Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What the Leafs Need This Season

Remember the joy of having your favorite team in the playoffs?  You do?  Oh.  What does it feel like?

I guess that's my way of saying it's been a while for Leaf fans.  I'm on record as saying that I think the Leafs will be a team that competes for a playoff spot this year and I've been called crazy - or worse - for having said it.

Having said this, I'm not crazy.  I understand that a lot of things will have to go our way for this to work out.  Since we have a strong affinity for lists here at BCP, here's a list of the top 8 things that will have to happen for the Toronto Maple Leafs to finish in the top 8 in the Eastern Conference.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Luca Caputi Gets It

Watching the Leaf game on Wednesday night, two things were very apparent;  Luca Caputi finally understands what he'll have to do to be a pro and Pierre Maguire says, "this guy gets it" way too often.  This article is the sum of those parts.

Since the deal was made to acquire Caputi, I've really liked his skill set and size.  There's no doubt about it, he's a talented guy.  This talent has led him to be a highly productive AHL player but it seemed last season as though this talent wasn't going to be fully realized at the NHL level.  It had nothing to do with skill and everything to do with mindset.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Can the Leafs be this Season's Coyotes?

To be a Leafs fan, it seems, is to vacillate between wild-eyed optimism and despondent pessimism, sometimes several times in the same sixty minutes. As this coming season approaches, the pulse of Leaf Nation seems to be favour the former sentiment - some even dare to hope that this year's squad will be the ones to end the Leafs' half-decade-long playoff drought.

If the Leafs manage to wheeze their way into the 8th spot they will have exceeded most impartial observers' expectations, but dare we hope for even more? Is it possible the Leafs could challenge for their Division or even the Conference title? Could the Leafs be this year's Phoenix Coyotes?

[Shortly after beginning this story it came to my attention that Editor in Leaf had already written a very comprehensive and similarly-themed series on the subject that is definitely worth a look. I decided to write this article anyway as I took a slightly different approach.]

I feel the comparison is more reasonable than it might initially appear to be - both this year's Leafs and last year's Coyotes entered the season as underdogs in a tough division and neither could boast high-powered offenses or star-studded lineups. As with so much in life, the statistics light the path that the Leafs will have to follow if they are going to emerge as this year's Cinderella story:

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chemistry Lesson: Find Your Catalysts

The Toronto Maple Leafs had an atrocious start to the season last year.  The team looked solid in the pre-season going 6-4 but fell into a tailspin out of the gate - a free fall they were unable to fully recover from.

Much ink has been spilled on how poor the Leafs' goaltending was last year and you'll get no argument on that point here.  Having said this, pinning all of the Leafs' travails on Vesa Toskala doesn't fully capture the spirit of the thing.  The powerplay and penalty kill were both abysmal and perhaps most telling was the complete lack of chemistry the team had coming out of the gate.

This shouldn't surprise us - Brian Burke was engaged in a full-roster overhaul.  The defense saw the additions of Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin and Garnett Exelby.  With half of our defense new to the team, chemistry was always going to be hard to come by on the back end.  At this position, where understanding the tendencies of your partner is so critical, we were a team in flux and it showed.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ten Things I'm Looking Forward to This Season

I love October.  Everything about it agrees with me; the cooler temperature, the spiced foods and most of all, the return of NHL hockey.

I spent most of this offseason looking at players we might want to target, line combinations and prospect examinations and all the speculation kind of has my head spinning.  Now that we're closing in on the pre-season I'm going to lay off the predictions and suggestions for a second and get back to the root of the game.

Here are ten things I'm looking forward to this season.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

2 Can Be As Bad As 1

You’ve spent weeks prepping and sifting through an endless stack of fantasy magazines, reading online blogs, and asking your dad what he thinks about Luongo this year. Yes, draft night has finally arrived. Good news – you’ll have a great evening with a few buddies and some cold beer while ripping on the jerk who takes Claude Giroux 3 rounds early. Bad news – you just found out you have the 2nd overall pick.

