Commentary

Fantasy Hockey Kryptonite: Just. Can't. Resist.

Updated: September 24, 2008, 3:29 PM ET
By ESPN Fantasy Staff

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

That is one of the most famous -- and often misquoted -- decrees of the 20th century, attributed to the philosopher George Santayana. Since Santayana died in 1952, years before the advent of fantasy sports, he was never able to see the irony of that statement as it relates to what we call fantasy Kryptonite.

Fantasy Kryptonite can best be described as the weakness an owner has for certain, often underachieving, players. Year after year, these players show enough of their considerable potential, either in training camp or early in the season, to urge owners to waste a draft pick or a high waiver position on them. These owners should know better, but they just can't help themselves. No one is immune to their personal biases, and even we, the fantasy hockey scribes at ESPN.com, are susceptible to giving the same player a chance in spite of disappointments in seasons past.

In order to give you a better idea of some of the repeat Kryptonite players, and why we still love them, we've enlisted the help of our fantasy hockey experts:

Tristan Cockcroft: Patrick Marleau, C, Sharks

Patrick Marleau
Kyle Terada/US Presswire... still waiting for Patrick Marleau to return to excellence.
Why do I always draft this guy? I admit it's more of an endorsement of his team than Marleau himself; it's tough to wear a Sharks sweater and not be a productive player when you're firing 200 shots on goal per season. Problem is, outside of Marleau's 34-goal, 86-point breakout year in 2005-06, he hasn't quite lived up to his status as the No. 2 pick in the 1997 draft. Last season was particularly poor. If not for his 26 power-play points, it would've been as bad a year as any of his pre-lockout campaigns.

Two things draw me back to Marleau as a bounce-back candidate this year, though: (1) He has a full no-trade clause, so a departure from San Jose and its loaded offense likely won't be in the cards; and (2) the presence of Joe Thornton, the assist machine who usually plays alongside Marleau on the power play. There's work to be done to revive Marleau's career, but I've got to think that a guy this talented, in the prime of his career at age 29, will be able to get back on track.

Jim Wilkie: Sergei Fedorov, C, Capitals; Brad Stuart, D, Red Wings

I don't believe I've ever selected Fedorov in a draft, but it never fails that I pick him up as a free agent or via trade in the middle of the season when I'm looking to dump some other player who isn't producing. Recently, however, his stay on my roster has been short-lived after a lack of consistent production.

The lure of someone with his credentials and talents is enticing. The former Hart Trophy winner and three-time Stanley Cup champion is still a smooth-skating, smart two-way player. But since his 65-point season for Anaheim in 2003-04, Fedorov has averaged just 42.3 points per season. After posting a positive plus-minus in each of his first 13 seasons in the league (for a total of plus-244), he has posted a negative number in each of six seasons since. That steady decline and his age (38) make it doubtful Fedorov will be a point-per-game producer for the first time since 2002-03.

Of course, Fedorov has escaped the struggling Blue Jackets and landed with the dynamic Capitals, leading many to anticipate his rejuvenation. The possibility of Fedorov feeding Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin this season is enough for me to take another chance on the 17-year veteran the next time I'm trolling the free-agent pool -- if someone else hasn't beaten me to him.

Brad Stuart
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesWith the Red Wings, the circumstances are right for Brad Stuart to break out. But we've said that before.
Meanwhile, Stuart, San Jose's first pick (No. 3 overall) in the 1998 draft, never became the big point producer many were expecting with the Sharks … or the next four teams he played for. His numbers have been respectable, but his season high is 12 goals and 31 assists for the Sharks and Bruins in 2005-06. At every stop in his NHL odyssey, from San Jose to Boston to Calgary to Los Angeles, I'd wait, usually way too long, for him to break out before giving up disappointed.

Although the change of scenery didn't always produce a spike in production in each of Stuart's previous stops, I believe he has found the perfect fit in Detroit. Stuart notched a goal, an assist and a plus-six in nine games with the Red Wings after coming over at the trade deadline, but his playoff output of a goal, six assists and a whopping plus-15 in 21 games has helped his fantasy stock considerably heading into 2008-09.

