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PostSubject: SEASON PREVIEW, 2017-18   Mon Oct 02, 2017 1:31 pm

This season marks the 25th year of the FHL - the league founded by Ken Hamilton and Scott Collard in 1993. To commemorate the league's Silver Anniversary, the editors at the FHL News are doing nothing; nothing special anyway - just the same old season preview that has been done in the past (though most of it was written while enjoying a celebratory bottle of champagne).

GM: John Chester
LAST SEASON: 8th Place
In search of their first money finish, the third year franchise opted for defenseman Victor Hedman with their first pick; the 10th player chosen in round one. The Tampa Bay rearguard was followed by Connor McDavid's shadow, Leon Draisitl. Figuring Hedman would be good enough to carry the load on defense, GM Chester opted for three forwards and a goalie with his next four picks. With open arms, Blake Wheeler, John Gibson, David Pastrnak and Phil Kessel were welcomed into the Badger Bob fold. With their first pick in round four, defenseman Nick Leddy joined Hedman on the blueline. The final D-Spot was filled by Jake Gardiner in round six.
Why Badger Bob will win the FHL Cup
Despite having a last name that's difficult to spell - and hailing from a country not known for it's hockey prowess - Leon Draisitl has mastered the art of racking up points; the 21-year-old German pocketing 29 goals and 77 points last year. Again teamed with Connor McDavid, those numbers will climb even higher in 2017-18, a 90 point season all but guaranteed. Flying under the radar for most of last year, David Pastrnak will follow his breakout 34 goal campaign with a 45 goal season. With Stamkos and Kucherov begging for pucks, puck-feeder Victor Hedman will again top 70 points while Anaheim backstop John Gibson will sidestep injury and lead the Double-B goaltenders with 40 wins.
Why they won't
No one has ever won the FHL Cup with an average defense. The Badger Bob defense is average. The play of Nick Leddy and Jake Gardiner will dilute Hedman's thick numbers. Leddy has never topped the 50 point mark while Gardiner is truly an offensive defenseman, as in: "offensive (adj), causing or able to cause nausea, anger or annoyance." Phil "I don't need to be a star playing for the Penguins" Kessel will continue to post mediocre numbers. Thirty-two year-old year Eric Staal is stalling. John Gibson is injury-pone and won't surpass the 52 games he started last season; winning just 25 - numbers not worthy of a goalie anchor. Thomas Greiss plays for a bad team and will eventually lose his starting job to Jaroslav Halak.

GM: Ken Hamilton
LAST SEASON: 3rd Place
The four-time champion Bluliners know the importance of defense and opted for blueiners with two of their first three picks. Brent Burns was inked in the first round while John Klingberg was given a Bluliners jersey in the early goings of round number two. John Tavares was the first forward chosen, nabbed by GM Hamilton with his second pick in round one; the 23rd pick overall. Johnny Gaudreau and Jonathan Huberdeau were selected before and after the two goaltenders drafted in round three - Mike Smith and Henrik Lundqvist summoned to protect the Bluliners goal.
Why the Bluliners will win the FHL Cup
Brent Burns is one very good reason. With no competition from the injured Erik Karlsson, Burns will skate circles around every other defender; another 25+ goal campaign providing the Bluliners with a chunky advantage over every other team. Described by some as Karlsson-lite, still untapped talent John Klingberg will be Karlsson-heavy in 2017-18. John Tavares is enormously better than the numbers he posted last year and will prove to be a draft day steal. The two Johnny's - Gaudreau and Huberdeau - will finally take flight while grizzled vet Henrik Lundqvist - as close to a sure thing as they come - will flirt with a 40 win season.
Why they won't
After potting 30 goals in 2015-16, Johnny Gaudreau was labeled "the next big thing." He isn't. Proof: the diminutive winger carded 18 goals last year. You don't win the FHL Cup when your second best forward can't even score 20 goals. Henrik Lundquvist has been great. At 35 years-old, he's great no more; the veteran backstop in the midst of a slow fade that will result in no more than 25 wins. Beyond Lundqvist the goaltending cupboard is bare. When it comes to evaluating goaltenders, old, injury-prone, and plays for a bad team are all frowned upon. Mike Smith is all three of those things, the fragile 35 year-old currently deflecting pucks for the wheels-spinning Calgary Flames.

