Leaves are turning, the weather is getting colder and the NHL is back. Our second season of Fantasy Faceoff kicks off with the Chicago Blackhawks as defending Stanley Cup champions for the first time in 48 years, a handful of teams kicking off 2010-2011 with games in Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic and of course, hope springing eternal for all fans. The off-season included future Hall of Famers retiring (Rob Blake, Scott Niedermeyer), elite players changing sweaters (Mike Modano, Jason Arnott) and a wave of fresh new talent entering the professional ranks. So without further adieu, let’s drop the puck and move forward.
Johan Franzen (LW, DET) – Franzen tore his ACL on October 8 of last season, missing 55 games and not returning until the post-Olympic break. And while the heavy post-season schedule of prior playoff runs seemed to weigh heavy on this older Red Wings squad, the time off seemed to have rejuvenated the Mule. Post-knee surgery, he wound up with six goals in 12 games, 18 post-season points and in a Round 2 playoff game against the San Jose Sharks, Franzen tickled the twine four times. Expect Franzen to hit the 55-60 point mark playing on a line with fellow Swedish bruiser Tomas Holmstrom and Finnish pivot Valtteri Filppula.
David Perron (LW, STL) – Now that the St. Louis Blues have a world-class netminder in Jaroslav Halak, it’s time for the team’s young core to step up. Expectations are high for 2007 first-rounder David Perron, who scored his first NHL hat trick against the Chicago Blackhawks last November and finished his third season with 47 points. Head coach Davis Payne has been impressed with Perron’s off-season training, with the young forward predicted to end up with a point total in the mid-50s.
Claude Giroux (C, PHI) – One of the game’s more frustrating younger talents, Claude Giroux has teased poolies with flashes of post-season brilliance that have led to unusually high draft status followed by subpar regular season production. With Simon Gagne moving on to greener pastures with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Giroux is expected to fill the scoring void. While he’s starting out on the third line alongside rookie grinder James van Riemsdyk and uber-pest Daniel Carcillo, Giroux will still be getting major power-play time.
Alexander Frolov (LW, NYR) – With the bulk of New York Rangers scoring coming from a rejuvenated Marian Gaborik, the Broadway Blue Shirts needed to find some additional firepower that would be able to complement the Slovak sniper. Enter Alexander Frolov, the former 2000 L.A. Kings first-rounder who comes to the Big Apple on a one-year/$3 million contract. And while he didn’t crest the 20-goal mark for the first time since his rookie year, expect the Russian winger to notch 25 goals/60+ points playing on a line alongside Gaborik.
Nikolai Khabibulin (G, EDM) – Felled by back problems that led to his only playing 18 games and going under the knife for season-ending surgery, Stanley Cup-winning netminder Nikolai Khabibulin brings a much-needed veteran presence between the pipes for a team in the midst of a full-blown youth movement. Pre-season raves gave way to the Bulin Wall earning a 4-0 opening night shutout over the hated Calgary Flames. Expect more of the same if he stays healthy.
Michael Frolik (RW, FLA) – Fresh off winning a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks, new Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon shook things up by dishing a disgruntled Nathan Horton off to the Boston Bruins. With Horton out of the picture, the Panthers are expecting much more from Michael Frolik this season. Coming off two campaigns where he posted consecutive 21 goal marks and ended up with 40-plus points both seasons, Frolik is riding the first line alongside Stephan Weiss and David Booth. Expect good things from the crafty Czech winger.
Vaclav Prospal (C, NYR) – Skating on a surgically repaired knee, Vaclav Prospal experienced enough inflammation and soreness in the area that an initial two-week diagnosis is now open-ended and bad enough that doctors recommend that he not start skating until mid-October. Not exactly the news you want to hear about the New York Rangers’ second-leading scorer last season who some fear may not even lace up the skates at all in 2010-2011.
Aaron Asham (RW, PIT) – Not content to build off his Eastern Conference and Stanley Cup Finals heroics with the Philadelphia Flyers, Aaron Asham inked a one-year/$700,000 contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins. During an October 1 pre-season game versus the Chicago Blackhawks, Asham sustained a shoulder injury that earned him an indefinite stay on the IR.
Mark Streit (D, NYI) – One of the most devastating losses on this list, the New York Islanders were counting on elite puck-moving D-man Mark Streit to be a tent pole of leadership and offensive production for a roster stocked with young talent. Instead, a freak hit by teammate Matt Moulson during a pre-season scrimmage resulted in Streit undergoing surgery for a torn labrum/torn rotator cuff. Rehab and recovery time is anticipated to be in the six-month range.
Kyle Okposo (RW, NYI) – As if things weren’t bad enough for the Islanders, Kyle Okposo went under the knife to repair a right shoulder that was injured during a September intrasquad game while extending his arm and reaching back to grab a puck. Isles fans better hope the likes of Blake Comeau and Josh Bailey pick up the scoring with Okposo and a recently-injured John Tavares on the shelf.
Michael Leighton (G, PHI) – An unexpected trip to the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals notwithstanding, the Philadelphia Flyers have seemingly always had goaltending trouble ever since the great Bernie Parent had to prematurely retire 31 years ago after suffering a career-ending eye injury. The latest Flyers netminder woe comes courtesy of Michael Leighton and a bulging disc that required back surgery and a projected six-to-eight week stint on the Injury List. Expect him back by late November but in the meantime, Leighton owners should run and not walk to the waiver wire in the hopes of snagging rookie goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.
Joffrey Lupul (LW, ANA) – The feisty left winger’s back problems continue as the infection he suffered after December surgery continues to linger after reemerging during training in July. Lupul is on a heavy regimen of antibiotics and after missing all of training camp, the former Philadelphia Flyer is out indefinitely.
Brian Campbell (D, CHI) – For the puck-moving blueliner, his defending Chicago’s Stanley Cup title will have to wait around a month thanks to a pre-season knee injury he suffered during an exhibition tilt against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Stash him on your bench for now in anticipation of his mid-November return.