Offseason Notebook: Eastern Conference busts
Sleepers get all the glory. They cause jealousy when other owners select a guy pegged to break out, and when someone in a draft picks a unanimous sleeper, pardon the oxymoron, the room is alive with praise and envy.
Busts don't get the love they deserve. You don't look at another owner's team and say, "I wish I had avoided the players he doesn't have." When a potential bust falls in the draft, no one casually comments on the good job done by everyone for avoiding him for so long.
Oh, there is work done every year on busts and guys to avoid. It just doesn't get enough respect from fantasy owners. Avoiding a player who will be a plague to your team can be even more important than picking up that sleeper, as busts tend to go higher in drafts than your late-round sleeper. But even late-round busts can be quite detrimental to your season. Owners will be less likely to cut a guy who is "underperforming" than they will be to pick up a guy who could "get hot."
With that in mind, I implore you to concentrate on watching out for busts this season. Divide time evenly to researching both sleepers and players you think could end up being a thorn in your side.
Let's take an early look at one guy from each team whom I expect to be ranked higher than he should in the fantasy realm.
We'll split this column in two and cover the Western Conference next week.
Paul Martin, D, Devils: Martin is going to be viewed as the incumbent to Brian Rafalski's numbers now that the latter has left town. In reality, the combination of Karel Rachunek and Andy Greene will eat into Martin's power-play opportunities and turn him into a No. 3 defenseman, at best.
Bill Guerin, RW, Islanders: By virtue of scoring 36 goals for St. Louis and San Jose last season, Guerin will get some love this season as a second-tier right winger. Don't forget that in the 2005-06 season Guerin had only 13 goals as a Dallas Star. His resurgence can be attributed to playing regularly with one of the top set-up men in Doug Weight. I don't expect a mere 13-goal season, but I don't expect another 36-goal campaign either. The Isles just don't have the weapons on offense. Guerin should be good for a 20-goal basement with a 25-goal ceiling, which doesn't make him a very strong No. 2 right winger
Chris Drury, C, Rangers: Scott Gomez is the natural fit for Jaromir Jagr. That leaves Drury with the second-line scraps. I suppose calling Brendan Shanahan "second-line scraps" is a bit harsh, but when the comparison is with Jagr and Martin Straka, you can see where I'm coming from. Drury will be hyped as a low-tier No. 1 center, but he is a middle-of-the-road No. 2 center for this season.
Martin Biron, G, Flyers: Antero Niittymaki's two wonky hips have been repaired and I fully expect him to push Biron for starts. The Flyers are a much improved team, and there is no question a full-time starter in Philly would be a No. 2 (maybe even No. 1) goaltender in fantasy. However, I see a time-share emerging by October, killing the value of both goalies.
Jordan Staal, C, Penguins: There is no denying that Staal's breakout campaign is an indication of great things to come. The problem is that those great things are a few years away. As long as Staal is buried behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin at center, he won't repeat last season's 29-goal output. With other topflight options on the wing, the Pens have no reason to start thinking about converting one of their young phenoms to a flank position. That means Staal will have the same, or fewer, opportunities to score and there is absolutely no way he repeats his 22.1 shooting percentage.
Manny Fernandez, G, Bruins: Memories of Fernandez being a top-five goaltender are fresh for fantasy owners, as that is what he was heading into last season. An injury-plagued campaign and a move to Beantown later, and thoughts of a refreshed Fernandez on an up-and-coming team are easily conjured. However, Boston isn't there yet and Fernandez has never played more than 58 games in a season. He'll be very useful this season, but as a No. 2 goaltender. I suspect he'll serve as someone's No. 1 in your league.
Thomas Vanek, LW, Sabres: First, there is the concern about Vanek having a fat, happy wallet. I'm not a subscriber to the theory that many athletes slack off after hitting their payday contract, but if you are, no one hit a payday quite as significantly as Vanek did. Then there is the fact that Vanek is now on the top line, but the talent around him remains constant. Last season, Vanek, Derek Roy and Maxim Afinogenov -- a unit I anticipate we'll see again -- got away with playing against opponents' second-best defensive specialists. Now they will face all the top defenders on a nightly basis. Finally, I simply do not anticipate a repeat of his ridiculous plus/minus. Vanek's plus-47 was really the only surprise last season, as we expected his point total to shoot through the roof. I think his outrageously good plus/minus can be attributed to Buffalo's depth last season. Vanek, Roy and Afinogenov were the beneficiaries when it came to the matching up of lines by coaches. As mentioned, opponents would have to put their top defensive units out against the Daniel Briere line, which meant Vanek amp; Co. had the room to score. And Buffalo would put out the Chris Drury line to defend against the opponents' top scoring lines, meaning Vanek's line wasn't be scored on as much. That perfect balance won't be there this season and I'll be surprised to see Vanek top plus-25 this season.
