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Friday 22nd Sep 2017

About five weeks ago, I ran a list of the biggest surprises and breakouts from this past NHL regular season. Now let us look at some of the biggest disappointments. This can be based on past stats not matching up to our expectations, or players not living up to their ADPs. Regardless of the reasons, this list of players will most likely be a bit cheaper in auction drafts or possibly fall a few rounds in snake drafts. Either way, we can hope that this list of players can right the ship for the next NHL season.
 Jamie Benn (LW, Dallas Stars): After back-to-back seasons with nearly 90 points (87 and 89), Benn really laid an egg this past season with a 69-point year. It wasn’t just him though. The Dallas Stars laid the biggest egg of all after winning the Western Conference last season with 109 points, recording a paltry 79 points. Look for Benn and crew to amp it up next season under new/old head coach Ken Hitchcock. Benn went from an early first rounder to a late first rounder, and possibly second rounder, but he will return to 80-plus points along with stud teammate Tyler Seguin, who just missed this list. 

Steven Stamkos (C, Tampa Bay Lightning): Another injury took down the Lightning super sniper, and cost plenty of fantasy players. He had 20 points in 18 games before he left for the year, and his draft stock will drop below that of teammate Nikita Kucherov. Stamkos will easily fall into the second round now, and possibly the third round.  High Risk/High Reward is a term that best suits Stamkos and his future in fantasy hockey drafts until he plays a few seasons without any health concerns.

Anze Kopitar (C, Los Angeles Kings): The Kings seem to be sliding down the wrong side of success, and need an offensive boost. Is that going to happen next season now that Darryl Sutter is out of the picture? I’m not so sure. The talent is there, but are the players content with the two Stanley Cups they’ve already won? A lot of questions for Kings nation to answer, but for Kopitar, his point total dropped 22 points this past year and the Kings didn’t even make the playoffs, which is unacceptable for a team with this much talent. Anze will have to lead the charge, and get his fantasy stock back up to where it belongs, and with all the love for the rookies, Kopitar will be drafted at a discount. I’d take him as high as the fourth round right now. The Kings lack secondary scoring, so Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli will have to carry the offensive load.

Aleksander Barkov (C, Florida Panthers): A life member to the Gimp List, Sasha has never played a full season in his very young NHL career, which is sad because he is an amazing player. Almost a point per game player when healthy, Barkov cashes in with his line mates Jonathan Huberdeau, another Gimp List candidate, and the ageless one, Jaromir Jagr. The Panthers were the other huge disappointment in the league this past season besides the Dallas Stars, with an 81-point year, after getting 103 points the years prior. Sasha only played in 61 games this time around after seasons of 66, 71, and 54 games played. Should Barkov ever put together a couple of full seasons, his draft stock would be in the first round. Barkov and line mate Huberdeau are both included in this paragraph, and once they both can show that they can stay healthy, the already used High Risk/High Reward tag goes on both of them. Fourth round at the highest is where either of these two should be drafted until they prove that they can play a full season, but drafting them there is going to be a steal if Barkov and Huberdeau do play 80 games. 
You can always reach me @PolkaPat to talk fantasy and read more of my rantings at Fighting Chance Sports.

The Washington Capitals are stacked and fully loaded for a deep Stanley Cup run, but this may be their last opportunity to contend for awhile, and of course they will need to get by the Pittsburgh Penguins. After winning another Presidents Trophy this season with a whopping 120 points, Washington has not missed a beat this year. They added the most impactful piece at the trade deadline in Kevin Shattenkirk from St. Louis and played lockdown defense, leading the NHL in goal differential. Is this the final year of the powerhouse Washington has rostered? We will explore that in this article, and see if there is any chance beyond this postseason for the Caps to keep the band together.

Free Agents

Kevin Shattenkirk was the biggest player moved at the trade deadline, and as Washington sits near the top of the salary cap ceiling, the Caps must decide if they can sign Shattenkirk. To keep Shatt in the mix in DC, they will have to let at least one of T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams or Karl Alzner walk as Unrestricted Free Agents on July 1. Meanwhile, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt are all restricted free agents.

I honestly do not see T.J. Oshie coming back. After scoring a career-high 33 goals, he has played his way into a nice pay raise, and will bolt for greener pastures, greener as in cash.  Playing on the top line with the NHL’s fourth leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom and super sniper Alex Ovechkin has been the best thing to happen for Oshie as a Cap, and when he signs this new contract, he had better thank those two for helping him get it. At 30 years old, Oshie's skill level will slowly erode, but he has a few solid seasons left in those skates.