Over the last 4 years it has become painfully obvious that the best player in the wonderful world of fantasy hockey is none other than Alexander Ovechkin. He is to fantasy hockey what the Beatles were to classic rock, what Pamela Anderson was to mediocre syndicated TV series from the 1990s – safe to say, Ovie is awesome.

With Ovechkin as the clear cut #1 on every draft board you will be left with the almost impossible decision at #2 – Crosby or Malkin. Yes, some of you are reading this and saying what about the Sedins, Backstrom, Stamkos, Parise...etc. If you think that there are other players than Sid and Gino to be considered at #2 that’s fine. You’re entitled to your opinion – your just wrong.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Call of the North?

"NHLers love the idea of playing in Toronto".

We've all heard some variant of this said at some point, and many of us have probably uttered it ourselves. Intuitevely, this statement makes sense. The Leafs are the wealthiest, most storied franchise in the league (that's right, f%$* you Montreal) with a fanbase that exibits a level of devotion usually reserved for religious extremists. Toronto has all the amenities a guy pulling down a six- or seven-figure salary could want - luxury condos in the city and cottages in Muskoka, world-class dining, high-end fashion and jewelry for the wife/girlfriend in Yorkville and even a Ferrari dealership on Avenue Rd. It's hard to imagine any player deciding they'd rather play in an armpit like Detriot or New Jersey or in a market like Nashville or Atlanta where most residents can't even spell 'hockey', let alone care enough to go see a game.

Although Lord knows that I would salivate at the prospect of suiting up for the Blue and White, is it reasonable to expect the players in league really feel the same way? Let's consider some of the cons:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rick Nash: The Untold Story

Ah yes kids – as your parents probably taught you (at least if they were good parents) there are two sides to every story in life. That holds true in fantasy GMs opinion of Columbus “power” winger Rick Nash.

Many pundits will point out that Nash has never truly achieved “superstar” status – and they are probably right. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a valuable fantasy commodity now, and for years to come.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Change of Scenery: Potential Targets for the Leafs

Buy low, sell high.  It's a simple concept that governs the maximization of all assets over time and hockey is no different.

There were several deals made last year that saw underachieving players moved to new teams where these underachievers were given new life.  Our own Lee Stempniak is a great example of the kind of player that just needed a different situation in order to maximize their own value.  Peter Mueller lit it up in Colorado after a few disappointing seasons in Phoenix.  Montreal and Minnesota both improved their teams swapping Latendresse for Pouliot as each player adapted well to their new addresses.

The Leafs are still looking to improve their team up front but don't have any big assets that they'll be looking to move in order to do so.  Given this, the best targets are going to be these kinds of guys - the underachievers.  Here's a short list of guys that I think might fit that category.

Player Spotlight - Rick Nash

Alright fantasy GMs, it's time to smarten up.

In the name of all that is hockey, do not draft this man!

Every year, without exception, Rick Nash is drafted in the top 25-40 selections of nearly every draft.  Why?  Explain yourselves puck heads.  What is it about this guy that makes you take him so soon?

I play in a pretty competitive keeper league that had our inaugural draft last season.  The guys in the pool know hockey.  Having issued this disclaimer; Rick Nash was drafted 22nd overall.

Last season Nash was a minus player who put up 67 points.  Does that look like 22nd overall-type production to you?

Player Spotlight - Ilya Kovalchuk

Now that the big Russian sniper is without a doubt staying in the NHL until his bones crumble to dust, we can finally have a look at what fantasy owners can expect from one of the NHL's most prolific scorers.

There was once a time when this profile would have been all but useless.  Kovalchuk used to be one of the most steady and reliable players in the league.  When drafting him, you knew that you'd be picking up 40-50 goals, many of them on the powerplay, and shot totals in the low to mid 300s.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Wonderful World of Hockey

I love the smell of hockey in the morning.

Is there anything better than hockey season? I mean really. Waking up everyday – watching sports center 3 times over (because once is never enough) while updating your fantasy roster and sifting through the daily headlines online at ESPN, TSN and (insert shameless self promotion here) everyone’s favourite hockey blog, Blue Chip Prospects.

