Friday, February 26, 2010

Semi-Final Preview

It's semi-final Friday at the Olympics for the Men's Hockey and we're in for a couple of awesome games. The Olympics Sheet Pool is also loving these match-ups, especially with some big goaltending already removed from the tournament.

Dale C. leads the way into the semi-finals today, but his lead is only one point over Chris S. and it's only two points over the Greenley boys, who have been big players in almost every pool this season. Let's see how the match-ups fare, maybe we'll get some insight as to how its all going to go down.

In the early game this afternoon, the USA will take on Finland in what looks to be a great match-up on paper. Ryan Miller is the big name in the game and who Dale C. is going to be counting on for the win and some more points. As the leader, he could use an American win to pad his lead from his competitors, all except for Stuart G., who also is carrying Miller into these semis. Stuart could have a jump in the standings if Miller was to blank the Finns this afternoon. Chris S. will be counting on Ryan Suter for some more heroics from the blueline, while Leon is rocking Ryan Kesler into this semi-final match-up.

Just as important as Miller is to the USA, Miikka Kiprusoff will have big importance to Finland and Leon's chances of making a move to the top of the table in the pool. If he can pull off a big win against the States, there will be a definite shift in how the standings will look, depending on how the scoring looks down the line. Dale C. is going to have Joni Pitkanen back in the line-up for the semis, Chris will have Jere Lehtinen representing him today and Stuart has Kimmo Timonen for him today. That should make for an interesting race.

In the second semi-final later tonight, the Slovaks will take on Canada for the right to play the winner of the USA/Finland game on Sunday. It's another good mix of players in this game as all four of our pool leaders are taking different players into this semi-final game. Chris will have the captain, Zdeno Chara lining up for him tonight, while Dale will have Michal Handzus, Stuart has Marcel Hossa and Leon has Lubomir Visnovsky. Handzus leads the pack with 4 points in this tourney, so he has to be considered the favourite for points among the group for sure.

Canada's pool implication looks a little bit different. Rick Nash is the favourite of Chris, Stu & Leon's going into this semi-final game and why not? He's picked up five points in this tournament so far, so its all gravy. Dale, on the other hand, decided to take Sidney Crosby for his Canadian player and Crosby has six points in the tournament, so he's not looking too bad either. If the Canadians score a lot against the Slovaks tonight, there could be a lot of points going to all the teams and it should be a good drag race to the finish.

I'm excited for it all to get going... are you?

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Wild Re-Sign Their Big Hitter

On Thursday, the Minnesota Wild announced that they re-signed their most physical forward, Cal Clutterbuck, to a new 3-year contract extension, as he's finishing his entry-level contract this season. The deal is reported to be worth $4.2 million over the duration, meaning he'll be a cap hit of $1.4 million to the Wild in each of the three seasons he's signed for.

Clutterbuck isn't your conventional fantasy hockey player, especially since he isn't one of the high scorers for the Minnesota Wild this season. In 54 games this season, he has 12 goals and 6 assists. The 12 goals is nothing to sneeze at by any stretch of the imagination, especially since two of them are shorthanded, but Clutterbuck's league-leading 252 hits is definitely his most important statistic and if your fantasy pool counts hits for points, you are really enjoying his company this season.

My pools, however, don't count hits, so there really isn't a great deal of value to Clutterbuck, unless I could get some more people in the Draft.

Salary CapThe Wild are slowly putting together their 2011 team, now having 13 players signed on for next season, including Clutterbuck. Currently, they have an annual cap hit of $39.9 million, so they should be good & flexible for when free agency hits and they can start putting together another competitive team after somewhat of a flop in 2010. The core of the team already looks solid for the price tag involved, with Martin Havlat, Niklas Backstrom, Brent Burns and Mikko Koivu already in tow. The Wild are only five points out of a playoff spot, but I get the feeling with all the UFAs they will have come July 1st, they might see themselves as big sellers to improve their footing in the future.

This is a great signing for the Wild, locking up arguably the most physical player in the NHL these days. If he can somehow streak to 20 goals this season and be a 20-goal scorer in his three seasons, they will have worked out a massive bargain, especially since their division rivals, the Flames, just signed Rene Bourque to a deal that is double in length and even moreso in value. A very savvy signing, indeed.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Flames Re-Sign Bourque

On Thursday morning, the Calgary Flames announced that they have re-signed rugged forward, Rene Bourque to a new contract extension. The deal is believed to be for six years and worth $19.8 million, which will average $3.3 million per season. Bourque joins the group of players who were about to become unrestricted free agents that opted to sign with his current club.

