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Neutral Zone Wrap: Exceeding our expectations

by | Rotowire.com
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Looking at the current state of NHL clubs, it clearly appears as though the Eastern Conference is the weaker of the two. One could argue the four worst overall teams reside on the right side of the continent, unless you want to include perennial underperformer Edmonton somewhere in the mix.

But you probably don't care about that. You want the fantasy info and you want it without filler.

While we've previously discussed trying not to dwell on early stats and standings, trying to separate the reality from the illusion can be a difficult task. A bunch of players have already matched or exceeded expectations. So how can you tell which ones will stay on course and which ones will crash and burn?

Others have already warned about Tomas Hertl, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and other hotshots not on San Jose reaching ripe trade values, so here are a few different examples who have started on fire but history -- and fate -- say they will continue on a more molasses-like pace. Take note of the following:

Ben Bishop, G, Lightning: Pretty sweet early line from the ex-Senator/Blue (nine wins in 11, 2.15 GAA, .925 SV%), especially considering the Lightning defensive effort has sucked since, well, the 2004-05 lockout. And that last part is why you shouldn't expect to see this progression from the 6-foot-7 netminder for an entire season. Tampa has improved on the back end of late but not enough to claim Bishop as a yearlong top-5 (or even top-10) Fantasy goalie.

Mikhail Grabovski, F, Capitals: The career of Grabovski has been highlighted by the frequent alternation of hot and cold streaks. Just when you think he's holding it all together, the Belarusian flakes out and suddenly stops contributing. While these types of episodes happened at times during his Montreal and Toronto days, that by no means guarantees a repeat with the Caps. But at the same time, we've already just witnessed a minor lull (stretch of one point in six games, declining minutes) bookended by outstanding performances (hat-trick/four points opening night and three assists Friday evening). Tread lightly.

David Legwand, F, Predators: Perhaps you remember Legwand as the #2 pick of the 1998 draft. Or the guy who is now in his 14th full season with Nashville and leads the team in scoring (12 in 14). While he's not young (33), neither is his competition at center (Mike Fisher is also 33, while Matt Cullen is four years older). Not too many injuries over his career, although he never matched his junior offensive numbers (peaked at 63 in 2006-07). Even with the Preds' improved offense, hoping Legwand to top 60 points again is asking for too much.

Frans Nielsen, F, Islanders: While Kyle Okposo has also shot out of the gates (17 in 14), let's focus on the Islander forward who is more likely to take a dip. In his six full campaigns, the Danish center has excelled as a shorthanded skater (seven SHGs in 2010-11) and has firmly stuck his foot in on the power-play (no worse than eight PPPs per season). His hard work is finally paying off (eight goals, eight assists) and the Islanders may finally be experiencing a resurge. But I'm sorry, there is no way a healthy Nielsen will reach 80 points over an 82-game schedule. Don't even think about it.

Matt Niskanen, D, Penguins: The return of Kris Letang has rearranged the Pens' blueline ladder. Even though the two share time as a regular-strength pair, Niskanen will no longer see the big man-advantage minutes. Since Letang's first game back, the Minnesotan's production has slipped (one in five) as a result of losing his prime scoring role (lost almost two minutes of PP action a night). Any total over 30 points should be a bonus.

(Honorable mention: Mark Arcobello, F, Edmonton; Kari Lehtonen, G, Dallas; Mathieu Perreault, F, Anaheim; Chris Tanev, D, Vancouver; Antoine Vermette, F, Phoenix)

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Player News
Mike Mottau
NHLer Mottau Calls It A Career
Mike Mottau, D, FLA
8/19/2014
News: Mike Mottau announced his retirement from professional hockey Tuesday, Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com reports.
Analysis: The Massachusetts native was exploring the option of playing with AHL Providence to stick with his hometown Bruins organization, but decided he was content to spend more time with his family. Mike Mottau, 36, appeared in 321 career NHL games with the Rangers, Flames, Devils, Islanders, Bruins and Panthers, with his most productive seasons coming in the late-2000s with New Jersey.

Josh Harding
Wild's Harding Cleared For Training Camp
Josh Harding, G, MIN
8/19/2014
News: Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said Josh Harding is "a go" for training camp, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. "Everybody seems to be feeling pretty good, and at this stage, all of our players who were banged up at the end of the season are feeling better. Josh has felt good. Right now we're not expecting any issues for anybody with respect to passing training camp medicals."
Analysis: With an 18-7-3 record, 1.65 GAA and .933 save percentage, Josh Harding was playing as well as any goal in hockey before a setback in his treatment for multiple sclerosis sidelined him after the end of December. Because he's missed large chunks of both of the last two seasons while dealing with the effects of the illness, fantasy players shouldn't look to invest heavily in Harding. Even if healthy, he's no lock to open the season as the regular starter in goal for the Wild with Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper still around.

