We're down to the final month or so in the fantasy hockey season, which means playoffs are just around the corner. If you're still paying attention at this point, that means you're probably still in the running to win. You've done your homework all season long, and there's no point going to sleep now. There are still some valuable waiver options and last minute tweaks to consider as you drive your team toward first place.
Let's start with the waiver wire, keeping in mind those final two weeks are what matter most at this point.
Zach Parise (NJ)
Yes, there's a fair chance he won't play an NHL game until October, but just what if he does? He just got clearance to skate this week, and continues to publicly say he intends to play this season. Even if he plays just the final week of the season, he could very well be the best player on your roster in the finals. He's still available in roughly 1/4 of CBS and Yahoo leagues, but that will change quickly the moment the first picture of Parise on skates hits the front page of TSN.
Mark Streit (D-NYI)
The other forgotten man in the New York area this season is on a similar timetable. Streit missed the entire season so far with a shoulder injury suffered in the pre-season. At the time, he was scheduled to return in February. He also recently resumed skating, but there is no official timetable for his return. Should he return, the storyline mimics that of Parise. He could easily be the top defenseman on your roster in the final week or two. If you've got a bench spot laying around, why not stash him away and hope for the best? He's available in roughly half of the leagues out there.
Now how about some options that can help you right now? …
Jiri Hudler (DET)
Hudler has been all over the map (literally) over the past year. After abandoning the Wings last season for the KHL, he came crawling back this summer with hopes that he could be a major factor in the Detroit offense. It didn't happen, and he found himself a healthy scratch at times. However, since February 7th, he's been averaging a point a game. So what changed? About that time, he got paired up with a guy named Pavel Datsyuk. As long as he holds that coveted spot, you can expect consistent production. He's available in 2/3 of leagues.
Matt Calvert (COB)
Most fans had never heard the name of Calvert up until last week. After all, he has just 15 points in 23 career games. So what's the big deal? The rookie winger has 8 goals in his last 8 games since joining forces with R.J. Umberger. His playing time has risen from an average of 6-8 minutes a game last month to 13-14 minutes over the past 2 weeks. He had a career high of 7 shots on net in a game against Phoenix, which also produced his first career hat trick. No telling how long this magic will endure, but it's worth riding the train for now.
Devin Setoguchi (SJ)
Setoguchi became the forgotten man in San Jose through the first half of the season. Fans were beginning to believe his 30 goal performance two years back was a fluke, as he had a whopping 2 goals by mid-December this season. Since returning from an upper body injury in December, he has been a new man. He has 17 points in his last 17 games and is starting to disappear from waiver wires.
Keep or Drop?
Fantasy owners are facing decisions on several injured or struggling players. Here's my take on what to do:
Ales Hemsky (EDM)
If you drafted Hemsky this season, you're probably pulling your hair out by now. His week to week performance is all over the map, typically defined by his health more than his talent. He went on a run in mid-February that earned him 9 points in 5 games. The latest piece of bad news arrived yesterday with word that he's down with a shoulder injury. While he's projected to be out about 3 weeks, I wouldn't bank on much production in those final 2, if he comes back at all. The Oilers have more incentive to keep him off the ice than on, as they vie for the #1 pick this spring. Drop him and look at the list above for help.
Chris Kunitz (PIT)
Kunitz is a tough call for many reasons. The Pens have been quiet about the severity of his injury and the timeline for getting him back in uniform. Latest word has him potentially playing this weekend. When he does return, it's not clear where he'll land in the lineup. The Pens just acquired James Neal and Alex Kovalev to man the wings, and several rookies have made a good impression in the Kunitz' absence. However, Coach Bylsma made a point of stressing the importance of his role with the team after bringing in the new talent. To a large extent, his value may be tied to the return or non-return of Crosby. For now, I'd hold on another week and see how this plays out. If he's not back and producing by mid-March, then let him go.
Evgeni Nabokov (G-NYI)
For the past few weeks, I urged fantasy owners to hang on to Nabokov through the deadline, in anticipation of a possible move to a contender. Now that this window has passed, don't expect him to play a game this season. Move along.
Marian Gaborik (NYR)
Despite the talent, I gave up on Gaborik years ago. I just can't take the up and down. However, if you drafted him, you're left with the decision as the concussion uncertainly looms on. Bottom line is that if you drop him and he does return, you'll cause grievous bodily harm to yourself. Since I don't want that liability coming back to me, I'll advise you to keep him on your bench and pray for healing.
Bench or Start?
Now what about those guys who have hit a wall lately, but clearly can't be dropped? Here's my quick take on the guys in a temporary funk:
• James Neal (PIT) - Start: Zero points in 4 games since donning the Pens sweater. He's getting his chances and it's a matter of time before he starts burying the puck.
• Mike Green (D-WAS) - Bench: Keep getting your hopes up from news of a possible return, only to find another game in the press box holding his ear in his hands. Until he plays a game, keep him benched.
• Any Blues Goalie - Bench. The Blues can't find their game.
• Thomas Vokoun (G-FLA) - Bench. The Panthers made a decision to punt once again this season. Don't expect much support for Vokoun down the stretch.
• Johan Franzen (DET) - Start: In 15 games following his 5-goal performance, he has exactly 0 goals. Keep the faith. He's still averaged more than 3 shots a game over that stretch. The goals will come back in bunches, and soon.
• Alex Burrows (VAN) - Start: After a stretch of scoring 8 goals in 8 games, he's now gone 9 games without a goal, and 5 without a point. The Canucks as a team have hit a wall recently, but should snap out of it soon. Keep him active.
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