GM: Paul Morgan
LAST SEASON: 10th Place
Taking a cue from the 2016-17 success of the Ice Hogs, GM Morgan drafted a healthy portion of the Ice Hogs team, corralling forwards Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine in the opening round. The Flyers then turned their attention to the defensive slot, inking Zach Werenski (yes, a Hog last year) with the 12th pick in the second round. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk was handed a Flyers jersey one pick later. Justin Faulk (yep, another Hog) would join Werenski on the blueline followed by backstop Andrei Vasilevskiy (even harder to spell than "Draisitl") and forwards Claude Giroux and Mitchell Marner.
Why the Boulder Flyers will win the FHL Cup
Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine will combine for 90 goals, placing the Flyers head and shoulders above the rest of the forward pack. Healthy again, Claude Giroux will toy with an 80 point campaign. Mitchell Marner (no longer a rookie), Jonathan Drouin (new team) and Alexander Wennberg (new linemate in Artemi Panarin) will all take their game to the next level. Zach Werenski netted 11 goals and 47 points as a freshman. He'll surpass those numbers in 2017-18. Justin Faulk will score 20 goals while Dubnyk and Vasilevxdddrskiy will combine for 80 wins.
Why they won't
Look no farther than the Sophomore Slump. When the phenomenon bites the Boulder Flyers they'll not only have zero chance of winning the FHL Cup, they'll likely (again) be trying to beat back the advances of the Laughing Bag. Matthews, Laine, Marner and Werenski were all rookies last year. Translated: No track record, no guarantees, no way of knowing if their first year was the exception or the norm (reference: Shayne Gostisbehere). Toss into the mix the spotty health of Justin Faulk and the no-guarantee play of newly anointed starter Andrei Vasilevskiy - all of 23 years-old - and you have an on-paper heavyweight team primed to swing and miss.

GM: Tom Buker
LAST SEASON: 4th Place
In August the Central Army were gifted the first overall pick. To no ones surprise - especially with Cup-heavy Erik Karlsson on the mend - GM Buker quickly lay claim to the dynamic 20 year-old known as Connor McDavid. After the no-brainer selection, the Army then stocked their pile with Carey Price, arguably the most talented netminder working in the league. Price was followed by a forward, two defenders and another goalie; Steven Stamkos, Justin Schultz, Jonathan Quick and Seth Jones donning the red and yellow jersey of the Central Red Army.
Why the Central Red Army will win the FHL Cup
Connor McDavid said he wants to shoot the puck more and was reportedly fine-tuning his shot during the off-season. "Oh shit," said every GM not named Tom Buker. As such, McDavid will once again lead the entire league in points and - new for 2017-18 - surpass the 40 goal mark. Steven Stamkos will prove to be the steal of the draft. Acquired in the second round, the perennial first-rounder - and linemate of sniper Nikita Kucherov - will bag 45+ goals. Justin Schultz will again quarterback the Penguins lethal powerplay (after Kris Letang's impending injury) and pile up Norris-worthy points. Sneaky-good Jake Guentzel will continue to soar while a healthy Jonathan Quick will return to his Conn Smythe-winning ways. In front of Quick there's Carey Price, and we all know Price is money.
Why they won't
Kris Letang will avoid injury (hey come on, it's possibly possible) and Justin Schultz will see his powerplay time dwindle. Labeled a rising star last year, Schultz will return to his middle-of-the-pack form. With Schultz numbers taking a dive, the slack will have to be picked up by Seth Jones and Cam Fowler. The two players are a lot of things but slack picker-uppers they are not. Steven Stamkos is the FHL Hospital poster boy, a return trip to the shelf all but guaranteed. As such, the 27 year-old won't be on the ice long enough to make a difference. When Stamkos goes down, Nathan MacKinnon, Logan Couture and Milan Lucic will be called upon to harvest numbers. The odds of MacKinnon, Couture and Lucic harvesting anything? Think Dust Bowl (1930-1936).

