Fantasy Hockey Chat with Scott Cullen

The regular season is just around the corner and TSN's fantasy sports expert, Scott Cullen, was online Wednesday to answer questions to help you with your fantasy hockey team. Take a look at his responses from the day's chat.

Cullen's Fantasy Hockey Player Rankings for 2009-2010
Cullen's Fantasy Hockey Point Projections for 2009-2010

Question from Dave from Lunenburg, NS: I was just wondering how you can justify a team like Florida being ahead of both Montreal and Calgary in your rankings? On paper, it seems plain to me that this isn't even remotely possible.

Scott Cullen: Dave, I suppose I like what the Panthers are doing more than some others might. Yes, they lost Jay Bouwmeester, but they will effectively have four new faces on their blueline this year when you consider Bryan Allen is returning, along with newcomers Jordan Leopold, Dennis Seidenberg and Ville Koistinen, so even with the loss of their number one guy in Bouwmeester it's still a pretty fair unit altogether. Another advantage the Panthers hold over the Flames and Canadiens, specifically, is in goal, where Tomas Vokoun backed up by Scott Clemmensen is a better tandem than either Carey Price-Jaroslav Halak or Miikka Kiprusoff-Curtis McElhinney.

Question from Andrew in Manitoba: Who is a better pick, Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane?

Scott Cullen: Andrew, In a vacuum, I like Toews better, if ever so slightly. After a slow start last season (0-7-7 in first 12 games), Toews finished strong and played well in the postseason. If your league is just pure points, I would take Toews a little ahead of Kane and if you're in a fantasy league that incorporates things like plus-minus that's another advantage for Toews. However, when it comes to positional rankings, I have Toews at #13 among centres and Kane at #6 among right wingers, so it's entirely fair to take Kane if that suits your particular positional need.

Question from Brad in Barrie: Just wondering any sleeper picks at thin positions LW and D?

Scott Cullen: Left wing is a thin spot, Brad, so it's not a bad idea to accumulate some penalty minutes there -- whether it's Daniel Carcillo, Sean Avery, Steve Ott, Alex Burrows or Milan Lucic, it's worth grabbing a guy who might not score quite as much as some others, but will solidify the PIM category. Some other possible sleepers: Patrick O'Sullivan, David Perron and, if he's healthy, Rene Bourque. If you want to take a shot at a rookie on left wing, Ville Leino or Nikita Filatov both have good upside.

Question from Jeff in Asheville, NC: Hey Scott, who are your top three goalies for fantasy hockey this year and how early should one draft a goalie? Are any of the goalies worthy of being taken in the first round?

Scott Cullen: Jeff, My top three are Roberto Luongo, Martin Brodeur and Evgeni Nabokov and Henrik Lunqvist is right there with that top tier group as well. I'm somewhat notorious for not taking goaltenders early in my drafts, but if Luongo is available late in the first round, I think that's a reasonable spot and the rest of those top guys can go in Round Two, but there's going to be good value in goal right through the Top Ten, which means that, barring odd drafting in your league, you could still get a solid starter in Round Three or Four.

Question from Mike in Iqaluit, Nunavut: My hockey pool requires one rookie to be chosen. Who would be your top 10 choices if YOU had to pick one rookie?

Scott Cullen: Love this question, Mike. Who doesn’t love finding the impact rookie? My top ten rookie forwards: Cody Hodgson, Ville Leino (who just qualifies), Nikita Filatov, John Tavares, Colin Wilson, Artem Anisimov, Matt Duchene, James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Jordan Eberle. Of course, if you need a goaltender too, Semyon Varlamov is an ideal kill-two-birds-with-one-stone selection.

Question from Jessie in Montreal: Why do you think that Alexander Ovechkin will have more points than Sidney Crosby?

Scott Cullen: Jessie, Ovechkin's already done that in three of their four NHL seasons, so I don't think it's much of a reach to put Ovechkin ahead.

Question from David in Quebec City: Scott, in my keeper league goals and assist are 1 point each, and I'm looking at Claude Giroux and I was wondering what you think his long term potential is?

Scott Cullen: I quite like Giroux, David. He had 16 points in the last 21 games last year and then added five points in six playoff games, so if he ends up in a top-six role with the Flyers (as he should), he could score as much as 55-60 points this year. Long-term, I'd think 75-to-80 isn't out of the question.

Question from Mark in Shanghai, China: Hi Scott, which young players do you think are most likely to have breakout seasons for points in 2009-10?

