I can't stand Devonta Freeman.
Granted, I've never met Devonta Freeman or had a conversation with Devonta Freeman and don't generally know anything about Devonta Freeman other than that he's a running back for the Atlanta Falcons. But I have an intense, irrational dislike for another human being because he doesn't perform up to the standards that I, an unathletic person staring at a browser tab, have established for him.
Such is the fantasy sports experience.
It's the second year I've had Freeman on my NFL fantasy team, the unfortunate result of participating in a legacy auto-draft league, the kind where we all can't make time to organize a proper draft, but clear our calendars to parade a trophy around a local pub at the end of the season. He was injured last season. He was one of the worst running backs in Week 1 of this season. He makes my team lose. I shall be placing him on my "do not draft" list in future years. That'll show him.
Every season, we have to make these kinds of calls in fantasy hockey, too. Players who underperformed for your team in the past. Players you project will underperform this season. Players you simply can't trust to perform to their draft expectations. And also Tom Wilson.
We published our top 300 players in fantasy hockey this week, which means it's time to get into the proper mindset for the 2019-20 draft and the players I will select to populate my team, the Elias (pronounced Ell-ee-ahsh) Sports Bureau this season.
As we all do, I have certain players I will studiously avoid in the draft like the plague and/or Devonta Freeman. The justifications for these biases are logical in some cases and completely bonkers in others.
Such is the fantasy sports experience.
Here are the 10 (or so) NHL players I will not select in my fantasy draft, not even if they were one of the last two players available and the other guy left on the board was that Blackhawks emergency goalie:
Too many variables for a guy who otherwise has been one of the NHL's steadiest and busiest -- only Frederik Andersen has started more games in the past three seasons -- goaltenders. Does carrying the weight of an $11.5 million salary in the first season of a seven-year deal affect his lateral movement? Does a downgrade in overall team defense mean a downgrade in stats, or does Joel Quenneville come in, sprinkle some "Q" dust on the roster and fix the problems that helped contribute to the Panthers' woeful .906 save percentage at even strength? This might be my PTSD kicking in after lauding the Panthers last preseason only to watch them fail to locate the playoffs like an apathetic cat ignoring a laser pointer. Perhaps they'll be fine. But I'm opting for other goalies this draft.
His even-strength numbers aren't bad, but he gets minimal power-play time and doesn't shoot the puck enough. The disparity between his actual ranking (221 in ours) and where he's usually drafted is truly baffling: He's being taken at No. 108 overall on average via Yahoo's fantasy game, which puts him ahead of Jacob Trouba, Shea Theodore, Zach Werenski and Cale Makar, who gets to inherit Tyson Barrie's power-play time on one of the best offensive teams in hockey. Which proves three things: Not enough people know about Cale Makar; everyone has heard of Charlie McAvoy; and a lot of people from New England play fantasy hockey, kid.
Literally anyone on the Ottawa Senators
While Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk are obviously appealing players, plus/minus unfortunately remains a standard scoring category in most of your general population fantasy leagues. The Senators had one guy who was on the plus side last season with a minimum of 40 games played: The miracle that was Mark Stone, who is now enjoying Cirque du Soleil comp tickets in the desert. The Senators are going to be much worse this season. I'm not saying we're going to see a minus-52 like Gord Dineen had in 1993-94 with Ottawa ... OK, I might be saying that. Much like a congressional recess, I will be senator-free.
This is your classic "really good player in reality who doesn't really do you much good in fantasy" guy. He's at No. 56 in our ranking and usually gets gobbled up before the eighth round. His power-play numbers -- despite playing with Alex Ovechkin, one of the most prolific scorers on the man advantage in NHL history -- have dipped in consecutive seasons. As a center, he doesn't get you many shots; and he's only a plus-7 in the past two seasons. Love the guy, and it's a contract year for extra intrigue, but I feel like there are better-rounded fantasy centers available where Backstrom would typically go.
As you know, I'm #TeamLehner in his falling-out with the Islanders, so that's already one strike against Varlamov. Strike two is the continuing existence of start-syphoning backup goalie Thomas Greiss for at least the next season. Strike three is Varlamov's own injury history. We have him at No. 67 -- way too high in my opinion, as he's ahead of Marc-Andre Fleury, John Gibson and Andersen -- and he's yours if you want him, I guess.