Justin Williams, the three-time Stanley Cup winner and now Mr. Game 7, will most likely not be back as well, especially if the Cup is not won by Washington. He will be 36 when next season begins, and unless it’s a one or two-year team friendly deal, Williams is gone.

Washington has a very solid and young set of defenders, and the way Nate Schmidt has played in these playoffs during Alzner’s absence, I can see the Caps letting Karl cash in elsewhere too, which would leave plenty of cap space to sign Shattenkirk to a long-term deal. Orlov and Schmidt will be staying put, and while the defensive corps is coming into their prime years, the same cannot be said for the key offensive players, minus Kuznetsov, who will be only 25 in a few weeks.

Key Players Age

The heart and soul of Washington for the last eleven years has been Alexander Ovechkin, and Ovi will be 32 when next season begins. While he is not going anywhere, plenty of studs from this multi-Presidents Trophy winning team will be. While Ovi’s numbers were down from last year, he still fires the puck more than any forward in the NHL, and he also has a few great seasons left in his skates. Ovi’s running mate all these years has been the silent killer, Nicklas Backstrom, who is also now on the wrong side of 30, well 30 exactly. While their skills will not drop off the earth tomorrow, these two will need to play extraordinary from now on as the Caps lose players to the cap crunch. Backstrom and Ovechkin will both be top- 15 fantasy picks next year and Kuznetsov will not get past round three, but this group is skating for their final chance at a Stanley Cup.

Last night, Washington dropped a 3-2 decision at home to their nemesis, Pittsburgh, and it has been Pittsburgh that has been the biggest thorn in Ovechkin’s side ever since he was drafted. I’m really hoping Ovi gets at least one Cup so the entire hockey world will quit questioning his leadership abilities. Now they have given away home ice and will have to battle to the end to squeak past the defending champions.

You can reach me @PolkaPat to talk anything hockey and be sure to also check me out at Fighting Chance Sports.

As the NHL regular season came to an end, and I was watching the Red Wings close out the Joe in winning fashion, Henrik Zetterberg played in his 82nd game of the season, and 1000th of his career. Z’s stat line for the year was what was surprising for me, and he seemed to just punch the time clock, get a few points here and a few goals there and ended up with 17 goals and 68 points for the second to last place in the Atlantic Division Red Wings. This stat line made me look around the NHL and see what other players were silent but deadly in their statistical quest this past season, and I bet you thought this article would be about farts?

Ryan Getzlaf (C, Anaheim Ducks): As I mentioned in my DraftKings DFS piece yesterday, Getzlaf quietly amassed 73 points this season, and has also become a much better penalty killer, after he showed the hockey world he could kill the penalties after playing shut-down center for Mike Babcock in the Olympics. With 15 goals and 58 assists, which have always been Getzlaf’s forte, he was on an absolute tear at the end of the regular season. Six of his goals were on the power play and two were short-handed, and with Ryan Kesler as the top lock-down forward, Getz provides additional lock-down depth for the Ducks in their first round attempt to douse the Flames.

Patrick Eaves (RW, Anaheim Ducks): Acquired by the Ducks at the trade deadline from the Dallas Stars, this season’s biggest flame out, Eaves quietly posted 32 goals and will be very intriguing now in the playoffs. A player who has been waived on a few different occasions, Eaves showed what playing all year long with top end talent can do for your production. Anyone remember Jonathan Cheechoo and his 56-goal season in 2005-06? Anyone remember what happened to him after they took away his Jumbo Joe Action Figure? Cheechoo is now slugging it out in the Russian Elite League, the Kontinental Hockey League with the Dynamo (Minsk) in Croatia. Eaves split his time in Dallas with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, and now with the Ducks, he lines up with Ryan Getzlaf and Anaheim's next superstar Rickard Rakell. He will be put in excellent situations to succeed this postseason.

Nicklas Backstrom (C, Washington Capitals): I know it seems impossible that the fourth leading scorer in the NHL did it unnoticed, but I feel that he has, and that the Caps have quietly amassed this 120-point season too. With 23 goals and 63 assists, Nicklas put together his fifth 60-plus assist season, and he centers probably the deadliest line in the NHL, with Alexander Ovechkin and first-time 30-goal scorer T.J. Oshie. Look closely at the box scores so you do not miss Backstrom populating it after each game as he’s done all year while leading the Caps to the Stanley Cup over the Blues.