Scott Cullen: Mark, Aside from Giroux, here are some other quality breakout candidates: Steven Stamkos, who should build on his strong finish last year; a healthy Derick Brassard; Sam Gagner, if he shows up in the first half of the season; T.J. Oshie, Kyle Okposo and maybe a bounce back season from Peter Mueller.

Question from Phantasy Guru: I need to fill a spot on RW in my Keeper league through our Free Agent Draft, and although 2 of these guys are getting older, I would like some help picking that candidate. Teemu Selanne, Milan Hejduk and Pierre-Marc Bouchard.

Scott Cullen: Guru, When it comes to keepers off that list, Selanne should have the most value for this season only, but Bouchard has the most long-term value. Even if Bouchard's ceiling is in the 60-to-70-point range, that's probably worth holding him over two guys on the downside of their careers.

Question from Brandon in Vancouver: There are a few uncertainties in net for various teams Anaheim, LA, St. Louis and Nashville to name a few, how would you decide your fantasy options if you had to choose goalies from those teams?

Scott Cullen: The best thing would be to avoid them if you can, Brandon, but that's obviously not going to be an option for everyone. In Anaheim, I expect Hiller to be the number one, but he could easily lose that job back to Giguere.

In L.A., I'm inclined to think Jon Quick gets a chance to build on his rookie season. If he's going to lose the starting job, I think it will be to Jonathan Bernier rather than Erik Ersberg and it could happen, but maybe not right off the start of the season.

Chris Mason should be the guy in St. Louis (ahead of Ty Conklin), but the last time he was starting the season as "the" guy in Nashville, he couldn't hold it, so I would take a cautious approach with him, even though I like the Blues as a young, improving team.

Pekka Rinne is a good one to go with in Nashville -- a solid No. 2 fantasy keeper -- but the trend in Nashville has been for the starter to change year-after-year, so Dan Ellis is one of the better backups to keep stashed on your roster.

Question from Dwight in Scranton: Hey Scott, I love your fantasy insight. I have the 5th overall pick in a new keeper league with a salary cap. Goals, Assists, +/-, PIMs are some of the important categories. I'm leaning towards a player at 5. Datsyuk, Thornton, Getzlaf?

Scott Cullen: For a keeper league, Dwight, I'd go with Getzlaf, because he's much younger than Datsyuk and Thornton and is already as valuable in fantasy leagues that incorporate penalty minutes.

Question from Matt in Kitchener: Hi Scott, As a Flyers fan I was curious to why aside from Briere and Giroux, you projected each of the Flyers top six forwards to produce less points then they did this previous season and a total for Briere that would be considered much lower then what he will be expected to produce for the Flyers? What are your reasons for this?

Scott Cullen: Love to see something from the good people of K-town! Matt, Briere's projection considers him an injury risk after last year's 29-game season. Of course, if he plays 80 games, I'd expect more than the 59 points I projected. The reason that the other top six forwards are projected lower would be that if Briere and Giroux are going to play more this season, it stands to reason that they could take some (not necessarily a lot) points away from the likes of Hartnell, Carter, Richards and Gagne.

Question from Mike in Kenmore: Based only on wins and shutouts, how would rank these goalies: Brodeur, Kipprusoff, Luongo, Nabokov, Lundqvist?

Scott Cullen: Mike, Using those qualification, I'd go with Brodeur, Luongo, Kiprusoff, Nabokov and Lundqvist. That format makes Kipper much more valuable, as his win totals are strong even as his goals against and save percentage numbers have declined.

Question from Nick in Ottawa: Hey Scott. I think it's pretty obvious in most leagues that the top three picks in all fantasy drafts will be Ovechkin, Malkin, and Crosby. It seems that those three players are in a class of their own. Who would you rank as the next few picks, particularly at number four overall, in a standard categorized league? Would you select a goaltender at forth overall? Thanks

Scott Cullen: Good question, Nick. Going fourth, I'd weigh options like Pavel Datsyuk, Dany Heatley and Roberto Luongo. I'd lean towards Datsyuk (love that plus-minus!), but could totally understand the decision to take Luongo if you expect to miss out on the top goaltenders before your second-round pick. By going that way, you could take Luongo and maybe pick up someone like Henrik Zetterberg on the way back.

Question from Scott G. in Guelph, ON: Hey Scott, love the chats, keep 'em coming. From one Scott to another how about a little advice Standard Yahoo head-to-head league? We get to keep 5 keepers and a goalie. Goalie's a no brainer, Lundqvist over Biron and C. Mason, but I'm having trouble with my last two keepers. I already have Crosby, Getzlaf, and Heatley, but from this list who do you think would be the best two to pick from, preferably one d-man, but I would be open to keeping two. Dustin Brown, Phil Kessel, Johan Franzen, Henrik Sedin, Dion Phaneuf, Shea Weber. Thanks Scott.

