Friday, January 28, 2011

Confessions of a Fantasy Hockey Addict

I think I have a problem. I’m addicted to fantasy hockey.

But this is something that extends beyond the usual obsessive-compulsive behavior of your typical fantasy junkie (poring over the waiver wire, over-analyzing matchups with your opponent, digging for injury updates and starting goalies, devising strategic trades/heists/highway robbery, waking up in the middle of the night to add players as their waiver period expires, etc.). No, I’ve noticed something about myself that’s a bit more unsettling.

Nowadays, I can’t watch an NHL game with thinking of the impact and ramifications on my fantasy teams. And it’s impacting my overall viewing pleasure while watching hockey at its highest level.

For the last several seasons, I’ve found myself following teams a lot less (trust me, if you’re a Leafs fan, you’d do the same thing in recent years) and instead paid more attention to individual players. I’ve come to appreciate the various aspects of different players’ skill levels, some who’ve gradually evolved with their game (Rick Nash’s focus in all three zones under Ken Hitchcock’s guidance and Sidney Crosby’s improvement in the face-off circle are just two examples), while others continue to make the competition look foolish (Pavel Datsyuk’s crafty stick-handling and the ESP-like telepathy between Henrik and Daniel Sedin come to mind here).

Yet, as I’ve been involved in fantasy hockey now for the past three seasons, that focus when watching a game has become narrowed to the statistical ramifications on how a certain game affects my fantasy team(s). I went from 4 teams last season down to merely 2 this year, in the hopes that my perspective as a fan would revert back to the typical mindset of a hockey fan (that, and some persuasive urging from my better half). But it seems my mathematical mind continues to be myopic.

A recent example to give you a glimpse into my recent hockey viewing traits goes back a few weeks to a Sunday night contest between the Ducks and Blackhawks, which I started watching on Hockey Night on Yahoo! (where they stream select regional coverage most nights). Having several players on both squads on both of my teams (Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Troy Brouwer, Ryan Getzlaf, Toni Lydman), I kept a particularly close eyes on those certain players during this clash. But the fact that none of these players had a particular significant impact (from a fantasy standpoint) essentially ruined what was otherwise a decent game to watch (a 2-1 Anaheim victory on home ice). Chicago peppered Jonas Hiller with shot after shot, and I couldn’t help but think how having Hiller between the pipes on one of my squads would’ve been so much more helpful to me, causing me to second-guess all of my decision making. Oh well, could’ve + should’ve = didn’t.

What’s worse, during each break in the action, I’d pop over to another open window to check the boxscores (and all the automatic, in-game updates) to quickly scan and see if any of my other fantasy players were doing anything noteworthy.

I will say I’ve gained a certain appreciation for certain players, but it seems to be relative towards their overall performance this year. Patrick Sharp’s 26 goals (5th in the league as of the All-Star break) have been a revelation to most folks outside of the Windy City, and the fact that I snagged him in the 7th and 10th rounds, respectively, in my drafts make me enjoy his scoring prowess all the more. Ditto for Claude Giroux’s 19 G-28 A-47 Pts (8th and 9th rounds). And Jonathan Quick’s break-out season (2.15 GAA, 22 wins and 5 SO) has made my goaltending somewhat of a no-brainer after nabbing him in the 8th round and in a shrewd trade, respectively. Hell, even a player I loathe with nearly every fiber of my being such as Steve Downie has fallen into favor thanks to his level of productivity as a pest on mu teams.

But the question still remains: Would I be paying as much attention to these show-stealing seasons if I wasn’t managing them on my fantasy teams?

The opposite side of the coin holds true, as well, when there’s players I’ve been fond of in previous seasons, but the mere mention of their names makes me cringe at this season’s efforts. Case and point is my vote for Least Valuable Player this year, Simon Gagne. I’d had big expectations for a new start in Tampa Bay for the talented 40-goal scoring winger, so I picked him in the 6th and 7th rounds in my drafts. But the injury bug – costing Gagne nearly a quarter of the season – general ineffectiveness, and a lack of chemistry with his new teammates led to only 1 goal during his time on my roster before my patience grew thin enough to drop him in both leagues; Strangely enough, Gagne scored 3 goals two weeks ago – for one of my opponents.

My propensity for adding and dropping players like a cocaine-addled Wall Street junk bond trader has come back to hurt me on occasion to. A recent example was the addition of Brian Gionta to fill in at the right wing position for a day, in the hopes of closing the gap in the Shots On Goal department. Being in the top ten in SOG (and tops amongst those available on the waiver wire), I added him without even blinking. However, Gionta failed to register a single shot on net vs. Pittsburgh, a 2-1 Canadiens victory – on the heels of a 9 SOG performance in his previous game.

So does this make Gagne and Gionta terrible players? Not necessarily, in fact they’re both a couple of players I haven’t minded watching over the last several seasons. But their poor performances under my watch have reinforced negative thoughts about these players that may well remain for the rest of this season and may linger into next.

Perhaps this is merely a by-product of the present-day technological advances, where any and every minute fragment of information is available at your fingertips whenever you want it. Hopefully it’s nothing more than Internet-induced ADHD. And considering none of what happens during the NHL’s All-Star Weekend will factor towards either of my fantasy teams, perhaps this will act as the right time to correct what ails my hockey viewing. That might just fix my twitchy mouse-clicking finger.

Or maybe I should just start watching hockey again on my TV.  Centre Ice, here I come!

