Thousands of fans from around the globe submitted questions to Fantasy Insider Pete Jensen this season for NHL.com's weekly Fantasy Mailbag. Whether fantasy owners were monitoring a player's injury status, contemplating a trade proposal or evaluating a potential addition off the waiver wire, these fan-submitted questions touched on a full range of topics.
Every twist and turn to the fantasy season ultimately defined the landscape in 2011-12. No matter if your team failed to qualify for the postseason, caught a bad break in the playoffs or brought home a league title, fantasy hockey proved to be as unpredictable as ever -- making it an enjoyable ride for all involved.
So with the NHL regular season now in the books, it's only fitting to reflect on the most compelling storylines of the campaign in review. NHL.com and its fantasy hockey staff greatly appreciate all the fans who submitted questions for the Fantasy Mailbag this season.
1. MISSING PIECES
By far the most popular fantasy storyline of the season was the status of Sidney Crosby. After a lengthy absence dating back to the midway point of last season, the 24-year-old notched 12 points in eight games from Nov. 21 to Dec. 5 before being sidelined again due to concussion-like symptoms. Crosby did not return to the Pittsburgh Penguins' lineup until March 15, but did conclude the season on a five-game point streak, totaling 14 PIMs, a plus-15 rating and nearly 1.7 points per game over the course of the season. His numbers were exceptional when healthy, but, in hindsight, using a first- or second-round draft pick on a guy who only played 22 games did not pay off for most fantasy owners.
Crosby was not the only marquee player to miss time, as Pavel Datsyuk (missed 12 games), Vincent Lecavalier (18), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (20), Victor Hedman (21), Taylor Hall (21), Jonathan Toews (23), Kris Letang (31), James van Riemsdyk (39), Nicklas Backstrom (40) and Mike Green (50) all had stints on the shelf. Veteran Chris Pronger suffered a season-ending concussion in November and played in only 13 games all season, while goalie Jimmy Howard (T-5th in NHL with 35 wins) was injury-plagued in February and March. With so many of the game's best out of the mix, fantasy owners were forced to stay active and creative on the waiver wire just to stay afloat.
2. NET GAINS
This season was unique in that some of the game's elite goaltenders -- most notably Brian Elliott, Jaroslav Halak and Mike Smith -- were far from viable options coming into the season. The St. Louis Blues were mediocre over the first month of the season, so Halak and Elliott were available in most Yahoo! leagues, but as the team began to get healthy and the organization switched gears to Ken Hitchcock's system, Halak and Elliott took full advantage. Elliott led the League in goals against average (1.56) by a large margin and also was tops in the NHL in save percentage (.940). Halak, meanwhile, was tied for fourth with a 1.97 GAA of his own. Neither topped 50 appearances due to the competition, but these goalies were simply a duo for the ages. Halak and Elliott tied a modern NHL record with 15 shutouts to elevate fantasy teams around the globe with an unexpected spike in production.
Just as surprising was the emergence of Smith, who finished the season with five straight wins and only two goals allowed in that span to will the Phoenix Coyotes to their first Pacific Division title. Considering Smith was a backup to Dwayne Roloson last season in Tampa Bay and had large shoes to fill in the desert after Ilya Bryzgalov's departure, his ability to finish as NHL.com's eighth-ranked fantasy goaltender speaks for itself.
3. NO FLY ZONE
It's always a glaring concern when top-tier players are drafted high and fail to meet expectations, but for a star-studded roster to collectively do so for an entire half of a season is rare. The Anaheim Ducks were 20 points out of the West's final playoff spot on Jan. 6 for the same reasons that plagued fantasy owners. Corey Perry (4th in Yahoo! preseason rankings) tied for sixth in the League in goals but saw a 38-point drop in production this season. Bobby Ryan (11th) saw his production dip by 14 in both points and plus-minus. Ryan Getzlaf (32nd) posted 46 assists and 75 PIM to reach respectability by season's end but mustered only 11 goals and a minus-11 rating to make him one of the biggest fantasy disappointments of the season.
Jonas Hiller (42nd) was much-improved in January and February and tied for the most appearances by a goaltender this season (73), but those numbers didn't come close to overshadowing his slow start to the campaign. Hiller finished the season with the most losses in the League and was tied for the second-most goals allowed. Lubomir Visnovsky (64th) rounded out the bunch by following up a 68-point season in 2010-11 with only 27 this season. With so many of these players being taken so early in drafts, the Ducks' woes were well-documented across the fantasy landscape.
4. NEVER TOO OLD
Teemu Selanne was one of the lone bright spots for the Ducks -- producing 66 points at age 41, tying for seventh in the NHL in PPP and eclipsing the 50-PIM and 200-shot plateaus. Nicklas Lidstrom, 41, was a reliable point producer as well, while Jaromir Jagr, 40, made a seamless transition back to the NHL (54 points in 73 games). But the list didn't end there, as Ray Whitney, 39, tied for 12th in NHL with 77 points, while 37-year-old blueliners Sergei Gonchar and Kimmo Timonen were among the League leaders in assists among d-men.
