|ESPN.com: 2011||[Print without images]|
A furious final weekend of the NHL season gave us some memorable contests for both good and bad reasons. The New York Rangers outlasted the rival New Jersey Devils on their way to earning a playoff berth, while the Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars had to win one game to seize a spot in the postseason and lost. 'Twas a tense several hours on Sunday for the Chicago Blackhawks, who lost a game against the Detroit Red Wings that would've clinched their offseason entry, but backed their way in via the Stars' loss later that night. With the 2010-11 regular season in the books, it's time to compile all the votes for our ESPN Fantasy Hockey All-Pro Team.
Actually, that's a bit misleading. Unlike real-life All-Pro teams, there is only one voter here: the cold, calculating ESPN Player Rater, which compiles all the stats used in our standard format throughout the season, assessing every player's relative value to his peers. For forwards and defensemen, that includes goals, assists, plus-minus, penalty minutes, power-play points, average ice time and shots on goal. For the netminders, it's wins, goals-against average and save percentage. As a stark reminder that fantasy glory can be transient, just two players from last year's All-Pro teams made the list this season: Steven Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin.
In addition to an analysis of why each of these men made the team (and what to expect for next season), I've also included the average draft position of each All-Pro, though this is merely educational; the draft value isn't as important as overall production. To paraphrase the great Joe Esposito, these guys are the best around!
Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay Lightning (Average Draft Position: 4.1) With another season of development -- and a long-term injury to last season's First team All-Pro pivot Sidney Crosby -- Stamkos takes top billing on our top line, finishing seventh amongst all players. From 2009-10 to this season, Stamkos remained consistent or even went down a bit in all the relevant fantasy categories except for one: penalty minutes. While he's hardly a goon, those 74 minutes in the sin bin were a nice little bonus tagged on for those who drafted him early as the cornerstone of their roster. And to say his performance was off of last season's doesn't tell the whole story. Through the season's first 51 games, he had 38 goals and 67 points, on pace for 61 and 108, respectively. In the final 31 games, he had just seven goals and 24 points. So even with a late-season swoon he's an elite fantasy player, the best center available in 2010-11. If he can maintain consistency next season, he'll be in the mix for "Best in Show" (No. 1 overall in fantasy), and he won't need a well-coiffed handler toting him around, either.
Daniel Sedin, LW, Vancouver Canucks (ADP: 7.7) 2009-10 was the Season of Henrik, as the elder of the twins (by six minutes) captured the Hart and Art Ross trophies as the NHL's MVP and leading point-scorer in the regular season, respectively. The goal scorer of the pair, Daniel was the No. 1 fantasy forward in all the land this season, capturing the points title (104), finishing fourth in goals (41), third in assists (63), fifth in plus-minus (plus-30) and first in power-play points (42). Aside from a broken foot in the 2009-10 season -- sustained from a slap shot off of teammate Alexander Edler's stick thanks Alex! -- Daniel has been remarkably durable, so it's not a wild leap of faith to believe that the 30-year-old will continue to be a dominant player in seasons ahead.
Corey Perry, RW, Anaheim Ducks (ADP: 38.8) With a remarkable late-season surge, Perry saved us from a world in which no NHL player netted 50 goals this season. For this, we are eternally grateful. (For those keeping track, 2003-04 was the last time someone failed to net 50, as Ilya Kovalchuk, Jarome Iginla and Rick Nash led the league with 41 that season). But anyone who's owned Perry before knows that he isn't just a force on the score sheet; despite the career highs in goals, points, shots, power-play points and ice time, he maintained his ill-tempered behavioral streak of triple-digit PIM as well. It's not all fights, either, as he consistently racks up the minor penalties that can be a boost for those playing in weekly scoring formats. Turning 26 years old in May, Perry should have a number of great seasons ahead of him.
Zdeno Chara, D, Boston Bruins (ADP: 34.5) The 6-foot-9 Slovakian blue-liner is an intimidating force, and instantly recognizable whenever he's on the ice. Whether it's his strength and leverage in the defensive end, or his howitzer of a slap shot on offense, Chara is one of the league's most valuable players in a real-life sense. And this season, by filling up all of the stat columns, he was the most valuable D-man in fantasy as well. The bad news is that Chara led only one of the categories for defenders in ESPN standard format: plus-minus. The good news is that he was near the top in just about every other one, meaning that for the high draft pick investment, a fantasy owner gets production across the board. Whether or not the Bruins are able to re-sign Tomas Kaberle this offseason, expect another solid campaign from Chara in 2011-12.
Kris Letang, D, Pittsburgh Penguins (ADP: 181.4) Though he scored only eight goals this season, Letang's prowess on the power play, his PIM contributions and his remarkable number of shots on goal carried him to the No. 2 spot amongst D-men, just edging Dustin Byfuglien on the final day of the regular season. Perhaps the most amazing part of Letang's finish in that spot is the fact he played without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the lineup for much of the season. With those two back -- we believe -- in 2011-12, the heir apparent to Sergei Gonchar should rack up another productive campaign of fantasy goodness. It nearly goes without mentioning that you shouldn't expect to find him on the board in Round 15 in your draft this fall.