GM: Steve Cutshall
LAST SEASON: 6th Place
It's hard to geat a bead on GM Cutshall. Impossible, actually. After drafting forwards with his first six picks last year, the veteran owner didn't sign a forward untill his second pick in the 3rd round. Bucking the conventional way of thinking, the Ice Cats inked two goalies right out of the gate; Matt Murray and Sergei Bobrovsky called to the podium in round one. The two backstops were then joined on stage by three defenders, Dustin Byfuglien, Dougie Hamilton and Drew Doughty. Forwards Filip Forsberg and Sean Monahan would follow.
Why the Ice Cats will win the FHL Cup
With the rule change that upped the requirement for losing goaltenders to acquire points, winning will be at a premium in 2017-18. Matt Murray and Sergei Bobrovsky are winners. With Marc-Andre Fleury dispatched to the desert, Murray will win 45 games as the sole provider in Pittsburgh. Bobrovsky won 41 games last year, second only to Holtby and Talbot (42 wins each). The two-time Vezina winner will lead the league this year. With 70 goals over the past four seasons, Dustin Byfuglien is arguably the most dangerous defenseman to launch a puck while Filip Forsberg - still a kid at 23 - will finally avoid his patented slow start and deposit 40 goals.
Why they won't
Sergei "Wonky Groin" Bobrovsky surprised everyone last year when he remained healthy for the entire season. Lightening doesn't strike twice. When Bobrovsky goes down who will shoulder the load? No one apparently as the Ice Cats only drafted two goalies. Dougie Hamilton wears an Ice Cats uniform. No team has ever won the FHL Cup with a "Dougie" on their team (might not even be legal). Waiting so long to acquire forwards will eventually bite the Ice Cats in the tail. Sean Monahan, Mikael Granlund, Cam Atkinson and Taylor Hall strike fear into the hearts of no one; no one being the player who backs up Bobrovsky.

GM: Steve Henry
LAST SEASON: 2nd Place
After winning two FHL Cups with goalie-driven teams in 2006 and 2007, GM Henry has always had a soft spot for the goaltenders. That infatuation was again apparent, the Hogs corralling backstops with two of their first four picks; Braden Holtby and Tuukka Rask. The first invite however was sent to a forward, Alexander Ovechkin nabbed with the Hogs first pick (9th overall) in the first round. Oliver Ekman-Larson was the first defenseman inked (last pick, second round). Those four were later joined by three forwards and a blueliner, the gate to the pigpen opened for Artemi Panarin, Jeff Skinner, Brayden Schenn and Aaron Ekblad.
Why the Ice Hogs will win the FHL Cup
When it comes to winning games, no one does it better than Braden Holtby (131 wins over the past three seasons). With a greater importance placed on goaltending wins in the new year, the tandem of Holtby and Rask will set the Hogs apart from the rest. After an off year (33 goals) Alexander Ovechkin will return to form and will again battle for the Rocket Richard trophy. Oliver Ekman-Larson has scored 71 goals over the past four years. The 26 year-old will score 25 playing for an improved Coyotes team. Jeff Skinner and T.J. Oshie combined for 70 goals last year. They'll repeat that feat in 2017-18. The very last player selected in the draft (24th pick in the 8th round, 192nd overall) will inject the Hogs with Cup-worthy points, highly touted rookie Nico Hischier blistering the preseason with seven points (4g, 3a) in four games.
Why they won't
Alexander Ovechkin is old and getting older; his decline last season just a hint of bad things to come - another 40+ goal season nothing but a pipe dream. Traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets during the off-season, Artemi Panarin no longer has Patrick Kane to carry him around the ice. Panarin's point totals will follow the route of cold birds and migrate south. Beyond Ekman-Larsson the defenseman pickings are slim to none. Aaron Ekblad has no idea what the word "assist" means, pocketing just 11 helpers last year; a paltry 21 points in all. Ekblad will get no help from defense partner Jacob Trouba, a nothing special defenseman who has yet to crack the 35 point mark.

