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Fantasy Hockey 2014-15: Centers Will Anchor Your Team

Continuing on with our Fantasy Hockey Draft Kit, Troy Langefeld provides center rankings for the upcoming NHL season.

Brad Richards is one of the big unknown's this year in his new Windy City digs, but you can expect big things from him - Photo Credit
Brad Richards is one of the big unknown's this year in his new Windy City digs, but you can expect big things from him - Photo Credit
Kevork Djansezian

Week one of our six week fantasy hockey draft kit is complete. We introduced our plan for the rest of the offseason, showed you how to set up an effective league, and outlined the offseason changes. If you missed anything from week one, you can find it all here:

Fantasy Hockey 2014-15 Draft Kit Preview
Custom Features for Fantasy Hockey Commissioners
Fantasy Hockey 2014-15: What's Changed?

Conversely, if you want to save just one link, I've created a group where all articles in the draft kit will be posted:

Fake Teams 2014 Fantasy Hockey Draft Kit

Hopefully our week one introduction has got you thinking about, and got you excited for, the upcoming hockey season. Now what you are really waiting for from me is some rankings so that you can start putting together your draft list. They're coming. Soon. Like really soon. But first, I need to explain just how I put my rankings together and how you should be using them.

I start with the Yahoo! player list and pull the applicable statistics that I want to track and rank based on. I use the entire player list because I don't want to forget anyone. Often fantasy managers take the rankings in their online draft application as the gospel truth. Don't do that. Look critically at the full list. They have often buried players way down deep in their ranks, for whatever reason, that you need to be aware of. I will attempt to pull them out for you and in doing so, I look at every single player in the Yahoo! game when putting together my rankings. But just because I've done this, doesn't mean that you should just straight up take my rankings as the gospel truth. Don't do that. My rankings are based off of my predispositions, experiences, and research. And more importantly, because I'm writing for such a large audience, they're setup for the standard size and scoring leagues. Most leagues have their own quirks, tendencies, and customized settings that you will have to account for and change the rankings appropriately. I'm giving you a head start, but there is still work here for you to do.

Upon my review of each player in the Yahoo! universe, I look at last year's stats and try to determine what that meant for them going forward as well as what changes happened during the offseason that might influence the coming season. Was it a career year or a breakout? Was it an off season or the beginning of a decline? Were they the beneficiary of linemates that they no longer have? Was there a coaching change that might impact their value? These are some of the questions I ask myself. In doing this, I create tiers within the position which I am ranking. Tiers are incredibly important as any experienced fantasy manager knows. A straight rankings list can be deceiving as it implies that each player before is inherently better than the player after. Tiers mask this by stating that all players of the same tier have similar value. This is inherently true, all players within a few picks of each other should have relatively similar value. The important thing to remember when trying to draft a good team is that you must value players relative to their replacement cost or the next best player. This is how value is created and I will talk more about this in greater length in our draft strategy piece later this month. Moral of the story for now; tiers are more important than straight rankings. For those of you that don't listen to me, and I know there will be some, I've also ranked the players within the tiers. Take it and use it as you will, just don't complain to me when it's all said and done. You've been warned.

In terms of how I rank, I'm going off a standard twelve team league with standard rosters and categories (if you don't know what this is, please go back and read my Custom Features for Fantasy Hockey Commissioners article). That said, I tend to rank with a bias against penalty minutes as 1) I hate the scoring category in fantasy and 2) I feel that elite skill and scoring ability is far more difficult to find in drafts than goons who rack up penalty minutes. Elite point producers who can also help in penalty minutes will be recognized, but I will always rank points ahead of penalty minutes. It's easy to fill in the bottom of your roster with easy penalty minutes, don't waste good picks on them.

So let's get to it. Our first set of rankings is for the centers. Centers are easily the deepest position in fantasy hockey with many third line centers providing value each year (very similar to wide receivers in football). As such, you will likely draft some dual position eligibility players to fill your wings and you won't want to wait too long to draft them. There is a benefit in grabbing a strong group of centers right off the get go, they really are what will anchor your team and provide the steady balance for you throughout the year. Let's bring out the first tier of centers:

Tier One:
1 Sidney Crosby Pit C
2 Steven Stamkos TB C

Ok, so that's a rather small tier. It's not my fault, they forced me into it. Crosby is in a league of his own when healthy and I'm hoping that we can put his health concerns to rest as he played eighty games last year. Yes, I know the concussion is still a concern, but he finally played eighty games while easily delivering the highest point per game in the NHL. The Art Ross Trophy was all but wrapped up at the All Star break. He's a stud. Whatever though... health will always be an issue with Crosby which is why this tier has two players. Stamkos led the league in goals per game last year and is arguably the best pure goal scorer in the league. His broken leg last year was a freak injury and not one that owners should be worried about being a recurring problem. He's an elite player in all facets of the game and rightfully deserves to be in this tier. He's about as consistent and safe a pick as you can make.