He clicked with defensive partner Niklas Kronwall, and the pair should be just as strong in their first full season together. As top-four defensemen, they figure to get between 21-23 minutes per game, which can't be underestimated in the revised scoring engine of ESPN Fantasy Hockey League Manager.

Victoria Matiash: Nik Antropov, C, Maple Leafs

Nik Antropov
Graig Abel/NHLI/Getty ImagesSomeone has to score in Toronto, right?
My dirty little secret is Nik Antropov. I've devoted fantasy advice columns, either full or in part, to why this guy is a bad option … and yet, there he sits, on my very own roster year after year. Of course, I'm shamed by the hypocrisy. You can liken me to the strict dietitian who secretly stuffs her face with Oreos at 2 in the morning. There's no excuse. Although last year was better than most, I know he's a proven, classic underachiever. I fully realize that healthwise his legs (knees/ankles) are a mess. But he's so insanely skilled! If he could only live up to his talent for one season! It won't happen, and yet I still dream.

Of course, he's on my team again this season. To be fair, I did grab him in the 16th round of the mock draft, so the sacrifice was minimal. The Maple Leafs are in such wretched shape, and figuring someone must score, why not go with the greatest talent left on the team? The logic is fairly solid, but I still should know better.

In reality, this is what likely will transpire: Antropov will light it up for a month and play like a superstar. Then he won't register more than two points over the next 30 days. Then he'll get hurt. The end.

John Pereira: Nikolai Zherdev, RW, Rangers

I end up owning this uber-talented Russian in at least one of my leagues every season, which up until last year hasn't really been a positive. We all know he has the skill set to become a point-per-game player in the NHL, hence my draw to him each year, but year in and year out he has disappointed. He's quite possibly one of the purest talents in the game, but his work ethic and attitude seem to hold him back.

His trade to the Rangers only fans my flames of hope that the former No. 4 overall pick will reach his lofty potential, considering the weapons he will have surrounding him. The Rangers have many questions surrounding them as a whole this year, but I have bought into Zherdev. He can't possibly misfire alongside Scott Gomez, can he? And at 23 he can only get better, right? Here's hoping that's true.

Sean Allen: Martin Havlat, RW, Blackhawks, and "The Young Guns"

My fantasy Kryptonite comes in two forms: young playmaking prospects with vision on the ice, and Martin Havlat.

To address the first category, let's just say I've developed what has turned out to be a bad habit of becoming quickly enamored with prospects who rack up high assists totals in either major-junior leagues or college. My two main Kryptonite characters the past few seasons are now young players for the Oilers who have failed to show significant fantasy relevance to date. Robert Nilsson looked like another great Swede in the mold of Mats Sundin, Daniel Alfredsson and Henrik Sedin as he was rising through the ranks -- and although he still might break through, he hasn't exactly been an asset the past three seasons when I drafted him. Fellow Oilers young gun Rob Schremp is another example, and although he appeared at first to be another major-junior star who couldn't ply his trade in professional hockey, he finished a surprising top 10 in the AHL scoring race last season. Now he brings his puck wizardry to Edmonton this season, assuming he wins one of the available spots in camp.

On the other hand, I also have an example of one of these players paying off, or becoming "blue Kryptonite," if you will. Andrei Kostitsyn was another puck wizard coming through the ranks, and he finally had a breakthrough season with 53 points in 2007-08.

As for the second category of my fantasy Kryptonite, I just can't seem to let go of Havlat's potential to be a triple-digit scorer. All of the contract holdouts and shoulder injuries in the world couldn't keep me from drafting Havlat as a No. 1 right winger year after year. Fortunately, two young players in Chicago, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, have allowed me to let go of my obsession for Havlat. The two youngsters likely will force Havlat to Chicago's second line, which doesn't look near as impressive with Dave Bolland at center instead of Robert Lang. Wait, what's that? Bolland had a 73-assist, 130-point campaign with the OHL's London Knights in 2005-06? Here we go again …

