Brendan Morrow: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Their seasons ended early because of injury but the following players should be on your radar come next season:
Columbus brought in Antoine Vermette from Ottawa at the trade deadline to fill a gaping hole at center, and although the ex-Senator has been solid with six points in five games since arriving, Brassard is the guy coach Ken Hitchcock and company are pinning their hopes on moving forward. In what was to be his true rookie season, Brassard compiled 25 points and a +12 rating in 31 games before succumbing to his second serious shoulder injury since turning pro. Two surgeries in three years lead to doubts about his long-term healthy but the former junior scoring sensation is worth taking a chance on if others forget.
If Dallas goes on to make the playoffs, coach Dave Tippett should get some consideration for the Jack Adams Award. Lengthy injuries to Morrow, Sergei Zubov, Jere Lehtinen and, most recently, Brad Richards, in addition to the slow start of Marty Turco and the Sean Avery sideshow should have been too much to overcome. Losing Morrow was the biggest blow. Often a double-threat (points and PIMS) and in some years a triple-threat (points, PIMS and plus-minus) Morrow, who may have been dropped in your league in light of the injury, is lethal when healthy.
Get this guy. Now. And should he struggle early on in Ottawa next year, avoid the temptation to deal him. The trade that saw him arrive in Canada's capital from Columbus was too big of a coup for Ottawa GM Bryan Murray for Leclaire not be the Senators' No. 1 puck stopper next season.
Johnson tied for second in rookie defensemen scoring a season ago with 33 points. He's missed all of this season after sustaining a freak injury in September. The Blues have a fantastic young team and although it might take Johnson a few weeks to get back into the swing of things next year he should definitely be on your wish list.
The above question is the NHL's equivalent to "To be, or not to be" these days. Fully flushed out, it's this: If you were an NHL GM with the first pick in June's NHL Entry Draft, would you take Canadian Junior star John Tavares or Sweden defenseman Victor Hedman? Currently, it appears Tavares is the consensus No. 1 thanks to a strong showing in the World Juniors and a second-half surge that saw him (apparently) break Peter Lee's record for career Ontario Hockey League goals. Without question, Tavares can flat-out score and while critics say his skating and neutral-zone play aren't up to snuff you simply cannot teach someone to score -- it's innate. But having watched an injured Hedman play at the World Juniors I must say that I'd be awfully tempted to take the strong-skating Swede. He's the total package and should he land on a team with a great hockey mind behind the bench (Wayne Gretzky, perhaps?) he could morph into something really special.
With Marty Brodeur set to pass Patrick Roy for career wins (although some would argue his 27 shootout victories put him at an unfair advantage over Roy since Saint Patrick retired before the advent of the shootout) and Terry Sawchuk for career shutouts, it will soon be safe to term Brodeur the NHL's all-time best goaltender, at least statistically. For a while now, it's been quite alright to dub him the greatest all-time fantasy goalie. Anyone who has owned Brodeur at any point over the years likely longs for him back every time he or she sees him on the highlight reels. Playing in New Jersey, he's as dependable as they come and I love that when you see a New Jersey win come across the ticker you never have to question whether Brodeur was in net since, when healthy, he averages around 75 starts per year. Robert Luongo, Mikka Kiprusoff, Marty Turco and Evgeni Nabokov are workhorses, too, but nobody does it better than Brodeur.
Evgeni Malkin: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
For most of the year the Art Ross Trophy -- awarded to the league's leading scorer -- appeared destined for Evgeni Malkin's mantle. But with Malkin slumping lately -- only three points in his last five games -- and teammate Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alexander Ovechkin both on 10-game point streaks, the title appears up for grabs. Malkin entered Tuesday night's play seven points up on Crosby and eight points up on Ovechkin. He had been enjoying a 10-12 point lead for much of the year. Crosby is clicking with new line mates Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz while Ovechkin has been helped by the resurgent play of Alexander Semin. The three players are far and away the league's best offensive talents and will likely engage in Art Ross battles for years to come.
Here's how the Great 8 ends all debate about the league's most fantasy valuable player: he ranks seventh -- SEVENTH! -- in hits so far this season with 219. In roto leagues that include that category Ovechkin is far and away the league's best skater. He's the only player among the top 30 in scoring to be among the top 30 in hits. Minnesota's Cal Clutterbuck, by the way, leads the league in hits with 286. I find that funny since it wasn't too long ago (2006 actually) that I watched Clutterbuck board a train in his former junior hockey home of Oshawa, Ont., en route to the Top Prospects Game in Ottawa. He was a scrawny kid traveling alone and carrying his own hockey bag and sticks and now he's the NHL's most frequent bodychecker.
I have a theory that players who suffer through subpar second seasons after impressive rookie campaigns are primed for big breakouts once year three comes along. As stated in this space last week, Philadelphia's Mike Richards is a perfect example. With that said, here are five sophomores who have regressed this year that you should expect better things from in 2009-10.
Rookie season: 24 W, 2.56 GAA, 920 SV%, 3 SO in 41 games
This year: 20 W, 2.76 GAA, 906 SV%, 1 SO in 43 games
Rookie season: 54 points in 81 games
This year: 33 points in 60 games
Rookie season: 49 points in 82 games
This year: 27 points in 62 games
Rookie season: 38 points in 82 games
This year: 22 points in 70 games
Rookie season: 29 points in 61 games
This year: 19 points in 52 games
A rule proposed by NHL general managers earlier this month could affect fantasy leagues that include penalty minutes should it be adopted. The GMs have tabled legislation that would see players engaging in a fight immediately following a faceoff assessed a 10-minute misconduct in addition to the five-minute fighting major. The rule would also give referees the power to hand out misconducts when they felt fights were "staged." Will that make enforcers (goons) more or less valuable? More of their fights could result in 15 minutes in the sin bin rather than five -- a definite bonus -- but on the whole they may engage in fewer on-ice battles if the rule has the desired effect. I'm not prepared at this point to say which way things will go (and remember the rule has not yet been implemented) but it's definitely something to keep any eye on early next season.
No, not that college hoops. Canadian college hoops! Finished laughing yet? Just for fun and because the school is my Alma mater and the team doesn't get the credit it deserves here at home I thought I'd take this opportunity to point out that the Carleton Ravens won their sixth CIS basketball title in seven years on Sunday. Ha! Beat that North Carolina.