Who would have thought that one team could freefall so quickly out of playoff contention? Well the Flames have allowed it to happen, and that’s how it looks right now, as with Calgary sits 9th in the West on 58 points tied with Detroit who have played one less game. No doubt the Western Conference this year is alot deeper than the East, with teams like Colorado and Los Angeles showing how quickly the worth of a high draft choice can come through. Then there are the likes of Phoenix and Nashville who are still hanging around. The Preds have dropped their last three but are still .500 in their last 10, and the Coyotes are just under that mark in the same timespan.
The Northwest division certainly does look distinctly different to the standings of a few weeks ago, with the Canucks rocketing to 4th in the conference and a tie for first with the Avalanche in the division, with Vancouver having played 52 games to the Avs 51. Before the losing streak began the Flames occupied this same position and then played Colorado for rights to be sole leader of the division- Calgary lost 3-2, but because of the low score and world-class goaltending there was certainly a playoff feel to it, and now Calgary might lose out on it all because of this severe lack of scoring. Of course there are still games left in the schedule, and their next 5 (Stars, Coyotes, Oilers, Flyers, Canes) should give them that chance to break the slump, but then again I thought they would do so against the Blues yesterday, only to get shutout at home. Even if they got 2 points from 4 of these 5, the Flames are now competing with the Red Wings in the standings, and even if the Predators are most likely to drop out of the top-8, will Brent Sutter really want to end up with a playoff matchup against the probable top-4 of San Jose, Chicago, Colorado or Vancouver? I guess not, and unless something dramatically changes these teams chances it could be lights-out for anyone who stands in their way come play-off time, even the Red Wings. Anaheim have been going along pretty nicely too, and are only 3 points back of Calgary now, and more likely to continue winning off the back of an 8-2-0 record from their last 10.
How about the Avalanche, who have won their last six, and all this without Milan Hejduk who will miss the Olympics because of knee surgery. Though they are the only team that has halted the Canucks rise up the standings, winning their last five including a 44-save effort from Roberto Luongo against the team many think will go all the way this year, the Chicago Blackhawks. Though Luongo has been a big factor in the Canucks improved fortunes there is a bigger reason why his team, as well as Colorado and others are having so much success. Their top lines. The Sedin line is really the perfect representation of what a successful top line or any line for that matter should look like, though really Colorado’s top line has been just as good for what little was expected of them. Whoever plays with who also may make a big difference in point-production and therefore in fantasy-value.
So I have decided to look a bit more closely about how dependent NHL teams are on their first-line production, and whether playing on a first line means an increase in value for that player. Take into consideration that the combined points totals are for the individual totals of the player and not their points totals as playing as a part of that line, and that lines are current as of Jan.26 and subject to change.
1st. Colorado Avalanche (30-15-6) 66pts
Wojtek Wolski- 16-29-45 Paul Stastny 11-37-48 Chris Stewart 17-18-35
Total: 44 Goals, 84 Assists, 128 Points +33 … and scores 29% of Colorado’s goals
You surely can’t get much better value than this first line. Despite injuries to players like Milan Hejduk and Marek Svatos this line has remained intact pretty much all season and has never let up. Though it still seems these guys are really undervalued in terms of fantasy value. Paul Stastny has had 78pts before in his career but seems to have still gone under the radar this year probably due to a low pick-up rate because of the injuries he sustained in 2008-09. He is still only 78% owned in Yahoo leagues. Wojtek Wolski is on pace for at least 70 points, outperforming any previous totals of around 40-50 points when the team struggled. Then there’s Chris Stewart who is an incredible 38% owned with 17 goals and 35 points, not far off Stastny and Wolski’s rate and he also missed games. He’s had 3 multi-point games in his last 4 and has a tendency to get game-winning goals with 3 on the season. Wolski & co. are also the forwards on the main PP unit, and if you have more than one guy from this group in your team you can look forward to scoring 2 points and a plus-2 on just one Avs goal.