The New Jersey Devils were the overwhelming beneficiary of veteran production, led by Martin Brodeur (39), who finished the season with five straight wins and eclipsed 30 victories for the first time since 2009-10. Patrik Elias, 35, joined his teammate by posting a 52-assist, 78-point season -- ranking in the top 10 League-wide in both categories. New Jersey also received a huge lift from 35-year-old Petr Sykora, who was brought in for a preseason tryout and ended up playing in all 82 games, tallying 21 goals and 23 assists. For old time's sake, former-Devil Jason Arnott also turned in 34 points (14 PPP) and a plus-13 rating at age 37 for the resurgent Blues.
5. GAGN FISHING
Fantasy owners are always fishing for players off the wire with game-breaking potential, but that upside is often difficult to detect. This season, owners from around the world flocked to their computers to nab 22-year-old Sam Gagner during his eight-point night against the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 2. His three-point outing against Detroit two days later made him even more coveted. Gagner was owned in only seven percent of leagues on Feb. 2, but his ownership soared to 45 percent by mid-February.
Although Gagner ultimately cooled off after his torrid stretch of 15 points in five games from Jan. 31 to Feb. 8, he still finished the season with 47 points, 149 SOG and 12 PPP. But while he sparked fantasy rosters around the world with his production, many fans effectively dangled him for the right price on the trading block to score a more reliable fantasy asset. So whether an owner held on to Gagner or sold high on the forward, it was a prime example of how fantasy owners can reap the benefits of catching onto a trendy player.
6. RADICAL MOVE
It may have been late in the fantasy season when rumors swirled of Alexander Radulov's potential return to the Nashville Predators from Russia, but the timing of the eventual move had a major impact on fantasy owners. Radulov, a 25-year-old right wing, returned to the League on March 22 for the first time since the 2007-08 season, leaving all eyes monitoring his production.
After the dust settled, Radulov was nearly a point-per-game player with three goals and four assists in nine games played, adding a plus-3 rating and 21 SOG. Radulov provided a nice boost to his fantasy teams and brought with him an exciting buzz to throw a curveball to fantasy owners just in time for the fantasy playoffs.
7. ONLY THE YOUNG
There was no shortage of top-10 picks from the 2011 NHL Draft who panned out, as teenagers Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog and Sean Couturier all put together exemplary seasons for their respective teams. But even more compelling was the play of some under-the-radar rookies who rewarded their fantasy owners. Adam Henrique (82nd pick in 2008 Draft), Marcus Foligno (104th in 2009), Andrew Shaw (139th in 2011), Carl Hagelin (168th in 2007), Jake Gardiner (17th in 2008), Justin Faulk (37th in 2010) and Matt Read (undrafted) were available in most leagues and showed great promise. Depending on the depth and format of a particular league, each of these assets could warrant keeper consideration.
8. BEAR IN MIND
The Boston Bruins endured a roller-coaster ride of a season, but their trademark was their NHL-best goal differential (plus-67), which had a sizable impact on fantasy teams. If Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin, Zdeno Chara, Chris Kelly or Brad Marchand was on your roster, you could rely on those players for weekly prowess from a plus-minus standpoint. Those five Bruins sported the top-five ratings in the NHL, with Bergeron leading the pack at plus-36.
9. SURPRISING SENS
To say the Ottawa Senators caught the hockey world off guard would be a major understatement. Erik Karlsson was by far the League's best point-producing defenseman this season, Jason Spezza (4th in NHL with 84 points) regained form as a top-15 overall fantasy asset, Daniel Alfredsson provided a wealth of veteran savvy and Milan Michalek shattered his previous career-high with a 35-goal season.
The list goes on. Craig Anderson bounced back with 63 appearances and 33 wins this season. Kyle Turris, who was mired in a contract dispute early in the season with the Phoenix Coyotes before being traded to Ottawa on Dec. 17, was a sparkplug for the Senators with 29 points in 55 games. The squad even touched on the hits category, as Chris Neil, Jared Cowen and Nick Foligno all ranked among the League leaders. Throw in an outstanding rookie season for Colin Greening -- who finished on the cusp of 40 points, 50 PIMs, 200 shots and 200 hits -- and it's easy to see how this well-rounded club found its way into the postseason.
10. ISLE BE THERE
It was yet another bottom-five finish for the New York Islanders this season, but to say the team was not relevant fantasy-wise would be selling short one of the most productive lines in the NHL. John Tavares put forth 81 points in 82 games, and his prowess clearly expedited the development of early-season waiver wire occupants Matt Moulson and PA Parenteau. Moulson's value skyrocketed after a four-goal game in December and the 28-year-old never looked back en route to finishing 10th in the NHL in goals (36), adding stellar totals of 219 SOG and 24 PPP. Parenteau was also a premier point-producer, tying for 11th League-wide in helpers (49) along with 89 PIM, 19 PPP and 99 hits. All in all, the Isles' primary unit accounted for nearly 42 percent of the team's goal-scoring this season.
Follow Pete Jensen on Twitter: @NHLJensen; Join in the conversation: @NHLFantasy
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