what to expect in this shortened NHL season, we suggest you never believe another word they ever utter. An air of uncertainty still prevails, but the most astute fantasy owners will gain an edge on their competition by deciphering the early indicators this young season has provided and then applying that knowledge in their roster strategy.
Being active and reactive is the key to success in this unusual 2013 season. Every roster move matters this much more in such a compact schedule. This week we offer a few observations from a hectic first week of action in the NHL (isn’t it amazing we can finally say that?) as they relate to the fantasy angle; then we highlight individual players who might have been off the radar before the season began but whose fantasy value just shot up because of what we now know.
1- Systems? What systems?: Fantasy owners (and fans in general) love offense, and offense is generated by chaos. Short five-day camps, players transitioning from international to North-American ice, roster turnover from last season, overall game-shape rust and lack of practice time will make it difficult on coaches to establish structure in their team’s game. Don’t expect this to change, at least not before the 20-game mark. Half the NHL teams (15) are scoring on 20% or more of their PP’s (compared to only 3 last season). Skaters from those first units should be on your starting rosters and goalies facing those units, regardless of reputation, should be benched.
2- Game-shape? What game-shape?: Remember all that talk about active vs. non-active players during the lock-out. Everyone was wondering if players who hadn’t seen competitive hockey action in over six months would be worse off than those playing in the AHL or in Europe. We already have a definitive answer: 11 of the current top 20 NHL scorers were inactive during the lock-out. Less structured hockey means skill and natural abilities trump overall conditioning (at least for elite offensive players). No need for over-analysis here: ride your horses whether they were active or driving their kids to school.
3- High turnover means less cohesion: Of the top 6 GAA teams, none have more than a 2-player turnover from last season among their top 9 forwards and top 4 defensemen, and 3 of those 6 have no turnover at all! Conversely, underperforming teams like Washington, the New-York Rangers, Phoenix and Calgary can partly attribute their defensive woes to higher turnover rates among their core group. With no guaranty of a quick recovery, you should avoid starting goalies from these squads (defensive skaters too, if your league tracks plus-minus).
4- Home, not-so-sweet home: A tightly knit schedule, intra-conference play exclusively, playoff-type intensity right off the bat and league parity are all factors that contributed to 18 of 30 visiting teams spoiling home openers to start 2013. Home advantage definitely ain’t what it used to be! It shouldn’t be a concern when you consider your weekly starting line-up.
Martin Brodeur (G) – NJ: Many expected the surprise Cup finalists from last year to fall back to Earth this season. Losing their captain Zach Parise was going to be devastating. But the Peter DeBoer structure remains and players are seemingly still buying in. From all insider accounts, Brodeur is in the best shape he’s been in years, and he’s had a long off-season to rest. His anticipated decline will have to wait at least one more season.
Raphael Diaz (D) – MTL: Montreal’s PP is back to its glory days of a couple of years back, currently 5th in the NHL. Why? Andrei Markov is healthy for the first time since then. It’s that simple. He’s the engine of that successful unit. Tomas Kaberle was his partner on the point when the season began, but the late-blooming Swiss has since supplanted the Czech veteran. Considering how dominant Diaz was in his home league during the lock-out (32-7-22-29), we expect he’ll be a fixture, feeding the Russian General all season long.
Brian Gionta (RW) – MTL: Another beneficiary of the new life Markov has injected into the Canadiens’ offense, Gionta is the best trigger man the Habs possess now that Max Pacioretty is out for a month (appendectomy). He is fully recovered from the biceps injury that limited him to 31 games last season. Expect a return to his customary consistent goal scoring pace and 0.7 PPG average.
Keith Aucoin (C) – NYI: All this pro journeyman ever needed was an opportunity in a top 6 role in the NHL and he’s finally found the place in Long Island. The Isles are tied for fifth in GS/G and John Tavares hasn’t even exploded yet. Aucoin has averaged an impressive 1.40 PPG over the past five years in the AHL and has produced every time he’s been called up to the NHL as a fourth liner. The circumstances are right this time around for him to stick and contribute significant offense in the Show.