Open Ice: Turning over new Leafs
If you had to take a moment and decide whether or not Sports Center had started reporting trades in fantasy hockey leagues over the weekend, you weren't alone. Good 'ol Brian Burke decided it was about time to remind everyone exactly why he is considered brash and aggressive among the ranks of general managers. Burke sent six players packing in two trades on Sunday landing the Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf and goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
It really does sound like a day of trading normally reserved for the NHL trade deadline or something out of the average fantasy league. Leaving the Maple Leafs for the Calgary Flames are Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers and Ian White, and departing for the Anaheim Ducks are Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake. In an afterthought part of the deal, the Leafs also pick up prospect Keith Aulie and third-liner Fredrik Sjostrom from the Flames. Just like that, Burke has torn apart the Eastern Conference bottom-feeders and injected a Norris Trophy-nominated defenseman and Conn Smythe-winning goaltender while parting with bits and pieces that don't mean too much in the long run.
While I like the merits of the trade from a hockey perspective, lets break this massive trade down for fantasy purposes. Here's who I think is affected most by the trade:
Jarome Iginla, RW, Flames: It was just a week ago I was musing about the troubles on offense for the Calgary Flames and how coach Brent Sutter had tried almost every possible line combination to no avail, in an attempt to bolster the scoring of Iginla. One week later and so much has changed that Iggy is almost a lock to dial things down over the rest of the season. Not only do Stajan and Hagman give the Flames two more linemates to mix in, but top prospect Mikael Backlund was called up from the minors and aging prospect Dustin Boyd got a promotion from the fourth line. Whether Iggy lines up with Stajan and Backlund (my favorite choice) or Boyd and Hagman, the Flames now have more options. We saw Iginla put up a four-point night on a line with Boyd and Backlund on Saturday (though to be fair, four points against the Edmonton Oilers is like two against any other NHL team), and rest assured plenty more are to come. It is implied in the previous statements regarding Iginla, but I'll mention it right here. Deep leaguers who may not be able to get their paws on Iginla should consider snatching up Backlund or Boyd, and those who have bothered using Stajan or Hagman should sit tight for now as their production could continue at a fantasy-relevant pace with the Flames.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere, G, Maple Leafs: If you need a goaltender in your fantasy league don't even hesitate to give Giguere a chance as a Toronto Maple Leaf. Jonas Gustavsson's key statistics are on the wrong side of key benchmarks, with a 3.03 goals-against average and .899 save percentage, and while a lot of that has to do with the team he is minding net for, clearly there is room for Giggy to get plenty of starts if he succeeds. Why should you think a goaltender that has had a GAA worse than 3.00 in seven of the last 10 months will succeed? This trade reunites Giggy not only with a GM that has always had his back, but with the goaltending coach that made him the Conn Smythe- and Stanley Cup-winning goalie he is. Francois Allaire followed Burke to Toronto in the summer, but prior to that had been with Giguere and the Ducks since Giggy joined the team. That familiarity will give him about the best possible opportunity he could possibly ask for in order to find his game again. Remember he is only two and a half seasons removed from the 2007 Stanley Cup and his 2007-08 season was the best of his career. Maybe, just maybe, he was distracted too much by family issues last season and couldn't handle the separation from Allaire this season. Maybe we are about to see Giguere return to form. Available in 92 percent of ESPN leagues, it certainly makes sense to give him the roster spot to see how he does.
Jason Blake, LW, Ducks: Out of the hot seat in Toronto and on to a team with top-six talent so much better than the Maple Leafs that it's hard to even compare the two, Blake might have landed himself in a pretty good situation. Things are only made better by the fact that Teemu Selanne's and Joffrey Lupul's injuries have left gaping holes on the Ducks' top two lines. It's easy to envision Blake immediately replacing Matt Beleskey on the top line with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Although he hasn't played with that calibre talent since he was a New York Islander and was scoring 40 goals, Blake surely hasn't forgotten how to get open and drive the net. Even if gets second line duties with Bobby Ryan and Saku Koivu, Blake's fortunes will certainly be on the rise. The one thing Blake has that can make him rise to the level of talent around him is his trigger finger. Never afraid to take the shot, Blake could find himself shooting in better situations and if he keeps up with the young Ducks. Why not toss him on to your bench until you see how the lines shake out?
