Cockcroft: The fantasy hockey all-stars
The NHL announced its All-Stars on Tuesday, and the accolades are flying for the game's elite, like Martin Brodeur, Sidney Crosby, Nicklas Lidstrom and Roberto Luongo. But you -- the fantasy owner -- knew those guys were pretty good already, right?
Fantasy hockey is so much different a beast, and when it comes to all-stars, it's value we crave, not simply league dominance. Oh sure, a standout season by a superstar is always appreciated, but what makes or breaks a season are those lesser names, the guys in the third, fourth and fifth rounds who perform like first-rounders, or those out-of-nowhere late-rounders or in-season pickups who challenge for top-50 status.
So to complement the real-life game's All-Star announcement, I'm here to award the honors for fantasy's best standouts so far. No, you won't see a Brodeur or Luongo on the list -- oh, they're real-life all-stars, no question -- but the guys below have been pretty good, too, and exceptional values if you added them to your squad.
Martin Gerber, G, Senators: Sure, he's a little streaky, and the threat of Ray Emery stealing starts looms large in the second half. Still, when Gerber has been good, he's been really good, with 19 wins in 27 starts, and winning streaks of eight, four and (on two occasions) three games. Fantasy owners drafted Emery first -- No. 7 at the position -- but those who handcuffed the two haven't skipped a beat. Hey, that's just what a well-rounded, Stanley Cup-contending team can do for its goalies. Looking forward, though, I'd keep the handcuff on hand, knowing these guys' numbers are a bit team-inspired.
Ryan Getzlaf, F, Ducks: I've been waiting a couple of years for this annual breakout candidate to make good on the prediction, and he has been up to the task this season. Few forwards have been better category fillers than Getzlaf, a top-30 performer in goals (17, 28th), points (46, 14th), plus/minus (plus-17, fifth), penalty minutes (61, 24th) and power-play points (20, 11th). The Ducks might not boast that deep an offense, but this is a genuine team leader, and at age 22, Getzlaf can only get better from here.
Jarome Iginla, F, Flames: He might not have been a first-rounder in the preseason, but he's playing like one today, adapting remarkably well to new coach Mike Keenan's system. So much for the talk Keenan might alienate the captain. Iginla ranks second in the NHL in goals (32), points (60) and power-play goals (12), and his plus-19 rating puts him well on pace to top his career best of plus-27, set in 2001-02. A 61-goal, 114-point season (his current pace) seems unlikely, but why complain about an easy 50/100?
Ilya Kovalchuk, F, Thrashers: You know him, you love him, and you picked him 15th on average in the preseason, but admit it, you always had a little fear of Thrashers players regarding their plus/minus due to the franchise's dreadful defensive reputation. Heck, some of you might have quickly dished him off on an "unsuspecting" owner after his team kicked off the year 0-6. Well, folks, if you did so, you made a huge mistake. Kovalchuk is the league's leader in goals (34, 28 since Nov. 1), and he's third in points (59). And I'm not about to claim his current 65-goal pace is an outrageous expectation. He's money in the bank in the category, minus-6 rating be damned.
Pascal Leclaire, G, Blue Jackets: This accolade goes out to him more for his performance in the first two months than what he has done lately, but let's face it, you couldn't get much more dominant than Leclaire in October or November. In his 17 starts he rattled off 10 wins, six of them shutouts, and registered a 1.88 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. Today he finds himself ranked first in the league in shutouts (seven), second in GAA (1.97) and fourth in save percentage (.928). In other words, he's still a safe, reliable No. 2 option, even if he's losing more time to Fredrik Norrena.
Andrei Markov, D, Canadiens: Someone had to take command of the Montreal blue line after 2006-07 sensation Sheldon Souray departed for Edmonton, and Markov has been a more than adequate solution. His 10 goals rank second among defensemen, and his 18 power-play points rank him fifth at the position. Plus, with Markov quarterbacking a Montreal power play that ranked first in the league (24.2 percent success rate), his chances at a 20-goal, 50-point season look awfully good.
Chris Osgood, G, Red Wings: Dominik Hasek ranks seventh in the league in GAA (2.21), but what might surprise you is that not only has his projected preseason backup, Osgood, outplayed him, he has significantly outplayed him. Osgood is the league's leader in GAA (1.68) and save percentage (.932), and his 19 wins tie him with current Player Rater leader Roberto Luongo, despite the fact that he's appeared in 11 fewer games. So much for Osgood being only a useful handcuff or spot-start candidate; he's in a virtual split with Hasek for starts, and really deserves more than that.
Brian Rafalski, D, Red Wings: Not that there were many skeptics regarding Rafalski when he came home during the summer -- he was picked 11th on average among defensemen in the preseason, after all -- but he couldn't have adapted more quickly or effectively to his new surroundings. Check his ranks among defensemen: ninth in goals (seven), second in points (36), fifth in plus/minus (plus-16), first in power-play points (21). Suddenly, he and Nicklas Lidstrom are the league's most reliable, consistent one-two defensive punch in the league. Don't expect that to change.
Wade Redden, D, Senators: Again, this one is a tad team-related, because if not for a plus-16 rating, fifth-best among defensemen, Redden's season might look pretty ordinary today. Still, a No. 11 ranking in points (25), and a No. 9 ranking among defensemen on the Player Rater isn't bad by any means. Redden finds himself on pace to match his 2005-06 numbers of 10 goals and 50 points, and he could best his career bests of a plus-35 rating and 30 power-play points that season, too. I give him better than 50/50 odds.
Mike Richards, F, Flyers: Scroll down the scorers leaderboard and one of those names, at least from a fantasy perspective, doesn't seem to fit, does it? That's right, Richards, at No. 18 (44 points), didn't even crack the top 100 players selected on average in the preseason, probably because he's a 22-year-old on a team that was by far the NHL's worst a year ago. He's a fantasy force today, though, and it helps that he's a power-play machine, tied for second in the league in power-play points (21). He's probably not quite a point-per-game type from today forward, but is talented enough to stick close.
Michal Rozsival, D, Rangers: "Awful" might actually be too kind a description of the Rangers' offense this season, but for a team that has consistently ranked at or near the bottom in goals per game, Rozsival's performance deserves many kudos. He's tied with Markov for second among defensemen in goals (10), and is a reliable contributor on special teams, too, with 13 power-play points and two shorthanded goals. These Rangers have far more talent on offense than their numbers indicate, and while his career-best 20-goal, 49-point paces seem unlikely, Rozsival could get close if his team heats up.
Mats Sundin, F, Maple Leafs: He's setting all sorts of franchise records this season -- and that's an Original Six squad, folks -- but what gets him on this list is that the Sundin of 2007-08 looks so much like Sundin in his prime years. Look at his full-season paces: 39 goals, 94 points, a plus-21 rating, 31 power-play points. With the exception of his incredible career numbers of 1992-93, those numbers would challenge any of Sundin's other greatest seasons, and certainly make him a better player than he has been in, say, a decade. Plus, he's not cooling off at all of late, so even at age 37, his pace is for real.
Henrik Zetterberg, F, Red Wings: Putting aside that he missed five games earlier in the season with a back injury, Zetterberg has been phenomenal, ranking fifth in goals (26), seventh in points (54), 11th in plus/minus (plus-16) and third in power-play goals (11). Plus, it's his consistency we love; he kicked off the season with a 17-game point streak, and has a point in all but five of his 38 games. Zetterberg is in his prime and his team is as potent offensively as any, so a 50-goal, 100-point season is indeed possible.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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