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The Absurd Tale of Riz’s 2013-2014 Fantasy Hockey Season

Posted by finedaysunday on June 15, 2014

Pavelski

After a much-too-long absence, I was thrilled to return to writing last week here at FineDaySunday. It sort of sucks that it took such a heavy and serious topic to urge me to continue writing when I already find it so rewarding on its own, but the subject was not something I was content to let pass by without input. No matter the circumstances, I feel that old itch again. With that in mind, let’s lighten things up a bit this week with something that hasn’t been relevant in months: fantasy hockey!

This was my fourth year participating in a fantasy hockey league, and it’s always an emotional roller coaster. Close contests, humiliating blowouts, thrilling last-minute victories, utter heartbreak and, needless to say, endless chirping and bragging. All of that over a span of seven months. It all begins with the draft, and I know I’m not alone in saying that it’s the most exciting part of fantasy hockey. Every shrewd decision and daunting risk can (and probably will) define the course of your team’s season, and you are virtually guaranteed to look back on the draft with some combination of satisfaction and “what the hell was I thinking?” My results were a fairly even mix of the two extremes.

Entering the draft as one of ten participants, I had one basic strategy: defense. The way I saw it, there are so many star forwards and elite goaltenders in the NHL that everyone is going to end up drafting their share of them, even taking into account any possible “down” years or unfortunate injuries (it’s always the injuries that do you in…). However, there always seems to be a much smaller pool of reliable, point-producing defensemen available that it always seems best to grab them while they’re out there. The setup varies from one fantasy league to the next, but the foundation remains the same: points are what matters. Some of the best defensemen in the league might be indispensible assets to their team here in the real world, but if they aren’t contributing on the offensive side of the equation, it’s often worth spending those picks elsewhere. That’s what makes building a dependable lineup of defensemen so critical, and more than anything I was proud to have drafted, by a mile, the best stable of blueliners in my fantasy league:

Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Brent Seabrook, James Wisniewski, and Ryan McDonagh. Torey Krug joined the ranks a few short weeks later via the free agent pool. All of them finished in the top 30 in scoring among defensemen in the league.

They came through huge for me this year, and without my draft approach I would very likely have finished at the bottom of the standings instead of, err, sixth place but hey let’s not fret over details.

So! I thought I’d take this extremely late opportunity to give props to a few of the names on my team.

Team MVP (Most Valuable Player) – Joe Pavelski: The man they call Little Joe finished with 79 points, good for 8th in the league in scoring (tied with Alex Ovechkin), and easily the best season of his career. He didn`t miss a single game, was consistent start to finish, and contributed significantly in secondary categories like plus-minus, penalty minutes, and powerplay points. He always seemed to be on the ice when it mattered most, and all over the scoresheet as a direct result. Need I say more? The guy was always my favourite Shark, and has always been an incredibly reliable source of offense, but he took it to another level this season. Bravo. Runner-up: Evgeni Malkin, Duncan Keith

Team LVP (Least Valuable Player) – Mike Richards / Milan Michalek / James Reimer: This was a very tough three-way split, because I hate to pile on any one of them, but there’s no escaping the fact that I didn’t get what I was (probably foolishly) hoping to get out of them. I have always been a fan of Richards, especially during his days in Philadelphia, and I guess I never fully internalized that he was always going to be more of a spare part after he was traded to a team as deep and ridiculously stacked as the LA Kings. They didn’t need to rely on him nearly as heavily as the Flyers had, and he spent so much time on the fourth line that I probably should have just faced facts and parted ways with him.

Michalek is tougher to defend because the Ottawa Senators as a whole were hot garbage this year. Their team defense was a mess, giving up more goals per game than all but three teams. The absolute nadir of their season had to be blowing a late three-goal lead to the Montreal Canadiens that all but ended their playoff hopes. Plus-minus might not be the most dependable stat for gauging a player’s worth, but Michalek’s -25 on the season was damn near the bottom of the league, never a good sign. He looked nothing like the player who put up 60 points two seasons ago, and in hindsight he may not have been fully recovered after missing so much time last year due to injury.

