The 2014-15 season is essentially three weeks old. We basically have four-and-a-half more months to go. Anyone who claims that we have an accurate forecast of how things will look in April is liable to get a milkshake thrown at them like Nic Cage in “The Weatherman.”
Again, if you’ve been reading the Daily Dose for some time, you know that I advise against overreacting to players who are enjoying incredible puck luck (or incredibly bad puck luck). The sexiest way to explain regression is “What goes up must come down,” yet with quality players, the reverse can often be true. (I’ve expressed my reservations about Nathan MacKinnon as a top-30 pick, but that doesn’t mean I expect the ultra-fast sophomore to be stuck in neutral all season long.)
There’s a funny force working against all of that “hold your horses” talk, though. One of the other goals of the Dose is to help you tweak your team on a less permanent basis.
Depending upon how poorly your draft went - maybe the autopick gods smote you with injuries by handing you Derek Stepan and Nathan Horton, maybe you drank too much and decided that Tim Thomas and Ilya Bryzgalov would pen stunning redemption stories - you may need quite a few tweaks. Even well-drafted teams can be weak in a few areas … maybe you picked a bunch of guys with low floors and low ceilings.
Ultimately, there’s something to be said for trying to ride various hot streaks during the season. Obviously, a lot of the successes and failures of such strategies hinge upon how much time you really want to put into adding and dropping, but the most fun fantasy leagues give you pretty deep benches, allowing you to fiddle with the depth areas to your heart’s content.
Let’s take a look at some unusual names on some of the top scoring lists and ponder which ones might stay. This is going to be an abridged version, as I’ve already tackled hot streaks to start the season.
Rick Nash - OK, he's not an unusual name, even with the playoff struggle hysteria and 30.8 shooting percentage. I just want to point out how much I love his trigger-happiness: 258 SOG in 2013-14 ... in 65 games. He also had 176 in 44 games last season. That's pretty much four SOG per contest as a Ranger. With Martin St. Louis passing to him and Derek Stepan's return looming, it could be a big season before people bury him way too much for struggling in the postseason.
That line with That nickname That people are starting to find annoying - I feel bad that the Internet is turning on “That 70’s Line” as a nickname for Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson. After all, a friend of the Dose coined it. That said, I think even “The Royal Half” is probably over hearing that on TV. The biggest plus is that, beyond its cleverness, it's just easier to refer to them by that nicknname.
Anyway, call them 7x Heaven or something else that’s worse, but this line remains electric. Carter and Toffoli both have 12 points so far, tying them for second in league scoring while Pearson already generated nine.
I already went into plenty of detail about why this trio should still be effective even as they’re assured to slow down. The reason I mention Carter's wingers once again is that they’re still both readily available: Toffoli is only owned in 65 percent of Yahoo leagues and Pearson is taken in 55.
One interesting thing to watch is Anze Kopitar's injury situation. You'd think the Kings would stick with the line that's basically scoring all of their goals, but you never know.
The biggest threat to the rising Islanders - One factor that makes the dazzling New York Islanders that much more intriguing is that we haven’t seen this team at full strength yet. Granted, injuries will always obstruct things in fantasy hockey (let’s dream about Marian Gaborik’s career in a sports world with injuries “turned off” like video games for a moment), but they’re relevant if you’re considering adding Brock Nelson (43 percent), Nick Leddy (30 percent) or Johnny Boychuk (83 percent).
More precisely, Lubomir Visnovsky glorious, heart-warming return could throw things for a loop. (For those players … seeing Lubo healthy-ish is a delight, as he’s basically Marian Gaborik as a defenseman.)
During Saturday’s wild game against the Stars, Left Wing Lock reveals that a power play alignment of four forwards (John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Anders Lee and Frans Nielsen) played with Visnovsky for 83.3 percent of the PP time.
With just two power-play opportunities in just one game under this alignment, it's too early to make lasting conclusions. Still, it's a situation to watch, even if the Islanders could be enough of a scoring machine to make multiple lines useful.
You know what? At this point, I think it's best to roll out four top considerations for streaking players.
THE FOUR PILLARS
1. Peripherals - Aside from Islanders - Stars games, there are generally only so many assists and goals to go around. Few, if any, combos are good for a goal per night (more on that in a second).
With that in mind, peripheral stats are a huge factor in taking categories. Call this the Brandon Dubinsky Memorial - he’s a solid scorer who can get hits, PIMs and SOG even if he doesn’t stand out from the pack that much points-wise.
2. Linemates - The most dangerous consideration to chase. You don’t want to base a roster move on a guy who can get demoted on a cold streak. As I’ve noticed and other outlets including The Score discussed, NHL teams are moving away from three-man lines and becoming more interested in developing duos with rotating complementary parts. The Boston Bruins are a great example here: David Krejci and Milan Lucic once rolled with Jarome Iginla and Nathan Horton, yet now they’re auditioning people like Jada Pinkett Smith’s character in “Gotham” (though one would assume in a less sultry-violent way?).
3. Playing time - How much total time on ice does a player get? Is he burning a lot of energy on the PK?
4. Context - OK, this is a general category that sort of combines the second and third considerations, but I think it’s worth its own. Linemates can change … but how likely will that be? Some coaches (Joel Quenneville) are more susceptible to juggling than others. Injuries are another big concern, while deeper stats like offensive zone starts can indicate players being placed into situations to succeed or fail.
Brock Nelson is an interesting player to consider when thinking of these categories. He’s intriguing because of some peripherals (hits) while others raise red flags (low SOG, high shooting percentage). The Islanders’ injury situations and significantly altered roster vs. 2013-14 means that context, linemates and playing time could be quite fluid.
AN UPCOMING SERIES
Beginning this week (I’d guess on Tuesday, but you never know with injuries and other news), I’m going to start looking at the NHL’s top/most interesting lines one-by-one. I’ll consider the rare trio who might actually stay together most of the time like Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Patric Hornqvist and Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Radim Vrbata while also pondering more erratic groups.
I’ll probably start off with trios that you’ll have a better chance of buying into. While Hornqvist/Vrbata are the kind of guys who arouse “Should I trade them in a sell-high way?” type debates, it’s usually more palatable to get a player by a mere add/drop than to trade away a useful piece.
(Then again, you’re essentially “trading” the guy you’re dropping to the waiver bin, and potentially a different fantasy owner.)
The comprehensiveness of this study might just come down to feedback. With anything in this column, I want to inform and entertain in the best ways possible, so feel free to let me know if you love or hate specific elements in particular. I’d recommend going the Twitter route in this regard, yet comments and emails are fine, too. Just note that many e-mails get lost to the Junk Mail Fairy.
Ultimately, I’m just trying to write the column that I would want to read every day. Despite hammering out more than 300 Doses, I get the feeling this space will be brimming with different philosophies. As I’ve mentioned before, I’d imagine that the only constant will be corny jokes and mostly ancient pop culture references.
If there’s anything you’d like to see that would make this a more enjoyable read at breakfast or while you’re suffering in a cubicle, let me hear it.