15 December 2005

Power Forwards

Treasure Hunting, the Hockey Edition

By Rob Aquino


This week we’re taking the gloves off – this column was on its way to qualifying for the Lady Byng so I’m bringing a little feistiness to the table – we’re talking about guys who combine the offensive production with the nastiness – presenting the power forward.

The concept of the power forward in hockey has always been around, if not necessarily named that way. Back in the six-team era (and let’s please refrain from calling it the “original six” since only after 25 years of the NHL were those the teams comprising the league) toughness was necessary as teams would play each other 14 times per season – nearly insuring personal battles every time players stepped on the ice. There wasn’t room for a lot of finesse in those days.

While there’s no definitive way to pinpoint it, many point to the 1972 Summit Series – a now-legendary exhibition of eight games between the Soviet Union and Canada - as a pivotal time in the development of hockey in North America. The Russians played a style of hockey rarely seen in Canada – rather than using aggression and brute strength to retain the puck or manhandle the opponent to get it back, the Russians rarely if ever relied on body contact – their advanced passing and skating techniques were years beyond what was being seen and taught in Canada and the United States – for the first four games the Russians simply blew away the talented Canadian squad; the Canadians had expected to win at least seven of the games – after falling behind with only one win and one tie in the first five games Canada came back to dramatically win the final three games in Russia, in part by finally adapting to the fast-paced Russian attack but also combining that with a ruthless physical style…(in particular see Bobby Clarke’s game six slash of Russian superstar Valeri Kharlamov…).

The modern era of hockey has since often seen opposing schools of thought when it comes to putting together a hockey club, and the tide has ebbed and flowed. Soon after the ’72 series in Canada and Russia, the Philadelphia Flyers became known as the Broad Street Bullies for their outrageous intimidation tactics on the ice as they won two straight Cups. Yet immediately following their run the Montreal Canadiens assembled possibly the most skilled NHL team in history en route to four straight Cups of their own. The New York Islanders then went to five straight finals utilizing a mix of the two styles.

For the fans, however, there has always been the appeal of the “Gordie Howe hat trick:” a goal, an assist, and a fight. Longtime fan favorites can often be lumped into one of two categories: the prolific scorer, along the lines of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Guy Lafleur, Gil Perreault or the power forward – the guy who can drop the gloves just as easily as dropping a game-winner – Cam Neely, Brendan Shanahan, Wendel Clark…even Tiger Williams!

Especially since the widespread popularity of the internet and ease of setting up hockey pools, many pools have expanded beyond the traditional “goals plus assists” methodology and used stats like penalty minutes.

I’m going to do something a little different this week – rather than my usual spotlighting of two or three players who I think warrant immediate attention in the fantasy hockey world due to their offensive skills, I’m going to take a more general look at some unheralded players “contributing” at both points and penalty minutes. Since there are so many varieties of multiple-stat leagues – rotisserie style, points, head-to-head – there’s no great way to analyze for everyone so I’ve compiled some “made up” stats, if you will, to assist those of us in multiple-category leagues.

I’ve compiled a spreadsheet of every player who’s registered a point this year, statistics through Monday the 12th (that’s 644 players if you care). One league I’m in tallies up points and gives half a point for penalty minutes, so I ran a query on those players who have played at least 20 games this year, and I did the math (well, Excel did the math) – here’s your top 10:

Sean Avery



Marc Savard



Jaromir Jagr



Bryan McCabe



Dany Heatley



Brenden Morrow



Zdeno Chara



Ilya Kovalchuk



Ladislav Nagy



Brendan Shanahan



Some names aren’t too surprising due mostly to gaudy offensive numbers but holy cow - look who’s at number one: your Rene Levesque award winner, Sean Avery of the Los Angeles Kings. In 30 games he’s tallied a respectable 16 points but his 108 penalty minutes gives him a whopping 70 points in our system. Avery has made himself notorious with his mouth but he’s only hurt himself – Avery has skill. In his four years in the Ontario Hockey League he totaled 253 points in 221 games, including 84 his final year. Of course he “complimented” the 84 that year with 215 penalty minutes. He’s been typecast in more of the enforcer role since turning pro, racking up major penalty totals at every stop. Thus far he’s a great pick if you’re tallying those minutes, and playing on a good offensive team, he’ll get his points. I never thought I’d be putting Marc Savard on a list like this but he is really finding a home offensively in Atlanta with 42 points so far. With adding in the 46 penalty minutes and you should have him high on your list of potential acquisitions. I’d offer one caveat: Savard could be great trade bait this year, as Atlanta is struggling and I would actually think his point production would most likely drop on another squad, being away from offensive wizards Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa - tread warily, and if he’s on your team, you might be able to sell him high.

Let’s move away from the forwards for a minute and talk defense– the Leafs’ Bryan McCabe has certainly stepped up to have a career year thus far, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better overall fantasy option on defense than Ottawa’s Zdeno Chara. The 12-foot tall Chara has put up decent numbers with the Senators over the past few seasons (…and for my cheap-shot of the week, hey, hey! another nice trade by Mike Milbury) and is continuing to impress this year with 16 points in 27 games. He’s got 78 penalty minutes and on top of all that he’s a +17. The next defenseman on our list comes in at number 16 with the Islanders’ Alex Zhitnik. He’s got 22 points in 29 games and 56 penalty minutes. OK, so his overall play has been getting mixed reviews on the Island, but he’ll definitely help your fantasy team (except for that -1).

A few other players way up on the list that may have been floating below the radar are Brendan Morrow of Dallas and Chris Neil of the Ottawa Senators. Morrow has taken the top left wing slot for the Stars playing alongside Jason Arnott and Bill Guerin. Morrow peaked last season with 49 points but is on pace to better that this year with 23 points in just 27 games and 65 penalty minutes. Chris Neil has been one of the year’s bigger overall surprises actually – his rookie year of 2001-2002 proved to be his biggest in terms of points with 17 (also logging 231 penalty minutes). He has already matched that this year in only 25 games. He hasn’t exactly shied away from his usual collection of penalty minutes either, with 63. His minutes have generally increased this year, peaking Monday night at over 17 against the Avalanche.

Finally, if we look at the numbers on a per-game basis, Sean Avery still comes out on top. Peter Forsberg is second, due to his 41 points in 22 games, but the next three spots are taken by Savard, Morrow, and Chara. It’s definitely more difficult to gauge players when you’re dealing with multiple categories, as opposed to merely points, so outside of the obvious superstars it may be possible for you to pry some of these less-heralded players loose from other teams.

That’s it for this week – let me know what you think - your comments and suggestions are always welcome.

Feedback can be sent to robaquino@sportsblurb.com.

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