Fantasy Hockey: Each Team's Best Value Heading Into the 2011-12 Season
The first couple of rounds of a fantasy draft can go by easily. You have an idea of what you'd like to end up with, and while some of your targeted players may vaporize there is generally someone good enough sitting there right behind them to cover you.
In my honest opinion though, Champions are made in the later rounds. Guys who won their leagues last year were often the same guys that took a flier on Tim Thomas in the 10th round, or were quick to move on an emerging player like Dustin Byfuglien.
These guys weren't traditional sleepers, but their value far exceeded where they were selected.
Every team has a low-risk/high-reward kind of player. A forward you can select in the last handful of rounds that could be waiver wire fodder within a month, or could be a contributing member of your squad. After all, a lot of people play fantasy hockey to look back and say "I picked up Thomas when so-and-so selected Steve Sullivan."
That's not a slight against Sullivan. But who would you rather have?
For the purposes of this article, I will be viewing the rosters through the eyes of a fantasy player in a one-year head-to-head league that has standard scoring. Obviously, playing in a keeper or dynasty changes the entire dynamic, but I'm not covering that here.
So if you're stumped at some point of your upcoming draft, pull this slideshow up. These are players that could exceed where they are generally being taken.
Anaheim Ducks: Teemu Selanne
The gig could be up on Selanne by the time you read this as he is supposed to be close to making his choice. He's been stuck in between playing and retiring all summer (again) so he is ranked ridiculously low for his output. Selanne is an 80-point guy you can take a flier on in the later rounds.
If he hangs them up, you didn't lose out on too much. If he plays, you'll reap championship-caliber benefits.
Boston Bruins: Tuukka Rask
Remember last season when everyone was picking Tuukka Rask as a legitimate No. 1 goaltender on a favored Boston team? And then Tim Thomas destroyed all odds and ripped off one of the most statistically impressive seasons in recent memory from the net?
That story could very easily flip-flop this season.
I'm not calling for the decline of Thomas. He's on top of his game—that is clear. But still, Boston must know that his time will be up within the next few years. Look for the team to ease Rask back into some more playing time. I don't think that 35 games is out of the question here.
Don't overreach for the guy, but if he's there and you're looking for a third netminder, you would be hard-pressed to do better.
Buffalo Sabres: Tyler Myers
The 6'8'' Buffalo blueliner is primed for a breakout season.
After taking a step back points-wise last year, Myers is heading into his third season—generally the magic season as far as fantasy is concerned.
He should again approach 50 points and have improved power play totals on a much-improved Sabres team. There are bigger names that will get picked before him, but select Myers with confidence.
Calgary Flames: Alex Tanguay
Center and right wing are both loaded with talent, and those pools of players are much deeper later on than left wings are. But if you just have to select a center or right wing while there are still top-notch left wingers on the board, then targeting Tanguay might be a good idea for you.
He tends to slide down a bit farther than his counterparts with flashier names, but make no mistake about it: Tanguay is a player who can still contribute plenty. And his value is amplified by the fact that his position is shallower than the other forward spots.
Carolina Hurricanes: Tomas Kaberle
This is a no-brainer.
This time last year, Tomas Kaberle was a possible top pick for a fantasy team's blueline. One trade and a bad playoff run later and all of a sudden people think this is a guy who can't play hockey. But don't be fooled.
Kaberle will be playing big minutes again in Carolina, and will be much more comfortable in that setting. He will getting plenty of power play time, and you may be able to pick him up several lines later than you did last year.
Chicago Blackhawks: Andrew Brunette
Andrew Brunette is another left wing that you can land late. He's an outstanding source of power play points and will bring a net presence to Chicago that the 'Hawks have been missing since Big Buff left town.
Oh, and he could very well end up on one of Chicago's top two lines.
That's a substantial jump in value as Brunette would benefit quite a bit from the play of Patrick Sharp of Jonathan Toews.
Colorado Avalanche: Gabriel Landeskog
Gabriel Landeskog could be the most NHL-ready of all the players selected in the draft this summer. So why not?
The Avalanche were a middle-of-the-pack offensive team last season despite their abysmal record, and Landeskog could slot in on the team's top six. That would put him on the wing of two very talented centers. Again, don't reach over a random Avs fan who wants to pick him in the fifth round, but if he's still sitting there, he might be a viable third or fourth option.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Mark Dekanich
If you're not very confident in goaltending duo (trio.. quad.. whatever) to start the season, keep an eye on the net in Columbus. The situation could quickly provide some relief.
Incumbent Steve Mason will more than likely be on a very, very short leash for the Blue Jackets. A few bad weeks (games?) and Mark Dekanich could get a bite at the full-time. The guy has maintained an insane save percentage throughout his entire career and could be a steal off of the waiver wire or in the very late rounds.
