Drew Doughty - USA Today Sports ImagesWhy not to pay pre-season hockey much attention, a review of the DobberHockey Experts League draft and more…

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With pre-season action now underway I feel like I should provide a public service announcement: avoid the pre-season like the plague. For one, you can’t trust the numbers. There have been too many pre-season scoring leaders who didn’t amount to anything come regular season. The competition is too weak and the sample is too small to draw any conclusions.

Even watching the games can be a bit fruitless. If a young guy looks good, is that because of the level of competition being faced? Might he be receiving minutes he won’t see when the season begins? And if a young guy looks bad, well then he’s probably just getting sent down so that doesn’t tell you all that much either.

My strategy is to simply ignore the pre-season entirely. There’s nothing that can happen that will change my projection aside from injuries. And I don’t need to look at game outcomes for that information. Maybe I’m missing out on some subtle details but for the most part I’m just avoiding noise.

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One thing I will put stock in is reports from head coaches on line combinations, especially when they seemingly paint themselves into a corner. For instance, check out new Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill on Justin Abdelkader:

"Last year, to me, was what Justin is becoming," coach Jeff Blashill said Sunday after Day 3 of training camp at Centre Ice Arena. "I think it is a normality for what Justin will be. He has got a good skill set, he adds a dimension to a line, he has continued to grow in his physicality, his net-front presence is something that he has really grown with. But Justin has the ability to score goals. He was an elite offensive player throughout his college career. I actually coached him as a 16-year-old. I think this is what Justin Abdelkader is going to be."

Included in the report is an indication that Abdelkader will once again skate alongside Henrik Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist, who were his most common linemates during last season’s breakout. I still have some skepticism about Abdelkader’s fantasy production and had this to say about him in the Fantasy Guide:

Handed a spot on the top line and top power play unit, Abdelkader emerged as a solid depth option in rotisserie leagues as he put up career highs in goals (23) and points (44). The question is whether or not that continues under new Wings head coach Jeff Blashill. Unlike many current Wings, Abdelkader didn’t go through the minor leagues while Blashill was in charge and thus there will not be the same familiarity. Should Blashill choose to trust players he’s gone to battle with before then Abdelkader’s plump opportunities could vanish. Abdelkader also rode an unlikely spike in shooting percentage to 14.9%, nearly double his career 8.3% to prop up his stats. Some of this can be explained away by his role as net-front presence on the power play but some regression is expected all the same. Abdelkader is on a tight leash for fantasy relevance as it is. Any slip and he becomes waiver fodder.

Aside from some due regression for Abdelkader in terms of shooting percentage it would seem that Blashill has put to rest any other doubts I may have had. I wish I’d read this report before Sunday’s Dobber Experts League draft. There was a point late in the draft when Abdelkader was just sitting there and I steered clear. Maybe I missed out on a bargain.

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While we’re on the subject, I’ll discuss some thoughts from the Experts League draft.

Last year, my strategy was to load up on defensemen and goalies and was able to do so with Carey Price, Braden Holtby and Jonas Hiller. Price was a top selection but Holtby was undervalued and Hiller was almost entirely off the radar. My goalie strategy this year wasn’t far off snagging:

Ben Bishop, Jimmy Howard, Cam Ward and Michael Hutchinson

We score Wins, Goals-Against Average and Shutouts as our three goalie categories. With two counting stats to one ratio stat there’s inherent value in the sort of “spray and pray” approach. I was able to hit on most of my targets in goal. The only miss I had was Sergei Bobrovsky who was supposed to be my Holtby for this season but Bobrovsky went in Round Three after I had taken Ryan Johansen so I really had no hope of getting him unless I treated him with appropriate value instead of steal value.

I wanted Bobrovsky in like the fifth or sixth round even though I have him pegged as a top-five goalie talent. Sometimes you can get too greedy though I don’t think I could justify spending two of my top three selections on goalies. That would result in falling too far behind in the six skater categories.

I’ll have to hope that Howard can stop soiling the sheets and make good on his potential behind what should be another solid Red Wings team. If he can give me a top-15 goalie he’ll be worth it. Meanwhile, in Ward I’m looking for the value I got out of Hiller last year as the starter for a team most everyone has written off.

It seems most likely that to really have strong goaltending I’ll need to find the random goalie that pops up out of nowhere. I hear Anders Lindback will be backing up in Arizona this season. Maybe he’s in my future…

As for loading up on defense, well I certainly accomplished that. We roster six defensemen so there is serious value to be had at that position and there is none better than Erik Karlsson who I took with my top pick last year and repeated that excellent choice once again this year. The big difference, last year I picked sixth, this year I picked third so it may have been a reach to grab Karlsson.

I use Fantasy Hockey Geek for my draft prep and Karlsson was their second highest ranked player in this setup (scoring Goals, Assists, Plus/Minus, PPP, SOG and Hits) using the Dobber projections. With Alexander Ovechkin off the board there was a larger gap between Karlsson and anyone at his position than there was for any other top player at his own position. In other words, Karlsson was the best “value” at that spot. Frankly, I wish I was picking a little bit later in the order. Probably more value to be had picking elsewhere but I don’t regret taking Karlsson.