Tim Kavanagh: Brenden Morrow, LW, Stars; Playoff hero goalies

Brenden Morrow
Brett Davis/US PresswireHe's been a disappointment, but he plays physical and can score and ...
I have quite a dangerous penchant for overpaying for multi-category studs in any fantasy sport I play. In baseball, it's the speed-power guys; in hockey, it's the high-scoring ruffians -- i.e., power forwards -- like Morrow. It does not help my addiction that I watch games and notice that the Dallas left winger plays like a bowling ball whenever he hits the ice, like an angst-filled teenager in a mosh pit, like a caged tiger released into a meat-packing plant. Perhaps it's this "je ne sais quoi" that furthers my bias, and I would say that I tend to approach each year's draft with one goal in mind: Morrow or bust. The ESPN experts' mock draft that was held earlier this month was no exception; I probably reached a bit by selecting Morrow in the second round, ahead of some guys who likely will beat him by 30 points by season's end. But with the power play ready to rock again this season for the Brad Richards-enhanced Stars, I was willing to take the gamble.

The other source of fantasy Kryptonite for me is the goalie who "stands on his head" in the prior season's playoffs. The trailblazer in this regard is Jean-Sebastien Giguere. After leading the Mighty Ducks to within one game of winning the Stanley Cup by putting up better stats than All-World goaltender Martin Brodeur in the 2003 playoffs, the Jiggermeister Express was derailed in 2003-04, when the goaltender won just 17 of 55 starts and his ratios slid to a pedestrian 2.62 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.

The 2006 playoffs introduced Cam Ward to the world, and his 2.14 goals-against average during the campaign -- along with two shutouts -- earned him the Conn Smythe trophy as MVP of the playoffs. After I drafted the youngster the following season, he went on to let that average balloon to 2.93, posting only two shutouts in 60 games.

Based on the 2007 postseason, the playoff goaltending hero was Ray Emery, who backstopped the Senators to three straight 4-1 series victories before losing in the Finals. To put it mildly, Emery had a devastatingly bad go of it in 2007-08, both on and off the ice, was eventually waived and will play this upcoming season in Russia. Hopefully you were smart enough to "handcuff" Martin Gerber to Emery if you drafted the latter last season.

So who is this year's candidate? Marc-Andre Fleury. He will definitely get the offensive support to win plenty of games, and the buzz around the former first overall draft pick has never been higher thanks to last season's remarkable run through the playoffs. But he still shows signs of shakiness and could brutalize your ratio categories -- his career regular-season goals-against average is more than a half-goal more than the number he put up during last season's run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Doesn't mean I won't draft him, though…

Pete Becker, Markus Naslund, LW, Rangers

This is a tale of an aging star I refuse to give up on. Yup, even though his points total has decreased in four consecutive seasons. Even though the line that propelled him to 104 points in 2002-03 has all but disintegrated. Even though the Rangers are a team where players go to once they can be paid for what they've accomplished rather than what they will accomplish. Lord help me, I love Markus Naslund, and I can't help but give him chance after chance.

He bit me hardest the season after the lockout when, with the new rules in place to open up scoring, I heralded him as the No. 1 pick for fantasy. He finished with 79 points, his first sub-point-per-game pace since 1999-2000, and a soul-killing minus-19. I gave him a chance to rebound for me in 2006-07, and he rewarded me with 60 points and a thanks-for-nothing plus-3. I took a chance on him last season amidst the talk of his skating with the Sedin twins all season, and I got 55 points and a minus-7, and for the first time since 1996-97, he failed to break the 50 penalty-minute mark.

But I just can't stay away. I think 60 points this season is his floor, and the ceiling is closer to mid-70s. He'll be playing with Scott Gomez, an infinitely better playmaker than Brendan Morrison ever was, and he'll be the first sniping option on that line, as opposed to when the Sedin twins occasionally allowed him an assist on one of their goals. He'll be helping improve a power play that now features Wade Redden's considerable presence on the point. Oh, and someone will unearth a birth certificate that proves Naslund is actually 31, not 35. OK, maybe not, but such are the lengths I'll go to to talk myself into drafting Naslund. Again.

Oh well, at least Martin Straka can't tempt me anymore.