Scott Cullen: Scott, Even though I'm a huge Shea Weber guy, I think I'd go with Henrik Sedin and Dion Phaneuf. I'm expecting Phaneuf to bounce back from his worst season and Sedin is a point-per-game centre, of which there may only be ten or so in the league each season. Unless your league counts hits instead of plus-minus, Brown isn't at that level, Franzen doesn't get enough assists and Kessel's uncertain status in terms of team and his current injury rehab make him less desirable.

Question from Chris Hyatt in Chatham, Ontario: Hi Scott, Last year I made the massive mistake of trading Malkin for Eric Staal and a 1st round pick in my keeper pool. This season, I have kept Crosby, Nash, Franzen and traded for Marleau in the off season. I'm a tad concerned about Marleau now that Heatley is in SJ. Should I be? Thanks ever so much Scott, Big fan. Chris Hyatt

Scott Cullen: Chris, I wouldn't be overly concerned about Marleau, since it's possible that Heatley could play right wing on the first line (leaving Marleau to play the left) or, even if Marleau moves to the second line, San Jose's second line was one of the more productive second lines in hockey last year and Marleau would still get power play time on top of that. Add in the fact that it's a contract year for him and Marleau should be motivated to be productive.

Question from Dale Oakes in Miami, Manitoba: Can Jonas Gustavsson be relied upon as a fantasy starter with the Leafs, assuming that he takes the starting job away from Toskala in the first month of the season? As long as he is healthy, the monster is behind a much improved defence and Burke isn't done yet re-tooling his roster (ie. Kessel). Thanks Scott.

Scott Cullen: I couldn't go with Gustavsson as a fantasy starter yet, Dale. I agree with the premise, that whomever is in net for the Leafs is going to be behind a much-improved defence, but it could take a while before Gustavsson unseats Toskala and the one thing you need out of your fantasy starter is consistent playing time. All that under consideration, I currently have Gustavsson as my third-ranked backup goaltender.

Question from Jeff in Charlottetown, PEI: Hi Scott, Is there any mathematics involved in the player or team projection rankings? I am a physicist and am interested in knowing a little more about how sports projections use previous season statistics. If the mathematics IS in fact limited, you must be a Calgary fan scared to rank them higher than 17th for fear of jinxing them out of the playoffs. I was really surprised to see them ranked so low. I figured top 10. Doesn't the addition of J-Bo on D and Brent Sutter as coach make them a favorite in the Northwest, even if they lose Bertuzzi a -13 last year and Cammellari?

Scott Cullen: Jeff, There is definitely math involved in the rankings and projections (I'll have a complete explanation of the whole process online before the season faces off). When it comes to the Flames' ranking, in particular, it's not easy to make up for the 54 goals lost with Cammalleri and Bertuzzi leaving. Sure, Bouwmeester improves their defence, but will it be 54 goals worth? I think that’s debatable. While I could easily see the Flames in any of the mid-teens spots (it's very close at that part of the rankings) I'd definitely have a hard time ranking the Flames in the top ten since they were a team that only scored six more goals than they allowed last season and -- at least in my opinion -- it's questionable whether or not they are better after the moves they made this summer.

Question from Martina Gravel in Woodstock, Ontario: In general, how much emphasis do you put on defencemen in a pool? My philosophy is to draft a stud d-man early - as they are few and far between- in lieu of a 55-60 pt forward. Do you agree? Thanks a load, Scott.

Scott Cullen: Martina, I do agree that it's good to get one big producer -- Nicklas Lidstrom, Mike Green, Sergei Gonchar, Dion Phaneuf -- to anchor your blueline and then, after that, it's often easy to fill out the rest of the position with "value" picks because the difference in scoring for defencemen simply isn't going to be as great as it is at the other positions.

Question from Shane in Fort Vermilion, Alberta: Hey Scott,I have the chance to take Steve Mason as my goalie in my hockey pool this year. Salary is a consideration in this pool. Do you think he will get bit with the sophmore jink Also, Pascal LeClaire is my other goalie that I am protecting. How do you think he will fair in Ottawa. Thanks

Scott Cullen: Shane, I can't imagine Mason duplicating his rookie year, just because ten shutouts is a phenomenal start to a career, but with the Blue Jackets icing a better team in front of him (at least that's how I see it), Mason should be a quality fantasy starter.

Leclaire could be a real homer-or-strikeout kind of pick. If he plays like he did in 2007-2008, then the Sens will be thrilled along with his fantasy owners. If Leclaire has trouble staying healthy, which has been an issue, then he’s not so appealing.