Joining Karlsson I also grabbed Drew Doughty, Mike Green, Erik Johnson, Alec Martinez, Derrick Pouliot and Justin Schultz. This isn’t as bulletproof as the group I had last year with Shea Weber, Brent Burns, Torey Krug, Travis Hamonic and Anton Stralman along with Karlsson but it’s worth mentioning that the Experts League was an 11-team league last season but expanded to 13 teams this time around. The deeper pool means thinner rosters and yet I still stacked my defense pretty darn well.

My only regret is missing out on Matt Dumba who has massive potential in this pool. I was only willing to take a shot on him as a late pick because he could totally bust but I feel I missed out all the same.

Up front, my strategy was to go for undervalued veterans and take shots on youngsters ready to explode. To wit, my veterans include Zach Parise, Chris Kunitz, Tomas Plekanec, Jeff Carter and Tommy Wingels. While some of my youngsters include Jack Eichel, Ryan Strome, Brayden Schenn, Valeri Nichushkin, Nikolai Ehlers and Tom Wilson.

On those youngsters:

Eichel – I grabbed in the eighth round, just outside the top 100. I bypassed some really solid veterans to do so including: Eric Staal, Joe Thornton, Brandon Dubinsky, Brian Little, Sean Monahan and Kyle Turris to name a few centermen. Some of these guys I could have gotten a round or two later so I didn’t technically cost myself a chance to take them but I don’t overload on pure centermen early in a draft like this so it was always unlikely I’d take two of them.

I’m treating Eichel like he’ll repeat John Tavares’ rookie performance fairly accurately but with more shots. I’m kind of kicking myself that I didn’t take Monahan instead. I think he offers similar upside but in a more proven package. This is what adhering too closely to a list can do. Still, I got Eichel right in around where he can provide value so I’m not too choked about taking this big of a swing.

Demetrios Fragopoulos took Connor McDavid with the first pick of the second round (14th overall). That was a MUCH larger swing and one I would not have been willing to take.

Strome – I’m huge on Strome this year. He won’t be a top line guy but he should be a fixture on the top power play unit. More importantly, we may see the Islanders veering closer to the Lightning model where the second line is as productive as the top unit. He’s listed as a centerman only on Yahoo! right now but he’ll gain RW eligibility soon, which is when he’ll really pay dividends for me.

Also listed as only a centerman on Yahoo! is Anders Lee. I had him pegged as a sleeper (as I did last year) but no one was sleeping this time around. Lee went in the 12th round just a few picks before I snagged Strome. He offers less scoring potential but is a huge shooter and hitter so his floor is a lot higher than Strome’s, especially when he inevitably gets LW eligibility. Solid grab by our forum invitee (Temek) who won one of last year’s Dobber Pro Leagues.

Schenn – I actually don’t have much faith in an improvement for Schenn. Rather, I have him for similar numbers as last season. But here’s the thing: he basically does everything that Lee does except he already has LW eligibility and has access to top unit PP time. Oh and despite having 174 more games under his belt, Schenn is actually younger than Lee. I’m not besmirching the Lee pick. I’m just saying I got basically the same guy but 11 picks later. Rick Roos, if you are reading this, how about a Lee vs. Schenn Cage Match?

Nichushkin – I won’t lie, I was hoping for Nino Niederreiter in this spot at the tail end of the 18th round but Niederreiter went like 15 picks earlier. Just too big a gap between picks for me at some spots. Settling for Nichushkin means a much lower ceiling as he could totally flop. On the other hand, he could skate on the top line and go absolutely nuts on the high-scoring Stars. Worth a gamble, similar to how I took Johnny Gaudreau late in the draft last season.

I used a similar idea for selecting Ehlers and Wilson. In particular I like that Wilson will put up hits and has a shot at more top line minutes alongside Ovechkin. But really, with such a deep league you should take huge swings in the late rounds because a lot of the guys you’d otherwise take will be highly replaceable on the waiver wire. I won’t lose too much sleep over missing out on David Desharnais or Kris Versteeg or some other utterly forgettable player, not when it’s the 60-point guy you pluck out of nowhere that helps to push you to the win.

Some other rapid fire thoughts:

1. The order of goalies drafted in the league:

Price

Pekka Rinne

Holtby

Tuukka Rask

Jonathan Quick

Henrik Lundqvist

Marc-Andre Fleury

Bishop

Devan Dubnyk

Bobrovsky

Jaroslav Halak

Cory Schneider

Corey Crawford

Roberto Luongo

Frederik Andersen

Steve Mason

Semyon Varlamov

Craig Anderson

Ryan Miller

All the above went in the first six rounds or the top 78 picks. That eliminates much of the potential for value one might have hoped to gain in taking those goalies. I’d argue that everyone after this is where value was really found.

Jonas Hiller

Jake Allen

Cam Talbot

Brian Elliott

Ondrej Pavelec

Howard

Mike Smith

Martin Jones

Kari Lehtonen

Petr Mrazek

Antti Niemi

Jonathan Bernier

Andrew Hammond

Robin Lehner

Karri Ramo

Alex Stalock

Etc.

