Treasure Dumping, the Hockey Edition
By Rob Aquino
Hype. Webster’s dictionary gives one definition as “publicity, especially promotional publicity of an extravagant or contrived kind.” Sports hype can subconsciously affect your decisions and conclusions as a fan and as a fantasy player. If you “buy into” a prevailing opinion or trend and end up mistaken, it can cost you dearly in the standings.
Confession: I was a fan of the mid-80s Toronto Maple Leafs. I suppose I must have had a perverse affinity for really bad clubs as my Sabres were beginning a two-year playoff-less stretch as well, but there was something about the Leafs that made me watch and follow the club. 1985 gave the long-suffering Leaf fans new hope – they had the #1 overall draft pick Wendel Clark in their lineup, scoring and bruising his way through the league – the team ended up with only 57 points but infused the region with spirited play and somehow ended up in the playoffs where they blasted the first place and heavily-favored Blackhawks, sweeping them in three games, then bowed to St. Louis in a memorable seven games.
For the first time in a few years, it was potentially exciting to watch the Leafs but accompanying that excitement came a bit of starry-eyed optimism. Their third line center Peter Ihnacak had a younger brother who was playing back in Czechoslovakia behind the Iron Curtain and by all public accounts was a superstar-in-waiting. There were rumors all fall about a possible defection (look it up, kids) to Canada. Miroslav Ihnacak finally did defect in late 1985 and arrived in Toronto to enormous fanfare. In the fantasy league I was in, there was a mad scramble to claim Miro Ihnacak and I felt lucky enough to have grabbed him with my waiver claim, much to the chagrin of the other owners. I fell victim to the hype and immediately put him in my lineup. Sadly, it became rapidly apparent that the hype was way out of hand as Ihnacak the younger proved nowhere near worthy of NHL duty and totaled 17 points in 55 games with Toronto. Looking back, of course, those “public accounts” couldn’t have been too reliable considering that Miro Ihnacak wasn’t allowed to play outside Czechoslovakia by his government and I don’t recall the sports cable networks simulcasting many European games that year.
We are now obviously living in an age of unprecedented availability of information and news. The benefits are obvious; those of us who are sports fans can, in a few seconds, get statistics and information on any player anywhere in the world. The negatives are enormous but not as obvious – you can’t always vouch for the voracity of said information. As a harbinger to my first featured player, I bring up the trade of Sergei Fedorov. I read one article on a national website this week saying “this transaction was the most lopsided in the history of the game.” Wow. Among other problems, this guy obviously has never heard of Mike Milbury.
As in any exchange of information, you shouldn’t take anything at face value by default – gather unassailable facts and make your own conclusions.
This week I’m drawing some conclusions on a few players who I believe are valued higher than they should be, including a few young former first rounders, plus a former Hart trophy winner.
Sergei Fedorov, Center, Columbus Blue Jackets
Sergei Fedorov is a late and timely addition to the list. The (former) superstar was dealt Wednesday evening to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a copy of Sega NHL ’94 and a player to be named later. Seriously, Fedorov is still one of the bigger “names” in the NHL but in fact hasn’t been a truly elite scorer for years. Here’s a fact that surprised me: even though he put up 30 or more goals in each of the past four seasons, his point total has been over 70 only once since the 1996-97 season. Sure, the NHL has seen a dearth of scoring over the past decade or so but averaging approximately 67 points per season for the past seven years in my mind doesn’t make you a premier offensive player. Defenders can claim with some degree of authority that Fedorov’s skills aren’t limited to scoring, as he also plays a quality defensive forward. My response as a fantasy owner would be: I never drafted Bob Gainey back in the 80s, either.
You have to be able to properly evaluate players – both pro and con – to be successful in fantasy sports. Aside from gauging which players are on the upswing of their careers, it’s also crucial to determine which players are cruising by on their names only. Fedorov, to me, is still perceived to be a top player – in one of my long-time keeper leagues he was protected every year up until this one, where he was selected (after nine teams protected five players each) with the 3rd pick.
Obviously Columbus felt they needed to make some sort of big move after having started the season with five wins in their first 18 games. With their one superstar - Rick Nash - still out until at least mid-December, their season was, and is, slipping away. Doubtless the Blue Jackets believe – or hope – that Fedorov can recapture some of his old magic as well as feed Nash for a plethora of goals later in the season. But look at it the other way: why was Anaheim seemingly so willing to part with Fedorov for very little? They can claim salary dump, which is true, but the fact is – if he was valuable to the team they wouldn’t have gotten rid of him.
Making a trade for the 1994 Hart Trophy winner might bring people to the gate, but I would be very surprised if he made anything near a major contribution this year. He’s been nursing a groin injury and did not play last year during the lockout. He has one assist in five games this year. Avoid the temptation on Sergei Fedorov and go with youth instead. If you have him on your team, now is the time to deal him as you might be able to get good value for him.
Nick Boynton, Defense, Boston Bruins
Nick Boynton became notorious to many people for the fact that he’s a two-time first round pick in the NHL. In 1997 he was selected ninth overall by the Washington Capitals, but he never came to a contract agreement with the Caps. He then re-entered the draft in 1999 where he was selected by the Boston Bruins at #21 overall.
Boynton had a stellar junior career in Ottawa with the 67s, culminating with a Memorial Cup victory in 1999 in which he won MVP honors. In his final three years in Ottawa he registered just over a point per game, and brought a mean streak to the ice. His arrival in Boston was highly anticipated after spending two seasons with Providence in the American Hockey League; the hope was that he’d ascend the Bruins’ depth chart to become one of their top defensemen.
