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Neutral Zone Wrap: A strange season, indeed

by | Rotowire.com
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Don't stare directly into the sun. Keep away from power lines. Watch both ways before you cross the street.

Those are just some of the things that make sense and keep you aware and alive.

You know what doesn't make sense? Everything that has happened up to now in the NHL. Undefeated streaks, unlikely heroes, unbelievable results. Anyone who claims they predicted Montreal leading the East at any significant point should be evaluated for further testing. And don't get me started on Anaheim. Or how Ottawa can still excel even without their top two producers.

Unpredictability works its way into the Fantasy game as well, especially early on. One day, you're on top of your league and feeling good. The next day, a couple players are out long-term and you're leaking category points from every position. The reverse can also happen, but this situation can lead to temporary confidence. That is, if you're not ready for a possible downturn. In both cases, the key is preparation. Is your lineup deep enough to contend for an entire season? Are you alert -- and willing -- to make moves if someone should go down? Do you know the way to San Jose?

If you're looking to improve, then this is the place to be. We won't promise consistency and we can't guarantee success or titles. We provide the material -- you make the moves that set your team in motion. Now that we've lost your attention, here are this week's pertinent questions:

(Stats as of Thursday, Feb. 21)

Is there any other franchise that is benefiting more from the shortened season than the Maple Leafs? Many thought Nazem Kadri (14, including four power-play goals) was never going to be an everyday player. Maybe Tyler Bozak (11, 20:35 average), truly is the number No. 1 center Toronto has been missing. A minor injury won't keep Matt Frattin (10 in 10, including seven goals) out for long. Behold Cody Franson (11 and a plus-11) and his ever-growing stat line. Beware of Mike Kostka (finally found a point after 10 scoreless games) and his diminishing returns. Mark Fraser definitely isn't a top defender but he can help you in certain categories (plus-13, 42 hits, 23 blocked shots). Now imagine Toronto with both Joffrey Lupul (broken forearm, another few weeks) and Jake Gardiner (22 in 32 in the AHL) in the lineup.

If the Flames fall down and no one watches, is there anyone around to care? Calgary may have predictably started off poorly, but a couple skaters are grabbing attention. Alex Tanguay leads the club in scoring (four goals, eight assists). Jiri Hudler (10 in 12) has shaken off the extended European layover. Curtis Glencross tops the charts in goals (six). And Roman Cervenka (six in 12) provides a nice veteran complement. But the bubble will eventually burst for Lee Stempniak (10, but just one in four). Jay Bouwmeester may continue to rack up the ice time (25 minutes a night), but T.J. Brodie (a goal Wednesday, almost two minutes of PP action) serves as the rearguard with the higher upside.

How soon is the end in Buffalo? The longest-serving head coach is gone but you can hardly blame him for the club's woes. Ryan Miller has to stand on his head (2.87 GAA, .915 save percentage while leading the league in saves and shots against) just so they can lose by a respectable score. Cody Hodgson (15, but nothing on the man-advantage) will fall and no one will be able to stop it. Wake up, Drew Stafford (eight, minus-5, should be averaging more than 2.5 shots per outing), the boys are counting on you. Steve Ott (seven, 38 PIM) should be provided an expanded role under the new regime. And will someone explain why Mikhail Grigorenko (three in 14, 11 minutes) is playing in the NHL when his talent is being wasted on the bottom two lines? If there is a more underachieving D-man pairing than Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold so far (combined seven points and a minus-13), then they must be hiding really well.

Geez, what's wrong with Washington? So some guy named Alex Ovechkin ('only' 10, but also a minus-8) is shooting but not scoring (only five goals on 68 shots). And another Alexander - Semin, that is - would have really helped the Caps attack (197 career goals with the Caps). But offense is not where they lack. Just look at how well Joel Ward (11, plus-7) and Troy Brouwer (11, with seven PPPs) are producing. Even returnee Eric Fehr (six in 13) has made a difference in his short stint. The problem lies in net, where neither Braden Holtby (3.62 GAA, .891 save percentage in 10) nor Michal Neuvirth (3.05 GAA, .889 save percentage in seven) has been able to show any reliability.

Can people honestly be shocked the reigning champs are struggling to score goals (averaging 2.3)? This story line is not new in LA, as they stumbled offensively through most of last season (at a sizzling 2.25 clip) before sneaking in as an eight-seed. One could point at almost every Kings forward and claim he is underachieving. The exception may be Kyle Clifford (eight, leads with 47 hits), who currently is enjoying life alongside Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. The struggles of Justin Williams  (six) were detailed last week, so let's focus on new press box tenant Simon Gagne (scratched last two) and former resident Dustin Penner (one point). If you haven't heard, Slava Voynov (six points, averaging 23 minutes this month) is accumulating lots of experience with three defensemen on the shelf.

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Player News
Mike Hoffman
Hoffman Awarded One-Year Deal In Arbitration
Mike Hoffman, LW, OTT
12:54 AM
News: Mike Hoffman was awarded a one-year, $2 million contract Monday after going to arbitration with the Senators.
Analysis: It's a bargain deal for the Senators, especially when considering Mike Hoffman was reportedly seeking a $3.4 million contract, while Ottawa countered with $1.75 million. Hoffman was certainly justified in requesting the larger amount. The 25-year-old racked up 48 points (27 goals, 21 assists) over 79 games in what was his first full-time NHL campaign in 2014-15. He will return as a top-six forward for the Senators this season, and could take his production up a notch if he can stay healthy.

