It really does seem as though the Western Conference is getting deeper and deeper every season.
You look at the standings, and those teams that were once labelled as rebuilders at the start of the season are quickly occupying the playoff spots in the conference.
The St.Louis Blues fit that description exactly, and have found everything they wanted and more from offseason acquisition Jaroslav Halak. The Blues are one of the teams whose early season success is probably a sign of a team whose fast start is actually to be trusted despite being only 10 games in, and will be a deep pool of fantasy strength if everyone performs to their career best, or at least perform to a level that everyone knows they can.
With all five Central division teams currently occupying the top eight in the Western Conference, the Central is the division
of emerging teams. Everyone seems to have something to prove.
Though the Blackhawks, and fantasy owners were dealt a tough blow this week when one of the hottest starters of the 2011 season, Marian Hossa, picked up an upper-body injury, after scoring 7 goals and 11 points in 11 games. It suddenly leaves alot of responsibility on secondary players like Patrick Sharp and Viktor Stalberg to contribute, and we will have to wait and see where the fantasy stock is.
Nobody likes to see a stud like Hossa go down, especially when their output is at the highest level when it happens. It has echoes of Johan Franzen’s early injury last year for the Red Wings, with him not neccessarily being a franchise player, but one of the most important components of the team when fit and able. This situation is identical for Hossa, behind Kane and Toews, and hopefully the setback will not cause the Blackhawks to struggle the same way Detroit did with their depleted list
Though it is not all gloomy on the health front… as there are some key men returning from injury this week.
Firstly Jordan Staal, who though not starting against the Flyers, appears almost ready to go after not being able to skate most the summer from the leg injury inflicted by P.K Subban in last year’s playoffs. Staal’s original timetable for return was November, so progress has been smooth, and hopefully this will lead to a successful comeback. Remember that Dan Bylsma said at the
season’s start of his intention to center Staal on the second line alongside Malkin, so that could lead to a potential 30-goal year for the workhouse Staal, depending on whether Bylsma still has this idea in mind, and how quickly Staal can get back to his best as one of the league’s greatest 2-way players.
Jason Pominville is close to returning, albeit probably not as soon as this weekend, and Lindy Ruff and the Sabres will be giving this one as much time as they need, due to the nature of the injury, a concussion. Though it is definately very encouraging to see that he is skating and back on the ice, considering the last time he was on it was on a stretcher. With Paul Kariya having to miss the season from post-concussion syndrome, and Marc Savard still out indefinitely, it is clear to see the potential for lasting damage, and so I’m sure everyone is wishing him the best, including me.
Also great to hear is that Ondrej Pavelec will return Saturday, after many feared worse following his scary on ice collapse just a short time ago. Great job, Ondrej.
A goalie going the other way is Semyon Varlamov. Varly has been nothing but disappointing so far, after playing just 2 games, and he is at present not with the Capitals, but with Hershey. With Neuvirth’s strong recent outings, combined with the frustratingly slow recovery for Varlamov and his fantasy owners, maybe the starter’s job really is Neuvirth’s job to win.
Finally, so far it seems as though the 100 million dollar gamble isn’t paying off for the New Jersey Devils. The Devils are probably playing the poorest in the league right now, and questioned are being asked about who should take the blame. Maybe the most disappointing thing in terms of a fantasy aspect is how this lack of depth affects Zach Parise’s performance, as he really is the franchise player, not Kovalchuk, and to think that Parise is not even signed yet…. it is a move that certainly could eventually be questioned as often as the Kessel trade was.