The Pacific Freeloaders: One Team's Story


Hey August. Piss off.

August, you are a sick bastard because you are not September or October, and you have no hockey for us. The 25 degree days have me inclined to forgive you, but still...I'm thinking that, to keep us entertained all summer, maybe Gary Roberts should form a televised summer league instead of his current enterprise. I mean, come on! When is a bootcamp not a bootcamp? When it's a MILLIONAIRE bootcamp, that's when. Still, it is a comforting thing to know your fantasy property is being butt-raped Roberts-style over the summer, rather than spending his idle time tag-teaming Sea Isle Sally with Jeff Carter or swilling Smirnoff shooters with Ovie at Moscow's notoriously seedy Krutov's Burgers n' Vodka n' More Burgers n' More Vodka Lounge.

But, primarily for your sake, allow me to stop the blathering. I will say up front that this started this as a fanpost.  But since Cam and Jay are paying me the big bucks. I feel obliged to make this long-winded diatribe front page news here at FHS. It's all about job security. I hope you understand. 

The following is an admittedly self-indulgent update on my first and longest running keeper team, the Pacific Freeloaders. I'm hoping you'll post your own similar stories about your own teams in the comments. I'll also welcome any criticisms (or kudos - actually, mostly kudos please) towards my team. 

2011-12 will be my sixth season with the Freeloaders, a keeper team I inherited in 2006, in a 10 team roto league counting G A +/- PIM SOG PPP W SV% GAA. We keep 17 plus a farm system of 45 each (started at 20 but we've expanded over the years). NHL GP limits are pretty generous for the farm - F 246 D 328 G 200. I now only have 3 players remaining from my original 2006 roster - Brown, Bergeron, and Whitney.

For the first couple of years, I was pretty clueless but managed to stumble to two 4th place finishes in 06-07 and 07-08, largely on the strength of dominating the goalie cats with a JSG/Turco/Leclaire tandem. I thought I was set at goalie for years to come. Err...yeah, not so much. 

I finished last in 08-09 (hello Tavares), 7th in 09-10, and 6th in 10-11. Over those seasons I started spending a lot of time studying prospects, and trying to unlock just what makes a roto team successful.

I made a few shrewd moves before the 10-11 season. I swapped my 3rd and 13th prospect picks for 5th pick and Lehtonen. With the 5th pick I grabbed Tarasenko. Then I traded my 2011 1st for 7th overall, which I used to grab a young lad named Skinner. I also managed to grab Schwartz, Hishon and Weal in that draft. If you're keeping track, that would be 5 of FHS's top 10 fantasy picks from the 2010 draft. Not a coinicidence. I also took Visentin and Wedgewood as you can never have too many goalie prospects stashed on the farm. Oh. and Beau Bennett too. So I pretty much had my way with the 2010 draft - and the 2010 draft liked it.

Last January I found myself in 3rd place and made a couple of deals that landed me Pavelec (just at the end of his insane hot streak), Wiz, Spezza, Pronger and Doan to try and make a bit of a run for the title. Unfortunately Pavs hit the skids almost immediately and I finished close to last in all 3 goalie cats. Well. So much for that. 

But as it turned out, dealing prospects for Doan and Pronger made me start getting the itch to make all my good drafting pay off sooner rather than later. So this summer I decided to see what kind of established talent I could get by dangling my farmers as bait. It was time to consolidate, and as much as I hated giving up so many of my beloved blue chip prospects, I knew I'd have to swap at least 2-for-1 to get proven talent in return for my young 'uns. 

I might be forgetting a couple of moves, but in the last 14 months, my revamp looks like this:

OUT: Semin ,Neal, Stewart, Carlson, Bieksa, Hishon, Markstrom, Tarasenko, Marchand, Schwartz, Kassian, Visentin, 2010 1st, 2010 2nd, 2011 2nd, 2012 3rd

IN: Ward, Lehtonen, Pavelec, Kovalchuk, M. Richards, Spezza, Doan, Wisniewski, Pronger, Dubinsky, Kucherov, 2010 1st, 2010 2nd, 2012 2nd.

Honestly, looking at the players I gave up makes me shit my pants. Could end up being the 2017 all-star team. BUT I went for proven talent over unproven, which our friend Jeff Angus over at Dobber would be happy to hear. It will be interesting to re-visit this article in a few years when the verdict is in.

So, my starting lineup for October will be:

F: Kovalchuk, Tavares, Skinner, Spezza, Hartnell, M. Richards, Brown, Doan, Ribeiro, Williams

D: Ehrhoff, Wiz, Pronger, Whitney, Suter

G: Ward, Lehtonen, Pavelec

Bench: Dubinsky, Bergeron (BOS)

I also still have some great farmers in the wings - highlights are Orlov, Armia, Puempel, Kucherov, Josi, Silverberg, Weal, Hamonic, Rodin. McNabb, Salak, Dubnyk, Montoya. I expect at least one or two of them to develop into something special. Plus I'll have 3 picks in the top 20 (or better) of the 2012 draft, which is shaping up to be dynamite. 

Some things I love about this lineup:

- beyond Doan and Pronger, my oldest player is Ribeiro at 31. Everyone else is 29 or younger, so I should be able to keep this roster stable for the next 5-6 years, giving Tavares and Skinner time to really come into their own, and me time to develop the Puempels, Hamonics and Orlovs of the world.

- this team is custom built for standard leagues. Hartnell, Brown, Doan, Dubinsky? I mean, come on. 

- Skinner! I admit it -  I have a man-crush. To give you an idea, last month I drafted Skinner in the 6th round in an inaugural keeper draft. Chara, Keith, Thornton, Vanek, Ehrhoff, Buf, Edler, and Duchene were all still available.That should tell you all you need to know about my borderline-creepy obsession with the kid. I predict Skinner pots 40 as soon as this season. I almost guarantee it. In fact, since I have your attention, I do guarantee it. See you in April on that one.

Some things that concern me about this lineup:

- Goaltending: Considering I had to revamp my goalies from scratch, I'm pretty happy with a Ward/Lehtonen tandem, with Pavelec to fill in the blanks (we have 164 goalie starts/season). But this year, the most I should realistically hope for is middle of the pack goalie stats. I'd be extremely happy with anything better than 75 wins, 2.50 GAA and .918 SV%. But that's probably reaching.

- Not enough elite scorers  Despite having a well-rounded lineup, my marquee player is Kovalchuk, with Tavares right behind him. But let's face it - I don't have a current top ten (some would argue top 20) player in my lineup.

- Bench D depth. With dealing Carlson and Bieksa, my only real bench option for D is to call up Hamonic from the farm. If Whitney and Pronger are both injured at the same time, which is a definite possibility, I'll be looking to the waiver wire to fill my 5th D slot. We're talking Montador or Hamhuis. Gross.

So there's my summer team breakdown - something to fill the dog days of selfish old August, a month I feel we have all tolerated quite enough at this point. Hear that, August? Piss off.

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