Niklas Backstrom
Wild's Backstrom Good To Go For Camp
Niklas Backstrom, G, MIN
8/19/2014
News: Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said Niklas Backstrom (abdomen, hip) is feeling good and and will be ready to participate in training camp, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Any way you spin it, Niklas Backstrom had a miserable 2013-14 campaign, as the veteran netminder suited up for 21 games and posted a lousy 3.02 GAA and .899 save percentage before undergoing season-ending abdominal and hip surgery. Though he's ostensibly healthy, Backstrom is now 36 and doesn't appear poised to enter the season as the club's starter, especially with Darcy Kuemper and Josh Harding still around. His sizable contract may be the only thing keeping him around.

Jonas Hiller
Flames' Hiller: Fully Recovered From Appendicitis
Jonas Hiller, G, CGY
8/19/2014
News: GM Brad Treliving said Jonas Hiller is "100 percent" recovered from the appendicitis attack that sidelined him in July, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: The incident prevented Jonas Hiller from working out for about three weeks, but he's since returned to the ice to resume his usual pre-camp routine in his native Switzerland. Hiller, 32, is the heavy favorite to serve as the Flames' No. 1 goalie this season after inking a two-year contract with Calgary on the first day of free agency.

Ryan Malone
Free Agent Malone Pleads No Contest
Ryan Malone, LW, TB
8/19/2014
News: Ryan Malone pleaded no contest Tuesday to his DUI charge stemming from an April arrest, but did agree to a pretrial diversion program for the cocaine possession charge he received in the same incident, Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times reports.
Analysis: The diversion program will help Ryan Malone's chances of getting the felony drug charge dismissed if he completes the required criteria. Malone's pending legal issues have made teams reluctant to extend a contract offer just yet, but several clubs are said to be interested in the 34-year-old. Once he completes the program and completes community service for his DUI charge, Malone should latch on with a team.

Nick Petrecki
Ex-Shark Petrecki Signs AHL Deal
Nick Petrecki, D, SJ
8/19/2014
News: Nick Petrecki signed a one-year AHL contract with Rochester on Tuesday.
Analysis: Nick Petrecki spent most of the past season with AHL Worcester of the San Jose organization, before joining Rochester in a late-season loan. In total, the former first-round selection totaled a goal, three assists and 82 PIM in 49 minor league games. He'll function as a depth player for the Buffalo organization.

Eric Selleck
Coyotes Ink Selleck To AHL Contract
Eric Selleck, LW, FLA
8/19/2014
News: Eric Selleck signed a minor-league contract with AHL Portland on Tuesday.
Analysis: Eric Selleck, 26, is a longtime AHL vet who offers much physicality on the checking line. He's totaled at least 160 penalty minutes in each of his last four seasons in the minors, but won't have great odds of earning a promotion to Arizona at any point.

Clarke MacArthur
Sens Extend MacArthur Five Years
Clarke MacArthur, LW, OTT
8/19/2014
News: Clarke MacArthur inked a five-year, $23.25 million extension with the Senators on Tuesday, Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reports.
Analysis: Clarke MacArthur was already under contract for $3.25 million for this season, so the new five-year deal won't kick in until 2015-16, keeping him under team control through the end of the 2019-20 campaign. The 29-year-old totaled a career-best 24 goals, 78 PIM and plus-12 rating in his first season in Ottawa, and will be counted on to fill a top-line role long-term on the left wing.

Steve Mason
Flyers' Mason Returns To Ice
Steve Mason, G, PHI
8/18/2014
News: Steve Mason (finger) returned to the ice Monday for the first time since breaking his finger three weeks ago, Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News reports.
Analysis: With training camp still a month away, the expectation is that Steve Mason will be healthy enough by that time to participate in full activities. After having to fight for his job as the No. 1 goalie a season ago, Mason will be the team's unquestioned top option between the pipes after going 33-18-7 with a 2.50 GAA and .917 save percentage in 2013-14.

Mark Borowiecki
Sens' Borowiecki Receives Three-Year Extension
Mark Borowiecki, D, OTT
8/18/2014
News: Mark Borowiecki and the Senators agreed to terms on a three-year, $3.3 million contract Monday, Ken Warren of the Ottawa Citizen reports.
Analysis: Mark Borowiecki was already set to enter the upcoming season with a guaranteed NHL contract for the first time in his career, so the extension just give him some more long-term security with the Senators. The 25-year-old hasn't shown much of a knack for scoring with the Senators or at AHL Binghamton over the last several seasons, but with regular playing time, he could rank among the league's PIM leaders on the blue line.

 
 
 
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