Fantasy talk...

By Douglas Smith
With training camp about a month away it's time to start thinking about your fantasy hockey team. I know a lot of you may be working on another fantasy team and I am not referring to a private collection. This is when football, hockey, and baseball all converge for those hardcore fantasy sports fans. With less fantasy news devoted to hockey, why not take a gamble on some predictions for this coming year.

Most fantasy hockey players know who the big guns are and don't need any more information on the likes of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, or the Sedin twins. What happens when you run into that commissioner or friend that runs your yearly league that tries to switch things up this year and use “unusual categories”? Here are some categories that you may encounter this year and players that could get you the points you need. Remember to check the league settings before you sign up. But here we go!

Short-Handed Goals (SHG) 
Michal Handzus – Los Angeles Kings

Handzus averaged over two and a half minutes of ice time when the Kings were shorthanded last year. The roster has not changed much this offseason so it stands to reason that Handzus will see the same time this year. He has experience on both ends of the power play, which may make him more crafty playing up top on the penalty kill.

The downfall here is that he is a middle of the road player in all other categories and the wear and tear of being on the penalty kill year after year can catch up with you. He blocked over 60 shots last year, due, in part, to his time on the penalty kill.

Face-Offs Won (FOW) 
RJ Umberger – Columbus Blue Jackets

This statistic is becoming more and more common in fantasy hockey. The obvious thing would be to look to the center position to win this category in your league, or to just beat your given opponent that week. There are only a handful of non-centers that make the top 80 for faceoffs won from this past season. Umberger won over 50% of his faceoffs last year when he was put into the circle. Having him fill in on your team could mean snatching up yet another category.

The only problem is that Columbus is not expected to perform that well this year, so other numbers like plus/minus or scoring for Umberger could be down.

Average Time on Ice (ATOI) 
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – San Jose Sharks

Now your commissioner is really trying to make it difficult, but you should know that defensemen is where to look for most stats that revolve around time on ice. Vlasic averaged over 20 minutes per game last year and came in at a +21. Rob Blake retired after 20 years so there may be even a couple more minutes for Vlasic to take for a team with a new goaltender.

He is not going to produce a lot for you in the offensive categories, so be selective when you use him. Vlasic might spend a lot of time on your bench depending on your roster depth.

Overtime Loss (OTL)
Tuukka Rask – Boston Bruins

Boston is an improved team and Rask knows it's his team to carry, barring any injury. He only allowed 84 total goals against in his 22 wins and his team was often cited for their inability to score. With added goal scorers on the roster and no reason to doubt Rask’s performance, Boston should not have a ton of games that could be lost in overtime.

This statistical category is a bit of a afterthought with respect to other goalie stats that are generally used. Rask isn’t used to being the number one goalie so there's a possibility it could wear on him.

Saves (SA)
Tomas Vokoun – Florida Panthers

Vokoun faced a ton of shots last year and figures to again this year as well with a team that is truly in transition. His save percentage was a respectable .925. Vokoun is a tough pick that may go to the person that realizes he forgot to draft a back up. Whose to say what his season will hold on a potentially dreadful team? Will he even be on that team at the end of the year? Time will tell.

So there you have it. Check back here at Pens Universe for some periodic fantasy news I plan to update you all on in the coming months. Best of luck to you in your draft this year. Feel free to share your thoughts.

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