December 1, 2015

by steve laidlaw on November 30, 2015

Why Elias Lindholm and Ryan Strome are heating up, Komarov's sneaky fantasy value, Sparks' debut and more.


You just knew that the Rangers-Hurricanes game was going to be a funky one. It was a matchup between the NHL’s best PDO team and its worst. Naturally, the Hurricanes outshot the Rangers 36-22 and lost 4-3.

The Rangers’ defensive shell wasn’t nearly as effective without Derek Stepan who will officially miss 4-6 weeks with those broken ribs of his.

The Rangers were also without Kevin Klein for most of this one after the defenseman left with a muscle strain.

Over the weekend, the Rangers had Kevin Hayes at center on the second line. Last night it was Oscar Lindberg’s turn. If you check out the lines, however, there isn’t a whole lot of separation between the second and third group:














If anything this is a negative given how productive Hayes and Lindberg have been together on the third line but both found points last night, in particular skating on the second PP unit.

Is there anyone explicitly disappointed with what they have gotten out of Keith Yandle? I know lots of folks were high on him joining the Rangers and kick-starting their power play. I was until I saw how he was used at the end of last season. They simply do not trust Yandle at even-strength. As a result, Yandle has gone from skating over 22 minutes a night to under 19. Also, his presence hasn’t done anything to help the Rangers’ crummy power play.

Yandle is so held back in New York that he is taking almost a full less shot per game. It’s no wonder he has just 3 goals in 46 games in a Ranger uniform despite having four seasons of double-digit goals under his belt.

On the plus side, Yandle is so slick he is still on pace for 40 points. Barring injury 40 is Yandle’s minimum. But he also probably won’t get the 50 or more that so many were projecting/hopeful for.


Here comes Elias Lindholm! Points in five straight for the Hurricanes’ top RW. He has 17 SOG in those five games, a nice spike after landing just 31 SOG in his previous 19 games. Lindholm has legit skills and 70-point upside but he is never getting there without a little more willingness to get engaged and shoot the puck. It’s no surprise that the hot streak comes with an increase in shooting.

The Hurricanes’ top center, Victor Rask, (no that is not a typo) continues to quietly pace for about 50 points. He’ll get there too if he keeps getting these sorts of minutes. Sure, Rask has claimed the title of least imposing top-line centerman from Tyler Bozak but so be it. Real fantasy value here.

Cam Ward had a real tough night though I can’t imagine why anyone would have played him outside of desperation. Ward just stinks on the road.


I am watching the Avalanche-Islanders game and the announcers go into an incredible story about third-pairing defenseman Zach Redmond who suffered a stroke in his teens and had to re-learn how to walk and talk all over again, let alone how to play hockey. Good stuff but where it gets weird is their takeaway.

Somehow, the guy telling the story felt like this was a demonstration of the incredible “talent” all NHL players are born with. Excuse me? Didn’t you just say he had to re-learn how to walk and talk? Isn’t this a lesson in how much can be accomplished with enough hard work and perseverance?

Nothing irks me more than when talented is celebrated over hard work. Talent may exist but last time I checked none of us knew how to walk or talk out of the womb. So much of what folks refer to as “talent” is “skill” which can be learned, trained and improved. Emphasizing talent sends the complete wrong message and engrains these ideas of fixed abilities within us all.

Anyhow, back to the fantasy hockey stuff…


Ryan Strome has returned from the minors a new man, skating with real purpose and determination. A big hole in his game before getting sent down was a constant deference to teammates instead of shooting when open. He is shooting more since getting called up and has produced accordingly with two goals, two assists and five SOG in three games. Last night’s goal was an empty-netter but I won’t hate on the effort, especially as he has been limited to third-line duties since the call-up.

Was asked about Strome vs. Tobias Rieder the rest of the way. Strome probably gets more points but Rieder is a really nice option if your league scores SOG. Ultimately, these guys are depth options in one-year formats so you grab the hot hand, especially if he has a dense schedule. You can throw Lindholm from above into this pile as well.

With all the right moves you might turn that roster spot into a 60-point player. That, of course, takes some planning and a little bit of luck.

Thomas Greiss is having a really solid bounce-back after that debacle of a year in Pittsburgh. He was bad enough that I wrote him off. The curse of the small sample strikes again. So is Greiss really good?

The answer is probably closer to his career numbers: 44-33-13, 2.44 goals-against average, .915 save percentage. Basically, Greiss is horribly average, which ain’t bad for a back-up. Lord have mercy on the Islanders if Jaroslav Halak misses a bunch of time but Greiss is a perfectly reasonable option to steal 25-30 starts and keep Halak from getting burned out.

By the way, Halak’s career numbers: 188-106-35, 2.37 GAA, .917 save percentage. Slightly better than Greiss but with a track record and contract of a starter.

Oh and I am definitely not intimating that Greiss might be better than Halak. Just offering a contrast. It’s much tougher to maintain that performance over an increased workload.


Speaking of Greiss reminds me of the pickle I am in in my salary cap league. I have Marc-Andre Fleury who has been a stud and then Brian Elliott who has been a dud. At one point I had Jeff Zatkoff but when Greiss was brought in I discarded Zatkoff. Zatkoff is the backup once again and now I am being held ransom for a first round pick for his services. Not a fat chance. I’d rather lose this season on principle than give in to such audacious demands.