GM: Dave Smalley
LAST SEASON: 5th Place
The Misconducts opted for balance by drafting two forwards, two defensemen and two goalies - in that order - with their first six picks. Vladimir Tarasenko and Jack Eichel were tapped in the first round, followed by defenders Shea Weber and Shayne Gostisbehere in the second. Netminders Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner were acquired in round three. Pulling a Misconducts jersey over their head in the fourth round were defenseman John Carlson and forward Brandon Saad.
Why the Misconducts will win the FHL Cup
At 25 years-of-age Vladimir Tarasenko is just now skating into his prime. When not in his prime, the shoot-first-ask-questions-later winger netted 116 goals in three seasons. He'll hover near the 50 goal mark this year. While Connor McDavid was hogging the spotlight, Jack Eichel was dealing with injuries and slow starts - the mega-talented rocket never able to launch. Launch he will in 2017-18 as he'll challenge McDavid for the Art Ross trophy. Shea Weber is finally comfortable in his new Montreal digs and will shred the twine for 20. Crawford is a lock for 35+ wins while Robin Lehner's win totals - playing for an improved Sabres team - will finally match his other numbers; 2.68 GAA, 92 SV%.
Why they won't
Corey Crawford is good but he can't hold down the goaltending fort by himself. He may have to as Robin Lehner has never won more than 23 games in a season. Rickard Rakell scored 33 goals last year. His shooting percentage was 18.6. No way he duplicates that feat. No way he scores 33 goals again. Jack Eichel has been highly touted ever since joining the league two years ago. "Highly touted" and $7.99 will get you a one month subscription to Netflix. It means nothing. The first round pick has never scored more than 24 goals or 57 points in a season. Shayne Gostisbehere was drafted in the second round despite scoring only 7 goals and 39 points last year. When you squander early round picks on later round talent you don't win championships. Borrowing a line from the Soup Nazi, "No FHL Cup for you!"

GM: Mike McCormick
Admittedly a football-first fantasy GM back in the day, Mike McCormick first arrived to the FHL in 2006. Drafting a balanced team, McCormick's Mooses hoisted the FHL Cup in their first year in the league. The Mooses followed the same script this year, drafting FGD, FGD and FGD with their first nine picks. Not surprisingly the strategy yielded another well-balanced squad, forwards Nikita Kucherov and Brad Marchand joining forces with defensemen Roman Josi and Duncan Keith. Cam Talbot and Ben Bishop were positioned between the Mooses pipes.
Why the Mooses will win the FHL Cup
Nikita Kucherov could arguably be the most dangerous sniper in the league. Last year the 24 year-old deposited 40 goals and 85 points. Skating alongside Stamkos for a full season, the sky is the limit for the silky smooth Russian. Brad Marchand's rough and tumble game will yield another bumper crop of goals, the underrated agitator netting 76 goals over the past two seasons. Stopping pucks in front of the Edmonton Oilers - and playing practically every game - Cam Talbot will again lead all goaltenders in scoring; as he did last year when he set an FHL record for points scored in a season. Roman Josi will bag 65 points; Duncan Keith his typical 50.
Why they won't
It won't be long before Brad Marchand regains his senses; an errant puck to the head possibly prompting Marchand to rightfully realize he simply isn't that good. When it happens Marchand will return to the player who roamed the ice just two years ago; a year in which the 5' 9", 29 year-old netted only 24 goals and a paltry 42 points. Ryan Getzlaf has more hair than potential as he enters his 13th season; the 32 year-old depositing all of 15 goals last year. Ducan Keith has been dunking pucks with less frequency, the fading 34 year-old collecting all of 6 goals in 2016-17. Ben Bishop won only 18 games last season. If he repeats that performance, Cam Talbot will have to win 50 games to keep the Mooses in the hunt for the Cup. Is Talbot good? Yes. That good? No.

