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Neutral Zone Wrap: Managing disappointment

by | Rotowire.com
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Disappointment just happens. Face it. You just can't be perfect all the time. There's no way to live up to unrealistic expectations when reality ends up blocking the way.

The same principles apply to Fantasy hockey. The history of a player could tell a story of awesome achievements and incredible intangibles, but certain factors may currently exist to diminish their value – whether it be a deteriorating body, decreased opportunities, or the unwanted appearance of Father Time.

You may be able to spot a few trends from the early returns, but we're way too early to base players' worth from these over a full season. I will use every attempt to leave out obvious statistics, but may be forced to do so if the numbers explain the insight. Look over the following fellows and try to hold back your hopes on their 2013-14 prospects:

(For related material on the same subject, check out Jan Levine's busts column.

Niklas Backstrom, G, Wild: Not to be confused with the Washington star forward of the extra 'c', this Finnish netminder has served as the Wild's backbone the last seven-plus seasons. At 35 and with a new three-year deal, Backstrom looks ready to continue his legacy. That may become difficult with backup Josh Harding waiting for his full-time break and prospects Darcy Kuemper and Johan Gustafsson excelling in other leagues. Even if the incumbent can hold on to No. 1, his stats could suffer as Minnesota seems to be built around an offense that looks like it will be regularly involved in high-scoring shootouts.

Daniel Briere, F, Canadiens: The Habs presumably signed Briere for his French Canadian heritage and/or his ability to seamlessly adapt to their vertically challenged lineup. The 36-year old was once known for his scoring touch but has lately been more associated with injuries. Philly deemed Briere buyout-worthy, but his arrival in Montreal looks to be leadership-based. He may be skating on the first line and earning significant power-play minutes, but try to be like the Flyers and stay away.

Jarome Iginla, F, Bruins: Yes, Iginla is really on the Bruins this time. No online trickery, no last-minute destination changes. Like Briere, he is 36. But unlike the diminutive winger, Iginla appears to have at least something left in the tank. The key issue to remember about the Edmonton native is that he isn't the power forward he used to be (although he did drop the gloves in Game 1). Teaming up with David Krejci and Milan Lucic may be one thing; keeping up with them (and other younger scorers) over the long haul is the problem.

Jaromir Jagr, F, Devils: By now, we're betting you can spot the trend. If you didn't notice 'ancient, past prime, and advance hospital reservations', then you can go ahead and skip to the next player. Jagr's career credentials are impressive and lengthy, so they need not be mentioned. As active players go, only Teemu Selanne (at 43!) is older. Recent point totals (35 points in 45 regular-season games split between Dallas and Boston) may suggest the Silver Mullet can still provide a significant offensive contribution. And especially since the Devils lost Ilya Kovalchuk to defection, it would seem as if Jagr would be the perfect fill-in to offset some of the missing production. But anyone who witnessed his struggles skating last postseason will easily be able to resist owning him.

Erik Johnson, D, Avalanche: How dare we include someone here who is only 25?! Well, if you were selected first overall in the 2005 draft and haven't lived up to the hype, then it's probably no surprise to be listed amongst these fossils well-preserved examples. Johnson topped out at 33 and 39 points in his first two years but the decline since has proved painfully obvious. The USNTDP alumnus still logs mega minutes (at least 20 a night, including top power-play billing), but the output has been lacking. So with Tyson Barrie in the background, Ryan Wilson soon to return from injury, and blueline bluechippers like Duncan Siemens and Chris Bigras next in line, there's enough talent to eventually supplant Johnson in the pecking order.

Honorable mention: Derick Brassard, F, NY Rangers; Troy Brouwer, F, Washington; Erik Cole, F, Dallas; Christian Ehrhoff, D, Buffalo; Kari Lehtonen, G, Dallas

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Player News
Ryan Ellis
Preds, Ellis Still At Odds Over New Contract
Ryan Ellis, D, NSH
12:49 AM
News: Preds GM David Poile addressed Ryan Ellis' contract situation Saturday, saying the main stumbling block continues to be money, according to the Tennessean. "Unfortunately at this time we have not agreed what they think and what we think is fair compensation," Poile said. "We want [Ellis]. We are not trading him, we really like him. We really like the way he played last year. It's just a disagreement on dollars."
Analysis: Ryan Ellis, who has missed the first two days of training camp so far, played in 80 games last season for and finished with 27 points - his highest full season total to date. And while there is still plenty of time left to get a deal done before the start of the season, the clock is ticking. Not only is he missing out on conditioning drills and scrimmages, the more Ellis misses of training camp, the greater the chances of some other defenseman impressing the coaching staff and grabbing a roster spot that might otherwise go to Ellis. Bottom line, we think Ellis will get signed by the start of the regular season, but what his role on the team will be is anybody's guess. He's a risky fantasy pick right now, until all of the above gets sorted out.

Jon Merrill
Devils' Merrill Misses Practice With Head Injury
Jon Merrill, D, NJ
12:48 AM
News: Jon Merrill missed the second day of Devils' training camp on Saturday due to a head injury he suffered after colliding with teammate Ruslan Fedotenko during Friday's practice, Rich Chere of NJ.com reports.
Analysis: Luckily for Jon Merrill, the Devils' first regular season game isn't until October 9. While head injuries are never a good thing, the promising young defender should have ample time to get healthy before the regular season kicks off.

