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Thursday, August 2, 2012
Talking Hockey: Picks for starting six

By Tim Boughton, Paul Grant and David Walton

Three guys, jawing about hockey. One from St. Louis, one from Toronto, one from the Netherlands. (Or at least it seems like he's from the Netherlands, what with his preference for wooden shoes and all.)

PAUL GRANT: OK, lads, here we go again. Since we’re hitting the dog days pretty good, let’s play the fantasy card. Who’s your ultimate top six and why? And let’s not talk about how you would take a non-concussed Sidney Crosby, Roberto Luongo during the season but not the playoffs, that sort of thing. It might be a fantasy draft, but that doesn’t mean we’re living in a fantasy world -- we’re talking about today’s players with their existing injury histories and mental predispositions. All active players are on the board, and we can take the same players, if you want to be a mindless sheep.

Dave, you lead us off, because Tim is going to take all Bowling Green guys, anyway.

DAVID WALTON: Hmmm, where to start?

Since the object of the game is to score more goals than the other team, I think my first pick has to be Steven Stamkos at center. He is one of the most dynamic goal scorers in the game today. I almost chose Evgeni Malkin over Stamkos. Almost.

But I am going to take Malkin's linemate, left winger James Neal. He's on his way (already arrived?) to becoming a premier power forward in the league. I like watching the way he plays the game -- with speed, skill, toughness.

Starting on right wing for this powerhouse will be Marian Hossa. If he doesn't come back to be same player after that vicious check from Raffi Torres, then I reserve the right to get another pick. (Editor's note: No.) Hossa can play in all situations and is one of the most dangerous penalty killers out there.

Switching over to defense, Zdeno Chara, come on down! He'll look real good anchoring the right side of my defense. And, with his wingspan, he can pretty much cover the entire defensive zone. So good luck getting past him and getting shots on net. Taking the left side of the ice on defense will be Ryan McDonagh. He's a nice up-and-coming defenseman who can also chip in on the offensive side.

Now comes the toughest and most crucial pick of all -- goalie. Because Paul was silly enough to let me pick first, I have decided to make you all suffer by choosing Pekka Rinne. I just noticed he started 72 games last season. WOW. Makes his regular-season numbers even more ridiculous.

I dare you both to top this team. I don't think you can, as I am a team-picking genius -- and not just because I got to go first. I mean, it helps. But sometimes the draft lottery falls in your favor and sometimes it doesn't. Right, Columbus?

To summarize:
RW, Marian Hossa
C, Steven Stamkos
LW, James Neal
D, Zdeno Chara
D, Ryan McDonagh
G, Pekka Rinne

TIM BOUGHTON: Dave, nice picks. As coach of this fine group, what is the over/under for your minutes behind the bench, calling out nonsensical instructions before a violent, all-out mutiny occurs? I think you could make the tech shirt under a blazer work in hockey as well as Stan Van Gundy has crushed it in the NBA. A stovepipe hat wouldn't hurt either. You want people to respect you.

Before everyone rips on my team, let's look at how bad it could have been. I could have gone homer and picked Kevin Bieska. I didn't. I could have picked my favorite player, an aging Teemu Selanne. I didn't. (Although I still hold out a misguided notion that he is going to score 30 this season.) I could have been irrational and put an established forward like Carl Racki at defense (thanks to the commenter who pointed that out). I could make the argument that goaltender Jacques Grande's character was interesting enough to create a sequel to "The Love Guru." (I can't believe I watched that thing.)

Which is why I'm going with Marty St. Louis at right wing for my first pick. OK, he is on the downside of his career, but please don't tell me he isn't still one of the fastest and slickest playmakers on the ice. Before you start hating, take a look at the numbers, which prove St. Louis has been the glue to some of the most potent line combos in the NHL over the past decade. Brad Richards, Vinnie Lecavalier and now Stamkos have benefited from the type of flamboyant artistry on the ice not seen since Chazz Michael Michaels officially called it quits. Don't take my word for it. Marty St. Louis is the best playmaker in the NHL and that is a freakin' scientific fact. (Look it up in your science books, Dave, or your mad libs or whatever it is you read.)

At center, I'm going to go a little more conventional. Although he is easily one of the top 10 players in the league, every time I watch him play, I still think he is underrated: Evgeni Malkin. The guy is basically unmovable when he has the puck and he stickhandles like a smaller guy. I'll take him every day over Sidney Crosby -- oooh, big deal, Sidney, you dented up your parents' drier shooting pucks into it; Malkin wouldn't have damaged the drier because all his shots go in. (Not sure why I'm suddenly hating on Sidney Crosby, but I'm just tired about hearing about him when Neal and Malkin are just as good in different ways.)

At left wing, I didn't want to do this, but this guy is an awesome two-way player and has been really good on a traditionally terrible team: Rick Nash. Now that everyone can stop speculating about him around the trade deadline, he should be hitting his peak this season with the talent he is surrounded with in New York; he should literally blow up. (OK, maybe not literally, because that would be messy.) Anyway, his reality in New York is comparable to playing with Martin St. Louis and Evgeni Malkin on my team.