Already in 2010, Bourque has already set career-highs in assists and points (23 & 41) and isn't very far away from his high in goals. Bourque will be looking to extend those career-highs after the break and if he remains healthy down the stretch, that shouldn't be too much of an issue. He's currently tied for third among Flames goal scorers this season and is now getting paid for it.

Salary CapThe Flames were definitely dealing with some cap issues when they dealt away Olli Jokinen and Dion Phaneuf, but since they opened up some of that space, the Flames were able to make a deal like this and have a reasonable look for the rest of their impending free agents. As of today, their 2011 salary cap hit is approximately $46.7 million for 15 players, which should leave the team around $10 million under the cap for eight players to round out their 23-man roster. According to my list, the Flames now rank fourth in the NHL for cap space already taken up for next season, behind Chicago, Columbus and Ottawa.

Well, the biggest thing about giving a player an extension like this is what kind of market value is the team looking at through the deal and it looks to be a reasonable deal, if Bourque can remain a 20-goal scorer. Bourque's deal is similar to Dustin Brown's in Los Angeles, who has similar scoring numbers. It looks like they are in the ball park with this and if Bourque can bump up to be a 30-goal scorer in one of these seasons, he will definitely be considered a bargain.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Rinne Re-Signs

On Wednesday, the Nashville Predators announced that they have re-signed goaltender Pekka Rinne to a new 2-year deal worth $6.8 million. Rinne was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st, but the Predators made sure that they were able to take care of some of that looming business over the Olympic Break. Speaking of the Olympics, Rinne was not chosen to participate with the Finnish team this time around, but might be in prime position in 2014, if the NHL decides to go.

Rinne is enjoying a productive season with the Predators in 2010, playing in 40 games already and posting a record of 20-12-4 with 3 shutouts, which gives him 46 points in the pool scoring. His 46 points ranks him 77th among all players in the pool rankings, which is 17th among all goaltenders in the pool as well. Those are very impressive numbers for a goalie that has split the bulk of the duties during the year.

Salary CapWith Rinne in tow and Dan Ellis (also an impending UFA) still to hear about his fate with the club, the Predators are showing signs of life financially. Going into the 2010 season, the Predators budget looked to be pretty small, having a 23-man roster count $43.2 million against the cap. With the signing of Rinne, I have the Predators already sitting at $42.1 million against the cap with 17 players. Those numbers alone really say some loosening of the purse strings a little bit. The Predators will need a second goalie in those numbers, but they have plenty coming up the ranks.

Giving Rinne a good cap hit like $3.4 million per season is a good indication what they think of him going forward, if his minutes leading up to the Olympic Break were not enough for you. GM David Poille is a shrewd business man to get his number one goalie to agree to a 2-year deal as well, in the age of long, longer & longest-term deals these days. It's a pretty good deal with little-to-medium risk for a good reward.

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Auld On Waivers

I suppose this was only a matter of time from happening. Box 16 goaltender, Alex Auld, has been placed on waivers by the Dallas Stars two weeks after the Stars acquired Kari Lehtonen from the Atlanta Thrashers. I imagine that Auld will clear waivers (I give it a 75% chance), which means that he'll be sent to the minors to likely play out the season, barring injury.

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Hejduk Set to Return

A tweet and a blog post today from Colorado's own Adrian Dater has informed the hockey world that the Avalanche are getting healthy again. They are expecting Milan Hejduk, Kyle Cumiskey, Matt Hendricks and Adam Foote to be ready to go when the season restarts in less than a week.

The real player of note from the four is Hejduk, as he's recovering from knee surgery and is the big scorer of the four. He went down at the end of January and was scheduled to be out until the end of February, which we are now into. So, he's right on schedule. The extra time off due to the Olympic Break will likely help his strengthen his knee before he has to get going at full tilt, so that's definitely another plus.

The Avalanche will open the home stretch tied with the Canucks for the Northwest Division lead, losing the spot on the wins tiebreaker, but adding four regulars to their re-opening night roster should give them a boost.

ImplicationsThis was news that Benson was definitely looking forward to in the Draft, as he'll regain one of his big scorers for the restart. Benson currently sits in 7th spot and still somewhat within striking distance of the money. Getting a body back in the line-up will help him up the ladder, instead of going the other way. This news will now make Benson's team completely healthy and ready to go.

