There's no denying the unpredictable and ever-changing nature of hockey, especially in the "new" NHL, where blistering speed and high-end skill reign supreme and not much remains status quo.
One second too late or one deke too many could mean the difference between a thrilling win or a devastating loss, while one week on top of the world can quickly turn into a permanent slump.
A similar -- if not exact -- dynamic exists in fantasy hockey.
Just when you think it's safe to celebrate a win against an opponent, you find yourself scrambling to find a gem on waivers to remain in contention. Meanwhile, norms become aberrations and blips on the radar become stranglehold positions.
Given the complex, never-steady landscape, each week, NHL.com fantasy insider Sergei Feldman gives you The Real Spiel on some of the quirks and trends that permeated your week of fantasy hockey by way of in-depth analysis.
LUON-GO WITH THE FLOW
Criticism of Vancouver Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo is somewhat of an annual tradition. He can't win the big game. He can't make the big save. So on and so forth. Through six games this season, Luongo hasn't done a whole lot to dispel those claims. Consider the numbers: a 3-3-1 record, .869 save percentage and 3.54 goals against average. Consider the proverbial "soft" goals he's allowed. Those are not the numbers/characteristics of a bona fide No. 1 starting goaltender, to be sure. But also consider the aforementioned numbers reflect a seven-game sample size. Is that enough to conclude disappointment?
It's very difficult to find a dark cat in a dark alley on a dark night ... especially when the cat's not there. Similarly, it's difficult to find points of criticism about Luongo ... especially when there aren't any. Not as a fantasy goalie, anyway. Operative word: fantasy. In the 32-year-old's "worst" season with the Canucks, he finished with a 40-22-4 record and carried with him a .913 save percentage and 2.57 GAA. That was his rock-bottom season. Since being dealt to the Canucks from Florida in 2006-07 -— and not including this season —- he has averaged 39 wins, a .912 save percentage and 2.34 GAA per season. Would you take those numbers every year from your fantasy goalie? Would you call those stats disappointing? The fact that Luongo has yet to hoist a Stanley Cup does not hurt your fantasy team. Fantasy hockey is a numbers game. And the man who produces some of the best numbers at his position is Luongo. The NHL season is a grind -- a long one, to boot. Patience is important. So is precedent. The bottom line is that the Canucks are built to be among the Western Conference's elite clubs in 2011-12. And the foundation is Luongo. Don't make the mistake of giving up too soon.
NEIL-DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
Most fantasy hockey team owners won't go as far as to select Ottawa Senators tough guy Chris Neil in the first few round of their drafts. Rightfully so. He won't be confused with a top-six forward anytime soon. But that's not what he's being asked to do in Canada's capital city. He's asked to get under the skin of opponents, crash the net, drop the gloves when need be and be a pest on the ice. The question is, how much value does that give your fantasy hockey team?
Regardless of the makeup of your fantasy team, toughness pays dividends. Truth is, penalty minutes and hits are tough to come by. Even if you select a guaranteed rough-around-the-edges player, putting him in your lineup with the hopes of a fight or a few hits may not be the right move. Not when you put other scoring categories in jeopardy. But Neil, thus far, has given fantasy team owners healthy across-the-board production. He ranks second in the League with 46 PIMs. But more impressively, he has thrown 25 shots on the cage in 11 games and has two goals and two assists, too. And don't forget his 32 hits. Unlike many rough NHLers, Neil is not a fantasy lineup liability. So far, he's been nothing short of an asset. As the Senators ride a five-game winning streak and feel good about themselves, expect big -- relatively speaking -- things from their versatile tough guy and make sure he's making your fantasy team a tough team to play against as well.
NO "I" IN TEEMU
Judging by Teemu Selanne, 41 is the new 21. The veteran Anaheim Ducks winger is among the oldest players in the League, yet is playing like the Selanne of 1992-93 -- his rookie season, in which he took the League by storm with 76 goals, 56 assists and 132 points. OK, maybe he won't quite reach those totals, but there's no denying the year in, year out production of the veteran right wing. As a result, your fantasy teams have likely blossomed. But cases of players hitting the proverbial wall all of a sudden are not few and far between. Relying on a veteran to not only produce, but stay healthy throughout an 82-game season is a risky proposition. Is it a risk fantasy team owners should take?
Last year, at the ripe old age of 40, The Finnish Flash enjoyed an 80-point season for the Ducks. This season, he's on pace for 81. Last year, he played in over 70 games. This year, he hasn't missed a game. Simply, Selanne shows no signs of slowing down, looking as fresh as ever. After jumping off to a slow -- by most player's standards -- Selanne has been as hot as the California sun. In his past seven outings, he has amassed nine points, including three multi-point games. In that same span, he threw 26 shots on net. Quietly, he's been one of the best players in the League recently and on a team with weapons like Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan, the opportunities for Selanne to contribute are plenty. Make sure he does so for your fantasy club.
BERGER-ON HIS GAME
Steven Stamkos has posted 96 goals in the past two seasons, including consecutive 90-plus point seasons. Since 2006-07, Martin St. Louis has posted no fewer than 80 points, including 99 last year. Vincent Lecavalier has a 52 goal season on his resume, as well as a 108-point season. All these Tampa Bay Lightning players have been big-time performers for your fantasy hockey clubs. Neither one of them leads the Lightning in points this season. That distinction belongs to 5-foot-9, 198-pound defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron. What's more, he's the League's most productive blueliner thus far. Will a similar story be written days, weeks or months from now?
While Bergeron has collected two goals and 10 assists in 11 games, he has never collected more than 35 points in a given season. Perhaps Bergeron is a case of a player who has finally settled in a comfortable environment and is ready to show what he can do. After all, since 2002-03, he has played for six teams. In his second season with the Lightning, things are looking good. But there are too many elite defensemen in the League nowadays. Bergeron has been more than a pleasant surprise for fantasy owners, judging by his original ranking of 212 in Yahoo! Standard Leagues compared with his current ranking of 51. If you wish to ride the wave with Bergeron, you might be a beneficiary. But consider the long haul that is a fantasy season before you break the bank to get him on your roster.
STAAL, DARK AND HANDSOME
Hiding in the shadows of Pittsburgh Penguins superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is Jordan Staal, the "other" center on the team. Since joining the Penguins in 2006-07, Staal has been depended on for a strong two-way game, stellar penalty killing and just being a tough player to play against each and every shift. He has surprised many with his development as a power forward to be reckoned with. He has three 20-plus goal seasons on his resume and is a plus-minus asset. He also collects a healthy amount of shots on net for a third-line center. But with Crosby being out with a concussion and Malkin dealing with a sore knee (though he's healthy now), Staal has become Mr. Reliable in Pittsburgh. Is his recent burst of offensive production a norm-to-be or a temporary fling?
Staal has found his name on the score sheet in seven of 12 games in 2011-12. He has six goals to go along with 26 shots, 26 hits and 8 PIMs. After three weeks of fantasy hockey, Staal is the complete package. If Crosby remains out for longer than expected, Staal can be no worse than a second-line center, which means his opportunities to produce are there for the taking. If Crosby returns soon, it is believed that Staal could still be playing in a top-six role alongside Malkin -- a goal of coach Dan Bylsma's since last year, but one that couldn't be implemented due to injuries. As the Penguins continue to be a force in the Eastern Conference, rest assured Staal will have something to do with it. Make sure he's making a similar impact for your fantasy team.
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