With real professional hockey in North America heating up – with camps set to open this weekend, and the season by the 19th – it is time for armchair general managers to hunker down and face off against one in another in fantasy hockey leagues around the globe. Whether its for fun or for a prize – for many, the thrill of a fantasy sports team is almost as good as the thrill of the real thing.
A quick check on NHL.com has the top 175 fantasy hockey picks – and the list boasts seven members of the Buffalo Sabres.
1. Ryan Miller – for many drafts, he goes higher than he should, and most often its because the pick is a “homer” pick. I personally liked playing in the leagues when I was growing up where you picked a team and you got their goalie tandem for the season, it just made my job of managing my team easier. Miller is the highest rated Buffalo Sabre on the list at number 47. If the Buffalo Sabres are going to be successful this season they need Ryan Miller to be at the top of his game, a la the Olympic years for them to compete. With Miller getting 36-38 of the games in the shortened season – an on fire Ryan Miller could mean great things for the Buffalo Sabres and your fantasy hockey team. The risk/reward factor has a high swing ratio – because you never know which Ryan Miller you will get.
2. Thomas Vanek – Vanek is second on the list for the blue and gold and rings in at number 62. The downside to fantasy hockey is the reliance on individual performance for a great team, and the Buffalo Sabres love to score goals by committee. For the Buffalo Sabres to excel offensively, Thomas Vanek has to lead by example. Probably his biggest critic is in the mirror of his locker – Thomas Vanek will be the first to tell you when he is gripping the stick to tight and over thinking his game. Vanek has only hit 40 goals twice in his NHL career, and the Buffalo Sabres will need him to get close to that number again. Without a true number one center feeding him, it might make it difficult. He has just two years left on his current deal, so next year is a big contract year for number 26.
3. Jason Pominville – Pommers rounds out the top 100 players by being number 75. As captain of the Blue and Gold – its his job to get the message of Lindy Ruff from the locker room/bench onto the ice and make sure guys are performing. In a shortened season, those shoulders better be broad. Guys are going to have nagging little injuries and issues – and with a tight schedule, there is going to have to be a lot of suck it up and drive on. The team with the best captain in motivating and getting the guys doing the right thing are going to be the team that wins it all this year. Shortened season means heart – and I don’t think Jason Pominville has that in him. From a fantasy perspective though, you get no bonus points for an extra letter on your sweater. You can count on Pominville to land at least 20 goals and 30 assists in a full season. He should come close to that as well. Pominville is also heading into a contract year next year.
4. Drew Stafford – Positioned at number 136 out of 175 – Drew Stafford’s risk/reward factor is what keeps him so low. He is a very streaky player and you never know what Stafford you are going to get. Last season saw some powerful moments for the Buffalo Sabres forward. Stafford has only hit 20 twice and 30 once, but the Buffalo Sabres need him to do at least 20 this year to help the team out. Only in his second year of a four year deal – Stafford could be trade bait if the Buffalo Sabres don’t see consistent points and need to move salary or get a center. New environment for the player could mean an uptick in performance.
5&6. Tyler Ennis & Cody Hodgson. Ennis pitches his battle at number 154, and right behind him at number 155 is Cody Hodgson. Ennis is going to be playing the pivot man this year, a role he grew accustom to late in the season last year, and the Buffalo Sabres are looking to capitalize on him moving over from the wing. Could be a gamble for both them and your fantasy team, but if the dividends pay off on the ice, the reward could be nice. Hodgson is coming off a year in which he was traded and had a difficult adjustment period. He started off on fire with the Rochester Americans, but has battled injury. It is doubtful whether or not he can start the season on time, but if he does and can continue to be a good setup man – the points will come.
7. Christian Erhoff – the final Buffalo Sabres to make the top 175 list – and he sneaks in at number 169. Erhoff when healthy was an integral part of the Buffalo Sabres success last year – it was when him and Tyler Myers went down to injury that the team struggled the most. He will put up a few goals for you, and is a great setup guy.
There are a few notable names not on the list, Nathan Gerbe, Tyler Myers, Ville Leino. How will they play in the Buffalo Sabres success this year? Are they on your fantasy draft board? Who is missing from the Buffalo Sabres that you think will be a sleeper pick in fantasy leagues as we get going?