All-Star Game Random Thoughts

The NHL All-Star Game is this weekend in Raleigh (along with the Skills Competition and the additional fan-fare and festivities), and the league is buzzing with all the format changes to the rosters this year. I’ve got enough thoughts swirling in my head regarding the NHL’s mid-season point (though technically, the season is about 2/3 done, but I’ll just roll with it), so it’s time to commit them to text….

• I’ll go on the record by saying the schoolyard-style, pick your own roster was a great decision by the competition committee to inject new life into this contest. Thumbs up, Brendan Shanahan.

• Removing the fan vote in deciding the starting lineups was an EXCELLENT idea. The ASG in Montreal two years ago serves as a glaring example of how homer-ism mucks up the process by honoring unworthy players. Far too many fans play the homer card and therefore abuse this process, and I don’t think there’s a worse example than the lengths Canadiens fans went to in 2009 voting in their own. The fan vote is the only manner in which Mike Komisarek, Andrei Markov and Alex Kovalev would’ve been named All-Stars in this universe two years ago. Absolutely shameless. Perhaps losing the right to vote acts as a turn-off to some, but when you abuse that right, you kind of deserve to have it taken away.

• Another wise choice on the captaincy selections. Nick Lidstrom and Eric Staal were excellent selections, and I’m sure I echo the sentiments of many hockey fans by saying it’s a good thing that the NHL didn’t choose the obvious poster boys of the league to select each roster. Bonus points for giving Staal the nod as “C” – it’ll add a home-ice advantage component you seldom see in an ASG that should make it a real treat for the Canes fans in Raleigh.

• Alright people, enough talk about this event being meaningless. It’s a break in the action of an already grueling season for these players. It’s supposed to be a fun event highlighting many of the NHL’s top players, and nothing more than that.

• On the same note, I do hope the NHL decides against mirroring Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game stakes, where the MLB ASG winner gains home-field advantage in the World Series for its respective league. While I understand Bud Selig’s decision to add meaning to the Midseason Classic – considering the number of top-flight stars that were opting out of baseball’s showcase at that time – the regular season needs to count for something. Home-ice in the NHL playoffs needs to be decided over the course of 82 games, not 1.

• Yes, we’re all well aware of the number of big names missing the game due to injury. So how about we focus on those who WILL participate instead, shall we?

• For the record, this year’s ASG will still feature last year’s Hart winner (Henrik Sedin), last year’s Norris winner (Duncan Keith), a couple of additional previous Norris winners (Lidstrom and Zdeno Chara, both top candidates for the award this season), last year’s Conn Smythe winner (Jonathan Toews), 8 of the top 10 goal scorers in the league right now (Steven Stamkos, Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Patrick Sharp, Danny Briere, Staal, Corey Perry, and Rick Nash), 5 of the top 7 in assists (both Sedins, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Keith Yandle), the Vezina winner from two years ago (Tim Thomas, who’ll be this year’s Vezina winner, barring a massive collapse), the player in the pole position for this year’s Calder (Jeff Skinner)….

• ….And that’s without mentioning the fantastic seasons of Dustin Byfuglien, Paul Stastny, Shea Weber, Claude Giroux, Brent Burns, Martin Havlat, Loui Eriksson, Erik Karlsson, Carey Price, Jonas Hiller, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Henrik Lundqvist, to name a few. So there’s plenty of talent that’ll be in Raleigh without griping about the injured absentees. (Anyone notice I haven’t mentioned Alex Ovechkin yet?)

• Regarding the walking wounded, I think the NHL has to give these guys a free pass. Two years ago in Montreal, the league took a big black eye when they suspended Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk for a game follwing the ASG for not participating in the festivities due to injuries. You simply can’t put a proverbial gun to these player’s heads if they are physically unable to perform. While it’s a drag that the likes of Crosby, Malkin, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Getzlaf, Parise, Enstrom, et al won’t be able to participate in this year’s festivities, they’ve got MORE than a legitimate reason.

• While he’s not injured, I’ll also give Jarome Iginla a free pass for “family reasons.” Considering the poor health of his grandmother – combined with the loss of his grandfather in May, both of whom were “major influences on his life), I’d say we can let this one slide. Iggy’s someone who’s always answered the bell when it comes to service during his tenure in Calgary, and continues to be a great face and personality for the Flames and the NHL.

• You know who DOESN’T get off the hook? Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. These two jokers declined the chance to play in the ASG for NO LEGITIMATE REASON. There remains speculation as to whether Richards and Carter were asked by the NHL for the initial list of invitees or the injury replacements, but “plans with friends” doesn’t quite cut it for the list of reasons for exclusion. All-Star consideration is an honor and a privilege (not to mention a big factor taken into consideration of Hall of Fame induction, if we’re looking deeper into the crystal ball), not a right or something to be automatically doled out to a top flight team.

• I’m glad to see not every NHL team has a player representing them in the ASG. I have found this to be a huge flaw in All-Star Game formats throughout the world of sports. It’s a bit like the participation ribbons handed out at 4-H or youth basketball camp, and it rings a bit hollow. That being said, a few players on bad teams did get snubbed (John Tavares probably being the biggest that comes to mind – he should be in instead of say, Phil Kessel, perhaps?).

• A lot of speculation is swirling around who will be the player selected last in the ASG draft – so much so that Las Vegas even has odds on who’ll go first and who’ll go last. As far as Mr. Irrelevant goes, my money’s on Phil Kessel. Echoing my last thought, he doesn’t deserve to be in the running (same story for Tomas Kaberle two years ago).

That about all I've got for today's random thoughts.  Plenty more to come for the blog.  It's been far too long since anything's been posted here, so we'll have more hockey stuff in the very near future.