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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

2011-12 Fantasy Hockey Players of the Year

Once bitten, twice shy. That's what fantasy owners who drafted Ilya Kovalchuk last year thought as they passed on the talented sniper before their 2011-12 draft. That's too bad because Kovalchuk had a major bounce-back year and some other owner reaped the reward. Fantasy hockey, like life, isn't always fair.

Fantasy hockey isn't always about drafting the best player in the first round either. You're supposed to hit a home run in the first round. It's more important not to whiff badly in the first round because it's a lot harder to win when the player you expected to hit 80+ points ends up with 30.

Sometimes you can make up for a poor start to the draft by having a few sleepers pan out or dominating the waiver wire. Pulling out a 70-point player or a 30-win goalie from the final few rounds of the draft makes you the Detroit Red Wings of your league of nerds, which means you were likely at the top of the standings.

However you did it, there are players to thank, for good or for bad. It's time to honour the players that helped you win your pool and condemn those that made sure you lost. Here are the best and worst fantasy hockey players from 2011-12.

All draft stats are taken from Yahoo! There could be some differences depending on the league you played, but for the most part they should be comparable.

Forward of the Year

Evgeni Malkin

There was no doubt who was going to win the Art Ross Trophy this season as Evgeni Malkin obliterated the competition, scoring 109 points, 12 more than second-place Steven Stamkos. The race for the best fantasy forward was not as clear-cut, however. Claude Giroux finished third in points with 93 and only cost a fourth round pick, so he might have provided a little more bang for the buck.

But there is no denying how valuable Malkin was, even if he cost more to draft than Giroux. In addition to leading the league in points, Malkin was only one of two players to hit 50 goals, and aside from a few weeks lost to a knee injury, was the most dominant player, one who probably won you a few weeks single-handedly. Most importantly, some of those weeks were probably playoff weeks. Malkin scored 7 goals and 9 assists in his final 10 games.

Defenceman of the Year

Erik Karlsson

This award should be called the Mike Green award, as the Washington rear-guard has been one of the few defenceman worthy of a first-round selection in recent seasons. However, thanks to a wonky groin and a team that no longer runs and guns, Green is no longer the premier fantasy option he once was. In fact, Green only scored 7 points this season.

That means the torch has been passed, and young Erik Karlsson has picked it up. Karlsson was taken 16th overall among defenceman, 87th overall among all players, yet ended up just outside the top-10 in scoring with 78 points. In addition, his 19 goals was tied for first among all defenceman.

Everyone realized Karlsson was great offensively after he broke the 40-point plateau last season, but nobody realized he would be this good, and people didn’t expect much from him defensively either. To many people's shock, Karlsson was plus-16 after having one of the worst ratings last season (minus-30).

Goalie of the Year

Mike Smith

Smith didn’t have the most surprising season of any goalie, that was Brian Elliott, and his stats weren’t as good as Henrik Lundqvist’s, but there is no denying the type of value Smith brought to fantasy clubs.

Smith posted a .930 SV%, tied for third in the league with Lundqvist, and had the seventh lowest GAA at 2.21. He was fourth in wins with 38, which is what really separates him from some other valuable netminders like Cory Schneider and Elliott, who had great stats, but both split time in Vancouver and St. Louis, respectively.

You could have drafted Lundqvist and got better stats, but Lundqvist was the highest ranked goalie to start the season and was being taken around eighth overall. That meant spending a pick that could have got you fantasy MVP Evgeni Malkin. Even drafting Jonathan Quick at his average draft position (43.4) wasn’t as good a deal as Smith.

Poolies were able to wait until the 14th round to select Smith. On average, 157 players were taken before Smith. Even players like Antero Niittymaki were selected ahead of him, and Niittymaki didn’t even play a game this year.

Crash-down Player of the Year

Corey Perry

Perry scored 37 goals this season, the second highest total of his career, yet that total dropped from 50. His point total also took a precipitous drop. After scoring 98 points last season on route to a Hart Trophy, Perry only managed to score 60 this season, which was second on a disappointing Ducks team.

