It's not right to end the year without a pointless top 10 list. And since fantasy hockey is what we do here, here is my contribution, as I present the events that had the biggest impact on fantasy hockey in the year 2010:
10. Stempniak to Phoenix
A deal that largely went unnoticed at the time quickly became the most significant fantasy trade of the season. On March 3rd, Lee Stempniak was dealt from Toronto to Phoenix for Matt Jones and a couple picks. At the time, Stempniak was barely cracking the 3rd line in Toronto and was a non-factor in the fantasy world. From there out, he was a point-a-game player and almost a goal-a-game player for a stretch in Phoenix. His hot streak ended with the conclusion of last season, and he may never see that kind of production again.
9. Byfuglien Moved to Defense
Isn't Jeremy Roenick a genius? After Atlanta coach Craig Ramsey announced at the start of the season that newly acquired Dustin Byfuglien would be moved to defense, many in the hockey world openly ridiculed his decision (Roenick being the dumbest). Turns out the former Selke winner knew what he was doing after all, as Byfulglien has been an absolute beast on defense for Atlanta and fantasy owners. The move came right around fantasy draft time, so owners who heard (and believed) the news made out like bandits by drafting him in the middle rounds.
8. Island Injury Bug
The Islanders weren't expected to win many games, but there was hope at the start of the 2010-11 season that several of their players would be decent fantasy options. Many of the young guns were clearly on the rise at the end of last season, prompting hope for the new one. That all ended early on, when the injury news started to strike. First Streit was gone for most of the season, then Okposo separated his shoulder. Other injuries crept in to the point where no player on the Islanders roster has much value. Even John Tavares is going to have to wait for some help before he can be considered a solid fantasy option at this point.
7. Gonchar to Ottawa
For the past decade, Sergei Gonchar has been among the top 5 best fantasy options on defense (when healthy). On July 1st, he was the first big name to show up on the free agent departures, heading north from Pittsburgh to Ottawa. Many expected his prolific production to go with him, and for that to spark some of the Ottawa forwards on to more points, particularly on the power play. The move has been a complete bust. At least in Ottawa that is. While Gonchar is on pace to be a -43 for the season and the Senators remain one of the lowest scoring teams in the league, the move did open the door for a new superstar to emerge in Pittsburgh: Kris Letang. Letang was apparently held back by Gonchar's presence in the past. Now that he has the role of chief puck-mover on the power play, Letang has emerged as a Norris Trophy candidate, and a genuine fantasy stud on defense.
6. Dismantling of Chicago
It was inevitable, and the Hawks tried to downplay the impact, but it cannot be denied that the aftermath of the Cap crunch on the Cup winning Chicago roster has had an impact on fantasy lineups. In Chicago, the most noticeable change is in Norris winner Duncan Keith's numbers. It's impossible to know how much he misses those players and who he misses the most, but something has been off with Keith this season, and that's a good place to lay the blame. Also, fantasy owners are still perplexed as to which goalie to claim in Chicago. Since Chicago had to part with Niemi, there's been an ongoing back and forth with Turco and Crawford. Perhaps we'll even see Huet back before the end of the year? In Atlanta, the Thrashers (and their fantasy owners) have benefitted greatly, particular with Byfuglien (see above) and Andrew Ladd. Ladd never had the opportunity that he now has in Atlanta, and he's producing with a career year in his new setting.
5. Nabokov to (and from?) the KHL
Since the lockout, it seems like the leading candidates for the Vezina Trophy change dramatically from season to season. Each year there are two or three new names that pop up and then fade away. Over that time, only Nabokov has remained relatively consistent, though he was never truly rewarded for it. Fantasy owners could draft him with confidence that he would provide very good to great fantasy production each season. When he bolted for the KHL in the off-season, he left a void on draft lists everywhere. After just two months away from the NHL, Nabokov recently cut ties with his team, leading to speculation that he may return to the NHL at some point his year. Stay tuned, as we could see him on the list for 2011 if he lands with a contender in January.
4. Penguin Hot Streak
After a horrible losing spell around Halloween, the Pens (and their fantasy owners) were scrambling for options. Marc-Andre Fleury was showing up on waiver wires, while Malkin and Crosby were sliding down depth charts. That all changed when the Penguins started to rattle off win after win in November and into December. Suddenly, Fleury is once again a top-end starter option and Crosby is the undisputed #1 fantasy player, in the midst of an incredible scoring streak that just keeps going. Many other depth players on the Penguin lineup have likewise seen their fantasy value increase with the streak. It's amazing what a couple weeks of winning can do.
3. Halak Olympic/Playoff Glory
Heading into the Olympic break, the Canadiens were struggling and they weren't finding the answers they needed in the crease. Price was train wreck and Halak was decent, but hadn't yet emerged. His Olympic performance opened the eyes of the hockey world as he single-handedly led team Slovakia to the bronze-medal game, and in the process, earned him the #1 job (and a ticket out of Montreal). His subsequent run in the playoffs made him a top 5 goalie pick for many fantasy owners this fall. With Halak being moved to St. Louis, the pressure was on Price to shine or leave town. Remarkably, he has more than risen to the occasion. It has been a wild ride for both goaltenders in 2010, but ultimately, Price and Halak have both come out as solid fantasy options heading into 2011.
2. Kovalchuk Saga
On February 4th, the New Jersey Devils shocked the hockey world by diving into the Kovalchuk sweeps and claiming the "prize" a few weeks before the deadline. The summer saga was well documented and has had an obvious impact on the Devils misfortune this season (and likely for many to come), but what about the fantasy impact? Well, for starters, a guy who was a regular top 10 fantasy forward for the past decade has collapsed to the point where he's not worth starting in any format. And while he (and his contract) can't be blamed for the complete lack of production by other Devil players this season, his contract will surely prohibit the team from bolstering the lineup with complementary talent in the years to come. Ultimately, this deal was and will continue to be a disaster for the Devils and their fantasy owners.
1. The Boston Goaltender See-Saw
Also known as "The Rise (and fall) of Tuukka Rask", or perhaps "The fall (and rise) of Tim Thomas". No matter how you want to headline it, the story has been big in the fantasy world. After a subpar end to 2009, Thomas lost his job to the up and coming rookie Rask, who finished the season strong enough to merit Vezina consideration. Many fantasy owners ranked him among the best going into this years draft, and were ultimately disappointed when the tide turned back to Thomas very early on. Thomas put last season behind him completely and is the current favorite to see his name etched again on the Vezina. Owners who were quick to pick him up in the first week of the season have come away with the grand prize.
There were many other events that shaped the world of fantasy hockey in 2010. Chime in and share which ones you think should have placed among the top 10.
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