Monthly Archives: September 2010

Avs Training to Tighten Western Race

Panic over whether of not Peter Mueller and Chris Stewart would be re-signed, can be alleviated knowing that the two dynamic players will be in Denver for a few more years. Mueller, a trade from the Phoenix Coyotes, agreed to a 2-year deal, as did breakout candidate Chris Stewart. The exact terms of the deal were not disclosed, but eventually the figures will be updated on the team’s roster. Both players have tremendous value for the organization.

Mueller was drafted as a rookie by Phoenix, but wasn’t able to achieve the level of play he hoped. Perhaps the Rocky Mountains and lack of air helped his focus and influence on the plays at hand. Chris Stewart as a superstar, crept up throughout the season to become a quiet hero in the world of hockey.

The Colorado Avalanche are expected to only turn in a 9th rank in the Western Conference just behind Calgary. The Flames will always be ranked within reach with Jarome Iginla as captain. Though the young Avs fought their way into the playoffs, exiting in the first round at the teeth of the Sharks, they exceeded expectations. Joe Sacco has created a comfortable learning environment for a lively new generation of Avalanche loyals. Gone are veterans Darcy Tucker and Marek Svatos, but Adam Foote remains as the throwback captain from Stanley Cup days.

It’s the first day of Avs Training Camp and I stroll in as usual to face a handful of fans watching the newest additons to the Mile High city. Entry Draftee Joey Hishon and top prospect Kevin Shattenkirk displayed their skills. Ah, the sweet sounds of skates and slapshots hypnotized my thoughts as I followed these two up and down the ice. The kids looked alert and ready to play, but nothing earth shattering on the first day.

Facing difficult cuts, it’s too early to tell how these two newbies will fare warming up for their big stint, most likely ending in Lake Erie. Last year, Ryan Stoa debuted well, but has been up and down taking time to develop. So was the case for Brandon Yip and T.J. Galiardi who broke on through to excellence, particularly Galiardi who was named one of the top rookies last season. Galiardi was poised to be a stand up player, so we’ll see how Hishon and Shattenkirk dazzle over the next week.

Meanwhile, the Avs No. 3 draft pick, Matt Duchene, has performed above expectations just as the Avalanche rose above the naysayers and nudged into the playoffs. Matt took time out to fish and volunteer his time to help others in his first NHL summer, and that’s why the Avs have the reputation of being the nice guys.

But the bad boys of the defense really aren’t that turbulent. Bringing in David Koci last year was uneventful. His performance is average, and he kicks up a few fights here and there, but the Kyles will have to gain some might. On the horizon, Shattenkirk, Cameron Gaunce and Stefan Elliott will head the blueline. Gaunce was a standout last year, as was Elliott, but Elliott isn’t eligible to play in the NHL yet.

Day two of rookie camp reiterated puck skills and scrimmages. Cameron Gaunce stood out today, holding a majority of the ice time. His stance near the crease made him a formidable wall for the offense. Shattenkirk loosened up a bit and took more shots. Overall, the rookies played hard and goofed around on the ice after the early dismissal for the day.

Formal scrimmages took place today in front of a packed house of Avs fans, and will continue through the weekend. It’s nice to see hockey alive and well in the Mile High city. The rink attracting the most attention included Craig Anderson and John Grahame in net. But all I saw was the hustle and energetic body contact Chris Stewart put out on the ice. Stewart was excited and well-rested to get the Avs back
in business. T.J. Galiardi displayed his talents as he did last year in camp,
but this year he stepped up his game and demeanor as an NHL player.

The overall play was swift and paced well. Rookie Shattenkirk hasn’t been
able to get his NHL legs in motion quite yet, playing cautiously and being
shy on the get go. Cameron Gaunce continues to fight for a spot on the Avs,
or the next call-up potential. He stood his ground and scored on assists. The
combination of Galiardi-Stewart-Gaunce ignited some good chemistry.

To end the day, a handful of fans watched as Ryan O’Reilly took shots on the
empty net after the other players had left the ice. Expect Duchene and
O’Reilly to prepare for their skills to be noticed as the Avs start their
season.

On the last day, the Avalanche moved players in and out of scrimmages,and puck drills. The fans marveled at Chris stewart, who looks solid and strong. The fighting unit, Cody McLeod, Kyle Quincey and former Phoenix Coyote, Dave Winnik, who particpated in a few scraps. Hobey Baker winner, Kevin Porter, continues to develop his NHL skills and had more ice time during the scrimmages. Peter Mueller and Matt Duchene ended training camp practicing passing drills as fans left the arena.

If you play fantasy hockey, make sure you check out my fantasy section for weekly picks.

Top D-guys for Fantasy drafts

Draft day is approaching, and while I value the contribution of the offensive players the defenseman hold my attention. I usually take a gander at rankings from the top hockey outlets, but decided to forfeit their early suggestions and make a list of my own. Not all top ranked D-guys made my list; therefore I expect a few rumblings about key players not listed below. If I don’t want to draft them, they’re not on my radar.

Leaving off Dion and Pronger was no mistake. Just not a fan of their style. Avery has graced my roster a few times, but I can handle his style no matter how sticky it can get. The New York Rangers have a decent blueline if Avery can step it up and if Del Zotto can hold on. I wanted to find a powerhouse defenseman in the Vancouver Canucks, and I have to say that last year, Alex Edler was helpful in my playoff run. With the addition of Keith Ballard, maybe the Canucks will gel on the blueline.

Without further adieu, the suggestions below are a list of top defensemen that should be grabbed early.

Nicklas Lidstrom- Detroit Red Wings– Always at the top of my list for several reasons: he exemplifies leadership and the role of the defensemen, plus, he’s the captain of the Red Wings. At the age of 40, he’s coming back for one more year in Detroit to help shape the blueline for the future of the organization. Expect good things from him this season as he wants to leave on a legendary note.

