Are You For Real: Is this Marian or Marcel Hossa?
All Hallows Eve is upon us, a time when we can expect to see witches, goblins and SpongeBob SquarePants impresarios at our doors. But the kiddies aren't the only ones dressing up. Some NHL players are also costuming themselves, pretending to be others. Take Rod Brind'Amour, for example. The 19-year veteran is wearing flannel shirts, stonewashed blue jeans and listening to Nirvana's "Nevermind" album, apparently thinking it's 1991 all over again.
Let's take a quick trip around the league to see whom other players are impersonating for Halloween this year and ask: Are they for real?
Dressed up as: Patrick Roy
At almost 25 years old, it seems as though Pascal has found his game. He's leading the NHL in goals-against average (1.29), is second in save percentage (.949) and is tied for fourth in wins (5). That's a far cry from last year, when he posted a GAA just south of 3.00 and a save percentage below .900. Has the 2001 first-round pick finally settled in? Are the Blue Jackets that improved of a team? Or is this just an early-season fluke?
Victoria: We shouldn't forget the shutouts; he has four in seven games. Yikes! Leclaire is an extremely gifted goaltender. He's considered one of the quickest and most athletic in the game, in fact. Based on talent alone, I have no problem endorsing him as the genuine article. And the Jackets' defense is getting increasingly difficult to play against. They're seventh in the NHL in shots allowed, and the addition of defensive forward Michael Peca doesn't hurt either. Under most circumstances, Leclaire would be a great asset to any fantasy roster
John: Lemme cut you off here. I just don't believe it. Call me a naysayer or whatever else you would like, but I just don't buy into breakout performances like this. Ever. Give me one good full season first. If Leclaire looks this good in March, maybe I'll draft him next October. More than likely, if you have him this year, you took a flier on him as your third goalie. So why wouldn't you cash in? Really, trade "down" to another goalie, maybe pick up a forward in the deal, and you're golden. As Victoria said, the defense is limiting opposing offenses to about 27 shots per game, but I expect that to jump up somewhat. This team has very little in the way of talented, shutdown defensemen aside from Adam Foote.
Victoria: Another reason to doubt Leclaire: I don't trust his left knee. He has busted, torn and re-aggravated that joint so many times, I wonder what could possibly be holding it together. Unless it's some indestructible material previously unknown to humankind, I don't want this guy on my fantasy squad for the long haul. Following last December's surgery, he returned in February, and blew it out again almost immediately. How can you put any faith in someone that fragile? His stats from last year don't even weigh into the equation since he made only six appearances in the last four months. I say you sell now and sell high, preferably to someone unaware of his health history.
Dressed up as: Erik Johnson, D, Blues
The previous consensus among this fantasy hockey staff was that Erik Johnson would be the one to take home the Calder Trophy as best rookie. Patrick Kane is putting a serious damper on those predictions. There were many reasons not to buy into this kid. The former London Knight and first overall pick is small and hadn't played a single NHL game. Despite those shortcomings, he leads the league in rookie scoring, with four goals and 10 assists. At just 18 years old, is he a genuine rookie superstar or just an early-season flash in the pan?
Victoria: For the record, I picked Nicklas Backstrom to win the Calder, but I had a good feeling that Patrick Kane would be NHL-ready immediately.
John: So this offensive explosion doesn't surprise you?
Victoria: Of course it does, there's a big difference between being an asset and a superstar. I thought Patrick Kane would register 50 points this season, not 100. I still think he's good for only 50-60 points; there's no way he can maintain this pace. His lack of size, as opposed to his maturity, is the biggest reason why. Kane officially weighs in at 170 pounds, but his own coaches admit he's closer to 165. Opposing skaters are going to figure out a way to use their own bulk to put a stop to this guy. It will just take a little time. I realize Kane posted 158 points in the OHL last year (in only 58 games), but this ain't junior hockey.
Even Chicago's coaching staff is surprised by all the scoring. According to the Canadian Press, Denis Savard said, "We didn't expect them honestly to be as good as they are right now," referring to Kane and Jonathan Toews. If the head coach is shocked, take it as an indication that someone is playing above a maintainable level. Savard has been clear he wants a more balanced performance from his entire team, and I expect him to get it. Patrick Kane will have a good season, but he won't have a sensational one. Fantasywise, deal with that as you wish.
John: I would have to say I am a little more bullish on Kane's ability to have an impact on the fantasy game than Victoria is. While the coaching staff in Chicago might be surprised, it's certainly not letting its preconceptions get in the way. Savard has been using his young superstar a lot early on. In fact, Kane is averaging nearly 20 minutes per game. And Kane has been using that time wisely, taking 38 shots on net this season, good enough to lead the Hawks and be in the league's top 25.
One other thing to remember: Kane did all this without the help of Martin Havlat. Havlat is the type of player who makes his teammates better. I don't care if he is fragile or spoiled; that's not the point. He will make Kane better. While I do expect young Patrick's point-per-game pace to slow somewhat, he won't fall back to the 50- to 60-point range. I say a healthy Havlat on the power play alongside Kane should keep the kid in the 70-point range.
Dressed up as: Marcel Hossa, Rangers
Both of the Hossa boys have three points so far this season, but guess with whom fantasy players are more disappointed? Marian is coming off a 100-point year and has been near the top in the scoring race in the past three years. On average, he was drafted ninth overall in ESPN leagues but hasn't registered anything in his past four games. Has an injury earlier this season derailed his offensive capabilities? Are the Thrashers so bad that Hossa can't create offense? Has he just lost his touch? Marian Hossa, can you still play hockey? In essence, is this for real?
Victoria: Poor Marcel. He finally gets some fantasy attention, and it's all mockingly negative. As for Marian, he'll be fine. The Thrashers aren't bad enough to stop Ilya Kovalchuk from scoring (12 points), and the same will soon apply to Marian. Just watch him play; the pace and quick hands are still there. And he's shooting -- 24 shots in eight games -- and more of those shots will start finding the back of the net soon. As for the early-season injury, everyone appears to be pulling groin muscles these days. It seems as if it's all the rage. It's not a big deal. There's little reason to bail on someone consistently tried, tested and true at this early stage. Remember, it's a long season.
John: Poor Marcel indeed. How disappointed will he be if he decides to search for himself on ESPN.com and the only thing he can find is this article? But I digress. As other fantasy columnists have told readers time and again, good players will produce eventually. Sure, the Thrashers are bad, but as Victoria said, that's not bothering Kovalchuk. I suspect GM Don Waddell's decision to fire Bob Hartley so early in this season could be impacting the play of this entire team. Hartley was well-liked by the players, and Hossa could be struggling under the new leadership. Tie that in with an earlier injury, and that would explain his slow start. Just be patient.
Victoria Matiash and John Pereira are fantasy hockey analysts for ESPN.com.
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