Question from Jason in Antigonish, NS: What are your projections for Jordan Staal this year; 25 goals, 30 goals? What about powerplay points?

Scott Cullen: Jason, Until I see Staal getting significant power play time, I can't get too excited about his offensive prospects. I have him down for 25 goals and 49 points, but only seven power play points. He's one of those guys who's a better real-life player than he is in fantasy.

Question from Joe in London, On: With Ilya Kovolchuck going to possibly test free agency after this year, do you think he has a monster year or is his play going to suffer if he is in trade talks? And with that being said, how will that affect guys like Bryan Little and Todd White? Thanks.

Scott Cullen: Joe, I don't think Kovalchuk's play is going to suffer at all. He's always goal-hungry and that won't change whether he's hunting for a new contract or is facing trade rumours (should an extension not be signed). Perhaps not surprisingly, I could see Little and White moving in opposite directions this season, as the younger Little builds on what he did (31 goals, 51 points) in his second season and 34-year-old White may find it difficult to duplicate his career-high 73 points.

Question from Grant in Toronto: Hey Scott, Got a couple of questions for you. What are your thoughts on Zherdev? I picked him up late hoping the rumours of him signing with Atlanta would come true. Yesterday I heard he was going to sign in the KHL today with Atlant. Have you heard anything? Steve Downie has been paired up with Vinnie in Tampa. I'm looking weak on PIMS so far and was thinking he could put up Carcillo-type numbers from two years ago. Remembering Downie put up 90 points in junior. What do you think his production could be? Lastly, got any good sleeper D to keep an eye on early in the season?

Scott Cullen: Grant, It sure appears that Zherdev is heading to the KHL. Not much to add until it becomes official.

Whether he ends up with Lecavalier or not, Downie is a nice sleeper pick because of penalty minute potential. Not only was he productive in junior, but Downie has 50 points (and 240 penalty minutes!) in 49 career AHL games, so he ought to be able to produce enough to play a top-six role in the NHL, particularly on a rebuilding team. I like your Carcillo comparison.

Some sleeper D (sorry, I missed that part of an earlier question): James Wisniewski, Matt Niskanen, Keith Ballard are a few. Don't overlook Zach Bogosian -- Bogosian finished last year with six goals, five assists, a plus-5 rating and 21 PIM in the last 16 games. Also give late consideration to someone like Francois Beauchemin, who should get good playing time in Toronto.

Question from Randy in High Level, AB: Scott, I gotta know your thoughts on John Tavares. Really, just 23G and 20A? You don't think he has anymore upside than that? On the extreme side, I've seen projections for 35G.

Scott Cullen: Randy, I'm hesitant on Tavares because of the weak supporting cast on the Island, particularly because I see Tavares as a guy who needs someone to get him the puck down low, where he is dangerous. If he's a franchise player right off the bat, scoring 35 goals as a rookie, I'll be stunned, but I will acknowledge that he could score more than the 43 points I've projected. Basically, I would only spend a late, late pick on Tavares in a one-year league but, given his potential, would take him earlier (probably not early enough to get him) in a keeper league.

Question from Gates in Sudbury: Hey Scott, what do you think of Backes, Lucic and Burrows this upcoming season, Points and PIMs wise?

Scott Cullen: I like all of them. Backes may not put up the same kind of PIMs because he racked up a league-high three game misconducts last year and that would seem like something he wouldn't do again. Burrows could be great if he keeps playing with the Sedins and Lucic is (to borrow a term from Pierre McGuire) a monster.

My projections for the trio:
Backes - 47 PTS, 142 PIM
Burrows - 45 PTS, 163 PIM (more points if he sticks with Sedins)
Lucic - 48 points, 139 PIM

Question from Jason in Oakville: Heya Scott! Bobby Ryan - what are your thoughts on him, good pick or average?

Scott Cullen: I love Bobby Ryan. He may get taken too soon, but there aren't many wingers that I'm projecting just six wingers for 30-plus goals and 70-plus points with a double-digit plus rating. There's no guarantee that he'll be a double-digit plus, but it would seem fair if Ryan is skating with Perry and Getzlaf.

Question from Mike in Flin Flon, Manitoba: I was just wondering who you expect to be top five sleepers for this upcoming season and which players can make that jump to elite level fantasy status?

Scott Cullen: Mike, Here are five sleepers to watch: David Krejci, who may be ready to go early in the season (so don't be too scared off by his offseason surgery); Chris Drury, if he ends up with Marian Gaborik; Brian Rolston, who will be better under Jacques Lemaire; one of the new Senators, Jonathan Cheechoo or Milan Michalek, whichever one ends up on Spezza's wing and, since I've been touting him for so long it seems, Drew Stafford.