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Jagr Questionable for the Quarters

The Czech Republic are going to be in tough tonight, as they take on Finland in the third game of the day, because the status of Jaromir Jagr is not certain going into the match-up. Jagr took one of the hardest open-ice hits you're going to see in the last preliminary round game against the Russians, which you've probably seen a number of times already. Jagr had to leave that game and not return and then he only managed to play a little more than a period against the Latvians in the Qualification Round.

As of Wednesday morning, consider Jagr questionable and don't be surprised if he's in or out tonight... the Czechs are going to play this one close to the vest.

ImplicationsNone. Okay, that's the short version. Jagr was put in a pretty high box and I don't think anyone really wanted to test the waters with Jagr, who does have 3 points in the tournament so far. I would really begin to wonder how much of a gamble people are going to place on him if and when he re-joins the NHL.

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One & You're Done!

It's been quite a good race in the Olympic Sheet Pool, eh? Now I'm kind of wishing I had expanded it a bit and given it to a bunch more people. Ah well, live & learn I suppose. This format may have opened itself up for the World Junior Tournament, which goes again in December, so stay tuned!

After the Qualification Round games on Tuesday night, we're heading into the Quarterfinal Round, where we get all the top teams back in the mix again for scoring.

Last night, we lost the services of Belarus, after they fell to the Swiss, 3-2 in overtime, so the most popular Belorussian player, Viktor Kostiuchenok, is now removed. He leaves the pool with a single assist. I think I have a lot to learn about the Belorussians, because I really missed the boat on some of their scoring.

So, heading into Quarterfinal Wednesday, we have ourselves a bit of a two-horse race. Dale C. and levelheaded (Chris S.) stand alone on top with 25 points each heading into today's action, two points up on Chris M. and three up on Leon & Stuart.

Top point-getter through Tuesday is still Henrik Lundqvist of Team Sweden, but he's only two points up on a number of players taken in the pool, so it will remain interesting through the stretch.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pitkanen Set to Miss QF

Unfortunately, I don't have any video for this post and I've only seen it briefly once, but Joni Pitkanen will miss Finland's quarterfinals match against the winner of the Czech Republic v Latvia game, because of a horrible elbow that he gave to Sweden's Patric Hornqvist in the last round-robin game for Finland. Pitkanen was handed a major penalty and a game misconduct on the play for the hit to the head and the suspension was an automatic.

ImplicationsThis missing game may have an effect on second-place Dale and fifth place James, and in such a tight race like this small pool is, it could be big. Finland hasn't been a terribly high-scoring team and their likely opponent, the Czechs, are very tight defensively, so I would think that a Finnish blowout is not in the cards. No one wants to miss a game though, especially if you have him in the pool.

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Some Sheet Stats to Pass Along

This is only the second season that I've run the 32-box format for the Sheet pool and I think its worked out quite well, don't you? So, when comparing pools, I won't be able to look at a lot of information, but I can compare this season to last season and see what we come up with. There should be some interesting tidbits in there somewhere right?

In 2009, our winner, Dale C. finished with 1,784 points, so I'm thinking that its fair to say that if a team hits the 1,800-point mark, they should be clear to win. With six weeks to go in the season, John P. sits at 1,374 points, which leaves him 426 points in those six weeks to hit that mark and that is fairly reasonable the way that points are being scored this season.

The fifth place finisher, the last money spot, finished with 1,708 points in 2009, so there was less than a 100-point difference (76 points) from first to fifth. With six weeks to go, the difference in 2010 sits at 75 points, which leads me to believe that we'll have a bigger gap this year, unless John has a major collapse.

The gap between first and last in 2009 finished off at 441 points in a field of 44 participants. I would have to believe that the larger group of participants in the pool would have a greater chance of a larger gap, but that's certainly not a guarantee. The gap that's formed this season in a field of only 41 participants now sits at 339 points with six weeks to go. If you were to determine the pace of how quickly the gap came about in 20 weeks, the current pace would have the gap finish off at 440 points. Very interesting.

In 2009, the record week for points was 91 points, one of two max weeks that have eclipsed the 90-point mark. Jeremy A. and Dale C. were the two teams that had 91 & 90 points as their highs through the year. Already in 2010, we have seen five teams clip over 90 points, some more than once, but the record week is 99 points, which was set by Clayton earlier in the season. There is a simple explanation as to why there are so many high weeks and its because of the break we're currently experiencing and the condensed schedule that is being played in the NHL.