Perry wasn’t a complete fantasy dud, but considering he was being taken around fifth overall in Yahoo! pools, almost five spots ahead of eventual Art Ross winner Evgeni Malkin, that’s not a very good investment.

Sleeper of the Year

James Neal

The Penguin winner broke out huge this season, notching 40 goals (fourth overall) and 81 points (eighth overall), playing mostly with Malkin all season long. Neal also finished second in shots with 329 and even threw down 108 hits and 87 penalty minutes (which you would care about if your league used such a useless stat).

Simply put, Neal was an all-around beast.

For his herculean output, managers needed only to invest a 12th round pick. Neal's average draft position (ADP) was 129. Alex Goligoski, the player he was traded for last season, had an ADP of 97. Goligoski finished the season with 51 points less than Neal.

Vampire of the Year

Rick Nash

Not many players have scored more goals than Rick Nash has in recent years, and Nash once again hit 30 this season (although close to 25 players scored more goals). However, Nash was a complete vampire in other categories, sucking you dry and killing your chances to win many other categories.

Nash was a brutal minus-19 and only managed to add 29 assists, giving him a sub-60 point total for the first time since 2006-07. A terrible Columbus team is likely suppressing his stats, but as a fantasy owner, it doesn’t concern you what Nash could do given the right environment, you’re concern with what he did. And this season, it wasn’t much.

Drafting Nash (ADP 40.1) was even worse considering it meant passing up on winger eligible players like Claude Giroux (ADP 43.5), Patrick Sharp (ADP 49.8), Marian Gaborik (ADP 64.3), and Phil Kessel (ADP 66.3).

Bounce-back Player of the Year

Jason Spezza

The previously much-maligned Spezza was almost traded from the Nation’s capitol in the summer of 2010 after being booed by the fans at home during the playoffs, mainly due to poor defensive play and continuous turnovers. However, the Sens realized that trading the team’s best players every summer probably wasn’t a good practice to get into, and kept the skilled centreman.

It’s a good thing they did because after two 57-point injury-filled seasons, Spezza exploded for 84 points in 2011-12, thanks largely to being healthy for the first time in years. Spezza ended with fourth in league scoring and was a plus-player for the first time since 2007-08.

Spezza was another savvy investment for poolies as his average draft position was 121.5.

The Player Who Left You Wanting More...of the Year

Henrik Zetterberg

For only the second time in the last seven seasons Henrik Zetterberg failed to hit 70 points. His 69 points was down from last season’s 80-point campaign, although he was a plus-14, much better than last season’s puzzling minus-1.

Zetterberg cost a late third-round pick and provided production similar to that of players drafted around him (Zach Parise, 69 points; Brad Richards, 66 points; Patrick Marleau, 64 points).

However, it’s hard not to feel a tinge of disappointment from a player when they drop more than 10 points from one season to the next, even if they didn’t hurt your team. You’re just left wanting just a little more.

Fantasy Killer of the Year

Nicklas Backstrom

It’s not Nicklas Backstrom’s fault he killed your fantasy season. Blame Rene Bourque’s because he threw the vicious elbow that concussed Backstrom and knocked him out of the lineup for months.

Backstrom was a late first-round selection in most drafts, and finished with fewer points than all but three position players taken in the top-30 (Sidney Crosby, Mike Green, and Jeff Carter).

Backstrom’s injury also killed his trade value. With other disappointing players you could have drummed up some interest thanks to name value and received some value in return. However, concussions make everyone wary, and unless you traded Backstrom early, you weren’t getting anything back for him and were better off dropping him.

Waiver Pick-up of the Year 

Ray Whitney

Another Whitney got a lot of love during the draft, that being Ryan, who was a second tier option among defencemen. Ryan was drafted in 100% of Yahoo! drafts but ended up playing only 51 games and registered a disappointing 20 points and minus-16 rating.

Alternatively, Ray Whitney was drafted in only 7% of drafts, yet ended the season 12th in league scoring with an astonishing 77 points.

Whitney was a waiver wire wonder that could still be found a few months into the season, probably because most people didn't believe the 39-year-old was going to stay hot for the entire season. Somehow he did, matching the second highest point total of his career.

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