Jake Gardiner (D, Toronto Maple Leafs): On a very young and inexperienced team, Gardiner led this team full of minuses with a solid +/- plus +24. Jake plays in the Leafs second defensive pair, and on the first power play unit, and is Toronto's most solid defender. In his fifth full season, Gardiner chipped in nine goals and 43 assists. He anchored the second-best power play in the NHL, which clicked at 23.36% and is loaded with players who cannot get into a bar in the United States. Jake also averaged just over 21 minutes per game with 52.6% Corsi For value. I was just impressed with this young defenseman, who went under the radar on a team in transition, in the hockey Mecca of North America, and with much higher profiled rookies around.  

Henrik Zetterberg (C, Detroit Red Wings): Yes, I covered Z in the opener, but I’m still going to dig a little deeper on the 14-year veteran. In his 14th full season, Zetterberg put up his highest point total since 2011-12, when he had one more point with 69 points. After regularly putting up 70, 80 and a 92-point season earlier in his career, Henrik is a steady veteran who is guiding some of the younger Wings down the path, teaching them how to prepare and play like a professional on and off the ice. The Red Wings have been blessed to have the success they have with this former 6th round draft pick. 

Be sure to tweet me @PolkaPat, and read more hockey from me at Fighting Chance Sports. 

The mighty Chicago Blackhawks have been eliminated from the 2017 NHL Playoffs after dropping four straight to the younger more aggressive Nashville Predators. The Minnesota Wild extended their series against the St. Louis Blues to a Game 5 with a 2-0 shutout in St. Louis. Anaheim put out the Flames Wednesday night, but after the Flames blew a 4-1 lead in Game 3, the series was really lost right there. Edmonton took a brutal pounding in Game 4 to even their series at two apiece. Then, last night, Edmonton pulled up their leggings and came back from a 3-1 hole to win in overtime to take a 3-2 lead in that Pacific Division titans clash. So, let’s break down the Western Conference here. 

Nashville put the Blackhawks away at home last night in Game 4 of their series. I’ve seen the Hawks come back from a 3-0 deficit to my Wings and will never count them out until the last whistle blows, but they are done this season. Lack of secondary scoring was a huge issue for Chicago. They have their superstars, but the rookies and role players didn’t show up, and their stars did not show up either. This 2017 Nashville team is not the Red Wings team that Chicago came back against, and most teams would kill to just have one or two of the Preds top four defensemen. 

Trading Shea Weber made the Predators younger all around, while his presence in Montreal coincides with Carey Price's prime years, so it was a win/win for both teams, as we are now seeing. Now think that Nashville has let walk or traded away Ryan Suter, Seth Jones and Shea Weber and they still dominate on the back end. That along with timely goals and watertight defense that has allowed only two goals to the second-best scoring differential team in the Western Conference. It will destroy all my brackets if the Hawks lose, but I had them going down to the Blues in the Conference Finals anyway, so we will see tonight what happens. Be assured though P.K Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and junior super scorer Ryan Ellis will be in the middle of the action in the next round as they were everywhere in this sweep of Chicago. Kudos to Nashville.

St. Louis is in a prime spot to take the Wild out of the playoffs as well, but Minnesota showed their teeth Wednesday night, finally. The Wild played the way they did throughout the season with shut down defense, lots of goals along with awesome net minding by should be Vezina winner Devan Dubnyk. Minnesota snuck only two goals behind St. Louis goalie Jake Allen, who has played excellent this series, and has been the Blues best player so far. He is the reason St. Louis is in position to put the Wild away for the season. I hope you’re seeing the theme here, great net minding and very solid defensive play, which isn’t the case in the East. St. Louis has depth and experience on the back end even after losing Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline. Alex Pietrangelo, the ageless defender, the swift-skating Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko make for some tough sledding for the Wild forwards.  

Anaheim took care of business last night up in Calgary and now awaits the winner of the San Jose/Edmonton matchup, which appears to be headed for seven games. The question on my mind is whether the Anaheim Ducks are the best team in the Western Conference. With superb goaltending from John Gibson and a stellar win in relief for Jonathan Bernier, the Ducks get to rest now, which is good for their older players up front. The defense for Anaheim is again playing tight and not allowing any second chances on rebounds. Eight times out of ten last night the Ducks cleared the front of the net so well that an elephant could have walked up to Gibson for a head of lettuce.  Captain Ryan Getzlaf led the Ducks on the offensive side with Rickard Rakell and young defenseman Shea Theodore registering five points each. Now with at least a week’s rest ahead, Anaheim can focus on their next assignment, and prepare for battle, but I still hate them. 

