Friday, September 19, 2003
It's OK not to share in fantasy
By Terry Frei Special to ESPN.com
Take Sergei Fedorov. Please.
Please take him in your fantasy league draft, that is. The Russian center is going to be removed from the memories of a certain tennis star waiting for him in the hallway outside the Joe Louis Arena dressing room, while visiting players for some reason shower and dress more hurriedly than usual and then linger instead of heading to the team bus.
But, please, if you end up with Fedorov, don't spend the entire NHL season regaling everyone within earshot every time the Russian center registers a goal or an assist, whether that's in the Arrowhead Pond itself, at one of the Mighty Ducks' road games, or wherever you are when you find out.
Absolutely, fantasy leagues are great. They provide us additional stakes, both financial and emotional, in the sports, and further incentive to pore over the summaries, box scores and other small-type details. Hockey, football, baseball, basketball, and even NASCAR (as long as you don't have Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart) ... they're all terrific vehicles for the pastime.
I've been in them since the days when a commissioner actually had to use pencil and pen and a calculator -- when calculators cost $79.95 -- to keep track of the standings. I entered one for the first time the year after the commissioner retired his abacus. Phil Esposito still was managing to score a few on the rebound and Jim Rice was hitting them over the Green Monster.
Fedorov is going to feel as if he has something to prove. Even as he works in the restrictive system espoused by coach Mike Babcock and perhaps at times longs for what he regarded as Scotty Bowman's and Dave Lewis' strait jacket, he will have a strong season in Anaheim -- both statistically and otherwise. There might be others at the drafting table who feel he will be hard-pressed to match his 36 goals and 83 points with the Wings, but he's going to at least do that.
And without Fedorov around, and with Steve Yzerman's knee still being a bit questionable as the season opens, the remaining Wings -- and not just Brendan Shanahan and Brett Hull, but also Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk -- will be counted on to produce more. And they will. So load up on the Wings, past and present, and perhaps the Thrashers' young stars, Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk.
And pick Mario Lemieux if you can, because there's just something about being able to root for him with a vested interest as he tries to save the Penguins as a viable commodity, for Pittsburgh or anywhere else, and also add to his legend.
Here are some other suggestions (guesses) for the upcoming fantasy drafts:
• Don't get carried away with overvaluing either Paul Kariya or Teemu Selanne. They'll have good years playing on the Colorado line with Joe
Sakic, in part because both will be unrestricted free agents again next summer, but the Peter Forsberg-centered line still is going to be the Avalanche's most productive.
• Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi will slip considerably this season. Joe Thornton won't.
• Don't reach. Mel Kiper, Jr., among others, would be disappointed in you. It's amazing how many times the winners turn out to be those rigidly
drafting off of last year's stats, with the retirees crossed out.
• And after your draft, please don't give the rest of us a bad name. (And that name is "geek.") WE DON'T NEED TO KNOW EVERY TIME THE GUY WHO JUST SCORED IS ON YOUR FANTASY LEAGUE TEAM! NEITHER DOES EVERYONE IN YOUR SECTION AT THE ARENA! OR AT THE BAR! OR ...
There is no bigger boor than the Fantasy League devotee who doesn't allow it be a private matter. You worry about your team, we'll worry about ours, and we don't need to exchange information as if we're showing off pictures of our children.
We all know the types, don't we? They ruin it for the rest of us.
They tell everyone in the beer line how their fantasy teams are doing, whether in that game or in general. And if it only stopped there. They also tell the priest at the back door after mass, even if the priest just wants him to move along and let the other parishioners shake his hand, too. They tell their officemates, whether their officemates are in the same league or they don't know Francois Leroux from Mario Lemieux. They also react to any mild criticism of those who take fantasy leagues too seriously as if we have insulted Lord Stanley himself.
Ask the geeks if they're OK, and they say:
"Great, great, my guys had six goals last night!"
"But didn't your house burn down?"
"Oh, that's OK, we have insurance."
Thank God, hockey hasn't gotten as bad in that regard as baseball, which for far too many folks has become a numbers-crunching exercise. That could mean determining the winning percentage of teams that issue intentional walks to left-handed hitters in the fifth inning of night games, or the result of fantasy -- not real -- games.
In hockey, the games and the real teams still are the pre-eminent passion of the fans. Fantasy leagues are the side shows. (Well, that and the Canadian lotteries' parlay cards.) And that's the way it should be.
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming," available nationwide, and 2004's "Third Down and a War to Go."