GM: Mike Elya
LAST SEASON: 7th Place
Typically searching for elite defensemen early and often, GM Elya opted to draft forwards with his first three picks, waiting until the third round to ink his first defender. Patrick Kane would be the first player to pull a Polar Bears jersey over his head. Forwards Mark Scheifele and Max Pacioretty would follow. With the goalie pool quickly draining, the Polar Bears grabbed Jake Allen with their second pick in round two. Oscar Klefbom would be the first defenseman inked, signing a one year deal. Pekka Rinne would later join Allen in net while Morgan Reilly would pair with Klefbom on the blueline.
Why the Polar Bears will win the FHL Cup
Patrick Kane doesn't get as much press as other top players but the 28 year-old has been as good or better than everyone over the past two seasons, depositing 80 goals and 195 points. Mark Scheifelee is a stud in the making while few players score goals on a more consistent basis than Max Pacioretty, the University of Michigan product netting at least 30 goals for four consecutive seasons. Feeding pucks to Connor McDavid and company will place Oscar Klefbom among the best defenders in the league, while Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne will deflect more than enough pucks to keep the Polar Bears competitive for the duration of the season.
Why they won't
As an FHL Cup champion, GM Elya knows that you need a sound defense to have any shot at winning the big prize. The Polar Bears do have a sound defense, that sound being "CLUNK!" Oscar Klefbom is as unproven and undecorated as they come, the Swedish defenseman never scoring more than 38 points in a season. There's no calvary coming to save Klefbom as defensemen Morgan Reilly (27) and Matt Duma (34) scored a combined 61 points last year. They won't score many more this year. The clock is ticking loudly for graybeard Pekka Rinne, his age elevating while his win totals slide in the opposite direction. At one time Corey Perry was a 50 goal scorer. He's not anymore. Perry netted 19 goals last year. This year he'll bag even less.

SC Cobras
GM: Mike Murphy
LAST SEASON: 9th Place
Craving a top defenseman after enjoying the company of Brent Burns all of last year, GM Murphy was all smiles when Erik Karlsson dropped into his lap with the 4th overall pick. With no immediate need to sign a defenseman after inking Karlsson, the Cobras drafted three fowards and a goaltender with their next four picks. Tyler Sequin was the first forward to join the team. He was followed by Nicklas Backstrom and Joe Pavelski. With his first pick in the 3rd round, GM Murphy welcomed goaltender Martin Jones. Two defensemen (Torey Krug and Mark Giordano) would join the squad before the Cobras selected their second goalie, Corey Schneider.
Why the SC Cobras will win the FHL Cup
Despite winning four consecutive FHL Cups, Erik Karlsson dropped in the draft due to injury concerns. A lightening quick healer (see achilles injury in 2013) Karlsson won't miss a beat and he'll once again rule the blueline. Drafted late in the first round, Tyler Seguin could be a draft day heist. Skating alongside Jamie Benn - and being kept in line by new coach Ken Hitchcock - the 25 year-old will net 40 goals. They don't come much more underrated or underappreciated than Nicklas Backstrom and Joe Pavelski - both point-munching machines for most of the career. Expect more point munching this year. A year older and a year wiser, Martin Jones will win 40 games while Corey Schneider - far better than last years numbers - will return to form.
Why they won't
Erik Karlsson reportedly had 50% of his ankle bone removed during off-season surgery. That and shredded tendons were replaced with tendons that don't belong to Erik Karlsson. Karlsson is borderline superhuman but he won't overcome this setback. His points will plummet. Joe Pavelski's goal scoring numbers are down, netting only 29 last year. The aging 33 year-old will score even fewer goals this year. Ken Hitchcock is good but he won't be able to tame the easily distracted Tyler Seguin. As such, the mega-talented Seguin will again fail to live up to his potential. With Karlsson hobbling, the Cobras will have to rely on Torey Krug and Mark Giordano for points from the blueline. Like Karlsson, Krug is also injured, projected to miss the start of the season. Mark Giordano would rise to the occasion if he could. He can't.