And then there’s Reimer. Look, I like the guy. I think he’s a good goalie. I love the way he celebrates wins. Every interview he’s ever given makes him seem like the nicest person in the universe. That cannot be easy to do when you’re the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender and everyone in the city will run you down for not bringing them the Stanley Cup. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy, let alone someone as likable as Reimer. That being said, drafting him was always going to be a gamble, as the Leafs had traded for Jonathan Bernier that off-season and the two were expected to compete for the starting job. Reimer was never able to gain any traction as Bernier ultimately won out, and what little action Reimer did see became a circus late in the season. It was brutal to watch. The Leafs’ epic tumble out of playoff contention was a team effort, but this is hockey, where the goalie is going to get the blame, fair or otherwise. Dropping him from my team and freeing up that roster spot for, well, just about anyone else was the smart play. Sorry, James. I hope you go to a city that appreciates you next year.

Biggest Steal – Ryan McDonagh: My sixth defenseman. The guy I drafted all the way in the 16th round. He embodied everything about my draft strategy. I may have gotten lucky to be able to draft so many superstar defensemen early, but I was not expecting McDonagh to still be available as late as he was. He was always supremely talented, certainly, but this was his big breakout season. 43 points in 77 games, by far the biggest offensive contribution from the New York Rangers’ blue line. An absolute stud of a first-pairing defenseman right in the prime of his career, with impressive stats across the board. Outstanding. Runner-up: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, T.J. Oshie

Most Mildly Disappointing Bust That Ultimately Didn’t Mean That Much – Filip Forsberg: One of my very last picks, Forsberg was by far the most highly touted prospect in the Washington Capitals’ system, until they decided to trade him to the Nashville Predators for a bag of pucks in some absurd attempt to load up for a long playoff run. He was expected to make his debut for the Preds this season, and I took a chance on him in the hopes of making him my sneaky dark horse pick. Alas, these are the Nashville Predators, not exactly a goal-scoring dynamo of an organization. 13 games, five points, and a nagging minor injury later, I quietly dropped Forsberg and hoped no one would notice.

Most Crucial Mid-Season Trade That Sort of Helped For a While There But Who Am I Kidding I Got Fleeced – Taylor Hall for Marian Gaborik and Ben Scrivens: I was in a curious spot in mid-November: dominating the weaker of the two divisions in my league by a significant margin, but I had just lost Jonathan Quick to an injury and he wasn’t going to be back for several weeks or more. One of the major players in the opposite division offered me Scrivens, Quick’s red-hot backup, and a then-injured Gaborik. In exchange: Taylor Hall. I had just placed Hall on the trading block, thanks to his God-awful month-and-a-half to start the season. I had drafted Hall in the second round with all of the expectations that come with such a high pick, and yet he and the eternally struggling Edmonton Oilers were inexplicably getting worse.

So I accepted the offer. Scrivens tore up the goaltender battles for an incredible stretch of time, increasing my hold on the division title. I really needed it too, because as I said before, Reimer was getting fewer and fewer opportunities to start games for Toronto. My only other option was Mike Smith and, though he fared well for a while, I would not have done much winning had I relied on him alone. Plus I had Gaborik waiting in the wings for a couple more weeks. Things were looking up.

Then stuff happened. The Kings began giving Martin Jones some starts in net, and he decided to just stop allowing pucks into the LA net ever again. Scrivens never got another honest shot at the job and was eventually traded to the Oilers when Quick came back. That’s right, I took on Jonathan Quick’s backup to shore up my goaltending needs, only to have that backfire thanks to Quick’s backup’s backup. Because hockey. And then Gaborik returned for the Columbus Blue Jackets… and broke his collarbone on his very first shift. Because hockey. Then after a long time on injured reserve, he was dealt to the Kings at the trade deadline and would go on to score thousands of goals in the playoffs. Because hockey. Then Hall bounced back (even if no one else in Edmonton really did), and would finish the season sixth in league scoring with 80 points. Because hockey. I would eventually just barely let the division title slip away in the final weeks and flame out in the playoffs, all because I sacrificed long-term success for a shot at going for it all this season. Welp. That’s the way it goes sometimes. But feel free to laugh at my foolishness all the same.

