Fantasy Hockey: Who are the best left wings?

Like Don Cherry at a mayoral inauguration, we're taking on left wingers in this week's Fantasy Hockey 1-on-1, naming the greatest at that position in the post-lockout era.
Alex Ovechkin led all forwards in goals and points over the first five seasons after the lockout. ((Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images))

Like Don Cherry at a mayoral inauguration, we're taking on left wingers in this week's Fantasy Hockey 1-on-1.

Inspired by Hockey Night in Canada: The Best of the Best, a new book by Scott Morrison, we decided a few weeks ago to debate the greatest NHL players from a fantasy perspective.

To keep things more relevant for poolies, we're discussing only players who are still active, and we've narrowed our statistical focus to the five completed seasons following the 2004-05 lockout.

After starting with the best goalies, we moved to the top defencemen, then the centres (guess who won that one). This week, it's the greatest left wings.

As usual this week, we also give our advice on which players to add and drop in your league.

Don't have a league yet? Check out CBC's Hockey Night in Canada Fantasy Pool presented by Kia. You could win an automobile.

Like what you're reading? Follow Jordan and Jesse on Twitter.

All stats are through Thursday.

1. Who's the best active fantasy left winger since the lockout?

Top active left wings since 2004-05 lockout*

 Player GP G A PPPP 
 Parise 407 (3) 160 (14) 175 (35) 335 (23) 112 (37)
 Ovechkin 396 (15) 269 (1) 260 (8) 529 (1) 208 (2)
 Marleau 395 (16) 167 (11) 199 (28) 366 (19) 150 (T12)
 Kovalchuk 394 (17) 230 (2) 207 (T22) 437 (6) 181 (4)
 D. Sedin 390 (T18) 147 (19) 249 (11) 396 (14) 143 (22)
 Vanek 389 (20) 172 (9)  141 (49) 313 (32) 114 (36)
 Cammalleri 370 (32) 144 (22) 170 (39) 314 (31) 139 (25)
 Zetterberg 366 (36) 366 (36) 219 (19) 388 (16) 147 (19)

*Stats include all forwards; sorted by games played; ranks in brackets

Stats compiled by J. Shifman & Katelyn Peer

Jordan: There can be no argument that Alex Ovechkin is far and away No. 1. Among all forwards (wingers and centres) in the first five seasons after the lockout, he was first in goals, points and game-winning goals, and second in power-play points (see chart). But I feel that I have to give some kudos here to Henrik Zetterberg. Sometimes overlooked as an elite player, the big Swede ranked third in game-winners, tied for 10th in goals, 16th in points, 19th in assists and 35th in games played. Honourable mention goes to Thomas Vanek, who was 20th in games played, but found himself ninth in goals and tied for 10th in game-winners. Not bad for a Sabre, eh Jesse?

Jesse:  Keep antagonizing me, see what happens! Anyways, yeah, Ovechkin is clearly the best post-lockout left wing. But let's give some credit to another Russian, and a guy who's been taking his share of heat lately — Ilya Kovalchuk. Sure, he's not worth $102 million, and he's only got five goals this season, but until recently there weren't many guys more reliable than Kovalchuk. In the five seasons after the lockout, he twice scored 52 goals and had at least 41 in the three others, finishing second to Ovechkin in total goals over that span. Plus, he put up the sixth-most points and, despite his reputation as a bit of a softy, never missed more than half a dozen games in any season. I'm just glad your list didn't rank forwards by plus-minus, because Kovalchuk posted a cumulative minus-22 rating despite going plus-10 over the last two years. This season, of course, he's back to his old tricks, going minus-17 (tied for second-worst in the league) in his first full campaign with the Devils.

2. Who's your add of the week?

Jesse: First, I should note that Jordan has taken his talents to the beaches of the Dominican Republic, so I'll be flying solo in the add and drop sections for the next couple weeks. If you're still reading, you may still be able to pick up Logan Couture. But only if you act quickly, because his per cent-owned rate is sure to climb (it jumped from 39 per cent to 45 overnight) as the red-hot Sharks centre leads all rookies with 14 goals and 21 points. More stuff to like about Couture: he's really only a rookie by the NHL's absurdly loose standards, having played in 25 games last season — the exact limit for retaining rookie status. And there's still an upside here because he's not dependant on power-play time to put up numbers: just three of Couture's goals have come with the man advantage, even though he's seeing a reasonably healthy 2:48 of power-play time per game.

Couture's success seems to be a product of his shooting the puck more: his shots-per-game average has doubled from his rookie year, up to 3.4, explaining why he's already more than doubled his goal output in roughly the same number of games without a huge spike in shooting percentage (14.6 per cent, up 2.7 per cent from last year). Oh, and if you're wondering, the Jonathan Cheechoo phenomenon isn't at play here: only one of Couture's 14 goals has been assisted by playmaker extraordinaire Joe Thornton, who plays the same position on a different line.

3. Who's your drop of the week?

Jesse: I like to preach patience in fantasy hockey, but sometimes it can backfire. With most leagues affording limited bench space (say, two or three spots), and some putting a cap on the number of moves you can make, keeping an underachieving guy on your roster when he's not hurt (and thus can't be stashed in the "extra" IR position) can be a real drain on your team's production. What's the harm in holding a guy on your bench, where he can't hurt your team? I'm glad you asked. It's something that economists (i.e. people smarter than I am) call opportunity cost. For example: if the reason you haven't picked up, say, Logan Couture is that you want to hold onto Tuukka Rask  because you think he'll eventually reclaim Boston's No. 1 goalie job, then Rask has cost you the opportunity to add a much more productive player.

Rask, who's still owned in more than 70 per cent of leagues, has started only eight of Boston's 27 games this season because of Tim Thomas's red-hot play. Some expected the streaky Thomas to fall back to earth, but here we are, almost a third of the way into the season, and he still leads the league in goals-against average (1.49), save percentage (.955) — both by a comfortable margin — and shutouts (five). So how is Rask, whose numbers have tailed off from his brilliant rookie year, supposed to get his job back? It's time to let him go in favour of a player who can help you now.