Fantasy Hockey: Is there a single Leaf worth owning?
Welcome to CBCSports.ca's Fantasy Hockey 1-on-1, where every Friday our resident nerds — er, experts — Jesse Campigotto and Jordan Shifman debate three hot topics of interest for poolies.
In last week's edition we argued over how many goals Alex Ovechkin will score this season. This week we go to the other end of the spectrum to debate whether there's even one player on the awful Toronto Maple Leafs worth owning in your league. We also check in on the Habs' high-priced additions, and give you tips on how to capitalize on (or minimize the damage from) the big early-season injuries.
Looking for a league to join? Check out CBC's Hockey Night in Canada Fantasy Pool. It's fun. And you could win a car.
All stats are through Wednesday.
1. Is there a single Leaf worth owning?
Jesse: Um, no. The NHL's worst team may also be the worst collection of fantasy players. No Leaf ranks in the top 80 in the league in scoring (Alex Ponikarovsky leads the club with three goals and one assist). Tomas Kaberle is usually a decent option on defence, and he's got a respectable four assists in six games, but his minus-4 rating could be a sign of things to come on a team that's giving up a whopping 4.67 goals per game (worst in the NHL) through six contests. Toronto's goalies are untouchable right now because the Leafs' awful penalty killing (last in the league at 58.3%) puts them in the line of fire night after night. And you know Brian Burke's team will be spending plenty of time short-handed after adding bruisers like Mike Komisarek (NHL-high eight minor penalties) over the summer.
Jordan: There's only one Leaf truly worth owning and it's Kaberle. He's still an offensively gifted, puck-moving defenceman who has the potential to score 70-plus points. But one of the main reasons why he's valuable is because there's still the possibility he'll get traded to a contender. If that happens, expect an outpouring of points from the underachieving blue-liner. Until then, he'll rack up some power-play points and probably continue to have a poor plus-minus. One Leaf certainly not worth owning at this point is Vesa Toskala. As I mentioned in Week 1, Toskala is not good enough to be a starter in the league anymore (I bet you're kicking yourself for that pick, aren't ya?). Yes, someone has to put the puck in the net in Toronto, but let's be honest here, the Maple Leafs aren't getting many power play opportunities (23rd in the league), and they're not scoring that many goals overall (27th in goals per game). Some of Toronto's "best" weapons are even being benched and most of the Leafs are on the wrong side of the plus-minus scale. I'm not buying.
2. How are the Habs' big-name additions working out?
Jesse: Honestly, it's too early to say. But they've put up decent numbers through the first five games. Mike Cammalleri has five points (though no goals yet), Brian Gionta has three points (all goals, the big show-off) and Scott "The $51.5 Million Man" Gomez has three points (one goal). The good news for the Big Three's fantasy owners is that coach Jacques Martin appears hell-bent on getting the most bang for the Habs' buck, giving Gionta, Gomez and Cammalleri more ice time than any other forwards on the team. Ditto for power-play time, so at the very least these guys are getting every opportunity to show they're worth the investment.
Jordan: I have to admit that I jumped on the "Gomez and Gionta Reunion" tour bus before the season started, but so far it doesn't seem like their chemistry has been great. Gionta always has been and always will be a pure goal scorer, so I'm not worried about that. Gomez, on the other hand, does worry me. A change of scenery can only go so far. His play has been abysmal. He seems like a player going in reverse, putting up numbers like he did in his first few years as an inexperienced player in New Jersey. But does anyone else find it amusing that Montreal's quietest acquisition, defenceman Paul Mara, is tied for the team lead in points with four? That just goes to show you that Andrei Markov's smooth skating and breakout passes are sorely missed.
3. What's the most significant injury so far, and what can fantasy owners do about it?
Jordan: Well, of course there's Markov in Montreal, Johan Franzen in Detroit and now Thomas Vanek in Buffalo. I should start by saying that I actually have all three in one of my pools, plus Marian Hossa, so I feel everybody's pain. Though I did pluck Franzen off the waiver wires from an impatient fellow poolie. In a head-to-head league, he'll be invaluable when it all really matters, at the end of the season. But for now I think there's not one particular Detroit player that will benefit from his absence, but rather a contingent. Fellow right wingers Todd Bertuzzi and Dan Cleary may get a shot on the top line, while Val Filppula and rookies Ville Leino and Justin Abdelkader might get increased power-play time. If any of those players are available, they're worth a look.
Jesse: As a wise man once said, when one door closes another opens. As a fantasy owner, try to make the most of injuries by figuring out which players(s) will get increased opportunities as fill-ins. In the case of Markov's injury, that means Bergeron, signed by the Habs as a free agent to plug the leaks in the power play. Bergeron scored 14 goals — seven with the man advantage — last season with the Wild, and could turn into this year's version of Mathieu Schneider. In Detroit, Franzen's injury creates a job opportunity that most NHL forwards would kill for: the chance to skate with playmakers Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg on the top line. Right now it looks like it's Bertuzzi's job to lose, but does the big man have anything left at this late stage of his career? If coach Mike Babcock sees he doesn't, he could turn to the likes of speedy second-line winger Cleary or veteran Tomas Holmstrom, who's off to a strong start with three goals.