Is there anything more frustrating as a Fantasy Hockey GM then working hard all year to earn a playoff berth, only then to lose one of your top guns to injury when it counts the most?
Owners in h2h pools, many of whom start their playoffs this week, have been forced to deal with major voids in their lineups due to a recent rash of injuries to some of the league’s top scorers. Big names like Detroit’s Johan Franzen and Pavel Datsyuk (both day-to-day this week with lower body injuries), Patrick Sharp (week-to-week with a knee injury) and LA’s Justin Williams (out at least 3-4 weeks with a dislocated shoulder suffered Monday night vs. CGY), have added themselves to a growing list of valuable contributors who have been reduced to spectators at this pivotal time of year.
And then there’s Alex Ovechkin.
On Monday, Washington Head Coach Bruce Boudreau announced that their leading scorer would miss the next 7-10 days with an undisclosed injury. In reality, the team is arbitrarily giving Ovechkin what amounts to a maintenance WEEK or more, just so that he’s as close to being 100 percent come the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Here’s Boudreau from earlier this week, attempting to justify Ovie’s time off with a ‘nagging injury’:
“He doesn’t like waking up every morning and feeling like he’s got to go through an hour of just doing stuff to get ready to practice or to play…The playoffs are very important to him and he wants to be at his best when we arrive there… We thought this was a good time to rest his body for a week to two weeks so he’s fresh come April.”
Despite Boudreau’s assurances to the contrary, the timing and overall decision to have Ovechkin rest for upwards of 10 days absolutely stinks. And it could set a dangerous precedent for players and teams around the NHL for this season and beyond.
THE DEVALUATION OF THE REGULAR SEASON
The fact that the team saw this as a “good time” to rest Ovechkin needs to be taken to task. The Capitals, winners of 13 of their last 15, strangely elected to begin Ovie’s rest period on Tuesday night in a nationally televised game in the US against their biggest rival – the Flyers (insert “Screw you, Bettman” here). But more telling was the fact that the Caps entered the game trailing Philly by only 2 points for first overall in the East. Does home ice in the playoffs mean anything to these guys? Obviously not.
Now granted, we all know what happened to the Capitals in last year’s playoffs, when they lost in 7 games in their first round matchup to Montreal as the #1 seed. That took place after they steamrolled the opposition en route to winning the President’s Trophy as the league’s top team during the 2009-10 regular season.
Maybe there is something to the Caps logic of resting up for when it really counts. After all, 3 of the 5 NHL postseasons since the lockout have seen a top seed upset in the first round (DET vs. EDM in ’06, SJ vs. ANA in ’09, WSH vs. MTL in ’10).
Even Sidney Crosby, who’s been out since January 5th with a concussion, has taken his sweet time getting himself prepared to return to action. Don’t get me wrong, a concussion is a serious injury and should be handled carefully. Yet despite being symptom-free for the past two weeks, it’s becoming more and more evident that if Sid the Kid does come back this year, it will likely only be to help the Pens make their run in the postseason. The regular season is no longer his, nor the team’s, priority.
And therein lies the problem.
What if the Canucks unilaterally decided to shut down the Sedin Twins until the postseason to avoid risk of injury? Or Tampa felt they’d be in a better position come playoff time if Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos were 100 percent healthy for the playoffs? After what the Caps did with Ovechkin, the concept really isn’t that far fetched.
If the NHL continues to turn a blind eye by allowing the league’s elite to deem the end of the regular season as an opportunity to rest players for extended periods of time – rather than ice their best team – then a disturbing trend could easily start following suit.
And with that, the integrity of the game becomes adversely affected.
A BIG IMPACT ON FANTASY HOCKEY LEAGUES
The potential impact on Fantasy Hockey Leagues could be the equivalent of taking a Matt Cooke elbow to the side of the head too.
If star players started sitting out on a regular basis with under 10 games to go, hockey pools built on having their playoffs run through the final three weeks of the regular season would now be forced to re-evaluate that methodology.
This would ultimately lead to pool administrators having to offer leagues the option to move up their playoffs by up to 4 weeks to avoid the potential fallout from players sitting out.
Granted, this would hardly be an unprecedented move in the Fantasy world. Hockey pools would merely look to follow suit of fantasy football leagues who have already made that same adjustment years ago once it became common practice for starting NFL QB’s on division-winning teams to sit out games late in the season to heal up and avoid potential injury.
But striking a balance in fantasy hockey would prove to be less predictable and a more difficult challenge than that of football. For starters, if fantasy hockey playoffs ended in mid-March, GM’s would no longer be able to reap the full benefits of having one or more of their players join a contender by the NHL trade deadline. And you’d lose out on all the excitement of the 10-12 teams (and their top players) who remain in a dogfight for the final playoff spots right up until the final day of the NHL regular season.
Not to mention, it just flat our blows losing your most impactful fantasy producer at crunch time when he could be playing. That basically amounts to a season’s worth of hard work down the drain.
One can only hope that Washington’s decision to sit and rest Ovechkin at this pivotal point of the season proves to be an exception rather than a new rule across the NHL. If not, it could change the fantasy hockey landscape forever – and for the worse.