Are You For Real?: Huselius, Blake and Green
With about 41 games in the book for each NHL franchise, officially we've hit the second half of the 2007-08 season. Never mind that silly All-Star spectacular later this month as an arbitrary halfway point, the crew here at AYFR has you covered.
Of course, at this time of year comes the first/second half split column that keys on which players have cooled off and which are heating up for the remainder of the season. Never ones to rob a reader from a yearly tradition, we're doing the same. Mainly we're keying on guys who have been playing well over the past month or so and decide whether that's something that will continue for the second half.
Huselius and linemate Jarome Iginla have been the two hottest players in the NHL over the past month. He has eight points in just three games to start January, along with another 20 points in December. He has 47 points on the season, good for 13th on the league's overall list and is on pace for a 90-point season. Huselius set a career best for total points in a season with 77 in 2006-07, but before that he had only been able to reach 45 points at best. Is this just a natural progression to elite status as a top option at left wing for fantasy owners? Or was this past month just a blip?
Victoria: Huselius will break the 90-point barrier this season, mark my words. Keep in mind, the current numbers are far from shocking. Of his 77 points in 2006-07, 55 came in the last 48 games. In terms of pace, there's nothing new here. As linemates, he's practically joined at the hip with Iginla, and it's working. It's working really, really well. The Flames are hot as heck and that duo deserves a lot of the credit. All you have to do is watch them as a pair; a scoring threat practically every time they hit the ice. Huselius always was an above-average playmaker, and now he's skating with confidence and intensity and, again, Jarome Iginla. If he was on my fantasy roster, I would hold on to him. Tightly.
John: Not often do Victoria and I agree so wholeheartedly. Huselius came over to the NHL after a few extremely successful seasons in Sweden with a lot of expectations on his shoulders. From the beginning he didn't disappoint with the Panthers, but never indicated, initially, that he would be this good. He's reunited with Mike Keenan, who coached him in Florida, and things are working well. We know how Keenan likes to lean heavily on his key players and Huselius will see a lot of ice time from here on out and produce alongside Iginla.
If you examine his game log so far, it looks like a completely different player emerged after the end of November. Over the first two months, Blake had only seven points, 16 penalty minutes and a minus-11 rating. Since Dec. 1, he's gone on a mini-tear with 13 points, 52 penalty minutes and a plus-five rating. So which Rob Blake is the real one? Was he just off to a slow start and has only now returned to his perennial All-Star form? Or is he just on a month-long hot streak? Rob Blake is back, but is he for real?
Victoria: Nope, and it isn't entirely his fault. Deservedly dead last in the league, the Kings are an appalling hockey club and they're getting worse. After a reasonably competitive fall, L.A. won a paltry four of 16 games in December. They're only 1-for-4 in January thus far. Why would you want such an inconsistent blueliner on a team currently batting .250? To bank on one good month? If you're going to take the hit in the plus/minus category, at least Lubomir Visnovsky brings some reliability, with steady production (25 points) over the course of the season. As a Blake owner, count your blessings for the pleasant anomaly that was December and dish him off to a starry-eyed league-mate for someone more steadfast. Someone who plays on a better team. Get your penalty minutes elsewhere.
John: I'm not willing to be so negative on Blake's prospects for the rest of the season. Reasonably, I think he'll produce useful numbers for owners in midsized to deeper leagues. He's sixth in the NHL for penalty minutes among defensemen this season and has 17 points to boot. That mix of physical play and offensive prowess puts him in a pretty exclusive group that includes Zdeno Chara, Dion Phaneuf and Chris Pronger. Granted, unlike the other players, you'll have to deal with the poor plus/minus.
Victoria: Pardon my uncouth language, but Rob Blake is old. He's 38; hardly ancient by life's standards, but almost decrepit for professional hockey. And he had hip surgery in April 2007, which required several months of rehab. The elderly statesman is simply playing on borrowed time. Frankly, Blake has his ring and is quietly playing out the end of a bloated two-year, $12 million contract where his career started. What else is there to compete for? The playoffs? The Kings? Give me strength.
John: There is one thing left to play for another team. Mark my words, he'll be traded to a contender at deadline time. Oh and Victoria, he may be old, but at least he's not Chris Chelios old.
It's said that Green has one of the best haircuts in the NHL (if only we could draft him for that alone), but he also looks pretty on the ice. Especially over the past month. He's playing some great hockey to start off January, with six points in three games, and leads all NHL defensemen with 11 goals this season. He's in the top 20 overall for defensemen in points, and in the top 30 in penalty minutes. Undoubtedly a great combination for fantasy owners, but will it last?
Victoria: I'm not going to touch his hair, but Green is certainly putting up some pretty points this season and expect that to continue. Here's why: He shoots a lot and spends a ton of time on the power play. Green leads all Washington defensemen, by a mile, in shots on goal (98) and sits third on the entire roster. Only Alexander Ovechkin and Viktor Kozlov have more. Not an outrageous theory by any means, but with more shots, usually, come more goals (and assists).
John: Plus, as Victoria alluded to, he logs more ice time with the man advantage than any other blueliner on the Capitals' roster. He also ranks 20th in that category overall in the NHL. This explains the eight power-play points. As an owner of Mike Green, you should consider these stats very reassuring. The scariest thing of all, he's only 23 years old, so he's still improving.
Victoria: And when it comes to his impressive time spent in the box, I'm a believer as well. Green was a fairly scrappy dude back in the AHL. He earned 105 penalty minutes in 68 games with Hershey over the past couple of years. It seems that the young lad has grown enough confidence now to throw his weight around with the big boys.
John: It did take him some time to grow that confidence, though, as his game log shows at first glance. He's hot as heck as we speak running the power play for the Capitals and punishing opposing forwards. So yes, when it comes to both points and penalty minutes, Mike Green is for real.
Victoria Matiash and John Pereira are fantasy hockey analysts for ESPN.com.
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