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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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