Drew Berg writes a weekly hockey column for ESPN Fantasy Games. Originally hailing from Vancouver, with stints in Chicago and now Nashville, he's a seasoned and well-traveled fan of the game.
Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, abstention - whatever your holiday of choice was, I hope it was a good one.
Looking back at last week's column, I forgot to mention Valeri Bure as being a "slight" bust for the Florida Panthers. Six games played and two points for the year? Not quite what folks in South Florida were hoping for from Pavel's brother.
Western CONFERENCE Wingers
Actual MVPs: Jarome Iginla and Markus Naslund
Fantasy MVPs: Iginla and Brendan Shanahan
Also Receiving Votes: Keith Tkachuk, Markus Naslund, Marian Gaborik
Positive Notes: Eric Daze, Tony Amonte, Anson Carter, Kyle Calder, Andrew Brunette, Cliff Ronning, Jere Lehtinen
Biggest Surprise: Dean McAmmond
McAmmond and Calder's emergence, Amonte and Lehtinen's return to form, and Brunette and Ronning's unappreciated consistency are all impressive, but there are more disappointments than highlights among Western wingers.
Simply put, Iginla has been the best player in the NHL all season. He was a huge reason for Calgary's impressive start, and remains the key for the Flames even during their recent struggles. Shanahan's +/- and penalty minutes give him the fantasy edge over Naslund. But looking at what they mean to their team and taking into consideration productivity based on surrounding talent, Naslund gets the nod in the real world ranks. Gaborik showed flashes of greatness last year in his rookie season, but has been consistently great all season, this year - definitely one of the great stories from 2001.
Biggest Bust: Paul Kariya
Other Disappointments: Alex Tanguay, Teemu Selanne, Luc Robitaille, Scott Young, Jochen Hecht, Sergei Berezin, Zigmund Palffy, Shane Doan, Cory Stillman, Brenden Morrow, Geoff Sanderson, Marian Cisar
Second-Half Sleepers: Doan, Milan Hejduk, Steve Sullivan, Adam Deadmarsh, Jan Hlavac, Morrow
Proceed With Caution: Stillman, Todd Bertuzzi
It's hard to pick the biggest disappointment among Kariya, Tanguay and Selanne, but we'll go with Kariya simply because he's the most skilled player in hockey after Jaromir Jagr, Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman. Does anyone still think separating Kariya and Selanne was a good thing? In truth, some of the disappointments should have been expected: Detroit's depth presented Robitaille with fewer opportunities than in Los Angeles, Young's 40-goal total last season was very misleading, Berezin always disappoints, Palffy is always injury prone, and Stillman is buried on the third line in St. Louis. Those players' fortunes may not change, but the second half could be massive for Hejduk (hot), Doan (hotter) and Sullivan (hottest).
Western CONFERENCE Centers
Actual MVP: Sakic
Fantasy MVP: Alex Zhamnov
Also Receiving Votes: Sakic, Pavol Demitra, Yzerman
Other Positive Notes: Mike Modano, Mike Comrie, Jim Dowd
Biggest Surprise: Craig Conroy
Another slightly disappointing category for the West, but the bright spots have been pretty darn bright. Zhamnov has always been on the brink of posting huge numbers, and this year he's finally doing it. If he, Calder and Amonte hadn't gelled right off the bat, Amonte might already be elsewhere. Zhamnov's production notwithstanding, Sakic gets the MVP nod thanks to his play for the suddenly vulnerable Avs. With almost every other player on the team struggling, Sakic's production - even though below last year's standards - has been a rare constant. Conroy's stellar play - especially since Marc Savard's return from the IR - has meant an enormous amount to the Flames. Everyone expected great things from Comrie, and he's really starting to make Kevin Lowe look like a genius. Everyone always expects great things from Modano, and he seems to always get the job done.
Biggest Bust: Chris Drury
Other Disappointments: Pierre Turgeon, Savard, Vincent Damphousse, Wes Walz, Patrick Marleau
Second-Half Sleepers: Marleau, Savard, Walz, Andrew Cassels, Daniel Corso,
Proceed With Caution: Sergei Zholtok, Brendan Morrison
The saddest part of Drury's poor play is that a guy with 40-goal potential might not make 20, despite taking more shots than ever before. Even his lesser known linemates have found decent levels of productivity. You think you miss Peter Forsberg? That's nothing compared to how much Drury misses him. We've already talked about Savard in previous installments, but Turgeon and Damphousse have had really marginal years. With Dowd playing great and Walz becoming like the first-line center (at least for now) in Minnesota, Zholtok could be the odd man out, losing a lot of the power-play minutes that have helped keep his numbers up. That's bad news for Zholtok, but it speak to the depth Minnesota has assembled at center. Whether or not Vincent Lecavalier ends up in Vancouver, Morrison's role may grow unstable, especially if Coach Marc Crawford starts to use the Sedin twins as something more than third-line checkers.