The Edmonton/San Jose series has been an absolute slugfest and a joy to watch. We have the salty dogs from last year's finals against the kids who are being led by Art Ross trophy winner Connor McDavid, who will undoubtedly be the number one pick in fantasy hockey drafts for the next decade. Now things shift back to San Jose for Game 6, where the Oilers hope to keep rolling in this excellent series. Game 4 was a wake-up call for both teams. It let Edmonton know that there’s plenty of game left in the Sharks, while also letting the Oilers know that there are no games off in the playoffs. It will be fun to watch more this weekend, when this old fart doesn’t have bedtime for work the next day. 

Be sure to talk hockey with me @PolkaPat and read about the Eastern Conference at Fighting Chance Sports.

As the trade deadline is a few days old, and the traded players get accustomed to their new homes for the foreseeable future, let’s look back at the good and bad that happened Wednesday afternoon.

Steve Yzerman, you did an outstanding job in shredding much needed salary to re-sign your three stud RFA’s this summer in Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin.  It was just impossible to keep all your toys in the salary cap era. Tampa now has over $17 million in cap space when taking away the long-term Injured Reserve players. So, let's say all three of the previously mentioned players get bridge deals like Nikita Kucherov, signed this past fall. Tampa may still have a little extra left to add some defensive depth.

It wasn’t just the dealing of Ben Bishop to the L.A. Kings, but there was also the three-team trade that sent Valtteri Filppula to Philadelphia along with his five million dollar contract that he wasn’t earning.  Also, Yzerman dealt heart and soul and extraordinarily hard defensive forward Brian Boyle north to Toronto on Wednesday. Filppula scored a goal last night in his debut for the struggling Flyers.

My second applause goes out to another great #19, Joe Sakic, for not trading any of his stud players just for the sake of trading them. I mentioned last week that the hauls for Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog would have to be huge. Those two are still so young and just need a better defensive corps and net minder to tighten up the defensive ranks. Sakic did send Jarome Iginla to Los Angeles for one last hurrah and hopefully a Stanley Cup for the great future Hall of Famer.  

Washington, you got the trophy catch of this year’s trade deadline deals, and hopefully you didn’t give up another Filip Forsberg in the process. Kevin Shattenkirk and his Caps teammates are all chips in and hopefully this move pays off for Washington this spring in a very tough Eastern Conference. The Caps will not have enough money in cap space to keep Shattenkirk beyond this season unless there is some creative financing this summer in the nation’s capital.  

Another move I liked was Pittsburgh being the third man in on the Filppula trade and getting veteran offensive defenseman Mark Streit from bitter rival Philadelphia. The Pens are already thin on the back end, with Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley both dinged up, and Kris Letang a cough away from pulling his groin. I'm still a little curious as to why goalie Marc-Andre Fleury wasn’t dealt away. I know a team in Winnipeg that could sure use a former stud goalie for their playoff push.
Chicago brought back Johnny Oduya to help make the push for Stanley Cup number four in the Windy City. They’re getting the band back together. Along with Oduya, the Blackhawks added depth with the addition of Tomas Jurco from Detroit.  

The Ottawa Senators added a couple depth players in Alexandre Burrows and Viktor Stalberg at the deadline, with Burrows potting both goals last night in his Ottawa debut. Will Ottawa win the Cup? Probably not, but these additions just made them that much tougher to face in the playoffs.  

The Detroit Red Wings' 25-year playoff streak will end this spring, so for the first time in a quarter-century, my team were sellers at the deadline. Along with Jurco going to Chicago, Detroit sent defenseman Brendan Smith to the New York Rangers and the vastly improved Thomas Vanek to the Florida Panthers, all for draft picks and conditional draft picks. Way to deal Ken Holland and way to pile up the picks for the future. Vanek stated that he would like to stay in Detroit, so maybe we can reward him this summer by bringing him back. In the meantime though, he will add more scoring depth to a Panthers team sorely in need of some secondary scoring, and with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau back healthy and scoring, Florida can make that final push into the playoffs in what has been a huge letdown season after last year’s 103-point awakening.

You can always talk pucks with me @PolkaPat.

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