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, the guys saluted the NHL's golden oldies. This week, they hand out their quarter-season awards, including the most and least valuable player.
Like the picks? Hate 'em? Give us your choices in the comments section at the bottom of the story. You can also use that space to send your burning fantasy questions to the fellas, who will answer the best one each week.
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.
Jordan: There are several players that fit the bill as the top fantasy performer, including Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Nabokov. But if you're striving to win your pool this year, I hope you have either Anze Kopitar or Dany Heatley. Both players are having stellar seasons in California.
Naturally, it's tough to argue with Kopitar based on his production — the league co-leader in points (33) is also tied for second in power-play points (14). Plus, he's making linemates Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams better players as well. You're lucky you if you have more than one of them.
As for Heatley, he has simply been a scoring machine. The move to San Jose to play with Joe Thornton has certainly benefited the former Senator. Heatley is second in the league in goals, with 18, and tied for No. 1 in game winners, with four, and tops the list in power-play goals, with nine. Moving forward, it's hard to see Heatley slowing down at all, and he may even have half a dozen hat tricks by the all-star break.
As for who's the best in net, you have to give the nod to Ryan Miller. He's 12-4-2 with a 1.98 GAA and .930 save percentage. And the Sabres starter has only let in 35 goals in 18 games. Not too shabby.
Jesse: Never thought I'd say this, but Marian Gaborik is my pick for MVP. I've always liked his game — it may surprise some to hear he's averaged better than a point a game in each of the last four seasons — but, as everyone knows, Gaborik just can't stay healthy.
Not so this year. In his first season with the Rangers, the slick winger has played in all but a pair of New York's 24 games. Oh, and he leads the NHL with 19 goals and is tied for first in the Art Ross race with Kopitar and Thornton. All this for a guy who doesn't have a teammate that ranks in the top 78 in the league in goals.
Jesse: Just to clarify: when we say least valuable player, we're not necessarily talking about the worst player in the NHL. Sure, guys like Luke Schenn and Vesa Toskala are giving their owners nothing (or, worse, negative points), but what did you expect? We're focusing on players who we thought would be good but have let us down.
Players like Olli Jokinen, who seemed poised for big things after a solid stint with the Flames last spring. But despite landing a coveted spot on the top line with Jarome Iginla, Jokinen has just three goals in 23 games. There are signs of life — a recent five-game points streak — but where's the guy who averaged 37 goals between 2005-06 and 2007-08?
Jordan: Using the same philosophy of a guy underachieving while playing with a superstar, my choice is Chris Kunitz. Pittsburgh acquired him for Ryan Whitney toward the end of last season, and Kunitz pleasantly surprised by recording 18 points in 20 games. Alongside Sidney Crosby (and Bill Guerin ), Kunitz was a force for the Pens, but not so this year. Before being placed on the IR with the dreaded "lower-body injury," Kunitz had just three goals and 12 points in 19 games and will be lucky if he reaches last season's point output of 53.
Jordan: With such a long list to choose from for most improved player, how about a top three: Dustin Penner, Ryan Malone and Craig Anderson. Penner has 26 points in 25 games and is already just 11 points back of his 78-game total from last year. He's on pace for close to 90 points, which would blow away his career high of 47 points while with Anaheim in 2007-08.
Malone is having a comparable season with the Lightning. In 22 games, he has 15 goals and 23 points, including four game winners. At his current rate, he'll match his totals from last season (45 points in 70 games) by mid-season.
In Colorado, the secret to the success of the Avs has been the dominance of Anderson in net. Though he had a good record last season with the Panthers (15-7, .924 save percentage), he only started 27 games, with Tomas Vokoun ahead of him on the depth chart. This year, in 23 games as a bona fide starter, Anderson is 13-6-4 with a .918 save percentage and a 2.65 goals against. He's led a mediocre team to top spot in the competitive Northwest division.
Jesse: Wow, can you ever settle on one player? Brett Favre thinks you're indecisive. I'm going with Ilya Bryzgalov. True, calling the Coyotes goalie "improved" is a bit misleading. Did you know he's had a save percentage of at least .906 every single season he's been in the NHL? But "Bryz" has taken it up a notch this year, bringing his GAA down to 2.13 (his career mark is 2.59) and his save percentage up to .918 (career .912).
Those stellar numbers have created a cycle of improved production: the better Bryzgalov plays, the more playing time he gets; the more playing time he gets, the more games the Coyotes win; the more games the Coyotes win, the better a fantasy option Bryzgalov becomes. This season, while playing a robust 21 of Phoenix's 25 games, the Russian has piled up 12 wins — the same number as Miller and Chicago's Cristobal Huet and good for seventh-best in the NHL. Not bad for a guy who probably started the season on the waiver wire in most fantasy leagues and whose NHL team draws roughly 38 fans to its home games.