Thursday, December 11, 2008

Extra Attacker: Keep Your Fingers Safe

A few weeks ago I brought you my first "Extra Attacker" hockey feature which tried to bring some reason to the circus surrounding Barry Melrose and the Tampa Bay Lightning. As the hockey season progresses, I will begin to feature more NHL and fantasy hockey articles as a complement to Joe Romano's "The Puck Stops Here" fantasy advice every Thursday. This week, I'll do my best to fill Joe's shoes and see if we can find those under-the-radar NHL players that can take your fantasy team to the next level. First, a few personal thoughts.

As a lifetime hockey fan, I can't help but be disappointed by the fact that Joe Sakic's career is likely over following a freak accident with a snowblower on Wednesday that left him with multiple broken fingers and resulted in surgery to repair torn tendons.  Sakic was one of the most exciting players in the NHL to watch over the last decade and a half and was a classy guy off the ice too.  If you hung onto Sakic after his recent herniated disc injury, I know it's tough, but it's time to let him go.

As an update to the Tampa Bay article I referenced above, the revolving door continues as players are shuffled in and out almost daily.  This week featured big offseason signings Chris Gratton and Radim Vrbata being placed on waivers and the Lightning dressing their 35th different player of the season.  The Lightning are 1-7-2 since Tocchet took over and show no signs of righting the ship.  I think the Gratton and Vrbata moves are an indication of how this is going to play out.  The Lightning need to increase cash flow by $18 million this year.  If they have no hope of making the playoffs, their only option is to dump salary as quickly as possible.  Veterans like 42-year old Gary Roberts will be waiting in line to be shipped to a contender, and I really start to wonder if longtime-Lightning Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis will still be around next summer.  Let's get to the fantasy watch list...

Derek Roy - C - Buffalo: I've always been a fan of Roy, but he's a slow starter. After letting him get away from me in my draft this year, I made a mental note to try to deal for him in December before he caught fire. If he's not available in your league right now, you need to do the same. Take a look at his finish last year, take into account his recent stretch of 14 points in 13 games, and I don't see any reason you wouldn't want him on your team.

Justin Williams - RW - Carolina: Last season Williams only played 37 games as a result of a torn ACL.  Before he had a chance to make his return this season, he suffered a torn achilles tendon in training camp.  The initial timetable was a minimum of 3-4 months with no telling how the injury would affect the Hurricanes winger long-term. Amazingly, Williams quietly returned to the ice last Thursday, December 4 and it couldn't have come at a better time for a team that recently fired head coach Peter Laviolette and own the league's 2nd-worst powerplay.  When healthy, Williams is a 75-point, 80 penalty minute winger and players like that don't just fall out of the sky.  Pick him up, be patient for a week or two and while you're at it look to trade for the underachieving Eric Staal.  Staal's 16 points through 28 games are a far cry from the 100 points he posted only a few seasons ago.  He'll be thrilled to have Williams back.

Shawn Horcoff - C - Edmonton: The poor man's Ales Hemsky is a notoriously streaky player. Right now, he's on fire. With 12 points in his last 8 games (and a fight with David Backes for good measure); Horcoff, Hemsky, and Dustin Penner are clicking and it's resulting in wins for the Oilers.

Steve Reinprecht - C - Phoenix: When it comes to fantasy sports, I'm a firm believer in focusing on the teams like Phoenix that don't get much media attention. After Olli Jokinen was injured a few weeks ago, Coach Wayne Gretzky reunited his top line from last season of Reinprecht, Peter Mueller, and Shane Doan. Reinprecht has played very effectively and is worth adding to your radar, especially if Gretzky decides to move Jokinen down to the 2nd line when he returns in an attempt to find secondary scoring.

Phil Kessel - RW - Boston: I know, Kessel is most likely not still available in your league, but I'm featuring him here because I think you need to swing a trade for him.  He is in the midst of a 13 game point streak and I have a feeling he is only heating up.  The Bruins top line of Marc Savard, Kessel and Boston cult-hero Milan Lucic, is arguably the best in the NHL and after watching the last six Bruins games, this line will stay together.  Savard doesn't get the recognition that Joe Thornton does, but it can be argued he is the best playmaker in the game, while Lucic isn't afraid to throw his body around in the corners.  This leaves the sniper Kessel to park in front of the net and rack up goals.  I know it'll be expensive to bring Kessel to your team at this point, but I still think he is undervalued in this situation. 

Jay Bouwmeester - D - Florida: Bouwmeester is one of the fastest defensemen in the NHL, but failed to register a goal in the first 20 games of the season.  In some leagues, frustrated owners may have decided to move on without Jay.  Since Bouwmeester found that elusive first goal, he has unloaded for 8 points in his last 7 games including 3 powerplay goals.  Not only do I like these stats, but I think there is even greater upside with his situation.  He is set to become a free-agent this summer and is likely fed up with the lack of success Florida has had. I doubt he'll resign. In an attempt to recover some sort of value for Bouwmeester before he hits the open market, look for the Panthers to deal him to a playoff contender in need of a puck-moving defenseman.  My personal hunch is Ottawa, but the Senators will hold off until Mats Sundin decides on his return to the NHL before making any drastic moves.  If he ends up quarterbacking the Ottawa powerplay the second half of the season, I can't even begin to dream about the points he'll put up.

Kyle Quincey - D - Los Angeles: Quincey and 19-year old phenom Drew Doughty have been relied upon to lead a defensive corps that has lost Rob Blake and Lubomir Visnovsky in recent seasons.  Both have stepped up to the challenge.  Quincey has registered 16 points through 24 games and Doughty is averaging almost 24 minutes a game (including 27 last Friday).  This is another case of great talent flying under the radar on a lesser-known team, and both defensemen should produce for the Kings and fantasy owners alike for years to come.

Steve Mason - G - Columbus: Columbus is the only NHL franchise never to appear in the playoffs and in the super-competitive Western Conference they have realized they can't afford to be patient on the 20-year-old Mason.  Last season Blue Jackets goalie Pascal Leclaire
 burst onto the scene with 9 shutouts, but an ankle injury in late October allowed Mason to take the starting job and run with it.  Columbus realizes that Mason may be the future of the franchise in goal and will have trouble not starting him as long as he keeps winning games.  The Jackets aren't one of the top teams in the West and will likely miss the playoffs again, but for leagues that count saves or save percentage as a category, Mason will be a great addition to your roster.

Next Thursday Joe will be back with "The Puck Stops Here." If you have any questions on this article or would like to see any specific NHL topic covered by SportsJudge don't hesitate to comment.

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