Fantasy Hockey: Those wily Coyotes
We're baaaaaaack. After some time off for the holidays, our resident nerds — er, experts — Jordan Shifman and Jesse Campigotto return to face off on three burning topics in CBCSports.ca's Fantasy Hockey 1-on-1.
In this week's edition, the guys analyze the red-hot Phoenix Coyotes from a fantasy perspective. Who's worth owning on the NHL's most surprising team? Is their hot start for real?
Don't forget, you can use the comments function at the bottom of the story to send your burning fantasy questions to the fellas, who will answer the best ones.
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All stats are through Wednesday.
1. What's up with the fabulous Phoenix Coyotes?
Jesse: The good people of Hamilton and, I guess, RIM do not need to hear this, but the Coyotes are on fire. Heading into Thursday's action, the NHL's most pleasantly surprising team was tied with Captain Ovechkin's Capitals for the fifth-most points in the league. They're the talk of Glendale (well, at least after everyone's done talking about the Cardinals, Suns, Diamondbacks and probably even the Mercury). The Coyotes are also the fifth-stingiest team in the league, thanks to the stellar work of the wildly underrated Ilya Bryzgalov. He ranks in the top four in each of the big three goalie stats — goals-against average, save percentage and wins — emerging as a legit fantasy superstar (hats off to those of you that plucked him off the waiver wire earlier this season, and one of those big Russian fur winter hats off if you drafted him). The big question for fantasy owners is, should you sell high? I wouldn't. "Bryz" is no fluke: his career save percentage is a sparkling .914, and he's never finished a season below .906. And I think his team may be for real too. Unlike last year, when they started 24-19-5 before fading horribly, the Coyotes have a very good goal differential at plus-14. That suggests the wins will keep coming for Phoenix and Bryzgalov.
Jordan: For the first time since perhaps the days of the good old Jets, the Winnipeg/Phoenix franchise is not completely one dimensional. Sure, they're not the likes of Tkachuk, Selanne, Zhamnov and Khabibulin, but Scottie Upshall, Radim Vrbata, Shane Doan, Martin Hanzal and Bryzgalov have been among the top fantasy point-getters over the past several weeks. Vrbata and Upshall have 12 points since the start of December, Doan has nine points in his last nine games, and Hanzal has 11 points since Dec. 10. Plus, coach Dave Tippett seems to know which buttons to push to get the desert dogs howling.
Who's your add of the week?
Jesse: Tomas Fleischmann can't possibly maintain his ridiculous 24.2 shooting percentage, which has netted him 15 goals, just four off his career high. But putting up big fantasy numbers is all about opportunity, and the 25-year-old got one this week when Caps coach Bruce Boudreau moved him to centre, a position Fleischmann hasn't played since juniors. The result? A goal and two assists against Montreal while skating between Brooks Laich and Alex Semin. Those are some pretty good linemates (especially Semin) and, as an added bonus, Fleischmann has seen an average of 2:44 of power-play time this season. Speaking of opportunity, the Czech is owned in just 38 per cent of Yahoo! leagues, so he's there for the taking.
Jordan: Fleischmann may have had a good week, but he's been having a stellar season for some time now. I picked him up in November when he was on a nine game point streak and he's continued to play well (27 points in 31 games). Having said that, if he's still available in your league, I would obviously agree that you should grab him. On my end, and I feel bad for Leafs fans as I say this (more so than usual anyway), but Alex Steen has been playing very well lately. Toronto's 2002 first-rounder has five goals and six assists in his last nine games for St. Louis, which is almost his entire output for the season (11 of his 15 points). I should note that Steen's linemates, David Backes and Andy McDonald, have also been performing exceptionally well.
Who's your drop of the week?
Jordan: If it's not Martin Biron with Rick DiPietro on his way back to the Island, I'm leaning towards Jose Theodore. No one was surprised when Semyon Varlamov began this season much hotter than Theodore (12-1-2) before getting injured in December. But with Varlamov on the IR, Theodore is taking a back seat to another youngster. Since Varlamov's last start on Dec. 7, Theodore is 2-3 in five starts while newcomer Michal Neuvirth is 4-3 in seven starts. When Varlamov scheduled to return in two weeks, it's certainly plausible that Theodore has worn out his welcome on yet another NHL team.
Jesse: Don't drop Phil Kessel outright, but see if you can deal him to a starry-eyed Toronto fan (there's at least one in every league). After setting hearts aflutter all over Leaf Nation with 13 goals in his first 22 games back from shoulder surgery, the mercurial Madisonite has exactly one point (a goal) in his last 10, landing him in coach Ron Wilson's doghouse, Especially if you're in a keeper league, I'll bet you can get the guy who wore a Gilmour jersey to your draft to send you someone useful (and more reliable) in exchange for Phil the Thrill.