Yes it’s a great time. And as we approach the start of training camp there are a number of things I’ve noticed from around the wonderful world of hockey.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Undervalued Veterans

Every year the NHL seems to be getting younger and younger. As new rule changes continue to put an emphasis on skill and speed at the expense of size and experience (I realize that’s a generality but you see the trend). However, every year there are a number of proven veteran fantasy players who get passed over in favour of younger players with that always important “potential”. Sadly, potential means very little in your fantasy league – below are some proven veterans that will consistently fill your categories all season long.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back in Business: The Leafs' Playoff Hopes

That's right, we're back to work - not just BCP but the Leafs too.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is a double-entendre.

With our new Captain's bold assertion that the Leafs will be a playoff team, I decided to look at some teams that we might overtake and how, exactly, we might be able to do so.

Florida:  Horton is out and the team appears committed to the re-build.  They've taken some good steps towards this re-build but the moves they've made will push them backward in the short-term.  With a goalie of Vokoun's calibre there's always a chance for a good year, but Florida should finish the year behind the Buds.

New York Islanders: The Islanders should be the league's worst team this year.  They simply don't have enough veteran talent to support their young talent and goaltending, as ever, is a question mark.

Tampa Bay:  Probably not.  The Lightning are a better team than what they've showed lately.  The addition of Simon Gagne gives the Lightning two very good scoring lines.  Tampa in on an upward trend.

Carolina:  Their division always seems to push them higher up the standings than their roster would dictate but this could be the year Carolina starts to suffer.  Short of Eric Staal there isn't much to get excited about on this roster in the short-term and Cam Ward's back injury has to be a serious concern.

Atlanta:  Kovalchuk is out and in my opinion their goaltending overperformed last year.  Byfuglien, as any Blackhawk fan will tell you, disappears for long stretches at a time and is not the player that he always seems to be at playoff time. 

New York Rangers:  I can't think of a team that I feel relies more heavily on one player.  If Gaborik is healthy then I think the Rangers will be much better than everyone expects.  If he goes down, their depth chart is thrown entirely out of whack and they'll be playing for 1-0 wins.  If Gaborik plays 60 or fewer games, I'll take the Leafs.

Montreal:  Carey Price will do what he always does; play just well enough that Habs fans will think he's the second-coming of Patrick Roy thus causing them to hate him that much more when he only has one good game in every three.  With Price's inconsistency in net, I can't imagine the Habs making the playoffs.

Ottawa:  Tough to say.  If Gonchar is healthy, one of their goalies plays well and Alfredsson continues to play at the same level he has through his entire career, they could be a very good team.  That's a lot of 'ifs'.  How much will the loss of Volchenkov hurt and what can Ottawa expect from Spezza and Alfredsson?  If the Leafs get into the playoffs, it will probably be at the expense of Ottawa so we better earn some good results in the Battle of Ontario.

Those are my picks.  I'm a homer.  I see the East finishing with Washington, New Jersey, Pittsburgh,  Philadelphia,  Boston as locks and Tampa Bay and Buffalo as probable playoff teams.

This leaves Ottawa, Toronto and the New York Rangers to fight over the remaining spot.  It will take strong goaltending, some surprise production among our forwards and for our defense corps to gel but the other teams competing for the eighth seed have their questions as well.

Maybe, just maybe, Dion wasn't as crazy as the mainstream media would have us believe.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tank Nation: Dispelling the Myth that Failure Leads to Success

Say the words "Tank Nation" to Brian Burke and you'll likely get punched in the mouth.  From the time the big Irishman took over the Leafs, he has committed himself to accelerating the process of making the Toronto Maple Leafs contenders in the Eastern Conference.

While the Phil Kessel deal purged the team of first round picks, thereby quieting the calls for the 'Tank Nation' strategy, there remains a significant number of hockey fans that feel that the proper way to rebuild is to take your lumps, finish in the bottom of the standings for a few years, and then look to compete a few seasons down the road.  This 'Fail to Succeed' model has never made a lot of sense to me intuitively but I decided to look at from a more quantitative perspective to see if there's any merit to the strategy.