And really, I wouldn’t lose the season even if Fleury did go down because I have Matt Murray, who will be the real starter in the event of a Fleury injury. I would like to have Zatkoff to cover my bases and give me some more options. With the Pittsburgh troika and super-prospect Connor Hellebuyck, I’d have enough to jettison Elliott, and buy myself an extra roster spot, even if it meant buying him out.

Where Greiss comes into this situation is that I was similarly held ransom for his services last season. I have to hand it to the bandits in my league for never making anything easy. There is a lesson in all of this and it is probably that I should be nicer to my league-mates so they don’t try to roast me over the coals when they think they’ve got me by the short and curlies.


The Matt DucheneNathan MacKinnonGabriel Landeskog line is playing video game hockey. I know they got roasted as far as plus/minus goes but they are constantly generating offense. I never see them dump the puck. It’s like when I am playing EA Sports NHL ’16. You won’t catch me dumping it, ever. Zone entry machines.

With the way they are creating offensive chances, I do wonder if I am not underestimating Duchene’s potential. When he first heated up I said he was back on track for 60 and that that’s where he would finish. Well, even after last night’s box of donuts, Duchene is on track for 75. His shooting percentage is really high at 18.5% but again, these guys are creating killer scoring chances off the rush.

This all hinges on the Avalanche top line sticking together but maybe bump Duchene up to the 65-70 range.


The Oilers’ top line of Taylor HallLeon DraisaitlTeddy Purcell has been similarly lethal but not quite on the same level of constantly gaining clean zone entries. And that’s why it’s not much surprise that they are slowing down of late.

A positive for Draisaitl is that he has been stealing top PP chances from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. You can kind of see the logic behind the move as Draisaitl has been the better faceoff guy and offers an option as a net-front presence. It also means shifting Hall to the half-wall where he will have the puck on his stick a lot more. Of course, it also means shifting your top PP scorer to the second unit, which ultimately seems irrational.


Big shutout win for Garrett Sparks in his NHL debut. I am not really in a position to comment. Is anyone buying him as a legit fantasy asset? I never rule anything out when it comes to goaltenders but one would assume the Leafs are trying to get James Reimer back in goal ASAP.

I was informed by a friend that I really need to look into the fantasy value on Leo Komarov who has been skating on the top line with Nazem Kadri and James van Riemsdyk all year. Good timing as Komarov scored his ninth and 10th goals of the season.

Komarov has long been known as a good asset in leagues that score hits but this top-line deployment is expanding his value quite a bit. He is even starting to see some serious minutes as a net-front presence on the Leafs’ top PP unit. As such he has five goals in the last six games.

Part of this is the result of puck luck as Komarov is shooting 22%. However, net-front guys always shoot a high percentage. Komarov is entering poor-man’s Wayne Simmonds territory. He needs to get his SOG up over 2.0 per game to really surge in value. As it stands, his 150 shot pace just isn’t enough. Without an uptick he is probably looking at something around a 20-goal 35-point season.

But if your league track hits that kind of offense is more than enough considering Komarov is on track for 390 hits this year. The only guy with more hits is Matt Martin and he really doesn’t do much else. Unique and valuable fantasy asset that Komarov.




Carey Price is set to miss the next six weeks after re-aggravating his leg injury. No surgery required, apparently. This is a tricky one. On one hand, surgery probably makes sure the job is done right. On the other hand, any time a player has to go under the knife is a traumatic situation. As good as doctors have gotten, I never like the idea of players getting opened up.

With the six-week prognosis, it would seem the Canadiens are going cautious to make sure there is no lingering issue the next time they get Price back in the lineup but I do still worry that this thing lingers all season.

Marc Bergevin has indicated that he has no plans of dealing for a veteran goaltender. That makes sense, Mike Condon is playing very well and any veteran acquired would eventually have to be shuffled out once Price returns. That said, how many losses in a row before Bergevin picks up the phone?


The Canadiens did make a goalie swap of another kind sending Dustin Tokarski to the minors and calling up Zach Fucale instead. I wonder if this simply about getting Tokarski some reps to stay fresh just in case.


Interesting look at the Lightning’s scoring woes, with a focus on who is coming up short as far as setting up Steven Stamkos goes:

Drouin has promise, there’s no doubt about that, but Callahan just doesn’t make sense as a linemate for Stamkos, yet he’s been his most common one by far this season. This is something that should be easily correctable with the plethora of talented wingers the Lightning have.

This is not much of a surprise. Callahan is a serviceable player, excellent as a net-front presence and as a puck retriever on the forecheck. However, he is not an elite offensive guy. His 54 points last year tied a career high. Reproducing that was always going to be hard and that’s without considering all of the hard miles Callahan has piled on over the years.

He still has 45-point potential but a third-line is looking more and more like the proper destination for Callahan.


I have been doing a weekly Fantasy Five feature on the Hockey Unfiltered show on SiriusXM every Sunday. Check out this week’s show. I appear in the final 15-20 minutes or so.


Thanks for reading. You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.