Mike Green- Washington Capitals– Rank him high on your list. With 76 points on the year, a plus-39 rating and 54 PIMs, he’s an overall player. Workhorse and Norris Trophy candidate too.

Drew Doughty- Los Angeles Kings- Also nominated for the Norris Trophy, many expected Doughty to win. Scoring 59 points and 54 PIMs, you’ve just made two categories intriguing on your roster. His impact on the charismatic Kings has been noticed. The Kings have locked and loaded a talented group of players who will fight their way into the playoffs again. Recruit.


Duncan Keith- Chicago BlackHawks-
Norris Trophy winner is all I need to say. Along with his 69 points and 51 PIMs, Keith also has a plus-21 rating which is one niche that many fantasy owners disregard. Besides, who doesn’t want a D-guy who sacrificed numerous teeth for his team to win the Cup?


Dan Boyle-San Jose Sharks
– He had a rough time in the playoffs, but will bounce back from the mishaps. Though the media is cautious in claiming the Sharks will be in Cup contention, Boyle will play hard and keep the team in the zone. Strengths include his 58 points and 70 PIMs.


Tyler Myers- Buffalo Sabres
– Top rookie with 48 points, a plus-13, and 32 PIMs is a good call for this fresh face. Calder winner over Colorado’s Duchene and hot Detroit goaltender Howard. This is my absolute pick for D.


Sergei Gonchar- Ottawa Senators
– A new team, a new crowd to excite. Last season with Pittsburgh he tallied 50 points and 49 PIMs, but beware the under par rating for the plus/minus column.

Shea Weber- Nashville Predators- Team captain and on everyone’s wish list. Posting 43 points and 36 PIMs, he’s a solid defenseman to put on your docket. Nashville has made some moves to ensure the Predators break past round one and two of the playoffs.

Brian Rafalski-Detroit Red Wings– Olympic hero and hometown boy represents the Detroit blueline. Even if his numbers don’t hold at last seasons’ 42 points, a plus-23 rating, and 26 PIMs, he is the guy who sets up the brilliant net shakers and sees them through. If you are a Detroit fan, he’ll be on your roster.


Erik Johnson-St. Louis Blues
– I’m very excited about the Blues this season. Johnson was solid with 39 points and an impressive 79 PIMs. I only play on leagues with PIMs.

Zdeno Chara- Boston Bruins– Also a team captain, Chara was a bit of a let down last year. Not sure what happened, but I am cautious this year. But when you look at his stats, they’re pretty darn good at 44 points, a plus-19 and of course, 87 PIMs. Just watching Chara flatten and skewer opponents is enough reason to stick him on your roster. If you miss the game, check out all the fun on hockeyfights.com

Drafting defensemen is vital early. Depending on your league, you may have as many as four slots for defense; take two solid performers, then you are able to pick up at least two mix and match players on hot streaks. If you only have two, then make top picks that have depth into many categories, particularly on the power-play. Don’t forget your fighter either. Penalties can be bad, but the fighters who can score become the energy on your roster and great to follow. I have at least two bad boys on my team, but always room for more.

Is hockey here yet?

September 1 signifies the beginning of legitimate hockey talk. Yes, over the summer I was strategizing for my fantasy teams. Every year, the roster changes must be studied and I’m quite excited to spread my teams into new territory. This year, The Hockey News, cautiously gave a possible scenario for both the Western and Eastern Conferences standings. I couldn’t resist commenting on the picks:

Eastern:
1.    Washington Capitals- It’s now or never boys.
2.    Pittsburgh Penguins-I’m surprised they keep hanging on.
3.    Boston Bruins-Light some fire under these guys! So much potential, so little scoring.
4.    Philadelphia Flyers-Underdogs with some talent. Have gained some respect being ranked this high.
5.    New Jersey Devils-My new future home team better get a move on!
6.    Buffalo Sabres- Love them despite what others may feel. Ryan Miller.
7.    Tampa Bay Lightning-Steve Yzerman.
8.    Montreal Canadiens-Let’s get the Habs back in playoff mode.
9.    Carolina Hurricanes-Re-building to be better than ever. Solid base.
10.    Ottawa Senators-Will Carrie Underwood attend every game?
11.    Atlanta Thrashers-Big Buff moves in. Exciting season to watch.
12.    Toronto Maple Leafs- Ughh.
13.    New York Rangers-The fans are growing restless.
14.    New York Islanders- Stuck on the Island
15.    Florida Panthers-Remember the Luongo days?

Western:
1.    Vancouver Canucks-Awesome bunch.
2.    San Jose Sharks-Really, not quite ranked No.1 but close.
3.    Detroit Red Wings-They never suck and don’t forget that!
4.    Chicago BlackHawks-Top stars but not top rank.
5.    Los Angeles Kings-Up and coming group of talent who have arrived.
6.    St. Louis Blues-Watch Halak and Steen.
7.    Phoenix Coyotes-Wow! I’d rank the talent in the desert higher.
8.    Calgary Flames-Not too sure about this one.
9.    Colorado Avalanche-No respect at all. Young guns will prevail.
10.    Nashville Predators-Always a fan of Barry Trotz. Good depth.
11.    Anaheim Ducks-Isn’t this Brett Michaels’ team?
12.    Dallas Stars-Life without Turco and Modano. Benn move in.
13.    Minnesota Wild-Some of the best hockey country needs NHL boost.
14.    Columbus Bluejackets- Oh, we have a saying in Michigan about Ohio.
15.    Edmonton Oilers- Are you really going to take this Taylor Hall? Prove them wrong.