Now that we’re in the holiday season, I now have some precious free time to do what I enjoy the most: talk some fantasy hockey. The 2008 year was full of newsworthy events in the hockey world. Evgeni Malkin staked his claim as the best hockey player in the world with a tremendous 2008, ascending to the top of Dobber’s Keeper-League Player Rankings. Simon Gagne returned from a severe concussion to spark a potent Flyers attack. Sensational sophomore Pat Kane is leading the rebuild in the Windy City, and the Hawks are currently a playoff club in the always-tough Western Conference. Here are my 10 biggest surprises (good and bad), my Unleashed Players of the Year, and of course some Mats Sundin talk!
My 10 Biggest Surprises of 2008
10. We will start the list off with the return of Simon Gagne. Gagne missed most of last season with a severe concussion, and there were doubts about him ever returning to play in the NHL. He has been on fire since returning at the end of 2008. He currently is on pace for 99 points and over 40 goals, helping to lead a very potent offense in Philadelphia. The concussion issues will always hang over Gagne, and must be kept in mind in the fantasy world, but it sure is nice to see him back and ripping it up.
9. Checking in at number nine is the Ottawa Senators’ freefall from elite status to bottom-feeder. Ottawa finished off an inconsistent 2007-2008 with a playoff berth, but were quickly dispatched by the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in four games. The Senators have been awful to start the 2008-2009 campaign, with the solid play of Alex Auld being the lone bright spot. Jason Spezza has become the scapegoat of the media as well as coach Craig Hartsburg, who looks to be in way over his head. It doesn’t help that the Senators secondary scoring has all but vanished, with Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette both slumping.
8. The emergence of David Krejci has probably taken even the most optimistic of Bruins fans by surprise, and he checks in at number eight. Krejci filled in last season for the injured Patrice Bergeron on the second line and earned rave reviews for his smart, steady play at both ends of the ice. He never really took off offensively until later in 2008, and Krejci currently has 33 points through 32 games (as of December 21st). The Bruins are the class of the East right now thanks to great team depth, and Krejci is a big part of that. His offensive potential is sky high, so if you have a Bruins fan you know who keeps talking about Krejci, it may be time to start listening. With Patrice Bergeron’s latest injury (presumed to be a concussion), it looks like Krejci will see even more responsibility.
7. Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur each going down with long-term injuries has added a twist to the Vezina race this season. If these injuries occurred in 2010, Team Canada would be in a world of hurt as they are far and away the two best goalies from Canada (and the world, for that matter). Brodeur isn’t expected back until early March, while Luongo remains week-to-week, but it probably will end up being a month-to-month injury. It seems that star goalies have been having a rough go of it this season, even workhorses like these two. Luongo has played in 73 or more games each of the past four seasons, while Brodeur has played in 70 or more since 1996 (with one 67 game season in the