With the latest slew of All-Star shenanigans in the books, let's open with a topical letter to the NHL's beloved commissioner.
With full acknowledgement of your courageous efforts in trying to make the All-Star Game as interesting as possible, we here at ESPN's "Are You For Real" respectfully suggest you scrap it once and for all. It's silly and boring. Hockey requires bodily contact and physical intensity. All-Star matches (without Jeremy Roenick involved) lack both. As fun as it is to play in the game, it's mind-numbingly tedious to watch -- regardless of how good the players are. Besides, there's the embarrassment factor of so many players opting out these days anyway, for physical or "personal" reasons. Just name the team in principle and leave it at that. Those chosen can gush to the media about how privileged they are to be included and we'll all be spared three hours of agony on ice.
However, our position regarding the skills competition is completely different. It's a hoot. In lieu of the All-Star Game, we humbly suggest an expansion of the festivities to involve more events and more players. Some tinkering and tightening is in order, though. The team obstacle course has to go, and the rules concerning the creative "shootout" contest must be clarified and adjusted. Proper goalie challenges would be good too. And don't feel the need to invite only "All-Stars"; we want to see a matchup of those who are best at what they do, regardless of whether they're considered the league's elite or not.
Thank you for considering our thoughts.
Victoria and John
P.S. And would you mind forwarding the spirit of this note to your NFL counterpart Roger Goodell? The Pro Bowl isn't any better.
Now back to the business of examining those who are, or are not, for real.
Teemu Selanne, RW, Anaheim
Welcome back Teemu! It certainly has been awhile. Now what can we expect from you? Will you be the fantasy heartthrob reminiscent of last season? Or are you facing a reduced role on an already settled Ducks squad?
John: The Finnish Flash finally made up his mind and decided to follow Scott Niedermayer's lead. All signs pointed to a return: the constant workouts, the Ducks' desperate need for scoring and his reluctance to retire in the first place. So, it's not likely that he's on your waiver wire, but is he worth trading for before he hits the ice? Of course. Selanne is healthy and carrying a fresh set of legs. He should bring an immediate impact to the Ducks' lineup. It looks as if he'll be skating beside Doug Weight and Chris Kunitz, a pretty good situation to walk into. Make a run at him in whatever league you play in.
Victoria: My endorsement isn't quite so hearty. There's no doubting Selanne's talent, but fresh legs aside, he's going to be rusty. It's going to take awhile for him to warm up. I'm also concerned about his projected spot in the lineup. Weight and Kunitz aren't huge guys, and Selanne's no behemoth either. Their collective lack of size could make them vulnerable. We'll have to see. And how are the Ducks desperate for scoring? The team is 7-3-3 for the month of January and tied for ninth in terms of goals per game for the season. Selanne doesn't need to take on the savior's role for this team, and it would be silly for us to expect a repeat of last season's exceptional output. But once settled in on one of the top two lines, yes, he will be a reasonable asset to any fantasy roster. Just don't expect anything miraculous.
Jason Spezza, C, Ottawa
After December's scoring flurry, January hasn't been as kind to this elite Senator. Just before the All-Star break, Spezza experienced his first three-game pointless streak of the season and his plus/minus rating for the month is an extremely mediocre even par. His numbers aren't horrid, by any means, but they're below what we've come to expect from one of the league's top fantasy prospects. Will Spezza continue to be just "ordinary" as long as Dany Heatley remains out of the lineup?
Victoria: If anything has become clear regarding Spezza recently, it's that he needs either Heatley or Daniel Alfredsson beside him to be effective. As long as one of them is holding his hand, no worries. Unfortunately, Alfredsson is once again listed as day-to-day after hurting his hip on Tuesday night against the Islanders. It doesn't seem too serious at this point, but there's very little information otherwise. If Alfie misses a handful of games while Heatley remains on the mend, Spezza's production is going to suffer.
John: I agree with you completely; his value hinges too much on who his linemates are. When left to skate without Heatley or Alfredsson, he's hard-pressed to produce. But it's difficult to argue with his math. Despite a slightly slower January, Spezza is still on pace to near the 100-point plateau by season's end. I guess it doesn't really matter why he scores, as long as the points accumulate.
Victoria: True. Plus, in all likelihood, Alfredsson won't miss much action, if any, and Heatley is already back practicing this week. Regardless of what happens in the next short while, Spezza owners can certainly wait for the scoring frenzy that will surely follow Heatley's return in February.
J.P. Dumont, RW, Nashville
With 25 points in his past 21 games, Dumont is turning heads both in Nashville and within the fantasy hockey realm. Formerly cast aside by Buffalo following arbitration, he's on pace for his best season ever. But considering his less explosive production in the first two-and-a-half months, we're forced to ask Mr. Dumont: Are you for real?
John: Jean-Pierre, or JP, is having one hell of a hot start to 2008. Currently running a 15-game point streak, he's going a long way to proving these Predators still have some offensive bite following an offseason housecleaning. Within this 15-game streak, Dumont has 20 points and is on pace for 70 overall. The consistency is heartening, to say the least.
Victoria: A lot of credit should go to his linemates. Alexander Radulov and Jason Arnott (no slouches either) posted similar numbers over the past few weeks. The members of this trio lead the team in points and obviously work well together. The Predators have every intention of making the playoffs, and this top line will have to continue to perform soundly for that to happen. I expect the Preds to meet those expectations. Besides, Dumont is a smart player, an occasionally underrated quality in the NHL altogether.
John: Absolutely. And it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that he's playing so well right now. Historically, he's a second-half performer. Sixty percent of his scoring came in the second half of last season with 39 points in his final 43 games. Buy into this streak, trade for him and enjoy a steady point producer until the end of the season.
Victoria Matiash and John Pereira are fantasy hockey analysts for ESPN.com.