2nd.Vancouver Canucks (32-18-2) 66pts
Daniel Sedin- 14-34-48 Henrik Sedin- 24-52-76 Alex Burrows- 23-22-45
Total: 61 Goals, 108 Assists, 169 Points +75 … and scores 36% of Vancouver’s goals
Verdict: Very Strong
Once Augergate had passed the Vancouver Canucks concentrated on the topping the Northwest division, and they are now almost there. Looking back to early in the season, and reflected in the points totals at the time , it really was as if Alex Burrows was also missing the 18 games where Daniel Sedin was out of the line-up. Alain Vigneault experimented with the top line during this time, recalling Michael Grabner and Michael Samuelsson to flank Henrik Sedin. Samuelsson padded his stats a little but ultimately it was Henrik Sedin’s ability to carry the team in goalscoring that has allowed the team to be so close to the top of the Western Conference. Burrows played reduced time on the third line but was still able to record a point every other game, but after Daniel Sedin returned to the lineup and was placed back on the top line with Burrows, they have been the hottest line in the NHL this month. Henrik Sedin will likely break 100 points and the Sedins are having more multi-point games than not. Though it is still Burrows that has surprised the most, going on a goalscoring tear with 2 hat tricks and 13 goals in January so far. So I assume no-one will be trading these guys anytime soon, and it’s really the only top line that can rival the Sharks for consistent production.
3rd.Calgary Flames (26-20-6) 58pts
Curtis Glencross- 11-12-23 Craig Conroy- 2-10-12 Jarome Iginla- 21-23-44
Total: 34 Goals, 45 Assists, 79 Points +3 … and scores 26% of Calgary’s goals
When the Flames scoring struggles began, any fantasy value to anyone besides Jarome Iginla began to go out the window, apart from right-winger Rene Bourque who scored goals in three straight games. Now even Bourque is pointless in five games. I think a huge part of the problem is the lack of chemistry for Jarome Iginla on the top line, and a huge part of that problem was the underwhelming performances of Olli Jokinen as his center. However the Flames have certainly tried enough line combinations for something to work, but it just hasn’t worked out that way. Jamie Lundmark and Jokinen are now on the third line after playing with Iginla on the first, and Jay Bouwmeester’s 2 goals on the season isn’t quite the payout fantasy owners were expecting. There are rumours around that the Flames would be willing to trade for Kovalchuk, but would a 40-goal scorer really fit into such a defensive minded team?
4th.Minnesota Wild (25-23-4) 54pts
Andrew Brunette- 14-25-39 Mikko Koivu- 16-31-47 Antti Miettinen- 13-14-27
Total: 43 Goals, 70 Assists, 113 Points -3 … and scores 30% of Minnesota’s goals
Will Minnesota’s top line be the difference between them making or missing the playoffs? Well, the Wild went on a tear earlier on in the season and came close to being a playoff team, only to later slip back down the standings- though at least they know they are capable of making a run. Minnesota’s main contributors seem to be just as streaky, which of course isn’t great for fantasy value. The only Wild player I would consider having in my team would be Mikko Koivu, as even though goalscorers like Martin Havlat are an attractive prospect, the risk of going minus would be too great for me. Andrew Brunette seems to be on a better pace than his last two seasons and has a current 3 game point scoring streak, but went -5 against Phoenix before that, which is just something I wouldn’t be able to live with. With the line being a combined -3 maybe it would be good to mix things up and try anything to bring the very best out of Koivu and make that playoff push.
5th.Edmonton Oilers (16-28-6) 38pts
Dustin Penner- 21-22-43 Ryan Potulny- 10-8-18 Robert Nilsson- 6-11-17
Total: 37 Goals, 41 Assists, 78 Points -19 … and scores 28% of Edmonton’s goals
Verdict: Very Weak
You have to feel bad for the Oilers. Aside from underperforming stars like Shawn Horcoff and Ethan Moreau the team loses probably it’s two most important players to injury. First Nikolai Khabibulin to a back injury which would lead to the decision to have back surgery, and ultimately cost the Oilers a chance of making the playoffs. Really Edmonton struggled at times even for the short time they did have Khabibulin, and then Jeff Deslauriers could only do so much to keep them afloat. I added Sam Gagner to my squad on the back on Dustin Penner’s success, and I thought the Penner-Gagner-Hemsky top line was the strongest, even if most the time Gagner didn’t live up to any expectations. Then the Hemsky injury and things worsened, and now the Oilers are bottom of the NHL, in-line for a shot at top draft-prospect Taylor Hall. It would also be good to see players like Mike Comrie and Gilbert Brule recover from illness and return to the lineup to add more strength on the top line.