Contributed by Tim Arnold
With Team USA celebrating their big win in the World Junior Championships over Canada this past week, people south of the 49th actually took some notice to the game of hockey. For a short while, USA hockey was one of the top trending topics on Twitter, which I blame on Canadians such as myself for overflowing Twitter over the loss to USA. Five in a row wasn’t enough for Canadians?
Hopefully the US enjoys basking in the glory for the next month because to think that the Olympic team is going to provide equal excitement for US hockey fans is a huge longshot. With how stacked the competition is in this year’s tournament, Team USA could consider it a second coming of “Miracle On Ice” if they even manage to win a bronze medal. Meanwhile, it’s business as usual in Canada, where anything but a gold is simply unacceptable.
Edmonton Oilers fans had a great look at their future during the WJHC. Jordan Eberle’s big game heroics are something Oilers fans hope he can carry over to an NHL career, and soon! The Oilers have been the worst team in hockey over the past six weeks and find themselves 29th out of 30 teams right now in the standings, only five points behind the lowly Carolina Hurricanes. If the Oilers continue tanking at this pace, we could very well see a future in Edmonton that also contains Eberle’s Team Canada running mate and projected number one overall pick Taylor Hall. The Oilers still have some work to do to wrangle that pick out of the hands of the Canes, especially if Carolina puts the For Sale sign out on any of their impact players.
Would Rod Brind’Amour just retire already? He’s now a league worst (-22). Oh how the mighty have fallen.
With Rod the Bod in mind, this week I put together my top five list of players still playing in the NHL who USED to have serious fantasy impact, but now are considered liabilities to own. Let’s take a quick look…
5) Rod Brind’Amour – Was one of the best two way forwards in hockey – got old.
4) Keith Tkachuk – He should have retired after the lockout. He got fat and slow.
3) Paul Kariya – Injuries, injuries, and more injuries. Used to be a Team Canada lock.
2) Mike Modano – Yes, Mike Modano is still playing hockey.
1) Jonathan Cheechoo – Cheechoo doesn’t have the career numbers or accolades that the others have, but it’s a rare feat when you see a guy drop from 56 goals to fourth line oblivion in such a short time. Cheechoo’s numbers have steadily declined in the years since, and this year is no different. He is on pace for all of eight goals.
We’ve got a lot of the big boys in four games this week. Owners in weekly leagues out there are salivating at the chance to have players like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla, and Miikka Kiprusoff to insert into the lineup for an extended workweek. Let’s take a look at the upcoming schedule for January 11 to 17.
4 games: Calgary, Detroit, Minnesota, NY Rangers, Pittsburgh, San Jose, Washington
3 games: Anaheim, Atlanta, Boston, Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Florida, Los Angeles, Montreal, Nashville, New Jersey, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Phoenix, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Vancouver
2 games: Buffalo, Colorado, NY Islanders
Quick schedule notes: Nothing really out of the ordinary this week with all but three teams playing in at least three games. Do make note, though, of the Buffalo Sabres and their two-game schedule. Ryan Miller has been arguably the best fantasy goalie in hockey this year, but with just two games on the slate, you may be better served to start someone who will be seeing more action. If your backup situation is sketchy, keep Miller in, since he’ll win at least one of the two.
If Jimmy Howard is still available in your league, make it so that he is not. Howard is quickly gaining star status in the Motor City and has started each of the last ten games for the Wings. His value is enormous, but owners have been hesitant due to Detroit’s inconsistent play this year. The Wings are going to get healthy, and when they do, I see them putting together a pretty good run at one of the final playoff spots in the west. Howard will be backbone to any chance they have of making it, as Chris Osgood’s time appears to have passed him by. I’d expect to see Howard in at least three of the Wings’ four games this week. The potential to play in all four is there as well, as the Wings are not facing any back-to-back games.
I hate to keep beating on the same drum all the time, but this week’s pick of the Caps as my favorite to do some heavy damage is a no-brainer when you look at what lies ahead for them. On the agenda this week for Washington are games against Tampa Bay, Florida, Toronto, and Philadelphia. Alexander Ovechkin appears to have shaken off any rust he may have had following his injury and is once again scoring at a torrid pace. He’s the number one ranked player in Yahoo! Fantasy. Again.
Much like the Penguins could use some more effort out of star forward Evgeni Malkin, the same can be said for Caps sniper Alexander Semin. While both Semin and Malkin have had respectable seasons, both have underachieved in overall scoring.
Owners of Mike Knuble are hoping to see some signs of life from the veteran. Knuble has struggled since returning from injury, scoring just three times in the past 12 games. On a team that’s known for scoring goals, it’s bad news when you have your goal scorers not named Ovechkin disappear for long periods of time. With four games this week against some teams who they can really light up, Semin and Knuble need to come up big.
A setback in the return of stud goalie Semyon Varlamov has left them to rely on Michal Neuvirth and Jose Theodore, but look for Varly to return for real this week and be thrown into the mix against some teams who struggle to score goals.
Along with the Capitals, the Blackhawks are another team who will be dishing out some beatings this week. The Hawks have Columbus twice and Detroit once. Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon play for the same team, but they could both play in 70 games this year with how often they each get pulled.
It’s a risk here this week because I know it is only a matter of time before the Penguins break out of this New Year’s slump. Sidney Crosby and Co. have won just once since Christmas. On the board this week for the Pens is a four-game road trip out west. While they do have two winnable games against Minnesota and Edmonton, they run into some stiff competition come the weekend when the roll into Calgary and then Vancouver. Crosby hits Van City, a place he will become quite familiar with in the coming weeks.
No one can complain about how Sid has played. His goal totals are way up, and he is once again carrying the team on his shoulders, something he has done since he was 18. Evgeni Malkin, as I mentioned earlier, needs to step it up this week and score more. A top three pick in virtually every single draft this year, Malkin needs to start owning up.
Owners of Marc-Andre Fleury are going through their first real hit of the season with him in nets. He’s had a rough stretch since Christmas, but so goes with the rest of the team. He won’t enjoy a trip into GM Place against the high-flying Canucks. He too will be in Vancouver for the Olympics, but with Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo ahead of him, the chances of him getting in a game for Team Canada are virtually non-existent at this point.
Along with the Pens this week, I am not fond of the schedule facing the Blue Jackets at all. They face off with powerhouse Chicago twice in three games.
Good luck this week.