With only six weeks to go, we are going to expect a lot of points to come down the pipe, because there will be no less than 51 games in the weeks ahead, which means there is ample opportunity for big points. I can't stress this enough... make your trades!

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Monday, February 22, 2010

How the Draft Opens After the Break

In one week's time, the NHL season will be ready to resume action and we'll be back at our normal hockey pool paces right off the hop. The season will only have six weeks left in it and only four weeks until the final jersey is given away. On the bright side, there is still 309 NHL games left to be played when the schedule resumes, so that should provide ample opportunity for points down the stretch.

I just want to take a quick look at the teams that are definitely in the race for the money and give you an idea of what it will take to either stay in the money, catch-up to their rivals or come from behind as a whole. Hopefully, we can all have a starting off point for the Draft teams to compare from.

Leon will open the homestretch in the lead, where he has been since Week Five of the season. He will start Week Twenty-One with a 22-point lead on Larry, who sits second and a 23-point lead on Wes, who sits third.

Leon's best player in the pool this season has been Ilya Bryzgalov, who registered Russia's only loss in the Olympics (versus Slovakia), so it will be interesting to see how he bounces back to save his pool team.

For Leon to be safe (and reasonable), he should be looking for top five finishes in weekly numbers and hoping they stay away from bottom five numbers. In the last three weeks leading up to the Olympics, Leon has been one of the hotter teams, finishing with 74 points, only two points back of the leader in that department.

In injury news, Leon only has Nathan Horton on the shelf, but as of tomorrow, that will make him out four weeks with his broken leg and five weeks when the season resumes, so he should be close. That would give Leon a healthy team, which will be hard to beat.

Larry, as you saw above, has the task of trying to make-up 22 points to take the big prize of the year, which only means he has to make up 4 points every week to end up passing Leon and that doesn't seem to be the worst task in the world to take on. Possibly the biggest task will be fending off Wes, who is right behind him in third and Wayne sitting a few extra points back in fourth.

Larry has been leaning heavily on Martin St. Louis this season, as he leads the team in points with 71. St. Louis was not chosen to play in the Olympics for Canada, which means he'll be well-rested for the season's restart. He'll be the one to watch for Larry going forward, for sure.

Larry's team has been hot of late as well, being the hottest team in the five weeks leading up to the Olympic Break, with 146 points and he is second in the past three weeks with 75. With that kind of firepower of late, he certainly has a chance of overtaking first or maintaining second.

On the injured list, Larry will open the stretch on the healthy side of the ledger, having no players on the list at the moment, but he's keeping a close eye on his Olympic players, which he has five of.

Wes has had a bit of an up-and-down season, but he'll come out of the Olympic Break eyeing up the first place position in the Draft, as he needs the same sort of make-up rate as Larry does above him. 4 points a week will be enough to eclipse Leon in the end and continue to be in the drag race against Larry.

Wes is also going to be relying on goaltending down the stretch, as USA back-up goalie, Jonathan Quick, has been Wes' pride & joy this season, leading all of his players with 74 points before the break. Quick has done well with the Kings and is getting practice time with the USA, although he's not considered to be having any starts in this tournament.

Heading into the break, Wes' team has been the hottest over the last three weeks, leading all teams with 76 points. His 142 points in the last five weeks ranks second, so there has been a lot of catching up on first place already.

No names on the injured list for Wes for when the league opens up again, but he has nine Olympians to watch at the games, so it will be a tense last week of competition, as he'll want all of his bodies to survive and be there when the NHL starts.

Sitting just outside the money, but is well within striking distance is Wayne. Wayne currently sits 29 points out of first place, 7 points out of second and 6 points out of third. One good week could push him over second and third, but he'll be looking at making up 5 points per week down the stretch to overtake Leon. Consistency will definitely be a factor for Wayne, but its definitely possible.

Swedish Olympian, Nicklas Backstrom of the Capitals, is Wayne's best player this season and he leads the team with 76 points earned. Backstrom is a regular in the Swedish line-up at these Olympics, so his health will be a paramount concern for Wayne down the stretch.

Wayne's team has not been as solid as the top three teams above him going into the break. His team only managed 58 points in the last three weeks and 127 points in the last five. Saying that, all it takes is for the team to recharge and turn it around, when the Post-Olympic schedule begins.