Vegas Vipers
GM: Lawrence Miller
LAST SEASON: 11th Place
After sitting in last place for much of last season - escaping the basement in the final week - GM Miller decided to change things up; not only changing his draft day strategy but also changing the name of his team (formerly Between the Pipes). After drafting forwards with his first seven picks last year, Miller opted for a more balanced team - collecting a forward, two defensemen and a goalie with his first four selections. Jamie Benn was the first player to agree to play for the Vipers. He was followed by Kevin Shattenkirk, Frederik Anderson and Rasmus Ristolainen. Three forwards would be picked (Alexander Radulov, James van Riemsdyk, Wayne Simmonds) before the Vipers signed their second defender; Colton Parayko in the 4th round.
Why the Vegas Vipers will win the FHL Cup
Jamie Benn is only two seasons removed from winning the Art Ross trophy; leading the entire league in scoring. With a better team and a better coach, Benn will return to glory and once again sit atop the NHL at the conclusion of the season. Alexander Radulov will benefit from the same, the late-blooming Russian primed for a monster season skating alongside Benn and Seguin. Kevin Shattenkirk will be unleashed in New York, the offense-first defenseman set to enjoy a career year launching pucks in the Big Apple. James van Riemsdyk has been good when his Toronto team was bad. His numbers will explode in the company of Matthews, Nylander and Marner. As such, Frederik Anderson's numbers will also skyrocket, a 40 win season looming.
Why they won't
Jamie Benn is a very good forward but he's not good enough to lead a team to the FHL Cup, evidenced by his unimpressive 69 point season last year. Even when Benn won the Art Ross trophy he couldn't crack the 90 point ceiling, depositing only 87 points. Alexander Radulov is the Vipers second best forward. Alexander Radulov has never scored more than 58 points in a season. Youngsters Rasmus Ristolainen and Colton Parayko are both unproven. They both should be marinating on the bench, not being counted on to lead their team to the promised land. Wins are going to be a rare find for Antti Raanta as the so-so goaltender will be blocking pucks for a so-so team.

Wild Ducks
GM: Scott Collard
LAST SEASON: 1st Place
Wanting a stud in the first round, GM Collard moved up in the draft, trading draft picks with the Ice Hogs. A stud Collard got when Sidney Crosby came knocking with the 5th overall pick. GM Collard was again licking his chops when Evgeni Malkin was available with the 20th pick in the first round. Three defensemen would follow the two Penguin forwards; Kris Letang, P.K. Subban and Alex Pietrangelo all signing one year deals. Another forward (Nikolaj Ehlers) was acquired before Collard laid his hands on a goaltender, agreeing to terms with Craig Anderson in the 4th round.
Why the Wild Ducks will win the FHL Cup
In Crosby, Malkin and Letang, the Wild Ducks house three of the most dynamic players skating in the NHL. You can bet the farm on Crosby again challenging for the scoring lead. As it pertains to points per game, Evgeni Malkin (1.16 PPG) was the 4th best player in the league. He'll avoid injury in 2017-18 and compete with Crosby and McDavid for the scoring title. Nikolaj Ehlers amassed 25 goals and 64 points as a 20 year-old. This numbers will soar as he again skates with Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine. The goaltending spot is soft but it hardly matters as GM Collard will trade or dump all of them at some point during the season. When it comes to career 'points per game,' only Erik Karlsson has been better than Kris Letang; a healthy season for Letang all but assuring a return to the winner's circle for his Wild Ducks team.
Why they won't
Injuries. Concussion-prone Sidney Crosby is one glancing blow to the head short of an extended stay on the shelf. Evgeni Malkin hasn't played a full season since 2008-09. Malkin's 'games played' numbers over the past four seasons: 60, 69, 57 and 62. Crosby and Malkin are iron men compared to Kris Letang, the fragile defensemen in danger of being injured every time his skates touch the ice. When the injury bug bites the Ducks there is no help in sight as the team is littered with Colorado players and the ancient Sedin twins. Both Dan Sedin (44 points) and Henrik Sedin (50 points) are a mere shadow of their former self. Big fish at one point, their FHL value is now belly-up.
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