On defense, as much as I wanted to pick Chara, I just couldn't. OK, he is probably the best defenseman out there, he covers a ridiculous amount of space, he has a blazing slapper, he is a good skater, a decent puck handler, but I just don't enjoy watching him play. He is so tall, it is kind of awkward (possibly creepy?), and this is my team, so I'm not going to pick him. My favorite defenseman on the Bruins is Adam McQuaid, and he isn't really even a solid top-four in the NHL, so I can't pick him either. So, I'm going with Tyler Myers of Buffalo. He has a ton of upside and although he isn't the same offensive threat as Chara, I'm comfortable taking the heat for this one.

For the other defenseman, I thought about Erik Karlsson from Ottawa, but he is too much of an offensive guy for what I like in a defenseman. I'm not sayin' he is Paul Coffey-negligent on defense, but he is just too much of a forward. Drew Doughty is a little more balanced for my taste. While he isn't exactly a stay-at-home guy, he can provide offensive punch without wishing the puck away from somebody and calling it defense (see "Paul Coffey-negligent," above).

As far as netminders go, I did actually attempt to interpret some numbers when considering my pick. I was a little shocked to see how awesome Jonathan Quick's regular-season numbers were. He wasn't exactly a secret, but, I mean, 10 shutouts and his GAA was under 2.00. He got so little attention, he had a phenomenal season and really didn't show up in the national spotlight until the finals -- but that said, he's not my pick. Although I don't agree with Dave's fashion choice of wearing glasses under his visor, I do agree with his picking Pekka Rinne in goal. What more can be said about a guy who's 6-foot-5 and super-agile, can dominate a game positionally like Roberto Luongo did a few years back? Plus, he's good for 10 to 15 more games than the average No. 1 goaltender.

To summarize:
RW, Martin St. Louis
C, Evgeni Malkin
LW, Rick Nash
D, Tyler Myers
D, Drew Doughty
G, Pekka Rinne

I'm going to let Dan Bylsma coach.

PG: The issue for me becomes whether this team is built for the long term or for one season. Such is the GM's conundrum, I guess ("conundrum" means a "confusing or difficult problem," Dave).

But I'm going for it this season, which means I've got Claude Giroux as my right winger. He's got sick hands, pushes back when need be, can play in a high-pressure market, is from the same hometown as Pierre LeBrun (as you might have heard) and speaks both of Canada's official languages. Heck, with that skill set, he should run for the office of the prime minister of Canada.

Speaking of feisty, I'm enlisting Steven Stamkos as my center man as well. He's proved for more than one season that his goal scoring is not a fluke. My only concern would be what division we'd be playing in because he's been lighting up those Southeast Division goalies pretty well over his career. But he's got talent, size, strength and an all-world mullet, when he puts his mind to it. Wait, does that mean no one took Sidney Crosby?

Left wing is always a challenge on any list. There are so many good players, but so few great ones. And since I can't take Dave (even though he's a right-shooting winger coming from the left side), then I'm going with Alex Ovechkin. Maybe I'm living in the past, but I've got to think this guy has enough in his tank for at least one more great season. He can't be washed up at 26, fellas. Sheesh.

On defense, I'm going with Shea Weber. Everyone else is second. I love the way this guy scores, passes, sees the ice, leads his team, gives grumpy quotes to the media, etc. And did I mention I like the way he crushes people? (Punishment-free WWE face-smashes into the boards notwithstanding.) If he can give me five more years of that (he'll be 27 on Aug. 14), my D is anchored.

On the other side of the blue line, I considered Erik Karlsson (just signed an extension, so his stats will be down this season), Zdeno Chara (his game and body are taking an early toll on his body) and Ryan Suter (think he won't be off his game in the first year of a 13-year deal?), but I went with Alex Pietrangelo. That's right, boys, stole him from your backyard. He's the same age and draft year as Karlsson, but Pietrangelo's size advantage and gentler seasoning make me lean in his direction. I think the kid's got the toughness to be on my team and the ability to step up when it counts, as is evident in the fact he led all defensemen with game-winning goals last season.

In net, I'm going with Dominik Hasek because that would be just too good of a story. No, not really. My pick is Cory Schneider. I feel he has the potential, as a clear-cut No. 1, to break free and dominate like Jonathan Quick did last season. I like his poise and think he could keep rolling for a long season and into the playoffs. I'm not similarly convinced about Pekka Rinne, even though he would be a dandy pick, especially playing behind Weber.

So, Team Granite:
RW, Claude Giroux
C, Steven Stamkos
LW, Alex Ovechkin
D, Shea Weber
D, Alex Pietrangelo
G, Cory Schneider

How could anyone argue with those picks? Thanks, guys. Until next week, keep your stick on the ice.