Welcome puck heads! September has finally arrived and that could only mean one thing: NHL hockey is around the corner. Nothing beats sitting back, drinking your favourite beverage, and catching your team hit the ice for a ferocious, hard-hitting 60 minute battle of titans. Whether you're a seasoned vet or a newcomer to the game, fantasy hockey provides great entertainment for enhancing your enjoyment of the sport. Here are 5 major fantasy headlines heading into the '09-'10 NHL season:
1- Alexander Ovechkin, act V
It's hard to believe but Alex Ovechkin is set to begin his 5th NHL season, and all signs point towards another magical campaign. Ovie ranked first in goals (56) and points (110) marking his 4th straight season of at least 45 goals and 90 points. Incredible when you consider the fact that most young prospects take 1-2 years of minor league seasoning before becoming effective NHLers. Ovechkin is clearly the exception to this rule, and has distanced himself as the most complete fantasy hockey player on the planet. In a league where attention is being craved, Ovechkin is never one to disappoint - as his goal celebrations and statistics will do the talking when it's all said and done. The NHL is lucky to have this guy representing the league, and any fantasy hockey owner should be kissing their lucky stars if fortunate to select #8 in their draft.
2- Youth Movement
Yahoo! Sports top 5 ranked players have many things in common. Aside from being 30+ goal scorers and 70+ point players, they are all 25 years of age or younger. Ovechkin (LW; Wsh), Evgeni Malkin (C; Pit), Sidney Crosby (C; Pit), Zach Parise (LW; NJ), and Corey Perry (RW, Anh) - ranked 1 through 5 on Yahoo! Sports - represent a generation of young players leading the NHL into a new era. Throw in the likes of Ryan Getzlaf (C; Ana), Jeff Carter (C; Phi), Rick Nash (LW; Clb) and Alexander Semin (LW; Wsh), you've got a bundle of young talent ready to lead your fantasy squads. While not all the vets can be cast aside (i.e. Nicklas Lidstrom, D; DET), these young players are the best the league has to offer and will go fast in your drafts.
3- Crosby or Malkin?
The million dollar question has people asking who to take between Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Not that you can go wrong with either choice, this decision is often the one many fantasy owners are faced with if they own the 2nd pick in their draft. In 2005, Sidney Crosby was selected 1st overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins and was crowned the second coming of Wayne Gretzky. Lofty expectations, but worthy for a kid so talented and ready to lead his team. Malkin, the consensus no.2 pick behind Alex Ovechkin in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, is considered quite possibly more talented than Mr. Ovechkin. While his stats have not been as comparable, the 2nd pick spend on Malkin surely won't disappoint. What fantasy owners need to decide is whether to go with the skilful playmaking center in Crosby, or the natural goal scorer in Malkin. If only Penguin fans realised how lucky they are to have both these players on their team.
4- Deep Goaltender Pool
Every fantasy hockey draft leaves you wondering how high you should draft a goalie. While there is no shortage of offensive firepower in the NHL, fantasy owners find it difficult to pass on elite scoring talent for a goalie when perhaps a few rounds later you can find a similarly talented one. As far as most experts are concerned, you've got Roberto Luongo of the Canucks, Martin Brodeur of the Devils, and Evgeni Nabokov of the Sharks that round out the "elite goaltender class". Selecting one of these 3 goalies is as sure a bet as there is. However settling on Vezina winner (best goalie award) Tim Thomas or Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury is hardly a consolation prize, as they represent a deep crop of goaltenders ready to anchor your fantasy squad. The position has never been deeper, and barring injuries or goaltending battles, one can ultimately draft a goalie in the later rounds and be satisfied.
5- Olympic Break
The sporting world is set to collide this winter in Vancouver, as the 2010 Olympic Games are rapidly approaching. Hockey fans are treated to a world-class tournament as the top nations compete for gold in the Men's Olympic Hockey Tournament. Unfortunately for fantasy hockey fans, the Olympics cause a stoppage in NHL play for two and a half weeks (Feb. 12 - 28), and have major implications on some of the players. For most NHLers, the games provide a needed rest to recuperate and heal their wounds. Championship fantasy squads generally have the best players in the world on their rosters, meaning these players will travel to Vancouver and play in these extra games. It'll be crucial for fantasy owners to be aware of which players are headed to the Olympics, their injury histories, and how they might be affected moving forward once the games conclude. After all, the last thing a fantasy owner wants is to have their best player burned out for the playoff run because of the Olympic stretch.