Tier Two:
3 John Tavares NYI C
4 Claude Giroux Phi C,RW
5 Evgeni Malkin Pit C,RW
6 Ryan Getzlaf Anh C

I'm high on Tavares like no one else seems to be. I get that. But that's because the Islanders are getting better (slowly, but they are) and he is the only player I can see that potentially has the talent and upside that Crosby has. He's going to breakout big soon, it's just a matter of time. If it's not this year, you'll have to watch out for his rating on a so-so Islanders team. Here's a fun question for you. Who has scored the most points in the NHL over the last three full seasons? Giroux. Ya, I know that Crosby and others have been injured, but consistency and durability have to count for something. He was arguably the best player down the stretch last year, making up for a slow start to the season. Malkin is unbelievable. If Crosby is out for any extended time or they ever find themselves on different teams, he jumps into the first tier. Unfortunately, Crosby being on the same team pushes him back a few spots. Everyone else seems to be quite high on Getzlaf and while I love him too, I wonder if we've seen the best from him or if he has what it takes to push into the next tier? He seems to finally have gotten rid of the injury bug that plagued him throughout the earlier part of his career, which is good and he's amazingly consistent, but he's last in my tier two group simply because he's the only one in the tier who I don't think has tier one capability. That said, they are all elite players as evidenced by the fact that no one in tier two will make it out of the first round in any draft (if they do in yours, please invite me - I want in).