The champs have their share of fantasy hockey question marks, like what Alex Pietrangelo's power-play time is going to look like and whether Jordan Binnington is Ken Dryden or Antti Niemi. One question I've asked annually is whether to draft Jaden Schwartz, and I've decided the answer is "no." From durability issues to consistency issues to a lack of special-teams production to his shot volume ... he's a guy I've drafted on more than one occasion and then have been left wanting more. All of this, plus the ever-present danger of a Cup hangover, and the Schwartz will not be with me. My hockey version of Devonta Freeman.
Oh, those halcyon days when Buff and Brent Burns were both forward-eligible defensemen! What a glorious age that was. Speaking of age: Byfuglien turns 35 next March and has played 69 and 42 games respectively in the past two seasons. There's a lot to love when he plays -- 10th in shots per game and 14th in power-play ice time among defensemen -- but the operative phrase here is "when he plays," and that's a risk I can't gamble a draft pick on. Plus, the Jets are trending down in a really tough division.
Pekka Rinne is an elite-level goalie. I'm not just saying this because I know there's a decent chance I could take a paddle to the face the next time I see him if I claimed he wasn't. I'm saying this because, demonstrably, he is: 10th in the NHL in goals above replacement (27.1) and wins above replacement (4.7), and ninth (.945) in expected save percentage. So what's the issue? Well, I can't shake the fact that the season he won the Vezina Trophy was the same one P.K. Subban should have won the Norris Trophy, and now the latter is a Devil. I also can't shake the fact that Pekka's number of starts has declined in two straight seasons and his decision to return to the Predators has to have some caveat about slowly passing the goalie stick to Juuse Saros as the primary starter over the next two seasons.
This has everything to do with the psychoses of being a hockey fan rather than with logic. We have him ranked at No. 41, and his average draft position is around 46. You could reasonably argue that, as a fantasy play, only Ovechkin and Brad Marchand are better on left wing. The addition of Subban and Jack Hughes should turn a middling power play (17.7 percent) into a good one. So why the fear? Because as a pessimistic Devils fan, nothing would be a more emphatic kick to the stomach than Hall not playing to expectations -- or not playing a full season, as he has broken 80 games only once in nine campaigns. Again, logic says he's going to have a monster season if healthy, ahead of unrestricted free agent status. So I'll also freely admit we're entering into reverse-jinx territory here. Again, the psychoses and the unending paranoia of a hockey fan are on full display.
Such is the fantasy sports experience.
As we wait for a new batch to start rolling in from NHL games, a classic from two seasons ago:
Thanks to Tyler S. for this trip down memory lane, when Jordan Eberle was salary-dumped to the Islanders. Whatever happened to the guy who made that trade and the Adam Larsson-for-Taylor Hall trade and the Griffin Reinhart trade and signed Milan Lucic?
Oh, right: He was just hired as a front-office consultant by the Stanley Cup champions. What a world.
The best news for Toronto Maple Leafs fans, although it might not seem that way, is that the Mitch Marner negotiations are starting to become public domain.
Darren Dreger of TSN reported that the Leafs have pushed both eight- and seven-year extensions, and made an offer of $11 million in average annual value for a three-year term in June.
Dreger's stablemate Bob McKenzie reported that Toronto "has made seven- and eight-year offers in the $11 million AAV universe, but because it's a lower AAV and longer term than Auston Matthews, it hasn't been palatable to Marner. The logical solution would be a three-year bridge, but because Marner wants an AAV in the $9 million to $10 million universe and the third year would be substantially higher, Toronto has no incentive to do the bridge at those numbers."
That final year of a bridge deal could be upward of $12 million, which would set the rate for his qualifying offer after that contract ends, and he'd be waltzing into unrestricted free agency after that fourth year.
The Leafs know three things at this point. First is that they have very few pressure points to apply heading into camp. Getting as much financial information out there as possible about the talks to stoke public resentment against Marner -- something they've been careful not to do, to this point -- is one of the few.
Second is that they know they've already conceded enough to Marner's need to make as much money as Matthews that his camp is going to continue to press for more.
