Because the Boston Bruins have no power-play goals at home and the Detroit Red Wings have no power-play goals on the road, the Fantasy Forecaster is still waiting to run on this season's statistics alone. There is a similar level of influence to last week's on the numbers from the 2011-12 season data. Send some good vibes to the Bruins and Red Wings, and let's hope they can finally get the Fantasy Forecaster into 2013 territory.
If we are at the point in the season where the forecaster begins to rely on new data, time is quickly running out to make a play for this season's surprises. More than 10 games into the season for most teams you aren't going to get the owners of players like Patrick Kane or Thomas Vanek trying to sell high. Both players have a pedigree worthy of keeping up the torrid pace, and their owners know this. Owners of Tuukka Rask, Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford are quickly realizing they have a goaltender who is going to be worth a lot more than they expected on draft day. Any chances of their
being convinced to trade you their winning goaltender have been reduced to but a sliver of a hope.
Yes, we are getting into the doldrums of the fantasy hockey season. Fewer owners are jumping to sell high on a hot starter who has kept it up this long, and fewer still are trading away struggling players who are starting to show signs of life. The trade winds will pick up again soon. Some of the hot starts will begin to look less hot when they reach 15 games played without scoring in the past five. And some of the cold starts will become downright frozen when a player gets to 15 or 20 games without making an impact. But try to lean away from the trade market for a little while. Let the hot starters on a streak and cold starters in a slump have five or 10 more games to separate themselves from the pack. If you can wait another week to 10 days before making a desperate move, there is still plenty of season left to turn things around.
In the meantime, look to the waiver wire or free-agent pile for some help. This is likely your last chance to pick up some of the following players.
Brenden Morrow, LW, Dallas Stars (available in 96 percent of ESPN leagues): It turns out Jamie Benn needed exactly four games to get his legs back. Benn exploded for five points in the past two games, and he has done it with a new linemate. Stars coach Glen Gulutzan swapped out longtime Benn linemate Loui Eriksson and replaced him with Morrow. Once the poster boy for multicategorical fantasy hockey contributions, Morrow has been slowed by injuries and limited ice time the past few seasons. But looking healthy and playing with Benn and Jaromir Jagr is the formula for Morrow to return to his roots as a power forward. Ray Whitney is eyeing a mid-March return from a broken foot, so Morrow has all the time in the world to settle in and excel in this role. He already has two points and a plus-3 in two games on the top line.
Lubomir Visnovsky, D, New York Islanders (available in 57 percent of ESPN leagues): So a lot of things got in the way of Visnovsky's becoming an Islander, and it became pretty obvious he would prefer to play elsewhere. So what? This is the D-man who led all defensemen in scoring just two seasons ago with a ridiculous 68 points. Of those 68 points, 31 came on the power play. The Islanders have a very good power-play unit that Visnovsky will make great. Sharing the ice with John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Mark Streit (plus a yet-to-be-decided forward) will have Visnovsky collecting points to make up for his late start in no time. Visnovsky is expected to practice with the club on Friday and should be on the ice during a game by early next week at the latest.
Viktor Fasth, G, Anaheim Ducks (available in 27 percent of ESPN leagues): The new king hasn't been crowned yet, but the old king is on his deathbed. Jonas Hiller's 3.54 goals-against average and .871 save percentage wouldn't be the end of the world for fantasy owners, and we would all be expecting a bounce-back soon. That is, if Fasth wasn't waiting in the wings with a 0.98 GAA and .962 save percentage for a perfect 4-0 record. Yes, Swedish elite league goalies were beginning to get a bad name the last couple seasons for an inability to translate their dominance from Sweden to the NHL. But for every Henrik Karlsson and Jonas Gustavsson there is a Henrik Lundqvist. Fasth is definitely showing us more parts Lundqvist than Gustavsson. Goaltenders don't come along for free on the waiver wire very often, so jump on this chance to get one. Hiller surely won't give up his starter role without a fight, but he isn't assured of winning that fight.
Jiri Hudler, RW, Calgary Flames (available in 58 percent of ESPN leagues): Hudler has seven points in five games and has long been discussed as a budding star in the league. Why is he still available in more than half of ESPN leagues? Maybe the Flames' limited schedule to start the season, combined with his absence for the first three games, has kept him out of the limelight. Whatever the case, Hudler is better than a player you are currently starting for your fantasy lineup. Period.
Andy Greene, D, New Jersey Devils (available in 86 percent of ESPN leagues): Coach Peter DeBoer is developing a new favorite defenseman. Marek Zidlicky's ice time peaked at 23:18 during a game on Jan. 31 against the New York Islanders. In the four games since, he hasn't managed to climb past 18:26 in ice time and has finished with as little as 13:19. Meanwhile, Greene has six points in the past four games. Four of those points have come on the power play (three of them with the top unit). Greene flashed us his offense and power-play capability in 2009-10, and it looks like DeBoer is trying to get him back into scoring again at the expense of Zidlicky.
