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The Real Spiel: Kessel's dominance can be a norm

by Sergei J. Feldman
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 could quickly turn into permanent residency in a 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, 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.


Phil Kessel's NHL journey has thus far played to the tune of an unchained melody, at least in the sense that every high point has been followed by a slump to forget. Through two weeks of the 2011-12 season, however, Kessel has been in perfect harmony with his game and his Toronto Maple Leafs teammates. So much so, in fact, that his League-best 14 points—including a first-place tie in goals (8)—has opponents singing the blues. Still, in all likelihood, the overwhelming sentiment among you fantasy hockey team owners is that you've heard this song before and the concern is that his terrific start to the season is merely a temporary meteoric rise up the NHL ranks. Is this the year Kessel dresses to impress for an 82-game stretch?

Here's The Real Spiel:

Are the Toronto Maple Leafs sitting atop the Northeast Division after two weeks of the season because Kessel is taking the League by storm, or is Kessel dominating because the Maple Leafs are out to prove they are for real in 2011-12? Maybe it's both? Take into account that Kessel is not only lighting the lamp, but is distributing the puck around consistently, all the while making his teammates better night in, night out. Fact is, good things have been happening when he’s on the ice, evidenced by his plus-6 ranking, good for third-best in the League. Moreover, he throws puck at the net with regularity, amassing 25 in said category so far. If you're still not impressed, consider this: even if Kessel's scorching hot play sizzles—certainly, a possibility given his history—his year in, year out totals are still impressive. The 24-year-old right wing has posted three-straight 30-plus goal seasons. Moreover, the 2006 first-round selection of the Boston Bruins is coming off his most productive NHL season, in which he finished with 32 goals and 64 points in 82 games. All that on 325 shots, too. Kessel is the second-ranked player in Yahoo! Standard Leagues at this point. It could be that a similar discussion can be had in future weeks.



Vanek regaining form as top-tier LW

Pete Jensen - Staff Writer
The Buffalo Sabres are off to their best start since 2008-09, and Thomas Vanek's stellar production is a huge reason why. READ FULL STORY ›
Buffalo Sabres left wing Thomas Vanek had a sophomore season to remember. In 82 games he netted 43 goals—15 of which were on the power play, 41 assists, and 84 points, was a plus-47, sat in the sin bin for 40 minutes and threw 237 shots on net. While he has flirted with similar totals in the years that followed, he has hit the 40-goal mark just once and hasn't collected more than 73 points — last year's total — since. For most players, those are good problems to have, but for a player with as much potential as Vanek, on a Sabres team that is looking like a legitimate Cup contender, expectations are higher. Not only has Vanek played as though he's poised to regain his old form, but it is appearing more and more likely by the game that his aim is to set a new standard for himself. The current third-best goal-scorer (6 goals), fourth-best point-producer (10 points) and third-best shot collector (30) is a balanced attack to be reckoned with. Is he worthy of a permanent roster spot at your left wing position?

Here's The Real Spiel:

It's simple: when the 27-year-old Vanek collects his 400th career NHL point in the not-so-distant future (he's got 396 in his seventh season), you ought to hope he does so as a member of your fantasy hockey team. Neither the Sabres nor Vanek plans to steer away from excellent numbers this season. Irrespective of linemates, Vanek has the ability to take control of the game with his 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame. Fantasy owners also need not worry about the former fifth-overall pick's durability, as he has played in at least 80 games in four of his six full NHL seasons and no fewer than 70 games, otherwise. He's looking as strong and determined as ever, so try to be as determined to get him in your mix of fantasy studs, if possible.


Few expected the Dallas Stars to be leading the Pacific Division through two weeks of hockey and even fewer, undoubtedly, expected their netminder to be as dominant as he has been. Kari Lehtonen is playing as though he was never taught how to allow a goal. The 27-year-old is showing the hockey world just why he was selected second overall in 2002 by the former Atlanta Thrashers. His first few years were served as a learning curve as it did an annual opportunity to prove he can be a franchise goaltender. Since coming over to the Stars in 2009-10, he has seemingly learned all that he has to and is sitting comfortably as not only the No.-1 option in net for the Stars, but for fantasy hockey teams everywhere. Will this Star shine brightly through the night that is an 82-game regular season?

