Are You For Real?: Bonk, Armstrong, Sabourin
So far this season, "Are You for Real?" has covered the struggles of superstars such as Marian Hossa, the quick starts of the Rod Brind'Amour types and the renewed values of traded players like Ilya Bryzgalov. But if you're anything like us, sometimes sage wisdom just isn't enough. We are hard-core fantasy hockey fans, and we play in deep leagues. If you've found yourself looking at your waiver wire, forced to decide between the goal-scoring prowess of Jamal Mayers or Ben Eager's ability to rack up penalty minutes, then this column is for you. Read on.
Who would have thought the oft-criticized former Senator and Canadien would be leading the Predators in scoring this late in the season? Bonk, who is owned in just 3.1 percent of ESPN.com leagues, has 10 goals through 25 games after netting only 13 in 74 games last season. So what gives? He is a former third overall draft pick, so there was some offensive ability at one point. At 31 years old, is it possible that flair has returned?
Victoria: Offensive flair? Bonk had a career-high 70 points with Ottawa back in 2001-02, but in hockey terms, that was an epoch ago. Since the NHL lockout, Bonk has only 56 points in 159 games. So "flair" is a bit of an overstatement. Nevertheless, he is contributing for the Predators and does have value in deeper leagues. He often skates with Martin Erat and Alexander Radulov, which certainly adds to his worth. Radulov should eclipse the 60-point barrier by season's end, and Erat leads the team with 24 points in 25 games. And Bonk gets plenty of decent opportunities on the power play as well.
John: When I think of Bonk and "offensive flair," I think of the skills that made him such a high draft pick. In one season back in the Czech Republic in the early '90s, he posted 172 points in just 80 games, so I would say it's no surprise that he would be able to show some ability to score in the NHL, regardless of how old those stats are. But other than that minor point, I think we're in agreement. Bonk holds a valuable position between those two players and should continue to produce at a pace that makes him valuable in deep leagues.
Victoria: My one beef with Bonk is his position. He's not nearly as hot a commodity, relatively speaking, at center as he would be as a winger. But if you have only forward and defense positions, which some leagues have, then Bonk could be an ever better asset in a deeper league. In that setup, the more centers, the merrier.
Armstrong has never been a goal scorer, but he has to be better than this, right? Through 25 games, Armstrong doesn't have a single goal. But he does have 11 assists, and perhaps that's enough to make him worthy of some consideration in deeper leagues. Armstrong is coming off a fairly successful '06-07 season, with 44 points and 62 penalty minutes in just 67 games. Can we expect similar fantasy usefulness if we stash him at the end of our bench?
Victoria: Selflessness is far more an admirable quality in general life than it is on the ice. Armstrong carries a well-earned reputation for being too unselfish; he tends to pass the puck even when he has the best scoring chance. Unfortunately, we can't expect a big metamorphosis when it comes to that custom. He's 34 years old, and he's not going to change his habits now. Don't misunderstand me, Armstrong will score a goal at some point. He might even rack up seven or eight by year's end, but that hardly warrants any fantasy consideration. An assist every two games or so (I'm being generous here) is simply insufficient.
John: I disagree. I really do think Armstrong could be a valuable asset at the end of the bench in a deep league. Going by his career stats alone, you'll see that he can score a little, pass the puck, provide you with a decent plus/minus rating and actually pick up penalty minutes, as well. The only thing he is lacking is name recognition. Gary Roberts and Armstrong are essentially having the same season, yet Roberts is owned at a much higher rate than Armstrong (which is close to zero percent).
Victoria: But I don't buy the value in penalty minutes, either. There are many others out there who spend far more time in the box and contribute just as much on the score sheet. Buffalo's Paul Gaustad has the same number of points, but his 38 penalty minutes nearly double Armstrong's 20. And at least he has a handful of goals (four). Besides, Armstrong has a history of knee problems and likely will miss a bundle of games anyway. I wouldn't touch him in any league, regardless of size.
John: Well, just to spite you, maybe I'll grab him in our local league. With 16 teams and 25 players per team, about 400 players are currently rostered. With 11 points this season, Armstrong easily ranks among the top 400 players in the NHL. In fact, those 11 points tie him with Bill Guerin this season, and Armstrong has a better plus/minus. There must be room for him somewhere.
Sabourin has a much higher ownership percentage (14.7 percent) than the two previous players, and he presents a rare opportunity that other backup goalies do not. Whereas someone like Jonas Hiller, who could be an option in deeper leagues, is blocked by former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Sabourin plays behind still-unproven Marc-Andre Fleury. Sabourin doesn't have the same pedigree as Fleury, but his numbers have been better. Is it worth taking a chance and dropping a valuable commodity at another position to pick up a player who could potentially be on the bench for the foreseeable future?
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Victoria: Here's the deal: Fleury, at just 23 years old, is the Penguins' franchise goaltender. That's it, and that's all. Success for the 27-year-old Sabourin will entail staying in the NHL from October to April, even as a No. 2. He already has played more games this year (11) than in his three previous seasons combined. That said, he's not worthless in the fantasy world. Far from it. Some deeper leagues require a certain amount of weekly appearances for goaltenders. If you don't meet the quota, the stats go down the tube. It won't matter how many shutouts Roberto Luongo posts in a row if your other goalies don't even play. With only so many net-minders to go around, Sabourin's true value lies in the fact that he starts, on average, once a week. And despite Pittsburgh's lack of defensive fortitude, his numbers are still decent. So yes, if Sabourin lets you reap the rewards of a Luongo, Martin Brodeur or Henrik Lundqvist, by all means, go get him.
John: After that Derek Armstrong disagreement, it's nice to know we're on the same page again. For the short-term future, yes, Sabourin will have value. For the rest of the season? That's another story. If the Penguins are at all interested in competing this season, they will acquire another goaltender through a trade. Most likely it will be a veteran to share the load with Fleury. Sabourin's value is relegated to those leagues that require a given number of appearances per week.
Victoria Matiash and John Pereira are fantasy hockey analysts for ESPN.com.
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