Leland Irving, G, Calgary Flames (available in 94 percent of ESPN leagues): As Flames GM Jay Feaster told the Calgary Herald, "Sometimes you need the door to open. And once the door opens, it's incumbent upon the athlete to kick that door in. That's what [Irving] has right now -- a tremendous opportunity." It's hard to put the sentiment better than Feaster did. Irving is a 24-year-old highly skilled, mentally tough goaltender who is just waiting for his chance to show he can play in the NHL. A shutout period in emergency relief of Miikka Kiprusoff on Tuesday was followed by a solid if unspectacular win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday. Kipper is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, but you know how these things can go for goaltenders: Day-to-day turns into week-to-week. Irving has the door open. If he does kick it in, wouldn't it be better if he was already on your bench?
Looking for offense
St. Louis Blues: The Blues have been slumping without Jaroslav Halak, but that shouldn't keep the offense down for long. Though it's OK to be bearish on Brian Elliot while Halak isn't there to back him up (nine goals allowed in past two games), the offense can't be kept down for long. The Blues catch the Los Angeles Kings, Detroit Red Wings, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks during a four-game week ahead. In the past three games, the Blues have only one goal that wasn't on the power play. Coach Ken Hitchcock is already switching up the lineup to try to generate some offense. The biggest target for the coming week has to be Jaden Schwartz. After a couple of games in the press box, he returned to play the most minutes yet this season on a line with Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Tarasenko. If Schwartz gets his trigger going for next week, he is going to get a lot of opportunities to score with those linemates. Wade Redden is another place to look for some offense. The veteran defenseman is settled in with Alex Pietrangelo as a defense partner now and is playing modest power-play minutes as well. Consider starting both Schwartz and Redden in deeper leagues and roll with the rest of the Blues regulars in shallow formats.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes' schedule is stacked at the beginning of the week. After playing the New York Islanders on Monday, the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, the Canes are done for the week. For leagues with daily roster moves: Pick up some Hurricanes to bulk up your games played at the start of the week and swap them out for the weekend. The first place to look is Patrick Dwyer. Though he won the role thanks to his defensive abilities, Dwyer beat out Zac Dalpe for the second-line wing spot next to Jeff Skinner and Jordan Staal. Dwyer has three points in three games since officially stealing the job from Dalpe. The next place to look is Justin Faulk. He has won out for the power-play role on the team's first unit. On a team that boasts more offensive defensemen than stay-at-home types, it's not a small accomplishment for Faulk to have separated himself in the eyes of coach Kirk Muller. The final place to look would be Tim Brent. Known more for taking faceoffs and killing penalties, Brent won a role on the top power-play unit and has two assists (both on the power play) in the past two games. Aside from Faulk, Brent shares ice time on the man advantage with Eric Staal, Alexander Semin and Skinner, not a bad unit.
Dallas Stars: The Stars take on western Canada next week, with games against the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks and a home-and-home with the Calgary Flames. The merits of adding Brenden Morrow to your lineup are discussed at the beginning of this article, but the second line can offer some value as well. Derek Roy returned this week from a groin strain and has a point in each of his two games back. Because of Morrow's promotion from further down the depth chart, Roy's line got better with the demotion of Loui Eriksson. Add shoot-first-ask-questions-later Michael Ryder to the mix and you have a dangerous line with a playmaker (Roy), shooter (Ryder) and dynamic winger (Eriksson). With Jamie Benn drawing increasing attention from opponents, the second line is free to contribute. If you want to look a little deeper, consider Philip Larsen. Though a healthy scratch several times this season, he boasts more offense than most of the other Stars D-men. Larsen led the team in power-play minutes on Wednesday, fired three shots on goal and finished with a plus-1 rating.
Looking for goaltending
Calgary Flames: It becomes increasingly difficult as the season winds on to "look for goaltending" on the free-agent pile, but the Fantasy Forecaster is here to help even the most difficult situations. While Leland Irving is not guaranteed to still have the reins next week and the Flames schedule isn't ideal, he has a better chance to start four games than a lot of other goalies. Miikka Kiprusoff is sidelined (day-to-day) with a lower-body injury and Irving, despite limited NHL experience, is his replacement. The upside is there, but there is a downside to facing the Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars (twice) next week. Not the least of which is that three of the games are against teams that are suggested above as places to look for offense. Still, Irving is likely starting. That is half the battle sometimes when you are looking for goaltending in fantasy hockey.
Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes have a terrific week ahead for defense on the forecaster. Catching the Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets couldn't come at a better time for Mike Smith and the Desert Dogs. Now, Smith is obviously owned in every fantasy league and is the starter for the Coyotes until further notice. That said, Smith's career is plagued with inconsistency that seems to have been forgotten because his season was so good last year. That happens when a goaltender is among the best in the league for a whole season; we tend to forget they were not very good for five seasons prior. There is a chance that Smith's 3.43 goals-against average and two games with six goals allowed are harbingers of things to come. Jason LaBarbera isn't the long-term solution, but he is the short-term solution. If Smith struggles over the weekend, LaBarbera could be in line for a start or two next week. Here's hoping Smith can right the ship, quickly. But be prepared in case he doesn't.
Buffalo Sabres: It's OK to start wondering if Ryan Miller is going to be a No. 1 fantasy goaltender this season. He has now allowed four goals for the past five consecutive games. The Sabres are playing fast and loose anytime they fall behind. It has tended to allow the opposition better scoring chances against a goaltender who is, from a skills perspective, better than most. The problem is that the strategy is working and the Sabres are coming from behind to win games. But the bigger problem is the absence of Robyn Regehr and Andrej Sekera on the blue line. Both players are described as day-to-day and could be back soon. Their presence should cut down on the gift-wrapped chances other teams are getting on Miller. Keep the faith in Miller, at least until the blue line is healthy again. If the problem persists at that point, then you can get really worried.
Each week the Fantasy Forecaster will also include some advice for the ESPN Hockey Challenge. This is the salary-cap game that allows you free rein over your fantasy hockey decisions within a $100 million fantasy budget. For more on the game and to sign up, click here.
The skeds: The revered four-game schedule this week belongs to the Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis Blues. That is a smaller number than in previous weeks, limiting the options for those who like to max out their games played. Only the Edmonton Oilers have the dreaded two-game week and should be avoided.
It will be hard to resist pairing up Alex Pietrangelo ($7.1M) and Kevin Shattenkirk ($6.7M) on your blue line. With the Blues playing four games and both players already near the top of the pile for D-men production, it's the perfect time to get them into your lineup if they aren't already. Defensemen don't come cheaper or hotter than Andy Greene ($4.7M). He has six points in his last four games; his price is phenomenal if you really need to save some money for someone else on your roster. Dennis Wideman ($6.4M) has five points in the past four games for the Calgary Flames and has a four-game schedule for the week ahead.
There aren't many players on a hot streak who will enter next week with four games to play, but Jamie Benn ($7.5M) is the exception. With five points in his past two games, Benn has found his groove. The best part: He is coming off a week with a drop in his salary in the Hockey Challenge. The Minnesota Wild have been a bit cold as a team, but Zach Parise ($8.4M), Mikko Koivu ($8.3M) and Dany Heatley ($7.9M) have four games next week to shake off the cobwebs. Alex Tanguay ($6.6M) is a bargain and is finding a way to score even though linemate Jarome Iginla ($7.6M) isn't. Tanguay and the Flames, including Jiri Hudler ($6.7M), have four games next week.
Goaltending: It may be a scary proposition given what Brian Elliott ($11.1M) has done the past two games, but the Blues not only boast a four-game schedule next week but a four-game schedule perfectly spaced with no back-to-back nights. With Jaroslav Halak ($11.9M) dealing with a groin injury, Elliot could very well start all four games. But can you trust him after two terrible outings in a row? Mike Smith ($11.8M) and the Phoenix Coyotes have a very nice schedule next week, but once again there is a question of trust, given recent performance. Of the other four-game week teams, Niklas Backstrom ($11.4M) looks to be the safest pick for wins. Given Miikka Kiprusoff's ($10.5M) injury, Leland Irving ($8.8M) is the super-saver goalie of the week. The Calgary Flames have four games to play, and Kipper might not be available for any of them.
My roster for next week:
I'm having trouble resisting playing the long game this season. My strategy of building an All-Star lineup and then gambling on goaltenders is working but could pay even bigger dividends down the road. I've been missing a lot on my goaltender picks, but my strong offensive lineup has kept me in the 96th percentile for the Hockey Challenge. I continue the strategy by rolling the dice on Leland Irving and using the savings to add Patrick Kane to my already potent offense. I do have $2.1M left over to switch out Irving if word comes out on Sunday that Miikka Kiprusoff is getting better.
Leland Irving, G ($8.8M)
Niklas Backstrom, G ($11.4M)
Kevin Shattenkirk, D ($6.7M)
Erik Karlsson, D ($7.5M / $8.0M on market)
Alex Pietrangelo, D ($7.1M)
Kris Letang, D ($7.1M / $7.6M on market)
Sidney Crosby, F ($8.8M / $9.3M on market)
Evgeni Malkin, F ($8.7M / $9.2M on market)
Steven Stamkos, F ($8.7M / $9.3M on market)
Thomas Vanek, F ($7.4M / $8.0M on market)
Jamie Benn, F ($7.5M)
Patrick Kane, F ($8.2M)