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And With The First Overall Pick...

Fantasy hockey is an absolute passion - no, obsession - of mine (more on that later in the week), and I'm an avid consumer of any and all opinions on the topic (much in the way Sarah Palin is an avid consumer of news). Want to debate Shea Weber versus Brent Burns? Go. Have some thoughts on the value of game-winning goals as a scoring category? I'm listening.

Naturally, then, I was interested to see the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's take on the top fantasy forward in the game. Here's how they ranked the top two:
1. Sidney Crosby - No, this isn't because I live in Pittsburgh, this is because he is the best player in the NHL, but just barely. This really depends on how your league is structured. If goals, power play goals and game winning goals mean a lot, then Ovechkin would have to be at the top. But in your basic point and head to head leagues, Crosby has a slight advantage. He consistently racks up over 100 points, usually around 80 assists, is always close to 40 goals and takes a tremendous amount of shots for a playmaker. Not to mention his plus/minus is better and isn't afraid of the rough stuff which contributes to PIM. Ovechkin's value is all in his goal scoring ability. Last year, he scored 65 goals, but the year before that he only scored 46 (yeah, I know, I say "only 46" like its low). Unless he gets injured, Crosby will always have 30+ goals and 80+ assists. Teams are really going to focus on Ovie this year after dominating the way he did last year and I seriously doubt he'll reach the 65 goal plateau again. Crosby, on the other hand, has Geno to help take away some of the defensive focus. If you have the first pick in your draft, use it on the superstar with the easier road to success.

2. Alexander Ovechkin - As I mentioned above, Ovechkin's value is in his goal scoring ability. No one has reached the 60 goal mark since Super Mario did it in 1996 (69 goals). In this era of "defense first" hockey, opposing teams are going to focus on Ovechkin like never before and he doesn't have a lot of help to take that pressure off him. The good news is that no one in the Southeast division, except for the Panthers (and even that's a little questionable), has any shred of defense. So I do expect Ovie to clean up when he plays his own division and will be the favorite to win the Rocket Richard Award (most goals).
Shocking, right?

Now, I disagree with the "best player in the NHL" tag, but it's certainly a valid opinion. Less valid? That that makes Sid the best fantasy forward in the game. Here are a couple of reasons why:
  • Left wings are more valuable than centers due to the lack of depth at the position (obviously, this is only relavent in a league that differentiates among the three forward positions). This is the same reason you draft a stud shortstop before a stud outfielder in fantasy baseball - if you don't know your league rules and ignore positional scarcity, you're making a mistake.
  • Under most fantasy scoring systems, goal scorers are going to be more valuable than playmakers, all things equal. Take ESPN's standard scoring system, for example, and two forwards - one with 60 goals and 40 assists, the other with 40 goals and 60 assists. For every one of those 60 goals, the first forward is getting a goal AND a shot on goal (and for some, a PPG), while the other guy is helping himself out in only one category for each of his 60 assists (both players may be getting a plus for their points as well, but that's a wash). Quite simply, every goal scored helps across the board more than every assist recorded.
  • Crosby has missed 33 games in his three seasons in the League. Ovechkin has missed one.
The above, of course, doesn't even address the silliness of the claims that Crosby "consistently racks up over 100 points" (Ovi has as many 100-point seasons), "is always close to 40 goals" (his totals have been 39, 36 and 24), that he "takes a tremendous amount of shots for a playmaker" (he has never come within 100 shots of Ovi over the course of a season), that he has a better plus/minus (AO was +28 last season, Sid was +18 in admittedly far fewer games) or that "teams are really going to focus on Ovie this year" because "he doesn't have a lot of help to take that pressure off him" (psst... they really focused on him last year, and he has as good a supporting cast as any in the League). Oh, and I'm not buying this as an "era of 'defense first' hockey" either.

But the point is that in most Leagues, Ovechkin is the better pick than Crosby, and most folks outside of the 'Burgh know it.