Dallas Stars: Sheldon Souray
This isn't the Sheldon Souray of yesteryear, but this is still a defender who has a rocket of a shot and worthy of a late-round flier. I don't think anyone is putting their money on the maligned blueliner finding his A-game in the big D.
Which means there is opportunity there for an owner looking to take a small risk on a depth option that could pan out better than expected.
Detroit Red Wings: Jiri Hudler
I bet if your fantasy league has drafted already, Jiri Hudler is still sitting on the wire somewhere. And with good reason. Owners were burned pretty bad when he returned to play last season after a year overseas.
He wasn't noticeable for Detroit or for the players who drafted him.
But he worked out all summer in Montreal with MMA trainer John Champers and has gone on record admitting that he knows he was pretty bad. Hudler could be worth keeping an eye on, or even taking a chance on in your draft depending on how he looks during the preseason.
Edmonton Oilers: Theo Peckham
There is nothing wrong with picking a single category stud in the last few rounds of your draft. But perhaps my tendency to snag Theo Peckham is based on my personal drafting strategy. I don't typically go for defenders early on at all, and I usually am still looking for a fourth or fifth guy late.
Peckham can really help in the PIM category on his own from the blueline, and being able to secure that kind of value late is worth the pick to me.
Florida Panthers: Mike Santorelli
My original idea was to put Stephen Weiss in this spot, but Mike Santorelli was almost as effective as Weiss was last season and can be selected several rounds after.
He only put up 41 points for the Panthers last season, but the squad has added some interesting pieces over the summer, and that extra talent could mean a boost for Santorelli.
LA Kings: Dustin Penner
At this point, most people feel like they know what they are going to get from Dustin Penner production wise. Therefore, a lot of folks feel like they know where to draft the guy.
If could be just me, but the second line in LA is looking pretty mean. Mike Richards centering Justin Williams and Penner. This is the kind of line that could really put up some numbers, and Penner could be a serious beneficiary here.
Minnesota Wild: Mikko Koivu
I thoroughly believe that Mikko Koivu may be one of the best values in all of fantasy hockey to begin with. He's a great No. 2 pivot for your squad, and targeting him in the later rounds will allow you to pick up a more effective winger without losing points at center.
Tack on new linemate Dany Heatley and Koivu's stock should be higher than ever.
Montreal Canadians: Max Pacioretty
Max Pacioretty was cruising last season before The Incident. Word is that he's going to make a full recovery, and that means that the highly touted youngster should be pretty high up on your list of players to snatch up late in the draft.
Yahoo! rankings don't take injuries into consideration (unless you're Sidney Crosby, apparently) much so he may be forgotten about until the mid-rounds.
Nashville Predators: Sergei Kostitsyn
The Predators are masters at finding scoring where few others are looking. Case in point is Sergei Kostitsyn, who put up 50 points during his first season in Nashville after being a quiet player for the Canadians.
He could improve upon those numbers, but a huge jump isn't likely. 50 points from a second or third left wing isn't bad, though. If you are in the later rounds and still are looking for a bit of help on the left side, Kostitsyn could be a great option for you.
New Jersey Devils: Martin Brodeur
It may be just me, but I think it's a little early to close the casket on Marty Brodeur as a viable fantasy goaltender. He got blitzed last year—everyone on the Devils got blitzed last year. I don't think a single team has tanked down the rankings like these guys have.
But Brodeur may still have some good hockey left in him. I never thought I'd see the day he was available in the ninth or 10th round, but it's happened in several of my drafts. There's value there.
The Devils are a better team than they showed last season.
New York Islanders: Everyone Not Named John Tavares
I'm not quite sure what the Islanders need to do to get a little fantasy love, but this is almost ridiculous.
Michael Grabner is a 30-goal guy who is available long after those guys have dried up.
Kyle Okposo is way undervalued after an injury-riddled season.
Travis Hamonic should be drafted in leagues as a safe fourth blueliner but he is generally sitting on the waiver.
Mark Streit is also undervalued because of an injury-shortened season.
There's a lot of value on Long Island, and if you do happen to be in a keeper or dynasty league, then load up. This is going to be a good hockey team soon.
Now if only Rick DiPietro could stay healthy.
New York Rangers: Brandon Dubinsky
If I could draft just this facial expression I would. Or just the stache. Sadly, I am not aware of a fantasy league that counts wicked facial hair along with PIMs. Which is ridiculous.
Anyway, I've been yammering on about the depth at center and haven't really shown a good example of that yet. Well here's a good example. Brandon Dubinsky is a great option in the later rounds. You won't want him as your No. 1 guy, but he's a safe 2 or 3. And he is typically available in the later rounds.