Tim Thomas, D, Boston Bruins (ADP: 178.8) Nearly left for dead by fantasy owners after Tuukka Rask's impressive 2009-10 campaign, Thomas returned in 2010-11, and seemed to be out for vengeance. The new holder of the single-season record in save percentage (.9382, which bested Dominik Hasek's mark of .9366 in 1998-99), Thomas was the No. 1 overall player in all of fantasy hockey. In addition to the stellar save percentage, Thomas also led the league in goals-against average, tied for ninth in wins and is certainly the leading candidate to pick up the Vezina Trophy at season's end. It's pretty clear that the hip issue that plagued him in 2009-10 has been rectified. Given Thomas' dedication to a multifaceted workout regimen throughout the year (including his work on the yoga mats), it's hard to cast doubt on the veteran's ability to put up some additional elite seasons in the years ahead.
Ryan Kesler, C, Vancouver Canucks (ADP: 52.2) Narrowly edging teammate Henrik Sedin for the second-team honors, Kesler did it by recording his second straight 70-plus point season, and filling up the rest of the fantasy sheet, as well. By season's end, the Michigan native had set career highs in goals (41), plus-minus (plus-24), shots (260), power-play points (30) and average ice time (20:30). Though he centers the second line at even strength, Kesler joins the Sedins on the Canucks' power play, and with all three inked for the next few seasons, there's no reason to think that boon to his production will slow any time soon.
Alex Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals (ADP: 1.1) Remarkably, even in an "off" season, Ovechkin can't find a way to keep himself out of the elite category, finishing third amongst forwards on the player rater, sixth overall. Alex and the Caps both had their struggles during December and January this season, and No. 8 finished the campaign with career lows in goals, points and shots. But with a strong finish, the Caps finished with the East's No. 1 seed as Ovechkin tallied 34 points in the season's 24 final games. In other words, wipe that worried look off of your face. Ovechkin's bad season is better than many, many other players' best, and he'll continue to fill up every stat column for fantasy hockey owners for the foreseeable future.
Martin St. Louis, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning (ADP: 39.1) Just a month after St. Louis was born, the No. 1 hit on the Billboard charts had Van McCoy and the Soul City Symphony instructing us to do "The Hustle." But invigorated by linemate Steven Stamkos, the 35-year-old St. Louis put up his second straight dynamic season. While other players in their mid-30s are seemingly just hanging on as the tires run bald, St. Louis appears to have quite a bit of tread left, maintaining both real-world and fantasy relevance. The diminutive right winger came within a whisker of triple-digit scoring (he finishes with 99), and as long as he and Stamkos are reunited in 2011-12, another 90-point campaign would not be surprising.
Dustin Byfuglien, D, Atlanta Thrashers (ADP: 166.7) After being traded to Atlanta last offseason, Byfuglien switched back to defense -- the position at which he started his career -- and began the season at a torrid pace. Overall, Byfuglien finishes his first Thrashers campaign as the league leader amongst defensemen in goals (20) and shots (an incredible 342), and was amongst the league's D-men leaders in PIM (93) and power-play points (24). However, it's not all sunbeams and strawberry ice cream, as Byfuglien's early-season point-scoring pace (40 points in 41 games in Oct., Nov. and Dec.) proved unsustainable. In the 40 games played once the calendar flipped, he had just 13 points. As with Stamkos, it's tempting to consider what might've been if he had been able to maintain the pace of his first half. Even so, the Thrashers have a young team, and improvement is expected in the future.
Lubomir Visnovsky, D, Anaheim Ducks (ADP: 72.4) By any measure -- but especially the ones we use in fantasy hockey -- Visnovsky had one of his best seasons ever, if not the best: 68 points (including 31 on the power play, second only to Nicklas Lidstrom amongst defensemen), a plus-18 and 152 shots. Injuries have taken Visnovsky out of the lineup in past seasons, but he was able to play in all but one of the Ducks' contests in 2010-11. So looking ahead to next season, that is one area of concern, especially considering he'll turn 35 years old this August. But when he is on the ice next season, expect contributions in all the scoring categories.
Roberto Luongo, G, Vancouver Canucks (ADP: 14.9) The second goalie taken in most fantasy leagues, Luongo finishes in that spot at season's end. All went to plan! (Wait, Ryan Miller wasn't the No. 1 goalie? Oops). Off the board either in Round 1 or 2, the owner that got their hands on Luongo was rewarded with another consistent season of production that put the Canucks' former captain in the No. 3 overall position on the Player Rater, behind only Thomas and Sedin. The margin between Luongo and third-best netminder Pekka Rinne was razor thin: Luongo's goals-against average was 2.11 to Rinne's 2.12, while Rinne bested Luongo in save percentage .930 to .928. The big difference was the win category, where Luongo tied Carey Price for the league lead with 38. The Canucks have decisions to make on free-agent defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Kevin Bieksa this offseason; losing part of their blue-line corps could have an adverse effect on Luongo. Of course, given what Luongo has been able to do season after season, it's hard to believe that anything will keep him out of next year's first round of fantasy drafts.
Others receiving votes
Forwards: Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks; Jarome Iginla, Calgary Flames; Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks.
Defensemen: Christian Ehrhoff, Vancouver Canucks; Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes.
Goaltender: Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators.
Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst and Rumor Central contributor for ESPN.com