On the injured list, Wayne has one of his goalies on, Cam Ward, who didn't play the last couple games before the break because of an upper-body injury. With the way the Hurricanes have described the injury, it was just more of a break before the Olympics, which should give him ample time to recover for the first game after the break. If that is the case, he should be healthy opening up the stretch run, but missing a goalie could be huge.

Lurking around in fifth place in the standings, we find Dale B., who isn't in bad shape with only six weeks remaining. He officially sits 40 points out of first place, which is a long way back, equating to a make-up rate of 7 points per week. I think when teams get into the double-digits in trying to make up points, that's where the real difficulty is. Dale only sits 18 points out of second and 17 points out of third, which is getting to be more of those reasonable numbers to make-up points.

The player to watch for Dale's team is Henrik Sedin of the Canucks, who is also a mainstay on the Swedish Olympic team, along with brother, Daniel. Henrik has 80 points to lead the Canucks and Dale's team this season and will likely continue to play his game. The Canucks open up the break on their massive road trip, which hasn't been good to the Sedins, so they are likely looking to the Olympics for a rebirth of their scoring touch.

Dale's team has also been a little cooler leading up to the break, as their 3-week total is only 55 points and their 5-week total is 122 points. This will require a turnaround, if points are going to be made up down the stretch

Dale does have a healthy team, but one player is in the doghouse for his respective NHL club, as Slava Kozlov has been a healthy scratch for the Thrashers more often than not in the few weeks leading up to the break. There is some concern that he might be dealt when the roster freeze lifts, which makes some sense and it would help Dale's team immensely, if Kozlov can find his way to a new team and some ice-time. Otherwise, he's okay on the list, but watching eight Olympians.

Those are your top five teams right there. Clayton, Benson, Allan & Dale C. should be considered out of the race for first and are definitely long-shots for the money, but they are within earshot and some hot starts to the back end of the season could make all the difference.

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Round Robin Is Done

Super Sunday saw the best match-ups in the Olympic Round Robin and we saw some pretty good hockey during the day. Russia dumping the Czechs, USA outdueling Canada and Sweden blanking Finland. All six teams feature in the Olympics Sheet Pool, all having a pretty big effect on the standings through three games a piece for each team.

Going into the qualification round, Chris M. has a small 1-point lead, with first to ninth is only separated by 4 points, so there is no getting comfortable with only eight players on each team and only 12 teams. It's good and tight, except when you drop below ninth place, as last place, Clayton, now sits 11 points back of first place.

For scoring in the tournament so far, Henrik Lunqvist leads the way with two wins and two shutouts, which is 8 points in the scoring race. Lundqvist was taken twice, by Chris M. & Jonny C., so you know what you're up against here. Lundqvist is obviously enjoying playing with his fellow countrymen again and Sweden will get the winner of the Slovakia/Norway match-up on Tuesday, which should be huge.

For a great look at what the schedule looks like going forward, click here to see how the match-ups will play out.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Through Two Games Each

We're now through two rounds of the round robin in the Olympics tournament and thanks to only having eight players per team, we have a nice close race out of the gates. The 12 teams that are competing in the small selection sheet pool are only separated by 5 points and we still have another week of action to go.

Starting Saturday afternoon, we go into the final round robin games and there isn't too much to get excited about, as only Belarus and Slovakia are represented from the pool, so there shouldn't be a great deal of movement there. Belarus defenseman, Viktor Kostiuchenok, and Slovakian defenseman, Lubomir Visnovsky, are the most popular players in the action today, taken four times each in the tourney. Neither player has a point in the tournament, but both lead their respective team's in ice-time, so the points are bound to come along.

Eight players lead the pool in points with 4 each at this point in the tournament, but only four of those players have been chosen. Sidney Crosby, Ryan Miller, Tomas Vokoun (pictured) and Henrik Lundqvist lead the way among chosen players, so if you have a maximum of two players, then you're likely doing really well. Both Dale & James have Crosby and Miller and they are tied for top spot in the standings.

This has been a great hockey tournament so far and the injuries have been kept to a minimum, which is a huge positive for the pools in the NHL regular season. We don't want to see any injuries to our favourite players, especially for the stretch run to the playoffs.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Khabibulin Arrested

The Oilers got a bit of a surprise over this Olympic Break, as their injured franchise goalie, Nikolai Khabibulin was arrested for drunk driving and speeding in Arizona and will attend a court hearing next week to find out what his fate will be. No disciplinary action is planned from the Oilers at the moment, as they'll wait to hear what the verdict is in court.