In particular, one of the guys who grabbed one of the Dallas tandem is going to come out smelling of roses because if the Stars are going to be a good team it’s not going to be from going back and forth between goalies all season. One of those starters will grab the reins and win 30 games in like 55 starts or they’ll both be total busts. Worthy gamble if you ask me.

There’s also some value in Lehner if the Sabres don’t totally stink but I’m not prepared to completely trust Lehner. I actually have Chad Johnson for more wins than Lehner this season. Add him to my list of “out-of-nowhere goalies”.

2. Check out this run of defensemen in rounds five and six:

Doughty

Victor Hedman

Keith Yandle

Roman Josi

John Carlson

Alex Pietrangelo

Duncan Keith

Dougie Hamilton

These guys didn’t all go one pick after another but they were all taken in a stretch between where I picked Doughty at #55 and my next pick at #76. It shows pretty equivalent value in terms of draft capital but I’m not so sure they are all offering the same value in terms of production. Considering I started the run, you know where my preference lies.

I really like Hedman and Carlson off that list and was hoping one would last until my next selection. I have them both scoring over 50 points this season, including Hedman at 56 points and in my top-five for defense scoring.

Why take Doughty ahead of those two when I don’t have him for 50 points? He does so much in terms of Hits and SOG. Maybe that takes a dive now that the Kings are supposedly going to cut down on his minutes but I don’t really see that cut taking when the Kings are still thin on the back end.

The rest of the guys on that list I have a tier or two down. Yandle is sexy in New York but he really didn’t click last year. Even his SOG took a dive with the Rangers and he doesn’t hit a lick so there’s risk here.

Pietrangelo appears to be settling into a little more of a passive defensive role for St. Louis.

Keith isn’t going to have a huge season unless Marko Dano and Artem Anisimov are way bigger hits than I presume.

Josi is a strong regression candidate after a breakout campaign.

Lastly, I don’t get the Hamilton love at all. He’s buried on team loaded with quality defensemen. He’s getting minutes ahead of entrenched guys like Mark Giordano and Dennis Wideman? I’ll give Hamilton this, takeout the negative plus/minus and his statistical profile reads like a mini-Doughty. But that was while skating 21+ minutes a night as the #1 guy in Boston. He might only skate 19 per night in Calgary the way things are stacking up there. Of course, he also just 22 years old…

I may rue taking Doughty ahead of Hedman or Carlson but it will be interesting to see how this run shakes out for all involved.

3. There was also a run of goaltenders happening while this run of defensemen was taking place. I won’t run the names back again but suffice to say when I did finally see my pick come up at #76 my list had run dry. What I was left with was a smattering of second tier stars to sort through and feeling like I kind of had to choose my favourite of the bunch instead of waiting and trying to find value. I hate that feeling. I hated it so much that this was the one pick of the night where I let the ticker run down to the final five seconds. I really didn’t have a plan. I could have taken anyone from James Neal, Ondrej Palat, Jeff Carter, Patrick Marleau, Evander Kane, Alexander Steen, Patric Hornqvist, David Perron, Kyle Okposo, Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, etc.

I settled on Carter and got Kane a few picks later but having to make that choice of Carter was frustrating. I prefer to have the choice be clear rather than having to select the prettiest flower out of the bouquet. I mean, what the hell do I know about flowers right?

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You can find more on the Experts League Draft including the full results and commentary here.

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Onto some news, John Gibson signed a three-year extension with the Ducks. He’ll be in the minors again this season with Andersen and Khudobin in tow but this deal locks him in as an NHLer next season. And can’t you envision the Ducks simply allowing Andersen to walk this summer and rolling right into Gibson as the starter at a cheap number next year?

The only thing that gives me pause is Andersen’s restricted free agency status. If he was unrestricted, he’d be gone. But since he’s restricted the Ducks can probably fandangle some sort of bridge deal at a bargain price. Something like two years at $4.5 million per. That would keep their relative goaltending costs low. Not as low as they’ve been the last couple of seasons but still below the league average in a league where three-quarters of the teams are paying their starter $6 million a year or more.

Where they could get really sneaky is if they sign Andersen to a backloaded two-year bridge deal and trade him before year two but once they’ve grown more comfortable with their future in Gibson.

Another off-the-wall possibility is if they lock up Andersen long term and use the length of team control on Gibson as tremendous bargaining power in some kind of trade. That feels like the least likely scenario but plausible all the same.

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 Seth Griffith went down with an MCL sprain that will cost him three to four weeks and a shot at making the Bruins out of the gate. He was a long shot to make the club anyhow but now this sets him back in his attempt to be the first injury call-up.

This does create a little more room for Alexander Khokhlachev to make the Bruins though I still have him on the outside looking in. Khokhlachev is growing frustrated having to wait to make the team so don’t be shocked if he bails out in the near future if he can’t make the Bruins soon.

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That’s all for now. Thanks for reading. You can follow me @SteveLaidlaw.