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Phoenix Coyotes roundtable: fantasy hockey edition

Dobber Hockey contributor and founder of Fantasy Hockey Mechanic, Darren Kennedy, joins us to discuss Mike Smith's startability, Phoenix's MVP and what to expect from the return of Steven Stamkos.

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Is Mike Smith a startable fantasy goalie right now?

Darren Kennedy: In a lot of ways Mike Smith is exactly what I love and what I hate about goaltenders in fantasy hockey (OK, that may seem like two opposing viewpoints, but let me explain). On the one hand he is an über talented backstop who is capable of elite, top 5 fantasy seasons, like we saw in 2011-12 (2.21 GAA and .930 Sv%). On the other hand, he's proven over the course of his career that predicting when those elite numbers are going to come is very, very difficult.

Even with the ups and downs I think he is in fact a startable option. How good of a starter really depends on your format, the categories that are measured, and how many teams exist in the pool. For 8 or 10 team pools he is still viable as your #3 starter. Smith has played in the 2nd most games in the NHL (46) and has recorded more saves than any other tender (1,271). Even if his GAA and Sv% are below average, you're getting a goalie that will start consistently (no easy feat in the era of the back-up) and will be elite in one category (saves).

At next year's draft table I imagine many poolies will shy away from Smith based on this year's totals. That could represent an opportunity to scoop him in the late rounds and hope that at worst he is your #3, or at best he produces another Vezina-ish season and challenges for your #1 spot.

Jaime Eisner: As someone who is starting Smith in a league, yes he is startable. This season has been a roller coaster of emotions for Smith owners. Some nights, particularly in December (2.46 GAA, .917 Sv%), it felt like the 2011-12 season all over again. Others had owners curing the day they selected the goaltender. He's still a top-25 goaltender (who will play more like a top-20 goaltender down the stretch) making him a starter in 10 or 12 team leagues. But he's not, and won't be, the top-12 goalie he was thought to be on draft day.

Brendan Porter: No. I would not consider starting Mike Smith on my fantasy team until there are clear signs that his numbers are on the rebound. He had an excellent game Saturday night against Pittsburgh (and a solid one against Dallas), but so far hasn't really been able to string together consistently good games. If he can get a couple more solid performances in leading up to the Olympic break, than maybe I would consider putting him back into the lineup, but until then, no.

Who's been the best fantasy player on the Coyotes this season?

Darren: He doesn't get a lot of love in the mainstream media but Antoine Vermette has quietly enjoyed a nice season. He's currently on pace to finish with 51 points (the 3rd highest total of his career) and 180 shots (not bad for a depth centerman).

Where he is adding some elite value is in the category of face-offs. While this isn't included in all fantasy formats (though I really enjoy it as a peripheral option) it can dramatically impact a player's value. Vermette is currently 3rd in the league with 676 face off wins. To put that into perspective the 30th overall player only has 464.

I know he doesn't have the cache of a Doan, Vrbata, OEL, or Yandle, but Vermette is proving to be the kind of late round steal, or waiver wire grab that can have a significant effect on your team's depth production (which can be where fantasy championships are won and lost).

Christopher Hair: The Coyotes have seen multiple players have hot stretches over the year, from Shane Doan's scalding start (stupid wood ticks) to OEL and Keith Yandle's 10 games on, 10 games off play since December. But, Antoine Vermette has been the Coyotes' most consistent producer, leading them in goals and forward ice time. He's starting to get more power play production and being on a line with a much improved Mikkel boedker helps him as well. Martin Hanzal would be the second choice, imagine what he'd be doing with a fully functional LW and a not ice-cold Radim Vrbata.

Brendan: You could make good arguments for Mike Ribeiro and Keith Yandle, but I think I'm going to go with Antoine Vermette, mostly because he's started in less than half of fantasy leagues this year. He's a player that has had low expectations from a production standpoint, yet has produced quite capably recently. If you were a fantasy owner in a particularly deep league, Vermette has probably been a pleasant surprise.

What is a reasonable expectation for Steven Stamkos the rest of the season for those of us who kept him despite the injury?

Darren: What's amazing about the Lightning is that they're actually playing quite well without Stamkos (2nd in the Atlantic Division). A number of players have emerged and it's looking more and more like this team will be an offensive force the next 3 to 5 seasons. Guys like Kucherov, Filppula, Hedman, Johnson, St. Louis (for another couple, anyway) are providing consistent scoring.

What does this mean for Stamkos? I think it will have a positive impact on his production and allow him to still produce quality fantasy numbers, even if he's working his way into game shape.

It may be wise to temper your expectations a bit, in 24 post-Olympic games, we could look for around 11 goals, 13 assists and 70 shots on net. Those are the type of numbers that could affect the outcome of your fantasy playoffs.

Jaime: One again (like the Smith question) I can speak from experience. I picked up Stamkos after his original owner dropped him. Stamkos scored 14 goals and 23 points in 17 games this season, elite numbers. Assuming he hits the ground running one the NHL resumes play in late February, I anticipate around 15 goals and 20 points in the final 24 games.

Christopher: A fully healthy Stamkos would be a threat for 30 goals in that time frame (he's that good), so if a returning Stamkos can reach 20 goals, fantasy owners should be ecstatic, especially those who held onto him despite the long-term injury.

Which player, who has struggled so far this season, is a dark horse candidate to propel fantasy players into the fantasy playoffs down the stretch?

Darren: It's amazing how much negative attention Kris Letang is getting on twitter. Yes, I know it has been a disappointing season, from injuries to abysmal (by his standards) production, this isn't the Letang anyone was expecting to see. He's in the middle of another injury situation and it's unclear when he will return.

If we assume (which I know is always risky) that he's back after the Olympic break there is a real chance for big numbers down the stretch. He plays on a power play featuring Malkin and Crosby that is currently ranked first in the NHL (24.9% success rate).

Furthermore, Letang is less than 12 months removed from a season in which he posted 38 points in 35 games. How many defensemen in the league, or even in the last decade are capable of posting over a point per game for a 30 game stretch?

There are certainly no guarantees with him, especially with health issues that may linger until seasons end. However, the reward could be massive if you can acquire him at a discount in the coming weeks and he rebounds like the top 4 fantasy defensemen we know he can be.

Christopher: The Coyotes perform best as a team when their defense drives the offense. OEL and Yandle have been below their admittedly high standards for a while now in fantasy play, and if the Coyotes are to make a serious run at playoff contention, the play of their two best defenders will go a long way toward making that happen.

From a league wide level, both Jason Spezza and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were forwards expected to produce at high levels this season that currently rank outside the top 100 players in fantasy production. One of those two should explode for a huge post Olympic run.

Among non-forwards, should Ryan Miller be traded in season, it would not surprise me if he put up top 5 numbers for the rest of the season. Particularly if he ends up in St. Louis (shivers just thinking about it).

Jaime: Marian Gaborik could provide some nice value for fantasy owners when he returns from his broken collarbone after the Olympics. The soon-to-be 32-year-old forward has scored 20 points in 30 games with Columbus, including 12 points in 18 games this season. I expect him to score a half-dozen goals and around 15 points down the stretch.

Check out Darren on Twitter and visit Fantasy Hockey Mechanic for more fantasy hockey news and notes.