Ryan Johansen
Jackets' Johansen: Is KHL Calling?
Ryan Johansen, C, CLB
9/20/2014
News: Ryan Johansen is set to receive a contract offer from CSKA Moscow of the KHL, reports TSN.ca. The deal is expected to be for one year and $5 million.
Analysis: The Jackets and Ryan Johansen are at an impasse in salary negotiations. Johansen doesn't think he should have to ink a bridge deal and instead go straight to the rich house, while the Jackets think he should prove his mettle with a P.K. Subban-like bridge contract. Still, reports indicate the team has offered as much as $32 million for six years and $46 million over eight, so those aren't exactly "bridge." Johansen sniped 33 goals and ended with 63 points in 82 games last season. A move to the KHL is unlikely, but leverage is leverage.

Joe Thornton
Sharks' Thornton Disagrees With General Manager
Joe Thornton, C, SJ
9/20/2014
News: Joe Thornton took issue Friday with general manager Doug Wilson's offseason comments about the Sharks rebuilding and becoming a "tomorrow team," reports the San Jose Mercury News. "That's Doug's opinion," said the big center. "I think if you'd ask anybody in here I don't think they have the same feeling."
Analysis: There have been plenty of rumors about Wilson doing all he can to push Jumbo Joe into a place where the center either demands a trade or the situation becomes ripe to ship him out of town. There seems to be a bit of a ripple starting in San Jose -- we'll see how far it goes.

Slater Koekkoek
Bolts' Koekkoek (Shoulder): Feels 100 Percent
Slater Koekkoek, D, TB
9/20/2014
News: Slater Koekkoek (shoulder) skated in practice Friday and said his surgically repaired shoulders "felt 100-percent," reports the Tampa Bay Times. "I didn't play with any hesitation," said the big defender.
Analysis: This guy has all the potential in the world and could be dominant. But he desperately needs to stay healthy for a full season, something that just hasn't happened in years after multiple shoulder surgeries. He'll spend a full season in the AHL this year and the Bolts hope he can prove those shoulder issues are a thing of the past.

Sven Andrighetto
Habs' Andrighetto Scores In Scrimmage
Sven Andrighetto, RW, MON
9/20/2014
News: Adrighetto scored a goal on a penalty shot during Montreal's intra-squad scrimmage Saturday, the Montreal Gazette reports.
Analysis: Sven Andrighetto showcased some of his offensive skill, forcing a hooking penalty that led to his penalty shot goal, but the 5-9 forward was also out-muscled in one-on-one battles and was on ice for three of his opponents' goals. That sums up Andrighetto at this stage of his career. If he were to stick with Montreal, it would have to be in a third- or fourth-line role, where he would have to play a more physical role than he's accustomed to.

Ben Bishop
Bolts' Bishop (Wrist) Feels "Really Good"
Ben Bishop, G, TB
9/20/2014
News: Ben Bishop (wrist) was encouraged with how he felt after Friday's on-ice work, reports the Tampa Bay Times. He did 15 minutes of individual drills and a 90-minute practice. "The first session felt really good, got a little sore toward the end of the second session, but that's kind of expected," Bishop said.
Analysis: This is great news for his owners and for the Bolts. The team's playoff hopes went down the drain when big Ben Bishop got hurt late in the year. He'll build on his Vezina-nominated season and should deliver similar output this year.

Ryan Callahan
Bolts Try Callahan With Stamkos
Ryan Callahan, RW, TB
9/20/2014
News: Ryan Callahan could start the season on the top line with Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat, reports the Tampa Bay Times. The trio was together at camp on Friday and head coach Jon Cooper was quick to tell reporters, "I don't think there's an open audition," to play with Stamkos.
Analysis: Ryan Callahan didn't really spend a lot of time with Stammer last season, so he's the likely odd man out if there's juggling. But Palat had great success beside Stammer late in 2013-14. Stamkos himself liked the trio: "Obviously you want a mix of everything on a line," Stamkos said. "You want a guy who can distribute the puck, a guy that can shoot, and a guy that can go into a corner and get it. With the guys I was playing with (Friday), we had a good combination of that."

Ondrej Palat
Bolts' Palat Back With Stamkos On Top Line
Ondrej Palat, LW, TB
9/20/2014
News: Ondrej Palat practiced with Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan on Saturday and Lightning coach Jon Cooper expects the trio to start the season together, reports the Tampa Bay Times. "We've got a group that has some success with him last year, and why wouldn't we go back to that again? At least at the start of the year," said the coach.
Analysis: Ondrej Palat was a finalist for the Calder trophy and was a two-way revelation for the Bolts last year. He can dish the puck and did that well last year when he skated with Stammer late in the year. Palat's star is on the rise -- push him up your draft list. His two-way sensibility should insulate him against a sophomore slump.

Steven Stamkos
Bolts' Stamkos Starts With Callahan And Palat
Steven Stamkos, C, TB
9/20/2014
News: Steven Stamkos opened training camp on a line with Ryan Callahan and Ondrej Palat, according to the Tampa Bay Times, and while the players were told not to read much into their line mates in camp, coach Jon Cooper was quick to suggest this trio would start the season together. "We've got a group that has some success with him last year, and why wouldn't we go back to that again? At least at the start of the year."
Analysis: Steven Stamkos spent a lot of time with Palat and center Tyler Johnson near season's end last year. The Stamkos-Callahan-Palat combo is a nice mix of sniping, mucking and distributing. It looks like a good combo to us.

 
 
 
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