With no games going on and hockey sites generally dead zones at this time of year, why not take a moment to reflect on the year that was?
Both long- and short-term events and items were considered. Also under consideration was not just the actual impact, but the expected impact. Perhaps something happened that set the fantasy hockey world buzzing…but then the players involved did very little differently than they had in the past. Or perhaps it was a minor, forgotten signing but then the player involved suddenly became fantasy relevant. In a couple of cases, an impact player made it onto these rankings… as well as the team that sent ripples through the fantasy world thanks in large part to that player!
Who (or what) did I miss? Feel free to comment below. Enjoy the rest of your holiday – and be safe!
10. Connor McDavid – Still Awesome
Heading into 2016 Connor McDavid had 12 points in 13 career NHL games and was on the shelf with a broken collarbone. Is he elite? Is he the best? Is he injury prone? We thought he was going to be great…but certain enough to bet the house on? Probably not. Well, McDavid returned in February and the verdict is in: McDavid is indeed awesome. He has 76 in 67 games since returning from that injury. And what’s more, he beat the November curse. For three consecutive Novembers, McDavid suffered an injury. That’s over now!
9. Subban traded for Weber
This one was widely panned as the Habs getting their asses kicked. It was also looked at as something that would hurt the production of both players a little. Shea Weber would suffer from being on a weaker team, while PK Subban would suffer from playing in a tighter system and more competition for PP time. It turns out – we were right. Although, Weber has been better than expected (other than that massive 10-game slump he recently ended). Both players look to finish with around 50 points.
8. Rebound Projects Work Wonders
Eric Staal was coming off declining years with Carolina and a horrible half-season with the Rangers before signing with the Wild at a cheap rate. Sam Gagner was all but given up for dead, having pass through waivers a couple of times and spending a stint in the minors. Justin Schultz was ridden out of Edmonton and then after bouncing back a little with Pittsburgh…he couldn’t land himself a decent contract and had to settle for $1.4 million on a one-year deal. Peter Budaj has been buried in the minors for the better part of a year. All four players have completely resurrected their careers and set themselves up for nice contracts – which means they have a fantasy hockey future:
– Staal is on pace for 65 points, which would be his most since 2012. It’s also about 20 points higher than most projections. Kudos to Bruce Boudreau for getting the most out of the former star.
– Gagner’s back was against the wall. This would be his last NHL contract and if he can’t get things going, then his contract was so small that he could easily be sent to the minors and that would be it. But John Tortorella has gotten the most out of him, using him mostly on the power play. The result has been 26 points in 31 games (25 in his last 26). He’s the real deal – and he could carve out a career not unlike Mike Ribeiro’s last four years: very, very careful and safe minutes and usage.
– Schultz has 16 points in his last 13 games. And thanks to Kris Letang being out, that should continue. It’s enough to earn himself a multi-year deal with another team in the summer and with a big contract in his back pocket he will get the ice time and opportunity he needs to put up fantasy-worthy points.
– Budaj has saved the LA Kings and in doing so he’s saved his NHL career. At 34, you don’t get many chances as a goalie to show that you belong back up there. But Budaj got that chance and he’s 15-8-3 with four shutouts and a 0.919 SV%. He’s earned the Kings’ backup job for the next two years with this.
Well, it’s official. Stamkos is a Band-Aid Boy. After playing every single game (other than rookie healthy scratches) in his first five seasons, he missed 45 games in 2013-14 (broken tibia). He missed five games plus playoffs in 2015-16 (blood clots) and now it looks as though he’ll miss about 30 games this year (knee). That’s three out of four years. And it’s unfortunate because he was just rekindling some of that magic with Martin St. Louis but with Nikita Kucherov. It looked great enough to get him back up to 90 points. Tough for a player just entering his prime who was once touted by some as being part of a ‘Big 4’ elite fantasy group of players.
6. Jonathan Quick’s Lower-Body Injury
And just like that, thousands of fantasy owners pretty much kissed their season goodbye. Game 1, Day 1. You can’t just ‘replace’ a star No.1 goaltender and likely first or second round draft pick via the waiver wire. Nope, season pretty much over. Game 1. Day 1.
5. Alexander Radulov Arrives
The Radulov signing was looked upon by most as a risk with a lot of upside. The last time we saw him, he was out past curfew during a brief stint with Nashville and was scratched from a playoff game as punishment. But what were fantasy owners worried about? When that happened he was 26, single and had no kids. I don’t know about you, but when I was 26 and single with no kids I did some irresponsible things too. And when I was 34, married with a child that stuff was a distant memory. Radulov is 30 and has a wife and child. It’s safe to say that his attitude has changed! And so far, he’s looking like the real deal. In fact, I think there’s more to come. Look for an even better second half.
4. Bruce Boudreau
After Boudreau was (wrongfully) fired by Anaheim in late April it took the Wild all of one week to hire him. And he’s got the Wild humming: Devan Dubnyk is an even better fantasy goalie than he was when he first arrived, Eric Staal’s career has been revived, and this team is rolling three potent scoring lines. Not only has his arrival in Minnesota impacted the Wild players, his departure from Anaheim has impacted those players, too.
3. Patrick Kane – Still Awesome
Kane ended 2015 with 56 points in 39 games and had a massive lead in the NHL scoring race. It wasn’t even close. Could he keep that pace up? No way! But actually…it turned out that he didn’t fall off by that much, ending the season with 50 points in the final 43 games and easily winning the scoring title. It completely transformed how poolies rated him. Now he is mentioned in the same breath as ‘Crosby’, ‘Malkin’ and ‘Tavares’. A great player turned elite in 2016.
2. Columbus Blue Jackets Go Nutty
Columbus leads the NHL in points. And they have four games in hand over the team tied with them (Chicago) and three games in hand over the team one point back (Pittsburgh). This is a team most ‘experts’ (myself included) had not making the playoffs at all. Not only are they a lock for the playoffs, but they have a shot at the President’s Trophy and they have scored more goals per game than any other team. Now that’s fantasy impact. The team has bought into what John Tortorella is selling. Torts is also using Cam Atkinson in the best way possible, putting him in the ideal situations to succeed. And in doing so, if this keeps up, then he will have helped nurture a new superstar. Furthermore, Torts took a player that was pulled from the scrap heap in Sam Gagner, and made him into a productive special-teams forward. Add that to a healthy Top 5 goaltender (Sergei Bobrovsky) plus the arrival of an elite rookie puck-moving defenseman in Zach Werenski, and you can understand how this happened. It’s the perfect storm of events. Also a help – the Nick Foligno from 2014-15 showed up this year instead of the guy from 2015-16.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins Turn it Around
The Pittsburgh Penguins were in 16th place when the New Year’s ball dropped in New York for 2016. They ended up fourth. And then they won the Cup. Currently, they sit third in 2016-17. In all, this team is 52-18-10 in 80 regular season games (114 points) in 2016, with a Stanley Cup. And Sidney Crosby, who was off to a miserable start last season, leads all NHL players in points in 2016 with 95 points in 73 games. Second is Kane with 84 in 78, so the margin is rather huge. This is the impact of Coach Mike Sullivan, and any fantasy owner with a lot of Pens on their team have reaped the rewards. Trust me – I speak from experience.
The Midseason Fantasy Guide (10th Annual!) will be available for download January 13. Pre-order it here!
Still have some time to kill? Take another look at the Top 100 Fantasy Goalies!
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