Tier Three:
7 Patrick Kane Chi C, RW
8 Anze Kopitar LA C
9 Jonathan Toews Chi C
10 Tyler Seguin Dal C,RW
11 Patrick Sharp Chi C,LW
12 Taylor Hall Edm C,LW
Tiers one and two will go quickly (or expensively) in drafts and not everyone will be able to draft a player from those tiers, but try to make sure you at least get someone in the third tier as I see a distinct separation between tier's three and four. Everyone in this tier still has the ability to contribute in every stat and will make great first centers for your team. Tier three will likely be gone by the end of the second round, going to show just how deep and valuable the center position is. Kane probably has tier two upside, but there always seems to be something holding him back. Whether it's injury, inconsistency, or immaturity, there is always something. I could definitely see him moving up the ranks though if he gets his stuff sorted out. Kopitar is another king of consistency who never misses time and always seems to be getting better. Toews, captain serious, really can do no wrong, but is a far better player in real life than he is in fantasy. As an aside, he'd actually be my number one player to build a franchise around, not Crosby. An added bonus goes out to both Kopitar and Toews if you play with additional categories such as shorthanded points, hits, or blocks. Seguin was a monster last year, but I'm worried about some regression. He has all the skill though. Sharp is another regression candidate who benefited greatly from being on a line with Toews and Hossa. The line shouldn't change this year, but out of the tier three players, he has the least individual skill of the group. Hall is a player that is being held back by his team. On the current Oilers, Hall will be prone to inconsistent results and a poor rating. Of the tier three players, Kane, Seguin, and Hall provide the upside and Kopitar, Toews, and Sharp provide the floor.
Tier Four:
13 Matt Duchene Col C,LW
14 Nicklas Backstrom Was C
15 Nathan MacKinnon Col C,RW
16 Joe Pavelski SJ C,LW
17 Patrick Marleau SJ C,LW
18 Ryan Johansen Cls C,RW
19 Jason Spezza Dal C
20 Pavel Datsyuk Det C,LW
21 Logan Couture SJ C,LW
22 Henrik Zetterberg Det C,LW
Tier four marks a little bit of a drop in value for me. They're all very good players that should be targeted as second centers that can contribute in all categories, but these guys have more distinct question marks about them. Duchene and MacKinnon are stars, but was is to make of the Avalanche this year? They've alternated good and bad years every year since 2007-08 - 95 points, 69 p, 95 p, 68 p, 88 p, 39 p (half lockout), 112 p. To go from last to second in the conference is a huge improvement, but the question is can they sustain it? Recent history says no. MacKinnon though has major upside and tier two talent, I just don't think it'll happen this quickly in just his second year. Backstrom is an elite powerplay producer that people forget can also shoot and put the puck in the net. He's also not directly tied to Alex Ovechkin's production like everyone thinks. Don't get me wrong, AO sure helps, but Backstrom is a star in his own right. The entire Sharks team has questions about whether or not they can take the next step and I specifically am more down on Couture than anyone else seems to be. He's always been in the right situation, surrounded by talent, yet never seems to meet expectations. Johansen is the exact opposite for me. I don't have any expectations with the Blue Jackets and he blows it out of the water. Columbus is a team that always gets a hard time, but they have put together a solid club. With Hartnell and a healthy Horton on his line, he could be a fun ride to follow.
Tier Five:
23 Henrik Sedin Van C
24 Joe Thornton SJ C
25 Eric Staal Car C
26 David Backes StL C,RW
27 Patrice Bergeron Bos C
28 Ryan Kesler Anh C,RW
29 T.J. Oshie StL C,RW
30 David Krejci Bos C
31 Brad Richards Chi C,LW
32 Jeff Carter LA C,RW
33 Alexander Steen StL C,LW
34 Derek Stepan NYR C
35 Gustav Nyquist Det C,RW
36 Bryan Little Wpg C,RW
Tier five marks your last starting center (whether that's because of dual eligibility or three starting roster spots). Everyone in this tier contributes above average across the board in all categories or provides elite production in some categories with average or below average in other categories. Sedin, Thornton, and Krejci provide assists, powerplay, and plus/minus (Sedin not plus/minus actually) while struggling to help much in goals and shots. Sedin and Thornton have the talent and the history of rising into higher tiers. Kesler, Carter, and Steen provide goals, powerplay, and shots while struggling to help as much in assists. Kesler can help with penalties and Steen with plus/minus. Steen also has value in leagues with shorthanded points. Staal, Backes, Bergeron, Oshie, and Little help in all categories, but not to an elite level. Staal will hurt you in rating and Backes helps in penalty minutes and has a lot of extra value in leagues with hits and blocks. Your question marks are Staal, Richards, Steen, Stepan, and Nyquist, most of them due to little history of sustained success or new situations. I'm far higher on Richards than most people are, but I firmly believe in his new situation on the second line in Chicago with Kane and Saad and I'm far lower on Staal due to his inconsistencies from year to year and the terrible team surrounding him.
Tier Six:
37 Paul Stastny StL C
38 Ryan O'Reilly Col C,LW
39 Brandon Dubinsky Cls C,LW
40 Tyler Johnson TB C
41 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Edm C
42 David Desharnais Mon C
43 Mike Ribeiro Nsh C
44 Kyle Turris Ott C
45 Mikko Koivu Min C
46 Tyler Bozak Tor C
47 Brayden Schenn Phi C,LW
48 Nazem Kadri Tor C
49 Valtteri Filppula TB C,LW
50 Michael Cammalleri NJ C,LW
51 Travis Zajac NJ C
52 Patrik Elias NJ C,LW
53 Adam Henrique NJ C
54 Carl Soderberg Bos C
Here are your bench centers in tier six. Most of this tier contains high upside or ultra consistency and durability in good situations. Depending on who your starting centers are will influence which type of bench player you take here. If torn between the two, upside on a bench always wins for me. After all, they weren't picked early enough in the draft that you should feel bad about dropping them if it doesn't pan out. In this tier, I'm significantly higher than others on Desharnais and Zajac and lower on Dubinsky and Turris. Desharnais plays on a top line with a great goal scoring wing in Max Pacioretty and Zajac also finds himself on a top line with Cammalleri and the timeless Jagr. Dubinsky is a better player in real life than in fantasy and only really stands out in penalty minutes and additional categories like shorthanded points, hits, and blocks (which most leagues don't have). As such, he's a bench player for me. Turris is hurt by the departure of Spezza and I'm not sold on his breakout last year.
Tier Seven:
55 Michael Frolik Wpg C,RW
56 Jussi Jokinen Fla C,LW
57 Derick Brassard NYR C
58 Nick Bonino Van C
59 Tomas Plekanec Mon C
60 Mikael Granlund Min C
61 Aleksander Barkov Fla C
62 Jonathan Huberdeau Fla C,LW
63 Olli Jokinen Nsh C
64 Evgeny Kuznetsov Was C
65 Alex Galchenyuk Mon C,LW
66 Mark Scheifele Wpg C
67 Cody Hodgson Buf C,RW
68 Mikael Backlund Cgy C
69 Craig Smith Nsh C,RW
70 Andrew Shaw Chi C
71 Brad Boyes Fla C,RW
72 Mika Zibanejad Ott C,RW
73 Charlie Coyle Min C,RW
74 Filip Forsberg Nsh C,RW
75 Sean Monahan Cgy C
In standard leagues I hope you will not need to dive into tier seven, but it's been known to happen from time to time. These are basically all high upside plays. Guys on bad teams but on the first line, that kind of thing. I seem to be missing whatever it is that everyone is seeing in Kuznetsov and Huberdeau this year. Neither are on their team's top line and both are quite inexperienced. I know that they are elite prospect talents, but lets show some respect for the situation. They aren't coming into a first line role here and aren't playing with any considerable talent on their wings. I'm not drinking that kool-aid.

If you want a Microsoft Excel version of my rankings, here's the link: Center Rankings 2014.

I'm new to the twitterverse, but I'd love to hear your feedback and questions. Follow me on Twitter @HockeyGauntlet for more of my thoughts and all of your fantasy hockey needs. #IsItOctoberYet