Khabibulin's back injury is poised to keep him out of the Oilers line-up for the remainder of the season, so he doesn't have any value in fantasy pools for the rest of this season, but it will be interesting to see how the Oilers deal with the goalie and the three years remaining on his contract.

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Olympics Selection Sheet Pool Update

Well, every team has played in the Olympics hockey tournament and we now officially have 12 teams signed up for this mini-pool set-up. That's good enough, I really didn't want a big pool, so this will do nicely. A few from Vancouver, a few from Calgary, I think this will work out just fine. It's all for bragging rights anyways, so let's get it on!

Well, Marian Hossa (pictured) was available for Slovakia in this pool, but he wasn't taken at all this time around. Maybe if there were a few more people in the pool, we would have had a selection or two for him.

The most popular player out of the 12 teams was Alex Ovechkin, who was taken seven times, while Rick Nash was the top Canadian with five selections. Sweden's Nicklas Backstrom, Slovakia's Lubomir Visnovsky and Belarus' Viktor Kostiuchenok were all taken four times to be tied for third and then it becomes a great spread of players, which should make the pool very interesting down the stretch.

Henrik Lundqvist, starting goalie for Sweden, leads the selected players in points after his shutout win (four points) against the Germans on Wednesday. He was taken twice in the pool, by Chris & Jonny. Sidney Crosby & Mikko Koivu each have three points a piece, making a difference in the pool early.

This might turn out to be a really good race through the couple weeks of the tournament.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Very Small Selection Sheet for the Olympics

This pool somewhat flew under the radar, because there was no advertising for it at all, which was in large part my own fault. I had completed the layout for the pool ages ago, but didn't really put it out there until the last minute. There is no money in it and I suppose I could take an entry or two before its all said and done, but with three games already completed on the schedule, it does seem a little silly. Since its for fun, I will accept entries until the end of Wednesday, the 17th. Go here to participate...

Saying that, so far, the most popular player in the pool is Alex Ovechkin, who rightfully deserves to be on top of the selection numbers. I won't tell you how many teams have him yet, but it's a pretty solid number.

The main rule of this pool is that you can only have one player per country on your team. There are only eight boxes to choose from and eight countries to select from, so its really easy. Only one player from each country... go on, get some picks in, if you like.

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Final Result in Our Team Canada Pool

Well, if you care to remember, we had ourselves a 'Pick Your Team Canada' pool and since the Canadians faced-off against the Norwegians at Canada Hockey Place, that was when I deemed the pool to be a final result. Since Ryan Getzlaf was good enough to go on his sore ankle, we can officially say that no players were changed from the original 23-man roster that was announced just before the New Year, so how we left the standings is how we finished up.

Well, a big congratulations to the two Greenley boys, who are not twins, but sure thought like it in their picks, as they both finished with 20 out of 23 players correct, a great 87%. Both Stuart and Leon were wrong on two of the same players, Jay Bouwmeester and Ryan Smyth, but they were different in their other wrong forward picks, as Stuart took Brad Richards and Leon went with Patrick Sharp. Otherwise, it was a perfect bit of choosing from the both of them.

There were a huge number of teams that finished with 19 out of 23, which is a pretty good effort amongst everyone in the pool, but just needed one more pick to make it happen for them.

So, since there was no money, there's only pats on the back for the two Greenley boys... well done!

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Week Twenty Newsletter

We've made it to the Olympic Break... 20 weeks in the books and we now get a couple of weeks off from NHL action to concentrate on the Olympics in Vancouver.

The leads in both pools have been shrinking going into the break, both Leon in the Draft and John P. in the Sheet pool, have been watching their competition catch up to them in their rear view mirrors, but it will almost be like hitting the reset button when all of the Olympians head back to their NHL clubs and vacations end for those who didn't travel to Vancouver show off their tans at practice.

Another thing to remember during the break is that NHL general managers will be chatting during the break, making sure that they have all of their deals ready to go when the roster freezes open up and I'll be chatting about some of the potential moves on the Rumour Mill blog, which I hope will be kept busy during the next couple week.

Well, let's see how the last week of pre-Olympic action went down, I can assure you, it looks really interesting.

Poll Question
I thought I posted quite the insightful question last week and I think it did okay. The first poll in a few weeks did okay, garnering 13 votes. I asked you which move made recently was the most important to the respective team and you thought that the Devils picking up Ilya Kovalchuk was the most important. It's hard not to agree, but at the beginning of the week, I thought the Flames moving Dion Phaneuf was the most important move, which was agreed upon, but I may have wanted to change my mind by the end of the week, since the Flames really didn't change after the move.