Players with a chance -- a chance -- to make the jump to elite status: Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, Steven Stamkos, Derick Brassard, Thomas Vanek, Patrick Kane and Nathan Horton.

Question from Pieter in Calgary, AB: How can you honestly put Edmonton in front of Calgary? Calgary has made the playoffs the last 4 seasons and you don't even have them breaking the playoff bubble this year. With additions in coaching as well as on the blue line we are looking better then ever. Cammo would not have received the points he did last year if it was not for Iggi! I predict Cammo to have same experience in Montreal that Tanguay did last year.

Scott Cullen: Pieter, While I don't think Cammalleri will necessarily score 82 points in Montreal this year (I have him down for 67), he scored 80 points in 81 games with L.A. in 2006-2007 so, unless you're just giving Iginla credit for the extra two points, I don't think it's quite fair to claim Cammalleri's production was all due to Iginla.

Question from Robert in Glace Bay, NS: How will Dany Heatley's trade to San Jose affect his fantasy value? Would he be a top ten fantasy draft choice?

Scott Cullen: Robert, I wrote about the trade in a Numbers Game column the day the trade was made and I do think it's a good move for Heatley. As the second-ranked left winger, I'd have no trouble taking him in the Top Ten, probably around seven or so.

Question from Luc in Moncton: Who do you believe, or looks to be, the favorite to be the starter in Washington?

Scott Cullen: While the early reports seem to indicate that Jose Theodore is the starter in Washington, he hasn't done enough in recent seasons to think that he's going to hold the job. I still like Varlamov to be the number one for the Caps, even if he has to take over a month or two into the season.

Question from Jason in Antigonish, NS: In a standard points league, is Mike Green a first rounder? No doubt he'll be one of the highest scoring defensemen, but after the first round most drafts still have Eric Staal or Vincent Lecavalier still available.

Scott Cullen: Jason, I don't know if Green is a first-rounder. With 73 points in 68 games last year, he'd project to be around an 85-to-90-point defenceman over a full season, but I have some concern that last year was somewhat of a perfect storm for Green. He's as good a bet as any to be the top-scoring defenceman, but probably not enough to take him before Round Two.

Question from Marco in Toronto: Scott, was least season a flash in the pan for Scott Hartnell or is this guy the real deal? Do you see him having a better season?

Scott Cullen: I don't think Hartnell will be any better than he was last season, but do think he'll continue to be productive on Jeff Carter's wing. After so many years of mediocre production -- he was under 50 points in each of his first seven seasons -- it's not fair to expect Hartnell to go over 60 again.

Question from Ryan in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan: What is your opinion of Nigel Dawes and Frederick Sjostrom, who were both acquired by the Flames in the offseason? Do you think they could be top six forwards or do you think the Flames will have to rely on Moss, and Glencross for second line scoring?

Scott Cullen: Ryan, I've liked Dawes, at times, in his NHL career, thinking that he would be ready to break out and score 20-plus goals, but it hasn't happened yet. With an opportunity in Calgary, I could still see that happening. Sjostrom is strictly a checker, a penalty-killer with good speed, but not enough offence to count on as a scoring winger.

Question from Sean in Manitoba: I'm currently in a keeper league and looking at keeping 2 of my 3 goalies. Between Carey Price, Mikka Kipprusoff, and Semyon Varlamov, who would you take?

Scott Cullen: Sean, For long-term value, I'd take Price and Varlamov. I'm not thrilled by Kiprusoff's steadily-declining numbers every year he's been in Calgary, so I'd only want Kipper for this season's value, as he's still an unchallenged number one who should get more than 70 starts.

Question from Ethan in Quebec City: Hi Scott, Who do you think are gonna be the quarterbacks of the powerplay in Atlanta? There are so many possibilities. I think it could be Enstrom and Kubina but I'd like to have your take on this. Thanks

Scott Cullen: I tend to agree, Ethan, that Enstrom and Kubina are the most likely picks to run the power play in Atlanta, though I could see Bogosian making it into that mix as well if he's ready for that assignment.

Question from Brad in San Fran: I need to pick some keepers in a points only league. Three of Filatov, Okposo, Giroux, or Booth. I am thinking over the next three years.

Scott Cullen: Brad, Over the next three years, I'd take Giroux, Booth and Filatov, barely taking Filatov over Okposo just in the hopes of perhaps a higher offensive ceiling and a better supporting cast.

Scott Cullen: That's it for today. Thanks so much for all your questions! Isn’t it great to have the hockey season just around the corner?

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