Ottawa Senators: Bobby Butler
There aren't a whole lot of offensive fireworks in Ottawa these days, so a 24-year-old kid who nets 21 points in 36 games catches some eyes.
Apparently, that didn't translate to a whole lot of attention in fantasy leagues outside of keepers and such, and taking a flier on Bobby Butler could be a move you look back on as a solid one in retrospect. His +/- is bad, but the rest of his offensive stats round him out.
Philadelphia Flyers: James Van Riemsdyk
Claude Giroux may be the darling of poolies this year, but they may be overlooking a gem in James van Riemsdyk. Odds are you'll be drafting with at least one Flyers fan who will know what's up, so reach for JVR whenever you're looking for a young, explosive winger who could be on the verge of a breakout season.
He broke 20 goals last season, and it isn't a stretch to think that he'll improve on that number.
Phoenix Coyotes: Shane Doan
You should always be on the lookout for skaters who can help you out in multiple categories. Shane Doan's stat line of 20 goals, 40 assists, 6 game-winners and 221 shots looks pretty damn impressive.
Add in some PIMs (67) and points on the power play (11) and you have a very nice complementary right wing.
Considering where he has been getting drafted, Doan is an absolute steal seeing as he can be a boost in most offensive categories.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby
I was in a real live draft the other day—not a mock—and Sidney Crosby fell to the fifth round, which is where I have him pegged. I was gearing up to select him, and the gentleman in front of me snatched him up, and in the conversation box wrote, and I quote:
IN THE FIFTH ROUND?!?!?! ARE YOU GUYS ******* CRAZY?!
Well, not entirely. Crosby's production over 50 games could end up better than some of the centers you'd pick at that point. Don't take him over Joe Thornton or anything, but there's no reason not to "gamble" on Sid the Kid at that stage in your draft.
San Jose Sharks: Brent Burns
So Brent Burns racks up 46 points in Minnesota, gets dealt to the offensively super-powered San Jose Sharks to run their power play with Dan freakin' Boyle and the like and he doesn't crack the top 50? Give me a break.
Burns has all the tools needed to be a top-flight fantasy defender. Owners would love to see more shots out of him, and that could very well happen in San Jose. Still, there is no reason he should still be there in the seventh or eighth.
St. Louis Blues: T.J. Oshie
The St. Louis Blues are loaded with 50-or-60-point players. They may be lacking that one 80-or-90-point guy, but they have an abundance of mid-range skaters.
T.J. Oshie could surpass these expectations a bit if he can manage to get the mental part of the game right. He put up 34 points in only 49 games last season, which should be enough to convince you that the Washington native can do some real damage on the score sheet.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Ryan Malone
The Tampa Bay Lightning are kind of the opposite of the Blues. They have a few guys who really light up the fantasy scene, and then some role players who do a really good job rounding the squad out, and doing a lot of little things.
Ryan Malone is another left wing stopgap for you if you went center/goaltender/right wing/defender-happy and neglected to lock down an elite guy on this side. Malone isn't a top-notch player, but he is no slouch either, especially in deeper leagues.
When he is healthy, he is good for 50 points and a solid number of PIMs and shots.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Tim Connolly
I don't know how the Maple Leafs are going to manage it. But if they can keep Tim Connolly healthy for a majority of the season, then they will have a great setup man for Phil Kessel. Don't pin your trophy hopes on the oft-injured center, but he's probably worth a shot in the later rounds.
If you have the stomach for it.
Remember, just two seasons ago: 65 points in 73 games. He could easily match those numbers with Kessel sniping his passes if he can stay in the lineup.
Vancouver Canucks: Alex Edler
Alexander Edler was on a torrid pace before injuring his back last season. When he returned, he found a crowded blueline, but with Christian Ehrhoff gone, he should be able to retake some of that power play time.
A 55-point campaign (what he was on pace for last season) is not out of the question here. There is no reason to believe he can't play that kind of hockey again. Yahoo! has him ranked way lower than he should be, and Edler seems to be a player a lot of poolies have forgotten about.
Washington Capitals: John Carlson
John Carlson may not put up numbers to make Capitals fans forget Mike Green thinking he was a forward a few years ago, but they'll be close enough to ease Green's recession.
Carlson notched 37 points and was a +21 last year—his first full-time season in the pros. Select, and watch the points pile in.
Winnipeg Jets: Evander Kane
Evander Kane jumped from 26 points in his first season to 43 last year. The big difference for Kane was the number of shots he took—127 to a whopping 234. Wowza.
I once read in a fantasy hockey article to "follow the shots, and let the rest work itself out." Well, I would be very tempted to do just that with Kane. He is a player on the rise, is shooting like crazy and could be one of the stars of Winnipeg's shiny new (kinda') franchise.