Fantasy Hockey: The Crosby problem

It's the million-dollar question for fantasy hockey players: where do you draft Sidney Crosby? The Fantasy Hockey Faceoff guys answer that question in the first instalment of their 2011-12 draft preview, and also pinpoint players who are poised to break or drop off.

It's the million-dollar question for fantasy hockey players: where do you draft Sidney Crosby?

The answer could make or break your season, so that's where the Fantasy Hockey Faceoff guys begin their 2011-12 draft preview. They also pinpoint players who are poised to rebound and a few who may drop off.

The draft preview continues next week with more strategy talk, including advice on where to pick goalies and defencemen, and how to deploy your bench spots.

Here are answers to this week's three burning questions:

1. Where should Sidney Crosby be drafted?

Jesse: Right now Crosby is going, on average, 25th overall in Yahoo! drafts. That's the start of the third round in your average 12-team league, which strikes me as a little high but not insane given the players left on the board. Crosby's 1.61-points-per-game clip last season was 0.34 of a point better than anyone else's in the league. That was the same size gap as the one separating the No. 2 and No. 22 scorers. So the upside is huge. What's your opportunity cost? Maybe not as high as you think. The players being drafted closest to Crosby as I write this (the average draft rankings change constantly) are Mike Green and Tim Thomas. Green had concussion problems of his own and only 24 points last season. Thomas has to regress from his dream season, is 37, and has an excellent backup in Tuukka Rask that could steal playing time.

Jordan: Last season, I selected Crosby second overall in my head-to-head league. There was nothing better than watching him put up over a point per game for the first few months. But when it really mattered, I was forced to watch my top pick sit on injured reserve. It was Eric Staal — my third overall pick — that stepped up when the playoffs rolled around. Staal ended up leading my team in points (76), while Crosby (66 points in 41 games) fell to third. Considering we’re talking about the always-unpredictable post-concussion syndrome, it’s simply not worth the risk to take Crosby in the first two rounds. No one can say with any certainty how much of the season Crosby will miss or if the symptoms will recur.

2. Which player's performance will rebound this season?

Jordan: The no-brainer pick is Zach Parise. He played just 13 games last season before going in for knee surgery, but averaged 88 points over his past two seasons. Jaromir Jagr is a candidate, too. It’s been three years since he played in the NHL, but in the KHL he still averaged nearly a point per game. For my money, though, the best rebound campaigns will be found in Washington. Both Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Semin have a lot to prove after mediocre 2010-11 seasons.  Backstrom averaged nearly 90 points per season to start his career before regressing to a career-low 65 points. From 2008-10, Semin averaged 37 goals and 82 points, but tallied just 28 goals and 54 points last season. These guys will probably drop out of the first round of fantasy drafts, but let’s not forget who they often play alongside.

Jesse: I was tempted to pick Evgeni Malkin before remembering that he burned me last year, then recalling that the rule of thumb in football is two years for a full recovery from the kind of knee surgery Malkin had last winter to repair a torn ACL and MCL. So I'll go with Ryan Miller. My pick to decline last season did just that, dropping from 41 wins to 34 as his GAA and save percentage got significantly worse. But while last year's Sabres fit the profile of a "year after" team that would almost certainly decline, this year's squad looks like a co-favourite for the Northeast title after shoring up its roster through free agency and trades, and the return of top centre Derek Roy from injury. Miller's backup, Jhonas Enroth, looked decent last year, but he's largely unproven and thus not likely to cut into Miller's playing time.

3. Who will drop off?

Jesse: Corey Perry is an excellent player, but I wouldn't count on him to score 50 goals again (as many Yahoo! drafters seem to be doing, because he's the fourth most popular pick). Hockey statheads preach that shooting percentages are fluid, and Perry benefitted from a big spike last season, converting 17.2 per cent of his shots on net. Compare that to his 12.6 per cent career mark, and you see how a guy can score 50 goals on roughly the same number of shots that netted him 32 a couple years before. I expect a return to something more like that 2008-09 season of 78 games played, 32 goals and 72 points, with maybe a slight increase given that Perry is entering his age 26 season.

Jordan: Last season was Teemu Selanne’s best in four years. The Finnish Flash scored 31 goals and 80 points in 73 games, with 34 points coming on the power play. His significant spike in numbers last year can be attributed to two major factors. First, many of his Anaheim teammates had superb campaigns, including the aforementioned Hart Trophy winner Perry. Second, Selanne was healthy. In 2006-07, when he tallied 94 points, he played in all 82 games. But over the next three seasons until 2010-11, he played in an average of just 48 games. At age 41, it will be tough for Selanne to stay healthy and put up the same type of stats, especially if Perry’s numbers decline.