So, during the Olympic Break, I'm going to avoid the Olympics altogether with the new question. I'm going to tickle the trade deadline a bit, since we should be preparing for quite the gong show. I want to know who you covet the most for your favourite team. I have chosen some of the most likely players to move before the deadline passes, so have at it!

A new weekly record! I can't say I was expecting to see any astronomical numbers this week, but we had four teams eclipse the 40-point barrier and Larry almost hit the 50-point mark with his 49 points in Week Twenty. That tops Leon's 48 points that he had in Week Five. It was a high scoring week overall, as the pool saw 535 points between all 17 teams, only the pool's third 500+ point week, so I suppose a record was going to be challenged this week, eh?

So, thanks to this big week, Larry has put his firm bid in on chasing down Leon in first place, as he has now jumped into second in the standings from fourth and has taken the lead down to 22 points heading into the post-Olympic stretch of the season, which is only six weeks long. That's going to be one hell of a chase.

Larry has had the hottest team for the last five weeks, leading the whole pool with 179 points in that stretch, 113 in the last three weeks, also a pool high.

Catapulting Larry to the top again this week (his second time in the last three weeks) was Martin St. Louis (8 points), Alex Semin (7), Mike Green (6), Filip Kuba (6) and Ray Whitney (5). Surprisingly, Larry only picked up two points from his goaltending tandem, which makes this accomplishment a little more spectacular. Having 47 points away from your goaltending is astounding... to say the least.

Larry now ranks second in the pool in points per game from his skaters, .716 points-per-game from 701 games played, which ranks third. His goaltending team this year, which has seen two changes, ranks 13th this season in points per 60 minutes and 10th in minutes with 4,307.

Jersey PrizeWell, the third jersey race, which has a nice new standings box on the actual standing page gives you an up-to-date total for the race, which keeps everyone in the know. Ending the week, Larry does take the lead from Wes and holds a 4-point lead, but there's lots of hockey left to be played there... a solid four weeks left in the race. I do think we can count Trevor out of the race here, he's now 60 points back at the end of this week... can't see him coming back from that deficit to win the jersey.

Some weeks, it still surprises me when the numbers become so polarized. When Larry is setting a record with 49 points in a week and the average week is 31.5 points. But here's Peter finishing Week Twenty with only 12 points, it's really amazing. I don't know if its really a plus, but Peter didn't manage to fall down any positions with his low week, probably because the gap between his 13th spot and 14th was so large to start, but now he only holds a 2-point lead for the position over Stacey and opened up a 33-point gap to 12th spot. That's hard to recover from, but I would also say that any team is going to be open to harsh weeks. I suppose the only thing a team can hope for in this position is a healthy start to the post-Olympic stretch and maybe hope that other teams around them find their way down.

For how great of a season Steven Stamkos is having with the Tampa Bay Lightning, I'm surprised that this is his first Player of the Week nod. I could honestly say that I wasn't expecting such a good season, but I'm sure I'm not alone in wishing I had this kid on my pool team. Allan snuck him through the Draft in the fourth round this year, 57th overall and he goes into the break in 17th in pool scoring. That's a great pick.

Anyways, Stamkos actually managed to be the better Draft player in the week by a couple points, as he finished Week Twenty with 9 points.

On Tuesday, Stamkos had a goal and an assist in Tampa's 3-1 win over the Canucks. Thursday, it was a 3-assist effort in a 5-4 near-comeback loss to the Bruins. Saturday on Long Island, he has a goal and an assist in another 5-4 loss to the Islanders. Finally, on Sunday, it was yet another goal and assist in a 5-2 loss to the Rangers in Madison Square Gardens. That's 3 goals and 6 assists in 4 games... that's a pretty good click.

It also has to be said that it doesn't happen often, if at all before, that a Player of the Week nod goes to a player that was on a team that had a losing record in the week. With the Lightning going 1-3-0, this scoring feat seems to be a massive bright spot, one that stokes the debate on whether or not the Team Canada officials really gaffed by leaving him off the team.

It's been a while since I did a cold player note, but I think going into the break, we might just have to take note of how cold the Oilers have been. One 20-goal scorer, Dustin Penner, only five more that have cracked 10 goals. Penner, their top scorer, ranks 65th in pool scoring... he's their only top-100 player in the rankings. Sam Gagner & Lubomir Visnovsky, both of whom missed out on some time this year, rank 2nd & 3rd on the team, while makeshift starting goalie, Jeff Deslauriers, ranks 189th in pool rankings. This has not been a great year in Oilers scoring, to say the least.

