Christmas Eve and Christmas Day promise us presents, great food, time with family – but no NHL hockey (NFL football, anyone?) For fantasy owners, that means that the current week shuts down early and that results from Thursday (16 teams in action) and Friday (22 teams in action) become that more important.
To provide you with an edge over those final days, here is a list of teams that play two games on Thursday/Friday: Calgary, Florida, Los Angeles, Nashville, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg. Chicago does not play on either Thursday or Friday, so avoid any Blackhawks if you need any instant results.
Of course, the winter holiday season means that the World Juniors are nigh. If you’ve wondered if any site out there has a World Junior fantasy pool, you may want to check out Sports Butter. Ben and the good folks over there run various kinds of Facebook pools that are free to play with some wonderful cash prizes. It’s a multiple-choice style pool, where you’ll need to pick from four pairs of similarly seeded teams, then pick from several quintets of players from the various leagues where World Junior participants play. Don’t forget that you’ll need to be one of the nearly one billion members of Facebook to play.
Before I introduce my Pick Six, you can check out my recent appearance on the Weekly Slapshot Podcast, a show I helped create several years ago and used to host. Podcasting legend Chris Wassel, who has taken over hosting duties, was kind enough to have me on the show on Tuesday. On the show, you’ll find discussion on underachieving goalies, as well as some adds and drops of the week.
Olli Jokinen, C, CGY – start
Surprising to many, it’s Jokinen – not Jarome Iginla – who currently leads the Flames in scoring with 28 points in 34 games. Sure, his production has fallen drastically in recent years, but Jokinen seems to have found a home in Cowtown in his second tour of duty with the Flames. Jokinen recently had a three-game goal streak snapped and has seven points in his last four games. There could be some more presents under the tree here with the Flames playing back-to-backs.
Mason Raymond, LW, VAN – add/start
Canuck fans were just hoping that Raymond would be the same kind of player he was before his back was injured in the Stanley Cup Final – 50-point upside while mainly playing the perimeter. Not only is Raymond scoring at a near point-per-game pace, but he has proven to show less fear than he had before the injury. With an assist on Wednesday against the Wings, Raymond has seven points (3g-4a) in nine games this season.
Matt Cullen, C, MIN – add/start
The Wild’s success (until recently) this season has had me puzzled. But in watching them play on Monday, I found one reason for their recent success – the underrated, speedy Cullen. The Minnesota native is usually a given for 40 points and not much more, but he seems like a slam dunk to hit that mark again. Cullen has eight points (1g-7a) in nine games this month, so you could certainly pick worse in deeper leagues.
Matt Niskanen, D, PIT – add/start
The recent injuries to Kris Letang, Zbynek Michalek, and Paul Martin have opened the door for Niskanen, who seemed like a throw-in in the James Neal trade. Niskanen has nine points in his last eight games, including power-play points in three consecutive games. He also logged 23:33 on Tuesday, meaning that his fantasy value should continue to be high as long as Letang is out with a concussion.
Jared Cowan, D, OTT – add/start
Ottawa hasn’t been as terrible as many had assumed they would be. Erik Karlsson looks like he could one season lead NHL defensemen in scoring, Sergei Gonchar doesn’t look like he is ready to retire yet, and Cowan is emerging as a bona fide NHL defenseman. The ninth overall pick in 2009 has eight points and a +8 in his last ten games, including four points against Pittsburgh on Friday. His most impressive number? How about 28 minutes of icetime in that game.
Michael Grabner, LW, NYI – bench
If you didn’t feel like listening to the podcast linked above, Chris mentioned Grabner as one of fantasy hockey’s biggest busts so far this season. Grabner may have hit that dreaded sophomore slump, although ten goals doesn’t seem that bad to me. Consider, though, that he hasn’t added much else to fantasy teams this season (five assists and a -8). Facing Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers probably won’t help things much.