The NHL’s regular season is history, so let’s look back at the players who helped fantasy hockey owners make their own history.
It is time to dress like Don Cherry and slick your hair back like Barry Melrose. If you thought the awards season ended after the Oscars, you were more wrong than the pundits that predicted Chicago’s Marty Turco would be a Top-10 fantasy goalie this season.
This column is about celebrating the year’s best and worst in fantasy hockey. The 2010-11 season gave fantasy owners a lot to cheer about—11 Henrik Lundqvist shutouts, 14 players with 150-plus penalty minutes and almost 200 points from the Sedin twins.
And this season also gave fantasy owners plenty to jeer about—Sidney Crosby, Marc Savard, and David Perron’s concussions, a so-so season from Alex Ovechkin and a false start of a comeback from Peter Forsberg.
So without further adieu, here are my 2010-2011 Fantasy Hockey Award winners!
Goalie of the Year: Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins
Thomas was on the trading block during the offseason, readily available to any NHL organization willing to trade Boston a top forward. The asking price was too high for most teams as the league shifted to the belief you could stick any goalie between the pipes and reach the Stanley Cup Finals after what the Philadelphia Flyers pulled off the postseason before.
That worked out for the best for Boston, Thomas and fantasy hockey owners. All Thomas did was lead the league in goals against average and save percentage and make himself the front-runner to win more awards than Arcade Fire. He was the best goalie in fantasy hockey and arguably the best player overall to own, and he probably was not drafted very high in most leagues because he was expected to split time with Tuukka Rask.
Rookie of the Year: Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks
When fantasy poolers thought of San Jose centers coming into the season, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski were the top names on their tongues. But skating in to steal some of the Sharks’ spotlight was first-year centerman Couture, who helped out fantasy poolers throughout the season.
Couture finished in the top five among rookies in goals, points, power-play goals and plus-minus. He did not hit the same rookie wall most other freshmen get checked by. Couture scored 23 points over his last 30 games when his fantasy owners needed him most. Watch your back, Patrick Marleau!
Breakout Star of the Season: Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Giroux’s scintillating Stanley Cup playoff performance the season before was the precursor for what he turned into this season. Most fantasy experts assumed Giroux would take his game, and his fantasy worth, to the next level after scoring 47 points in 2009-10.
They were right.
Giroux was one of the top right wings in fantasy hockey, netting 25 goals and supplying 51 assists, along with being a plus-20. He started off hotter than Eva Longoria in a mini tuxedo and rarely cooled down during the course of the campaign. Considering he is only 23 and how he has greatly improved each season, Giroux could be in for 80 or 90 points next year.
Defenseman of the Year: Lubomir Visnovsky, Anaheim Ducks
This slick stickhandler has always been one of the premier offensive defensemen in hockey, so it was about as surprising as the sun rising first in the east that Visnovsky topped all backliners in scoring. He quarterbacked the Ducks' power play like John Elway running a 2-minute drill and ended up with 18 goals and 50 assists.
Visnovsky’s fantasy value had been trending downward in the seasons leading up to this one. He had not reached the 50-point plateau in 3 years and was 34 years old. This 68-point outburst was a pleasant surprise to the fantasy owners who deftly drafted him.
Thanks For Nothing: Mike Green, Washington Capitals
Green was supposed to be the Brian Leetch of this season’s defenseman crop. He was coming off a season where his 76 points and plus-39 rating made him as valuable to fantasy owners as goddesses are to Charlie Sheen. So Green was probably drafted in the first or second round in most fantasy pools. Turns out if he had been drafted in the 10th or 11th rounds, it still would have been way too high.
We can forgive Green for his injuries. He took more shots to the head this season than Josh Koscheck, and coupled with other injuries and personal strife, Green missed 33 games.
But fantasy owners cannot forgive Green for how mediocre he played while he was healthy. He had just eight goals and 16 assists in 49 contests, hardly the numbers of a top-flight offensive defenseman.
Thanks for nothing!
Most Improved Player: Dustin Byfuglien, Atlanta Thrashers
You may have assumed the bulky Byfuglien would score more often as a full-time forward than a full-time defenseman, but he hip-checked that idea right on its head.
Switching back to being a defenseman with Atlanta after his heroic turn as a bruising power forward for the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, Byfuglien elevated his game, and his fantasy worth, to a level not many predicted. He led all defensemen with 20 goals and finished fourth among players at the position with 53 points. And his 93 penalty minutes and eight power-play goals were extremely helpful as well.
Byfuglien previously used all 265 of his pounds to screen goalies and bang bodies. Now he puts every ounce of that weight into a booming slap shot Al MacInnis would be proud of. Byfuglien will be one of the top defensemen to draft next season and in the seasons to come, so let’s just hope the Thrashers keep him on the blue line instead of the front line.
Out of Nowhere Award: James Reimer, Toronto Maple Leafs
Reimer is another example of how hard fantasy hockey is to predict. Toronto’s top-two goalies at the beginning of the season were upstart Jonas Gustavsson and veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere, yet former fourth-round pick Reimer was the one starting all of the Maple Leafs games in the end and almost singlehandedly snuck them into the playoffs.
As soon as rookie Reimer was handed the reigns, his fantasy value rocketed as fast and furious as Vin Diesel. Even with a semi-awake defense allowing him to be peppered with 30-plus shots a night, he stood on his goalie mask night after night and posted a 20-10-5 record with a .921 save percentage. Looks like the Leafs have more depth in goal than they could have imagined.
Most Valuable Player: Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks
Different year, different Sedin dominating the NHL. Last season, it was Henrik, the playmaking center of the talented twins, who skated away with the Hart Trophy and was named MVP by several fantasy publications.
This season it is Daniel Sedin, the sniper of the duo, who was the top player in fantasy hockey.
Sedin was the only player to top the 100-point mark, the only Top-10 scorer to have a plus-minus of plus-30, and the only man to score 18 power-play goals. He also finished third in assists, four in goals, and played in all 82 games.
Sadly, Sedin was not perfect. He only had 32 penalty minutes and did not score a single shorthanded goal. The nerve of him. I think fantasy owners can overlook his shortcomings and still reward him with an MVP trophy. I know this one can.
Special kudos have to be given to other fantastic players who gave fantasy owners their all stats-wise, such as Anaheim’s Corey Perry (50 goals, 98 points, 104 PIM), Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos (91 points), Detroit’s ageless wonder, Nicklas Lidstrom (62 points), New York’s Zenon Konopka (307 PIM) and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne (2.12 GAA, .930 SP).
It is time to concentrate on our fantasy baseball teams, folks! That is unless you are in playoff fantasy hockey leagues, which means you still have a couple months of pucks to worry about. Hope you drafted a lot of Capitals and Canucks! See you all next year!