Carey Price, G, Canadiens: This is going to depend a lot on how early your draft is. I suspect Price will be all the rage for training camp and anybody drafting before the preseason gets going will see Price come off the board as a rather costly No. 2 goaltender. Although I love Price and would like to see him be the starter for the Canadiens, I just can't see it, logistically, while Cristobal Huet and Jaroslav Halak remain with the club. I am also expecting the NHL to expose some holes in his game (which will be closed with experience) during the preseason, which will pretty much end the speculation on Price until this time next year.
Wade Redden, D, Senators: Redden went through a 15-point drop-off last season, compared with 2005-06, while playing in only one fewer game. Forget that he hasn't played more than 65 games post-lockout; Redden was exposed last season without longtime defensive partner Zdeno Chara. Redden looked weak offensively, which we could blame on the lingering injuries, but more notably he was just plain lame on defense at times. With the emergence of Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov as Ottawa's top pairing and the continuing use of Daniel Alfredsson as a point man on the power play, I just don't view Redden as elite anymore. But you can bet that's how he'll go in drafts this year.
Darcy Tucker, RW, Maple Leafs: Tucker racked up so many points over the last few seasons by being the lesser of all evils. Since the lockout, the Leafs haven't had a skilled winger to give Mats Sundin an option at even strength or, more importantly, on the power play. Therefore Sundin would do the best he could with Tucker. Jason Blake, and to a lesser extent Mark Bell, provide Sundin with players who have a natural nose for the net. I expect Tucker to be out of the role he has filled the last two seasons with Sundin. I don't see more than 35 points out of Tucker.
Kari Lehtonen, G, Thrashers: I actually think Atlanta is going to be full of undervalued or accurately valued fantasy assets this season, but I can't leave a team blank. Lehtonen will likely be properly discounted to No. 2 goalie status this season, but I want to make it clear that he is not among the top tier of No. 2s. He should be considered around the 14-16 range of goalies, which puts him as a middling No. 2 goalie.
Eric Staal, C, Hurricanes: Staal's 30-point drop was not unexpected here, as I had him square on my bust list last season. I am listing him here because I don't want fantasy owners to cut him any slack. I expect 70-75 points again this season, and a return to a 100-point season for the eldest Staal won't be in the cards until Carolina improves dramatically overall. Staal is needed by the club for his defensive ability, so until the Hurricanes add some exemplary two-way forwards to give Staal a break, he will not be aggressive enough to crack 80 points.
Tomas Vokoun, G, Panthers: The Panthers haven't changed very much since the Roberto Luongo days -- you know, when Roberto would face upward of 40 shots per game on a consistent basis. Now, Vokoun is no slouch, but he is also no Roberto Luongo. There are at least a dozen other goaltenders I would rather have as my No. 1.
Vincent Lecavalier, C, Lightning: My concern for Lecavalier is only a matter of a complete lack of consistency among the Bolts' big three. Martin St. Louis scores 94 points in 2003-04 and follows that up in his next NHL campaign with 61. Brad Richards scores 91 points in 2005-06 and follows that up with 70 points last season. Vincent Lecavalier pots 108 points last season and follows that up with Do you want to spend your first-round pick to find out?
Nicklas Backstrom, C, Capitals: He is going to be taken as a No. 1 center by someone in every league. I expect to see him go in the fourth or fifth round of a 12-team draft as the hype machine cranks out the Backstrom love. The problem is that No. 1 center is his absolute, everything-went-right ceiling. Competition from Michael Nylander on the depth chart and unknown initial chemistry with Alexander Ovechkin -- on whom his value depends absolutely -- are two good reasons to make sure you don't take Backie (to borrow from the TMR, I call him Backie) until you have a good foundation to your team. I'd take him in the sixth or seventh round as a No. 2 center.
Sean Allen is a fantasy hockey and baseball analyst at ESPN.com and TalentedMrRoto.com. He can be reached at alla_rino@TalentedMrRoto.com.