Know how baseball fans call early August the dog days? Well, doesn't January feel the same in hockey? It's a little more than halfway into the season, so the excitement of a new campaign has worn off, and the playoff chases won't really get going for another couple of months.
The malaise can extend into hockey pools, where many leagues have settled into a comfort zone with pretty much all the surprise stars already snapped up, and the frenzy of trade deadlines still a long way off.
If you're looking to try something new with your fantasy sports time, and are of legal drinking age, consider trying out the Crown Royal Star Selector Live Pool during this week's Hockey Night in Canada slate (Washington at Toronto, Anaheim at Montreal, Calgary at Vancouver).
The setup is pretty simple: you pick a team of players who are in action in the HNIC games, and they score points for you in a wide array of statistical categories. What makes this game different is that if your players aren't doing so well, you can drop them for new ones at different times during the night.
You also get to designate a captain, whose points count double, but with a catch: you can't take him out of your lineup.
To help you choose wisely, and have a shot at prizes, we're giving advice on how to fill out your Star Selector roster in this week's edition of Fantasy Hockey 1-on-1. As usual, we also pick which players to add and drop in your regular league.
Of course, you can still sign up for CBC's Hockey Night in Canada Fantasy Pool presented by Kia. Top prize there is a car.
1. What's your advice for choosing players in the Crown Royal Star Selector Live Pool this Saturday?
Jordan: In a pool like this one with so many different stat categories in play, you have to expand your usual thought process about who is a fantasy star and why. For example, according to my calculations, Alex Ovechkin is far and away the best player to name as your captain. But why is he valuable? Yes, he scores goals (they're worth 50 points each) and he has six goals on Saturdays this year, but his shots-on-goal total (53 x 5 points) and his number of hits (39 x 5 points) add to his value. It's also worth noting that Ovy seems to love playing against the Leafs. In 21 career games against them, he has 35 points. Another thing I noticed in compiling these stats is how valuable defencemen are because of those extra stat categories. Look no further than Montreal's James Wisniewski. His one goal and 10 assists on Saturdays this year is a pretty good output, but more impressive (and valuable) are his number of hits (19), blocks (12) and shots (31). Roman Hamrlik and Mark Giordano fit that bill too, and both players have good stats against this week's Hockey Night in Canada opponents. So my Star Selector advice (besides naming Ovechkin your captain) is this: fill out your lineup with defencemen who score, hit, block and do all the little things to fill the stat sheet.
Jesse: Couldn't have said it better myself. So I won't. But I've got my own piece of advice. Whether you like in-game pools like this or not, how about taking a page from the Star Selector book and adding more stat categories to your regular season-long pool? A lot of leagues still only use the basics, like goals, assists and penalty minutes. Why not make things more interesting and add plus-minus, penalty minutes, shots on goal and shorthanded goals? And, if you do, some more advice: in a points-based league, make penalty minute a negative, not a positive. Yeah, I harp on this point a lot, but I won't be happy until I see more leagues doing this. Too many continue to accept the default of penalty minutes as a positive. They don't help a team in real life, so why should they help in fantasy? It would almost be like counting strikeouts as a good thing in a baseball pool. One more tip: don't make power-play goals, assists or points an extra category. Playing on the power play is its own reward, because it's so much easier to score or assist on a goal in those situations. No need to add bonus points on top.
2. Who's your add of the week?
Jesse: Last week, I called Corey Crawford "the Antti Niemi of this season." In other words, a goalie who rises from obscurity by posting excellent numbers for the Chicago Blackhawks. So this week, why not highlight the original? Now with San Jose, Niemi (like the Sharks) has had his share of rough times this season, including a stretch of four losses in five games to start the calendar year. But since then, Niemi has won three in a row, allowing two goals or fewer each time. His stats remain underwhelming — 12-13-2 record, 2.71 goals-against average, .913 save percentage — but Niemi has gotten the nod over the now-injured Antero Niittymaki in eight of 10 January games for the Sharks, who may be finally turning it around.
Jordan: It's hard to argue that one of this week's hottest players is Jamie Benn. The Stars left winger is somehow owned in just 20 per cent of Yahoo! leagues despite the fact that he has 32 points on the season. In his past five games, the 21-year-old has four goals and eight points. For managers in deeper leagues, how about taking a chance on Grant Clitsome? The Blue Jackets defenceman has played just five games this season, but already has five points, including two on the power play. What's more significant is the fact that in such a short time with Columbus, the Gloucester, Ont., native is already averaging over 19 minutes of ice-time per game (sixth on the team) and 2:42 of power-play ice time per game (4th among defencemen). He's owned in just one per cent of Yahoo! pools.
3. Who's your drop of the week?
Jordan: On Thursday night, Zach Bogosian was a healthy scratch for a second-straight game. With no points in his last four games, just three points since Dec. 6 and only eight points with a minus-12 rating in 39 games on the season, despite playing on a good Atlanta team this year, the Thrashers' third overall pick in 2008 is awful. Perhaps the fact that he was selected on average 99th overall (10th round) in Yahoo! pre-season drafts explains why he's still owned in 47 per cent of leagues. Letting Bogosian go is well overdue.
Jesse: I just want to wish happy trails to Tomas Fleischmann — one of the few guys in this world capable of making me look smart. Back when he was dealt from the Capitals to the Avalanche, I advised fantasy players to keep the forward on their rosters instead of reflexively dumping him because he'd left a high-scoring team. There was a chance, I figured, that Fleischmann would see more playing time in Colorado and thus get more opportunities to put up numbers. Sure enough, his ice time shot up by almost 2½ minutes per game, and Fleischmann morphed into nearly a point-a-game player in his 22 matches with the Avs. Now, though, he's a must-drop after the team announced he'll miss the rest of the season due to blood clots in his lungs. Get well soon, Tom.