Here's The Real Spiel:

Kari Lehtonen
Goalie - DAL
RECORD: 6-0-0
GAA: 1.48 | SVP: 0.957
Sometimes numbers don't lie and that's often the case in fantasy hockey. As it pertains to Lehtonen, just consider the numbers: including this season, his save percentage has not declined in four seasons. Meanwhile, in that same span, Lehtonen's GAA has declined from 3.06 in 2008-09 to 1.48 this season. Even while on a Stars team that failed to make the playoffs last season, Lehtonen was responsible for 34 victories. He is poised for a career year in 2011-12. And during a year in which several goaltenders are off to questionable starts, that fact is that much more important to consider as your set your fantasy rosters. What's more, while some goaltenders are more likely to get you wins than, say, many saves or a low GAA, Lehtonen has consistently dominated every goalie category. He leads all goalies in wins and saves and is third in the GAA category. Make sure you're not left gazing at this Star, but rather are left including him on your fantasy teams on a regular basis.


Washington Capitals offensive-defenseman Mike Green is believed by many to be one of the League's premier defenseman. Given his size, skill, pedigree and surrounding cast, that’s an easy notion to believe. What's more, more often than not the proof has been in the pudding for the 26-year-old right-shooting blueliner.  As the Capitals play to Cup or bust expectations, the Green's productivity, understandably, goes that much more under the microscope. Fortunately, for Caps fans and fantasy hockey owners, what you see through that microscope are numbers that belong, seemingly, to a top-six forward. Still, Green's sluggish start to the 2011-12 season has many wondering just how valuable the defenseman really is. During his most recent outing, in which the Capitals manhandled the Detroit Red Wings, 7-1, Green showed why he belongs in a discussion of one of the best fantasy options. Can a solid outing be the start of a trend for Green?

Here's The Real Spiel:

If a two-goal, two-assist, plus-2, two-power play goal, three-shot night isn't enough reason to be impressed with Green, it's likely not much else would be. Green was all over the ice against a very strong Red Wings club. While toughness is not always synonymous with Green, in terms of fantasy categories like hits or PIMs, Green showed his "gamer" side against the Red Wings when he took a puck to the face and played through the discomfort. The 2004 first-round pick wants to show he is the same — if not better — player than the one who collected 73 and 76 point seasons in 2009 and 2010, respectively. That's not the easiest thing to do after a 2010-11 season that saw his production dip to 24 points, albeit during an injury-plagued 49-game season. The Capitals are riding a hot streak, in which they are perfect through seven games. As the season progresses, Green could be driving that ride, so don't forget about him.


Hall-of-Famer Wayne Gretzky said that if anyone was going to break his records, it would be Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby. But the guy who did break Gretzky's records — albeit in juniors — hopes to one day do so at the NHL level, too. While that might be aiming a bit too high, New York Islanders center John Tavares is off to a more-than solid start to his NHL career on a team looking to climb out of the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings by come the end of the season. The 2009 first-overall selection has played two full seasons and has collected 20-plus goal seasons on both occasions. He also improved in assists, shots and showed more physicality by collecting more PIMs in that same span. With 2011-12 two weeks underway, Tavares hopes Year Three will be one of the breakout variety. Can he do it on a fringe playoff club?

Here's The Real Spiel:

John Tavares
Center - NYI
GOALS: 6 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 10
SOG: 22 | +/-: 1
It likely won't happen, but Tavares' six goals through six games puts him on pace for 82 for the season. Even if he doesn't get anywhere near that total, the talented is more than able to reach the 40-goal mark on an improved Islanders club. Teammates Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo are hungry for breakout seasons and whether they're scoring goals off Tavares' passes or delivering the mail on Tavares' stick, contributions are likely for Long Island's "savior” during even-strength play. But irrespective of how the Isles do this season, Tavares can earn a fine living on the power play. With the aforementioned options upfront and defenseman Mark Streit working the blue line, Tavares can accumulate points with regularity. Be sure to do what you can to make him do so for your fantasy team.
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