Thus far in three full NHL seasons he has increased his point total each year, reaching a high of 30 last season (2003-2004). You could make the case that he is progressing nicely, albeit slowly. I’m making the case that he’s not progressing enough and is in fact struggling in today’s faster NHL.
Nick Boynton held out this preseason, and finally came to terms five games into the regular season. In 14 games he has six points and 16 penalty minutes. Not bad totals, but there are more numbers that would concern me from a fantasy perspective. Boynton is not getting a lot of time on the power play where a defenseman can rack up points; last weekend against the Islanders he logged an impressive 25 minutes yet spent only 1:27 on the power play. He did register over six minutes while the team was shorthanded – possibly a sign that coach Mike Sullivan has faith in him down a man but that’s certainly not going to be a big boost point-wise for your fantasy squad. In his previous game against Ottawa he only spent 25 seconds on the power play in over 21 minutes overall.
He’s not likely to get any point production help from his defensive partners – the past two games he has been paired with Hal Gill (19 games, one point) and rookie Andrew Alberts (18 games, zero points).
Most troublesome of all, to me Boynton has looked hulking and slow on the ice this year, like a player painfully lost in the clutch-and-grab era of the NHL. More than once I’ve seen speedy forwards blow by him, and he has been unable to adjust – he can’t use the body in the same manner as in years past. That poor defensive play also has resulted in his currently team-worst -8 which will kill your team if your league uses that statistic.
Although Nick Boynton isn’t considered a superstar by any means, he’s a player who has some name recognition which may have translated into a fantasy pickup. Boynton is a defenseman who has relied on positioning and strength which helped him offensively – his defense has been sub-par this year which has prevented him from participating in many offensive situations. Find the Bruins fan in your league, talk Boynton up, and deal him.
Corey Perry, Right Wing, Anaheim Mighty Ducks
Finally, I’d like to look at rookie Corey Perry of the Mighty Ducks, a former first round pick in the 2003 draft. Perry is a skilled offensive winger who has seen numerous accolades thrown his way over the past few years while playing for the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights. His credentials seem impeccable. Perry led the team in scoring in each of his final three seasons of junior hockey and last year he was the league’s leading scorer with 130 points despite missing time at the World Junior Championships. In the postseason he led the Knights in scoring as they steamrolled their way to the Memorial Cup title, and Perry earned MVP honours.
Thus far this season – his first in the NHL - he has tallied six points (one goal) and added six penalty minutes in 13 games. He did suffer a concussion on October 28th but has been back in the lineup for a few games with no (reported) ill-effects. Then on Tuesday afternoon the Ducks announced the trade of Sergei Fedorov to the Columbus Blue Jackets. So in theory this could present a great opportunity for a guy like Corey Perry to establish himself in the NHL.
My use of “in theory” likely telegraphs where this review is heading. This is admittedly a tough call for me. I’ve seen Perry play for the Knights seven or eight times over the past four years, where the Knights went from a sub-.500 team to an all-time powerhouse. Each time I’ve seen him the league (and local) hype was high and without fail each time I came away unimpressed. There are a few ways I’ve tried to look at Perry’s numbers over the past few years - he played with incredible offensive talent over his tenure with the Knights, from Rick Nash to Dan Fritsche (both presently with Columbus) to Robbie Schremp (have you checked out his OHL totals this year? With a ridiculous 52 points in 14 games, I’m betting the Edmonton Oilers wish they hadn’t cut him in pre-season…) so one could argue that he benefited from his surrounding talent. Yet the talent kept changing and his point totals kept rising, so credit must be given to him for generating those numbers - even though I’d seen him play on multiple occasions, that sample size of games was still so relatively small as to his overall career to this point that it rendered it possibly meaningless.
Still, to my eyes Perry came across as a player lacking in maturity at times – he was often a target by opposing teams and he would let it affect him. Whereas someone like Nash would also be targeted, and would simply and obviously play harder and dig in the corners, take hits, and keep to his game, Perry too often would circle back, avoiding hits, and waiting for his grittier teammates to retrieve the puck for him…not to mention chirp unnecessarily at his opponents.
This isn’t necessarily a terrible approach (well, except for the chirping bit…) – you could apply much of that last sentence to Wayne Gretzky’s career and still be paying him a compliment. What I’d like to see from Perry is the ability to carry a team and step up when his teammates aren’t producing or aren’t close to his skill level. He’s been playing on a line with Todd Fedoruk (who has never been a scorer, even in the junior ranks) and a variety of centers. At this point in his career Anaheim might be taking the developmental approach with Perry and by putting him in defensive situations they’re emphasizing that his game needs to be more well-rounded before they count on him to be a go-to offensive threat. Back in the early 1980s the St. Louis Blues used this tact with Doug Gilmour, putting him on the 3rd line for three years before turning him loose as their #1 center (to which he responded by exploding for over 100 points).
There are some fantasy positives to Perry; he is getting power play time, with nearly three minutes last week against Dallas. A corresponding negative would be that he registered only two 3rd period shifts in that game. Does this indicate that the coaching staff is not yet convinced to use him in critical situations? Draw your own conclusions, but mine is to take Corey Perry off my sleeper radar for the time being until he develops a more complete game for himself.
Next week we’ll return the primary focus to players on the rise. Thanks for reading this week’s Treasure Hunting – your comments and questions are always appreciated – see you next Thursday.
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