Dion Phaneuf, D, Maple Leafs: Is a change of scenery enough? We'll have to wait and see with Phaneuf. He and Jay Bouwmeester never developed the chemistry they appeared to have on paper and Phaneuf has been on pace for an atrocious showing: 33 points and just 79 penalty minutes. I have complete confidence that he'll get back on track over his career and wouldn't question taking him as a top-10 defenseman next season, but whether or not Phaneuf can get back in the saddle for the rest of this season is another kettle of fish. Tomas Kaberle is very similar to Bouwmeester, so he may not be the defensive partner of choice, but the Leafs have other quasi-elite options in Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek (once healthy). I do like the idea of a Phaneuf-Komisarek connection, as it will be the closest Phaneuf has come to being paired with a player like Roman Hamrlik since his rookie and sophomore campaigns. Still, speculating on a bounce-back from his terrible pace is difficult at the moment, so simply take what you know: the Leafs aren't any better than the Flames for plus/minus, but they have less talent up front. Phaneuf will get tons of power-play time, but the special teams won't be as solid. Looking at the whole situation, I'd say it's almost break-even for Phaneuf from an offensive perspective, unless he really clicks with a defense partner. The key to an increase in value might be the extra penalty minutes the Leafs are willing to put up with as they encourage smash-mouth hockey. If you own Phaneuf, use a wait-and-see approach, unless you are able to shop him for top value to someone who buys into the move being all Phaneuf needs.
Filip Kuba, D, Senators (owned in 27.9 percent of ESPN leagues): Possibly lost in all the excitement over the Ottawa Senators scoring again is the production coming from Kuba. While he hasn't been jumping off the scoresheet, he has six points in the past seven games and only Nicklas Lidstrom can boast having more among defenseman over the past week. The Sens have been using a four-forward power play but the fifth man is more often than not Kuba. Again, he won't blow you away with his numbers, but when the Sens are scoring, Kuba is usually racking up assists.
Andrew Ladd, LW, Blackhawks (71.9): I would call him the poor man's version of Troy Brouwer, but Ladd has actually been more productive over the past two weeks. Like Brouwer has been soaking up points simply by playing with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the Chicago Blackhawks first line, Ladd has been doing the same by playing with Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp on the second line. Both Hossa and Ladd have eight points over their past eight games (Sharp has seven). This dual-pronged attack by the Hawks has not been switched up by coach Joel Quenneville since the calendar flipped on 2010. Ladd, like Brouwer, can be a great low-key addition to any fantasy team at this point.
Peter Mueller, C/RW, Coyotes (2.2): If you are not in a deep league, you may want to just ignore this one, but I still think Mueller has it in him to be a strong fantasy player and the perfect situation has cropped up for him to state his case. Shane Doan, Matthew Lombardi and Scottie Upshall had caught fire over the past couple week as the Phoenix Coyotes top line, but Upshall tore his ACL Thursday. Mueller took his place on Sunday and managed a goal and two assists in a win over the Dallas Stars. Doan was in on all three points Mueller had and Lombardi was on the ice for all three as well. Mueller has been less than useless this season, but he still harbors the talent that made him a first-round pick in 2006. I think he is worth taking a chance on in deeper leagues, where the free-agent pickings are slim.
Alexei Ponikarovsky, LW, Maple Leafs (43.8): Phil Kessel is a different story because he is an island of talent if he needs to be, but Poni needs to be surrounded by quality players in order to be one himself. With the big trades by the Leafs on the weekend, Ponikarovsky lost both of the linemates he has been playing with lately to the Flames (Stajan, Hagman). Not to mention another quality option in Blake. Ponikarovsky won't be able to maintain his relevance to fantasy leagues playing with John Mitchell and Lee Stempniak.
Joe Pavelski continues to score at a torrent pace for the San Jose Sharks. While half his production is coming on the power play with Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau, the other half has been coming at even strength. That has helped propel the production, and plus/minus, of both Manny Malhotra and Devin Setoguchi to the point where you should really have a closer look at them. The rare five-forward power play was spotted on the ice for the St. Louis Blues over the weekend. David Backes, Patrik Berglund, T.J. Oshie, David Perron and Alexander Steen did manage to get a goal as a unit. It's definitely an experiment to watch as the Carolina Hurricanes used the formation with a lot of success two seasons ago.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.
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