NHL fantasy: The biggest question mark of the season? Crosby, of course

Crosby, of course, is recovering from those two hits to the head he took in back-to-back games...

Crosby, of course, is recovering from those two hits to the head he took in back-to-back games early January. (DARRYL DYCK/QMI Agency)

JOEL COLOMBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:51 AM ET

TORONTO - Our fantasy baseball teams have been tucked in for the season and we’ve steered our NFL lineups through the first month.

No time to catch your breath, however, because fantasy hockey is upon us with most drafts and auctions being staged over the next couple of weeks.

The big storyline heading into this NHL fantasy season concerns injuries. That’s nothing new, of course, but when it involves a couple of potential first-round selections — Sidney Crosby and Ryan Kesler — it adds some intrigue to the proceedings.

Crosby, of course, is recovering from those two hits to the head he took in back-to-back games early January. He and his fantasy owners were enjoying what was turning out to be — even by his lofty standards — a career season, when suddenly the plug was pulled. That kind of loss in the pools wars is difficult to bounce back from.

When Crosby actually plays his first game this season remains the X factor fantasy-wise. Various reports have him missing as little as a week and as much as half the schedule. And when he does return, do you factor in the possibility that another concussion is one hit away? So, the big question is: How far down do you wait to draft him? That likely will vary from league to league and depending on what the most recent headline shouts. But remember: All it takes is one owner willing to gamble, so don’t wait too long if you really want him.

Same goes, to a lesser extent, for Kesler, who perhaps would have gone late first round, early second, in many drafts following his playoff heroics last spring. But July hip surgery, and his insistence that he is not going to rush back, leaves a question mark over his first appearance this season, though the latest report has him out until around Nov. 1.

In each case, the determining factor in where to rank these two stars comes down to number of games played. Though its influence is the bedrock of any fantasy scoring system, games played isn’t an actual category in most pools. It seems, however, that just about everything else is. You can enter online fantasy hockey leagues as simple as total goals or points. Or you can go as deep as faceoff won, hits, shootout goals and save percentage.

But for the sake of this three-day NHL fantasy primer, we’re going to key on the big three offensive categories — goals, assists, points — the common thread through most fantasy loops. To that end, we’ll be listing our top 20 projected point producers at each position, with nods given to plus-minus and penalty minutes.

Green arrows up represent a plus-10 or better, or around 80 or more PIMs. Red arrows down denote a player expected to be more than a few points on the minus side.

We’ve also added a handful of names at each position to look out for in the middle and later rounds.

And for those in deeper leagues, check out last year’s leaders in a few of the more obscure categories, to be found on this page.

Good luck and, above all, have fun.

DON'T HOLD ME TO IT, BUT ...

Some random thoughts, forecasts and suggestions for the fantasy season:

— Moving out of sleepy Atlanta and into Winnipeg’s hockey-mad environment might just add another half dozen points to the scoring totals of each of the top Thrashers-turned-Jets forwards.

— Wouldn’t take Sidney Crosby until maybe early in the second round. You can’t afford to have your top pick as anything less than your best player.

— Rick Nash and Jeff Carter will wind up on separate lines even-strength with the Blue Jackets. There aren’t enough pucks to go around.

— Avoid drafting rookies until the 10th round. Yes, one or two will jump into prominence. It’s guessing which ones that is dicey. Like trying to pick first-round upsets in the NCAA basketball pool.

— If you absolutely must take a freshman, safest bets are Brayden Schenn or Gabriel Ladeskog.

— Avoid two studs on the same team. Scoring is infectious, but it can work the other way, too.

— The Bruins’ top scorers will experience a slight hangover from last spring’s Stanley Cup run. Dial them down a few points each.

— The middle rounds are filled with 55-point players. Go for the ones with the high plus-minus or penalty totals.

— Phil Kessel will be drafted too early, James Reimer too late.


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