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Grand Theft Roto: The "Long Con"

One reader brought up a trade strategy this week that really doesn't get enough consideration. Aaron from Colorado called it the "Long Con." It requires the right situation and a lot of patience, but I believe that situation has presented itself in the form of Martin Havlat.


Casing the Joint


Call him a kicker, call him spoiled, call him fragile (that last one should get "Understatement of the Year" consideration), just don't call him untalented. Havlat is electric on the ice. He shoots, he scores, he passes, and he plays a physical game. Too physical for such a talent, and this is really the root cause of his injury troubles.


At the end of the day, when Havlat is on the ice with regularity, he is the type of player that wins fantasy championships. You want him on your team for the times he is healthy and you don't want him when he is hurt.


The news broke in the Chicago Tribune late last week that Havlat is not going under the knife for his injured shoulder. He will require five to six weeks of rehabilitation, so since he was injured in the first game of the season, that puts him on pace to return around Nov. 20. At that point, he'll join an offense that rookies Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will be comfortable in. The Chicago power play will be a force to reckon with. Havlat's point-per-game pace from last season could be exceeded by a significant margin now that he has star talent to work with.


For the "Long Con" to work, you, like myself, have to have some belief that Havlat can stay healthy. Last season, he came back from injury to play with a clean bill of health from Dec. 9 to the final game of the season. I am chalking up this recent injury to just more bad luck for Havlat, but I'll bet some of my fantasy fortune (yes, I'm going after Havlat too) that he'll be OK after he returns. The trade works better if the target is out for a bit longer, but Havlat's current situation is good enough to illustrate my point.


In short, for his type of trade, you need to offer a strong replacement to Havlat's owner while convincing him that you can afford to wait for his return. What's the advantage to this? You get the best months out of a better player in exchange for an unexciting steady producer, while -– hopefully -– avoiding the burden of dealing with an injured player for some of his down time.


As I mentioned, Havlat is expected to return in a month, so this is a condensed version of the ideal trade. If the prognosis had Havlat out longer, you could wait a bit and increase the amount of time you avoid waiting on an injured bench player. In this example, you should act now.


Brian Gionta and Havlat had relatively close draft-day value, but Gionta represents a steady, boring 60-70 points from your right wing position. Gionta is dependable, but -- to paraphrase Aaron from Colorado -- that kind of conservative fantasy play doesn't win your league. A healthy Havlat can win your league.


Your league's current Havlat owner is likely swimming -- probably even drowning -- in doubt, second-guessing himself for his poor drafting of such an injury-prone player. For crying out loud, Havlat didn't get through the first game! Play that up and offer him Gionta. Tell the owner all about the fact that Havlat's shoulder has been operated on twice before and that he hasn't played 70 games since 2001-02. If you have to supplement the deal with another player who is borderline fantasy relevant, do it. When Havlat goes off, you want him on your roster. He is worth a little sacrifice.

Gionta is the example I used, but any right winger with some name value that is consistent and produces is good. Just make sure you aren't trading a star. Gionta's 89-point season is looking like the proverbial outlier, and I do believe he has a 70-point ceiling. That's why I don't mind parting with him in this example. He is a good supplement to a strong fantasy team, but not someone to build around. If you want to use an example of a player who has put up good numbers this season, use Justin Williams. He has 10 points in seven games, but will end up in the 70-point range like he has for two years running (he had eight points in the first seven games last season; he's streaky). Your trade bait just has to be someone that offers your partner strong, but unspectacular value. Havlat's owner knows how good he can be. You have to tip his scales with an offer he can't refuse. That means a player who has good overall numbers and a well-known name to back it up.


Now, you will have to pad your right wing spot with some hot players for a month while Havlat is out. That means monitoring the waiver wire and rotating in some guys based on the upcoming schedule (luckily, Tristan Cockcroft can help you with that every Sunday with the "Fantasy Forecaster"). I assure you that a couple of shrewd pickups and extra attention can make up for a player like Gionta quite nicely, until the moment you can bring your new star into the lineup.


Pulling the Job


The above Havlat example is just that, an example. This deal can be pulled off with just about any player that is hurt and you expect to return at full tilt. It just works better with players who have a history of costing their owners by being perennially hurt.


The "Long Con" can also involve more planning, as Aaron from Colorado described.
Last season, when he saw Marian Gaborik went right before he wanted him, Aaron decided to pull the "Long Con" on his owner. So to have some trade bait when it came time for Gaborik to take his annual trip to the injured reserve list, Aaron drafted Markus Naslund right after Gaborik was selected. Aaron, knowing ahead of time he was going to pull this maneuver, then drafted some high-upside left wingers at the end of his draft so he could keep his team afloat while he waited for Gaborik.


On goes the season and before too long, Gaborik goes down with a prognosis to miss several months. To help make the trade more effective, Aaron sat on his hands for a while before going after Gaborik's owner. By mid-December, it wasn't too hard to talk him into taking a steady -- if now unspectacular -- Naslund for Gaborik, straight up.


The risky pickups Aaron made at left wing during the draft bridged the gap from Naslund's trade to Gaborik's return. He took some good-natured ribbing for parting with Naslund for a consistently injured Gaborik, but Aaron got the last laugh when Gaborik returned to score 50 points in the final 41 games.


He affectionately refers to his "Long Con" as "The Gabby."


It's too late to plan your "Long Con" from the draft this season, but remember it next season. And don't hesitate to try and pull something similar for Steve Sullivan (assuming you can't just pick him up in your league).


Just wait, and watch for a player you covet to go down for a couple of months and then start planning your attack. There is nothing like having a point-per-game player burst onto your fantasy team for the stretch run.


Until next week, don't just win your league. Steal it.


Sean Allen and a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can Email him here.