Western CONFERENCE Defensemen
Actual MVPs: Rob Blake and Al MacInnis
Fantasy MVPs: Blake and MacInnis
Also Receiving Votes: Nicklas Lidstrom, Ed Jovanovski
Positive Notes: Janne Niinimaa, Danny Markov, Jaroslav Modry, Philippe Boucher, Kimmo Timonen, Chris Chelios, Phil Housley, Toni Lydman
Biggest Surprise: Andy Delmore
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Even with a new set of talented defensemen being harvested in the West, Blake, MacInnis and Lidstrom remain the cream of the crop. Blake has sagged slightly under the pressure of additonal offensive responsibilities, but his numbers are still fantastic. MacInnis just keeps on chugging, even while buddy Pronger struggles to match the production that made him a Norris winner two years ago. Even Lidstrom is off slightly from what we're used to seeing, but he's still tied for the lead in scoring among Western defensemen. While the Kings' defensive unit remains one of the league's best, the numbers haven't come from the expected sources. Fortunately Modry and Boucher have taken over where Schneider and Visnovsky left off. Unfortunately, one of the two - likely Modry - is probably destined to fade when Schneider returns.
Biggest Bust: Chris Pronger
Other Disappointments: Oleg Tverdovsky, Boris Mironov, Jaroslav Spacek, Lubomir Sekeras, Steve Duchesne, Mattias Ohlund, Lubomir Visnovsky, Teppo Numminen
Second-Half Sleepers: Eric Brewer, Martin Skoula, Mathieu Schneider, Lydman
Proceed With Caution: Modry, Derek Morris
Considering Minnesota's emergence as a powerful offensive team, Sekaras' lack of production has been a disappointment. Both he and Detroit's Duchesne have suffered from a loss of playing time. Both saw their minutes drop with the additions of other blueliners on their respective teams. Markov has picked up a lot of Numminen's slack in Phoenix, as has Housley for the permanently disappointing Mironov and Spacek in Chicago. But who will do the same for Morris in Calgary now that his wrist officially has him out for an additional month (at least)? It could be Lydman - or at least that's what the Flames are hoping!
Western CONFERENCE Goaltenders
Actual MVP: Patrick Roy
Fantasy MVP: Roy
Also Receiving Votes: Evgeni Nabokov, Dominik Hasek, Sean Burke, Roman Turek
Positive Notes: Tommy Salo, Dan Cloutier, Jocelyn Thibault, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Marc Denis
Biggest Surprise: Turek
It's hard to come up with new things to say about Patrick Roy. Watching him continually break records and set new benchmarks is a perpetual pleasure. In truth, the Avs play a very good defensive game which has helped hide their offensive woes, but mighty Colorado would probably be a .500 team if it weren't for Roy (take away his seven shutouts and that's exactly what they'd be). Turek clearly had something to prove coming out of the gates, but his start had an awful lot to do with improved play from the rest of the Flames. Always a solid regular season goaltender, Turek's game has reached new heights in Calgary. Nabokov continues to be one of the steadiest and most reliable goaltenders in the league. Despite San Jose's struggles, Nabokov's December numbers were extremely close to his incredible November tallies. Hasek has been Hasek in Detroit, Burke has been a pillar in Phoenix (and should be an Olympian over Belfour), and Salo has been the cornerstone in Edmonton. But young guns Cloutier, Thibault, Giguere and Denis have made significant strides of their own. None of these guys were outright starters before the season, but all four have made believers out of me in the past three months.
Biggest Bust: Manny Fernandez
Other Disappointments: Ed Belfour, Felix Potvin, Steve Shields, Brent Johnson, Ron Tugnutt
Second-Half Sleepers: Mike Dunham, Fred Brathwaite, Manny Legace, Marty Turco
Proceed With Caution: Cloutier, Thibault
Unfortunately, one goaltender that I believed in before the season has absolutely imploded. Let's hear it for Manny Fernandez. I still believe the problem stems from Coach Lemaire's shafting Fernandez right off the bat by handing Dwayne Roloson the starter's role in spite of Fernandez's remarkable 00-01 season. But Fernandez hasn't done much with the opportunities provided, and his .892. SV% and 3.29 GAA make it hard to believe that he posted a .920 SV% and 2.24 GAA last year. Belfour has been a far cry from his usual self, opening the door for Marty Turco to see more time. Potvin has seen some rough patches, but has kept Jamie Storr at bay and should start to benefit from LA's return to health. Legace continues to do a lot with the few starts he gets, and there's always the risk of a tweaked groin with Hasek. Slow starters Dunham (poor play) and Brathwaite (few starts) are now starting to pick up steam and could be the top netminders of the second half. Unfortunately Cloutier - whose Canucks almost always struggle down the home stretch, and Thibault - whose Hawks could be impacted greatly by trade deadline moves - may fade in the second half.
Comments? Questions? Conundrums? Drop me a line at email@example.com.