So that’s more or less the story of my fantasy hockey season. We started a keeper league this year, meaning we are permitted to keep (I believe) five players from our roster while the rest get tossed back into the draft pool for next season. I finished sixth overall, meaning I should get the fifth overall selection. I like my odds! Thank you for reading my meandering hockey thoughts.

“I aim to misbehave.”

Reimer

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Pulling a Fleury

Posted by finedaysunday on July 21, 2013

Now that my body has decided it would be best not to expel the lining of my stomach, we can get things back on schedule around here. By personal request, I’ve added an “About Me” section up top. Hopefully it makes up for the absence of any content last Sunday. And now, on to this week’s topic.

~ ~ ~

Not bad, right? When I first saw that, I was pretty stoked for the kid. “Good for him”, I remember thinking. Context matters in this situation, so here’s what happened that led up to this moment: With just over a minute remaining on the clock, the Oilers had a potentially game-tying goal disallowed by the officials, due to what was ruled to be goaltender interference. Controversy and outrage ensued as the fans began littering the ice in protest. The game was delayed for several minutes as tensions and emotions in the building were winding high.

Nail Yakupov’s eleventh hour goal and subsequent celebration were an exhalation, a jubilant relief that his team did not allow the earlier no-goal to deflate their hopes. The Oilers headed into overtime with renewed energy, and ultimately won. This was in January 2013, very early into the lockout-shortened season, and was only the second goal of then-rookie Yakupov’s career.

But not everyone was so enamoured by his over-the-top celebration, that he opted not to instead bow his head solemnly to the hockey gods… Okay, that’s not fair or true at all. The criticism was that he should have celebrated in a more team-oriented manner instead of making a spectacle of things. Immediately, Yakupov became targeted by heated accusations of selfishness.

And that is where I disagree.

Like I said earlier, context is everything. Consider the spectacle that the game had already become by that point in the eyes of the Oilers and their fans. They felt legitimately robbed by the earlier call, and were in danger of letting the game slip away at quite literally the last minute. Yakupov’s goal turned the tide dramatically, and the atmosphere became one of triumph that the Oilers rode all the way to a victory. This was the biggest goal of his career up to that point, and the celebration was in perfect proportion to its magnitude. Obviously he was never going to celebrate every single goal in such an exuberant manner. I thought it was entirely appropriate, and entertaining to see a 19-year-old kid with this much skill and unbridled enthusiasm for the game.

Nevertheless, the criticism was still there, and Yakupov wasn’t afraid to own up to his actions. Immediately after the game, he openly claimed that he wasn’t trying to make it all about himself or disrespect the LA Kings, only that he was trying to show excitement for his team as best he knew how in that moment. Less than a week later, Yakupov scored another goal, this time an overtime game-winner. He responded by enthusiastically gesturing to his teammates to join him in celebration. So that’s another strike against those who accused him of being selfish, uncaring, and unwilling to listen to criticism.

I have more to say on this subject, tangentially related to Nail Yakupov and his critics. It’s a bit tougher to tackle, though, so I’ll save it for another day. For now, I’ll leave it at this: Leading up to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, I read an article from an actual sports journalist (with actual journalist’s credentials and everything) stating that, should the Columbus Blue Jackets have the opportunity to select Yakupov first overall, they ought to pass on him and draft someone else instead. His reasoning? Yakupov is Russian, and according to him, they’d been burned by Russians in the past and should know better than to repeat that “mistake.” This was a sentiment shared by many at the time. This is a real thing that happened. See you next week.

“I’m thinking you weren’t burdened with an overabundance of schooling.”