They also know that the William Nylander stalemate last season lit the path for Marner to take this thing all the way up to Dec. 1. And that Marner means much more to this team than did Nylander, this season and beyond. Why else entertain a negotiation whose core financial tenets appear to be saying "no fair, I want what he has" and then stomping around the room until getting it?
Marner can read a roster. He has access to Cap Friendly. He understands what this asking price means for the Leafs, going forward. Yet it would be hypocritical, as a pro-player guy, for me to demonize Marner here. He doesn't have to be Steven Stamkos or Sidney Crosby and take less than what the market would pay for the betterment of the cap. The Leafs made their decisions -- like spending $11 million annually through 2025 on his center, John Tavares, and giving Matthew what he wanted -- and now Marner is allowed to make his.
What I've been thinking about lately is what Brian Burke would have done if he were still general manager of the Leafs and this was happening. Not that he'd have it figured out, or would ultimately play it better than whatever endgame Kyle Dubas reaches. Just that I feel like the rhetoric, optics and atmosphere would be dramatically different than they currently are, for better or worse.
Listen to ESPN on Ice
The full season archive of our podcast can be found on iTunes. Emily Kaplan and I will return very shortly, and we already have some stellar NHL guests lined up.
Alex Ovechkin, cleanup in aisle No. 8
In case you haven't heard, Alex Ovechkin has his own brand of cereal called "Ovi O's" that are available in the Washington, D.C., area. I recently opened a box, and the prize inside was actually one of Andrei Svechnikov's teeth.
Ovechkin spent a day at a local Giant supermarket to publicize the brand, which included him stocking the shelves with it:
Stocking the shelves in aisle 8. He accidentally knocked a few other boxes off the shelf pic.twitter.com/xC2Ez3jArh— JJ Regan (@JJReganNBCS) September 10, 2019
Later, he played cashier, paying for wife Anastasia's groceries in a precedent-setting move for the profession:
As you might have noticed, Ovechkin looks a bit banged up, having fallen off his bike in Virginia. (The bike has an in-person hearing scheduled with the Department of Player Safety.) As he told a class of kids during his cereal tour: "Wear a helmet, it saved my life."
Blake Wheeler gets raw
Winnipeg Jets star Blake Wheeler has often been a candid guy, and this was some raw-nerve stuff with TSN's Sara Orlesky.
"I think I have my priorities where they need to be. I was disappointed for the first time in myself after last year, not because we didn't win the Stanley Cup. I lost touch with myself as a dad, as a husband, first and foremost, because I invested so much into trying to win. Everyone was talking about this is our year to win and I felt like we had a real opportunity to win, and when I was home, that's where I was -- I was trying to win the Stanley Cup. And when I was in the building, sometimes I was spitting nails just because I wanted to win the Stanley Cup. I was so focused on that. When it was all done and I got home, it's like, 'Man, Mase is almost 2. My daughter's growing up, my son's in kindergarten. None of this is that important.' It took me some time to get over that feeling of disappointment where I left some things at home.
"That's where I'm at. I'm going to be me here and I'm going to do everything I do here and give everything I have when I'm in this building, but being a husband and dad is No. 1 in my life."
It's a heck of an interview. It's rare you hear players talk about the rigorous balance between their professional and private lives -- until they retire, usually -- so this candor is welcome and appreciated.
The great Alexandra Mandrycky, NHL Seattle's director of hockey administration, speaks with the Sound of Hockey podcast.
The director of "Red Army" is back with a doc called "Red Penguins," a "wild tale of hockey, strippers and beer-drinking bears."
Citing concerns that construction of the New York Islanders' arena at Belmont Park will turn them into a "soft target for terrorism," The Village of Floral Park has filed a lawsuit to halt it.
Always happy to see love conquer the intense Canada vs. USA feud.
Finally, here's KHL goalie Pavel Khomchenko of Spartak Moscow winning a game in overtime for the opposition with an own goal. Yikes.
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn't read)
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
Loved this piece by Emily on women on-ice officials. "It's just been an issue of exposure ... . Women didn't really think of officiating as an option. I didn't [when I was playing]. If you don't see women out there, you wouldn't really think about it."