James Reimer
Leafs' Reimer: "Open Competition" In Net At Camp
James Reimer, G, TOR
8/3/2015
News: James Reimer will enter training camp with the opportunity to seize the number one role or at least a platoon, according to Toronto Star. "I think that right now I have a total open mind [to both goalies], and certainly I know Mike has the same," said new general manager Lou Lamoriello.
Analysis: James Reimer started 27 games in 2014-15 and delivered a meagre 9-16-1 record with a 3.16 GAA and .907 save percentage. He sure didn't do enough to earn starter's minutes, but will enter camp in an open competition with Jonathan Bernier. It's the third straight season with Reimer and Bernier splitting goaltending duties.

Jonathan Bernier
Bernier Not Guaranteed Leafs' Starting Job
Jonathan Bernier, G, TOR
8/3/2015
News: New general manager Lou Lamoriello envisions the Leafs' goaltending job as an open competition and indicates that head coach Mike Babcock feels the same way, according to the Toronto Star. "I think that right now I have a total open mind, and certainly I know Mike has the same," Lamoriello said. This will be the third straight season with Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer splitting goaltending duties.
Analysis: Lamoriello did indicate that Jonathan Bernier "has the ability, no question" to be a number one goalie in the NHL, but the twinetender hasn't shown the consistency in his game to take that job. And it's that inconsistency that has prevented him from getting a long-term deal with the Leafs. He just inked a two-year contract with the hope he can show the team he deserves a long-term, big-money deal. "Hopefully he has a year that pushes us, that is the organization, to speak to him next summer and looking for long term," continued Lamoriello.

Louis Domingue
Coyotes' Domingue Bound For Europe In 2015-16
Louis Domingue, G, ARI
8/3/2015
News: Louis Domingue will head to Europe for the 2015-16 season after opting not to sign his two-way qualifying offer with the Coyotes, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: With the Coyotes adding Anders Lindback to presumably serve as the backup to starter Mike Smith next season, Louis Domingue determined that playing overseas would be preferable to spending another year in the minors. The Coyotes will still retain his rights for the next four years, and with Lindback set to become a free agent next summer, it's quite possible that Domingue will be brought back in as one of Arizona's two goalies in 2016-17. The 23-year-old fared reasonably well in limited duty with the parent club last season, going 1-2-1 with a 2.73 GAA and .911 save percentage over seven appearances.

Aaron Dell
Dell Inks One-Year Deal With Sharks
Aaron Dell, G, SJ
8/3/2015
News: Aaron Dell signed a one-year contract with the Sharks on Monday.
Analysis: The 26-year-old goaltender was solid in 26 games with AHL Worcester in 2014-15, posting a 2.06 GAA and a .927 save percentage in those contests. He will likely serve as the Sharks' primary AHL goaltender this season.

Brooks Orpik
Caps' Orpik Likely Ready For Opener
Brooks Orpik, D, WAS
8/3/2015
News: General manager Brian MacLellan indicated Monday that he expects Brooks Orpik (wrist) to be ready for the beginning of the season, Dan Rosen of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Brooks Orpik is expected to begin full workout activities within a week or two, barring a setback, so it should provide him plenty of time to recover before the season begins. Assuming that's indeed the case, he should open the season among the top two pairings, and could pick up a fair number of assists while working with the likes of Alex Ovechkin and offseason addition T.J. Oshie.

Nicklas Backstrom
Caps' Backstrom Starts Skating
Nicklas Backstrom, C, WAS
8/3/2015
News: General manager Brian MacLellan indicated Monday that Nicklas Backstrom (hip) recently began skating again, Stephen Whyno of The Canadian Press reports.
Analysis: Nicklas Backstrom's status for the beginning of the season remains in doubt after offseason hip surgery, but he's at least progressing. The Capitals haven't released an official timeline for the top-line center, but it should clear up as the season draws near. If Backstrom is unavailable to begin the campaign, Evgeny Kuznetsov seems the likely candidate to center the top line, which would give him a significant increase in fantasy value.

Erik Haula
Wild, Haula Reach Agreement On New Deal
Erik Haula, LW, MIN
8/2/2015
News: Erik Haula signed a two-year, $2 million contract with the Wild on Sunday, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Rather than take their contract dispute to court, Erik Haula and the team were able to come to terms on a new agreement before the arbitration case was slated to be heard. Haula, who was the last of the Wild's unrestricted free agents, is now expected to be penciled in as the team's fourth-line center to open the upcoming campaign.

Brandon Sutter
Canucks, Sutter Closing In On Big Deal
Brandon Sutter, C, VAN
8/1/2015
News: Brandon Sutter and the Canucks are closing in on a contract extension that could be worth more than $20 million over five years, reports Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada.
Analysis: Orca's general manager Jim Benning wasn't kidding when he described Brandon Sutter as a 'foundational' piece for his club. At that cash, the Orcas must believe Sutter is the solution for their second-line woes. He's been a No. 3 guy through his career, but could step up playing alongside scoring wingers. Monitor this heading to camp.

Marcus Johansson
Johansson Inks One-Year Deal With Capitals
Marcus Johansson, C, WAS
7/31/2015
News: Marcus Johansson signed a one-year, $3.75 million contract with the Capitals on Friday, James Mirtle of TSN 1050 Radio reports.
Analysis: Marcus Johansson was a solid offensive contributor for the Capitals in 2014-15, racking up 47 points (20 goals, 27 assists) in 82 games, good for fourth best on the team. He will return to his role as a top-six forward with Washington this season, and will likely continue to be a part of the Capitals' top power-play unit. The 24-year-old is a versatile winger who, barring injury, should be similarly productive this season.

 
 
 
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