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A hole to hide in

Posted by finedaysunday on May 19, 2013

In 2002, Pavel Datsyuk had not yet become the NHL’s premiere puck thief and most dominant defensive forward that he is today. Jaromir Jagr, however, had by this point cemented a reputation as one of the game’s most dominant players, a high-scoring winger with a Hall of Fame career.

That year, early in a game in which Datsyuk’s Detroit Red Wings led Jagr’s Washington Capitals 1 – 0, this happened:

My goodness. The play on the ice may say it all, but it’s Mickey Redmond’s colour commentary that takes it a step further and really sells this moment. Listen to the shame he imparts on Jagr (incorrectly spelled multiple times in this video) for his mental lapse after Datsyuk robs him blind and then fools Olaf Kolzig, Olaf Kolzig’s ego, and Olaf Kolzig’s water bottle in the span of about three seconds. Listen to the utter disbelief that a veteran of Jagr’s caliber would ever be caught on the wrong end of a play like this. Redmond here sounds like a weary father disappointed in his son’s report card.

Needless to say, it was a wake-up call to remind everyone present that, hey, this Datsyuk kid? We should probably be more alert when he’s on the ice. He seems to be an okay player.

“What are you doing to another countryman, you idiot?”

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Welcome!

Posted by finedaysunday on March 17, 2013

Okay. Thanks for visiting the (to my knowledge) only website to be named after Vernon Dursley’s lunatic ramblings. Here’s where I’ll be sharing my thoughts once a week on whatever subject happens to be on my mind at the time. Expect a good helping of movies/music/TV/videogames musings combined with a healthy dose of hockey, topped off with my own thoughts on any given subject from one week to the next. If any of that sounds of interest to you, I hope you’ll come back every Sunday, where I do my best to make the best day of the week just a bit better.

Without further ado, let’s begin. And what better way to start than with something hockey-related?

The year is 2006. It’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal playoff series between the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers. Tied at two goals apiece in overtime, this happens:

Oh my. I’d like to say that nothing more need be said about that hit, but then this would make for a pretty mediocre first post. So let’s dive right in.

This is, as far as I can remember, the hardest clean hockey hit I have ever seen. Umberger receives what turns out to be a suicide pass as Campbell catches him square on the jaw. Note that Campbell did not charge, elbow, or otherwise leap up into Umberger. There’s some brief discussion amongst the commentators about the possibility of interference, but everyone comes to an agreement pretty quickly that Umberger did indeed play the puck, and that this is just a massive, brutal, but most importantly legal hit.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it was Brian Campbell delivering the hit, either. There’s a good reason he won the Lady Byng last year for sportsmanship and gentlemanly play. Sure, a major reason is that he committed almost no penalties over the course of an entire season while putting up great numbers, but also because he’s smart enough to know how to play a strong physical game without crossing the line into playing dirty.

This is such an excellent hit that to this day I’m convinced that it’s at least 90% of the reason the Blackhawks signed him to such a monster contract in 2008.

But let’s not leave it at that. Let me take a moment to talk about the video itself. There are higher quality videos out there that do a better job of breaking down and analyzing this hit and its aftermath. None of them grab me quite the same way this one does. Right away you’re presented with ominous intro text set to the tune of Coldplay’s “Fix You”, and before you know it there’s longtime Sabres play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret (who’s also on the short list of people I’d want to narrate my day-to-day life) absolutely losing his mind over one man flattening another. From there, the replays kick in, the commentators from various media feeds overlap, and all the while that song is still there in the background, elevating this whole experience to inspiring levels. My favourite part is how the final refrain perfectly synchs up with “This is a clean hit, folks….” right at the end.

The tone of this video makes me feel like I’m watching a montage of an underdog high school basketball team winning a championship, or some political figure achieve resounding success as reporters and talk show hosts across the country breathlessly weigh in. This is the stuff movie trailers are made of right here, and the care that was put into creating it is obvious.

Or maybe I’m analyzing this way too much? Hey, welcome to FineDaySunday.

“That’s not a gaze of somebody who’s with us.”

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