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January 29, 2013
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Backes Not Shooting or Scoring

Kevin Brown

It’s been a wild 10 days since the curtain was officially raised on the NHL season last weekend. In that span I have consumed an amount of hockey that no doctor would recommend.  Here are a few nuggets I think you’ll enjoy:  


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I’m not the least bit worried about Phil Kessel despite the fact that he hasn’t scored and has registered only two assists to go with a minus-2 rating in five games. His 24 shots on goal place him in a tie for second in the league in that category and despite missing line mate Joffrey Lupul due to a long-term injury, the American-born winger has seen his share of quality scoring chances. He leads the Leafs in power-play ice time per game, and that’s not about to change anytime soon.  You should rest easy if you have him in your fantasy lineup.  

Sticking with Toronto, rookie Mike Kostka is someone I’m targeting in all the deeper leagues I play in, including the Yahoo Friends and Family League, where I intend to use him in my starting lineup regularly.  Don’t let his ugly minus-7 rating scare you off since it’s the product of just two bad games.  If Toronto coach Randy Carlyle sees fit to entrust the relative unknown with important minutes and use him as a regular in his lineup, there’s no reason you shouldn’t do the same.  

I remain enthralled by David Backes and his Hartnell-esque combination of skill and toughness, but I find myself taking the unpopular position that the forward is somewhat overrated in fantasy leagues.  The fact that he has yet to find the back of the net isn’t overly troubling, but his meager nine shots on goal in six contests do make me anxious.  Throw in the fact that Backes always draws the most difficult defensive assignments and the reality that the Blues’ multitude of offensive weapons mean he has more competition for premium ice time and I think he’ll fall short of last year’s pace.  Now if only I hadn’t used early selections on him in two of my biggest leagues.  

Although he has posted a mediocre three points in his first five NHL games, Damien Brunner is somebody I wish I had on more of my teams.  By now we’ve all heard the story of how Brunner was running away with the scoring title in the Swiss National League before coming across the pond to play with EV Zug teammate Henrik Zetterberg in Motown.  It seems coach Mike Babcock knew what he had coming in the 26-year-old because he immediately placed him on the Wings’ top power-play unit where he has generated a team-leading 22 shots on goal thus far. Babcock seems committed to him as a member of the top six forwards in Detroit and as long as that’s the case I won’t stop believin’ ether.  

Here’s a tip for anyone playing in leagues with limits placed on the number of games played by position.  A backup goaltender on a good team is often a more useful asset than the starter on one of the league’s cellar dwellers, not to mention probably easier to come by.  For example, if I already had a couple of starting goaltenders I trusted I would much prefer to roster Tomas Vokoun or Martin Biron as my third netminder than I would Evgeni Nabokov or James Reimer.  The fact is, on a per-game basis, the backup keepers are likely better bets and I won’t benefit from the extra playing time assigned to sub-par starter.    

He has probably been forgotten by most of your competitors due to his early-season absence, but Jiri Hudler is a player I’m targeting in deeper formats.  The former Red Wing played his first game for the Flames on Saturday and the offensive spark he provided to a team clearly in need of a jolt was noticeable.   There’s no guarantee he’ll get much time on the top power-play unit, but given how cheaply he’s likely to come he doesn’t need to be dominant to earn you a profit.  

This may sound crazy given how slowly the team has started the season, but I would be willing to take the plunge on any member of the Panthers’ top line consisting of Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann.  Despite the potential shown by rookie Jonathan Huberdeau, I don’t see any major threats on the roster who would eat into the extensive playing time this trio should receive this season.  I should point out that both Versteeg and Weiss are currently nursing lower body injuries, but both should be back on the ice before long.  The key to winning is the ability to recognize value and there’s no question each of these three forwards can be had at a discount on his opening night price right now even though I’m confident the potential of each going forward hasn’t changed significantly.  

The media in Winnipeg has had a field day taking shots at the admittedly immature Evander Kane, but his off-ice antics shouldn’t prevent you from noticing what an explosive force he can be with his skates on.  The former first round pick is the epitome of a power forward and at the tender age of 21 he’s only scratching the surface of his potential.  He could definitely blossom into a 40-goal, 80-PIM producer over a full season very soon.  

I would be lying if I said I felt comfortable about Jimmy Howard’s prospects this season.  I’ll be the first to admit reports of the Red Wings’ demise early in the season were greatly exaggerated, but I still have a hard time believing a team can overcome the loss of the legendary Nicklas Lidstrom to retirement in addition to the injuries they sustained to their blue line without missing a beat.  If you believe, as I do, that Howard was a product of his sturdy environment the past few seasons, a downgrade in the quality of that supporting cast must result in a downturn.  

The signing of P.K. Subban is very interesting, as the Habs’ blueliner seemingly had the strongest argument for demanding more money of any restricted free agent this year, but he eventually settled for a very team-friendly two-year deal worth $5.75 million.  As many have pointed out, the fact that the contract pays him $3.75 million in the second year was a calculated decision by Subban, as that higher figure will serve as the baseline for a qualifying offer after the 2013-14 season, but the negotiation really can’t be viewed as anything but a win for the Canadiens.  Focusing solely on his on-ice contributions, I expect P.K. to be among the top-10 blueliners in the fantasy game from this point forward.  

For anyone interested, you can follow my Twitter feed at @kbrownroto.  Send me your fantasy questions, comments or simply mock me for my poor showing in the Yahoo Friends and Family League – it’s all welcome.    


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