Stat Pack

The lead has been cut down some more! John P.'s lead is now down to 24 points after losing more ground to the other nine teams in the top ten in the standings. Everyone made a move on John, which really has to have John worried at this point in the season. The season only has six more weeks to it and he's come down from over 50 points a month ago, I believe. 2nd to 4th is only 14 points difference, which has easily been lost & made up this season, especially in the last few weeks, so that race isn't over yet. The gap from 4th to 5th is now 37 points, not impossible by any means, but it'll need some work. 5th to 10th is only 24 points, which is also quite make able, in the last six weeks, so there is plenty of room to move in the money.

It's the same old story when it comes to the top points in the week... I'll just say that 89 points was good enough for tops. It makes a big difference to have sort out your trades and get most of them done!

Movement was kept to a minimum in the week, as 18 teams didn't make any change in the standings in the week, while the top movers up in the standings only moved three spots. Both Dieter G. & Jamie C. moved up a threesome of spots, although Jamie's was a little more substantial, as he climbed back into the top ten, hitting 9th place, which ties his previous peak position in the pool. Hopefully, he can keep that climb going, as the top ten is still rather close with six weeks to go.

I'm hoping to draw up some statistical blogs while the Olympic Break is on... gonna have to keep these fingers busy somehow, while the NHL is on vacation.

Other News and Notes

With both Nigel Dawes and David Moss entering the line-up again, a player had to be scratched and that turned out to be Dustin Boyd, the Box 8 forward. The Flames ended their pre-Olympic break schedule with a 3-1 win against the Ducks and it looks like the roster moves were helpful. After the Olympic Break, I'm sure the one team with Boyd in the Sheet pool will be pulling for his return.

Mikael Backlund, the Flames' Box 9 player, is one of many to take advantage of the Olympic Break by heading back to the AHL for two weeks and keeping his legs going and continuing to learn the game. It sounds like Backlund has earned a regular spot on the team for the time being, so I'm expecting him back up with the club when the break ends.

Much like Backlund above him, Zach Boychuk was also sent down to the AHL for the Olympic Break. Although, in Boychuk's case, the Hurricanes might not need to call him back up to the bigs when the break is over, since they are still dealing with an injury to Erik Cole, which might see him back in the line-up instead. If Boychuk comes back up, it's likely because the Hurricanes are going to make a trade that sees a forward out of town and Boychuk will get minutes to learn from down the stretch.

Some general bumps & bruises for Brent Sopel kept the Box 14 defender out of the Blackhawks line-up on Sunday. Sopel has had some difficulties with injuries & consistency earlier on in the year, but after blocking some shots the night before, he was decidedly held out of the line-up for safe keeping. The break should do him a lot of good.

Finnish forward, Jere Lehtinen, suffered a laceration to his knee on Thursday night after he blocked a shot. The Stars decided to rest the veteran forward on Saturday night, just as a precaution. This injury shouldn't affect his participation in the Olympics and barring any other injury at that tournament, he should be good to go once play resumes.

A re-aggravation of a former knee injury will now keep Tomas Holmstrom out of the Olympics over the next couple weeks. Holmstrom left Saturday's game with the same injury which kept the Swedish winger out of the line-up for quite a while already this year. His status for the restart to the NHL season will remain up in the air.

Joining the parade to the AHL was Phoenix's Box 6 forward, Mikkel Boedker, who was expected to head back down to the AHL for the break. Boedker has been the first one up or down when the Coyotes needed bodies in the New Year, and it will be a question of team health that will determine whether or not Boedker will be back up with the team or not.

The Penguins were also not going to take many risks with their back-up goalie, Brent Johnson, as he didn't dress on Sunday afternoon, because of a groin injury. The Penguins managed to call-up John Curry on an emergency basis to back-up Marc-Andre Fleury against the Predators. The injury to Johnson does not sound terribly serious and he is expected to be okay when play resumes in the NHL season.

Click here to see an updated injury page.

This is where I'd usually put the Hockey Night In Canada preview, but since that's two weeks away, I think I'll put together a Week Twenty-One Preview post, just so it all stays a little more fresh in our minds. Have a good Olympic Break... and if you've made it this far in the newsletter, I might have a special Olympic Pool for you to join, but you have to drop me an e-mail.