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Neutral Zone Wrap: Reacting to Injuries

Evan Berofsky

Evan Berofsky

Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When he’s not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble(TM). If you have anything to say about Evan’s work (or need any hot word tips), feel free to contact him at eberofsky@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).

Neutral Zone Wrap
Evan Berofsky, RotoWire Writer

We're approaching the first drop of the puck. Your fantasy team (assuming you're not waiting until the final seconds to draft) is taking shape and the prospects are promising. After all, you were able to complete the draft while working and walking the dog simultaneously (what, you don't have a pet-sized treadmill in your home office?!). So, naturally, your lineup is ready to go.

But then, your mind fills with questions. What do I do with that excess at a certain position? Do I trade now or wait a few weeks? Should I really be dropping a decent name for a possible waiver wire dud? How soon will it be before the injury bug affects my guys? While you'd think the responses to these problems might be varied, you would be surprised to learn how similar they become. Have too many centers? As long as it doesn't diminish the overall quality of your team, then a transaction is recommended. Want to feel like a real GM but can't wait? See previous answer. How about that un-owned rookie/veteran who is projected to tear up the league? Yup, same answer.

Injuries pose an entirely different problem. Sometimes your best skaters fall victim to bruises, breaks, knockouts, or unfortunate golf cart accidents. How can you protect yourself against player injuries? You can't because, well, they're inevitable. But you can do your darnedest to pick up the best available replacement before someone else beats you to it. Sometimes, the top-ranked free agents prove to be the best solution. But in other instances, the people who are filling those roles on the actual NHL clubs end up working out better. Let's take a look at a few examples of the latter. We'll see who is out and then discuss both the safe and riskier alternate options:

Who has fallen: Mark Streit, D, NY Islanders. Streit is the owner of a really, really separated shoulder (along with a torn rotator cuff, labrum, and confidence) in training camp. He is expected to be sidelined until at least February.

Who will pick up the slack:

The obvious: James Wisniewski was acquired from Anaheim in June to be a supplemental blue line producer. Now in his sixth season, The Wiz will be asked for a lot more. He received his first prolonged taste of power-play activity with the Ducks (although only 17 power play points in two campaigns), thereby appointing him as the prime candidate to quarterback the first unit. Sorry for anyone who expected youngster Calvin de Haan to provide an immediate impact, as he was returned to the junior level.

The reach: Of the remaining defensemen from last spring, Jack Hillen should have been the one given first crack to climb the ranks. After all, the stats are decent (21 in 69) for someone who arrived in 2008 as an undrafted walk-on. Hillen is still only 24, but lately he's been treated as a wash-up by receiving secondary preseason duty. Andrew MacDonald, also 24, is also being tabbed to add some punch from the point, although his 2009-10 was barely noteworthy (seven in 46).

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Who has fallen: Kyle Okposo and Rob Schremp, F, NY Islanders. Okposo became another lucky recipient of the dreaded separated shoulder (along with a torn labrum). He might see action before the end of December, but probably shouldn't. Meanwhile, Schremp took a cross-check to the back and will miss up to a month.

Who will pick up the slack:

The obvious: Josh Bailey enters his third full season having just turned 21. The 2008 first-rounder hasn't necessarily impressed on offense (60 combined points), but he showed enough maturity last year and worked hard in the summer to make the leap to a legitimate 40-to-50 point scorer. Also under consideration are feisty winger Blake Comeau (35 in only 61), solid two-way'er Trent Hunter (double-digit goals in each of six seasons), and the littlest Dane, Frans Nielsen (38 in 76). We'd recommend fifth overall pick Nido Niederriter, but the smart money says he'll be back in juniors before reaching his 10-game limit.

The reach: PA Parenteau may be a shootout legend, but not many fans - let alone Islander enthusiasts - gave the former Ranger farmhand a chance. The AHL numbers may be impressive (204 in his last 184) and his NHL start passes the test (eight in 22), but he's made his mark in this most recent training camp. Parenteau has built a rapport with John Tavares and the two have clicked during preseason action. How long this partnership lasts depends on how badly the Hull native wants to stick with the big club.

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Who has fallen: Matt Stajan and Daymond Langkow, F, Calgary. Stajan is battling a separated shoulder (hey, only two more mentions to get this injury trending on Twitter!) and his return is unknown. Langkow makes the long-term absentee list with assorted concussion-related injuries from a nasty hit back in March.

Who will pick up the slack:

The obvious: As much as I hate to say it, Olli Jokinen will receive top-line responsibilities by default. Let's not forget how well Jokinen initially paired with Jarome Iginla (12 in eight for the Finn), that is, before it fell apart months later. And there's always prospect Mikael Backlund, who may finally be ready to play consistently and has received high marks from head coach Brian Sutter.

The reach: From all indications, Brendan Morrison performed well in his attempted Vancouver comeback but was ultimately cut and found his way one province east. The last two resurrections in Anaheim and Washington turned out to be subpar (although 42 points with the Caps aren't that bad), where he was expected to shoulder the second-line load but tailed off as the season progressed. Morrison shares a positive history of teaming with top talent (Markus Naslund comes to mind), but that's no guarantee for immediate success should he ever line up with Iginla. If there's anyone who knows the benefits of sharing the ice with Iggy, it's Craig Conroy. One can recall the glory days between 2001 and 2004, where the pair torched opponents for roughly a point per game. Even at 39, Conroy can make up for his diminished skills with more applied experience than the rest of the forward contingent combined.

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Who has fallen: Marc Savard, F, Boston. Everyone remembers the incident with Matt Cooke, right? Unfortunately, Savard can't recall too much and still isn't feeling well enough to put on the pads. No set timetable for a return.

Who will pick up the slack:

The obvious: Many are ready to anoint #2 selection Tyler Seguin as the savior to Boston's scoring woes, but let's not forget the established options that need to raise their efforts. When the Bruins invested $4M a year on Michael Ryder, many questioned the move. The ex-Hab's 2009-10 totals (33 in 82) won't sway the naysayers, but a solid season will. Blake Wheeler (38 in 82) will also need to step it up and a regular gig with Patrice Bergeron shouldn't hurt his chances.

The reach: Jordan Caron will turn 20 next month, but the B's are confident the kid can make the jump directly from the QMJHL to the NHL. After a couple sweet exhibition tallies and a willingness to give it his all, many believe Caron can maintain those expectations.

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Who has fallen: Andrei Markov and Roman Hamrlik, D, Montreal. Markov underwent offseason ACL surgery after he was knocked out of the playoffs (also via Matt Cooke) and is looking for a late October/early November debut. Hamrlik tweaked a knee last week and should only miss a handful of games. But hey, he's 36, so we can probably double that projection.

Who will pick up the slack:

The obvious: If you consider PK Subban a ‘sleeper', then you didn't watch the playoffs or you don't follow any recent media. Anyone who witnessed Subban's seamless transition from AHL destroyer (63 in 84 total appearances) to NHL workhorse (eight, including three PPAs) will be able to recognize the immense fantasy upside over an 82-game schedule. But try not to go overboard on a projection. After all, it's a long year for a rookie. And his nasty streak may add penalty minutes but it also lands him in hot water with both his club and the league.

The reach: Besides Jaroslav Spacek and the aforementioned Subban, no other healthy Hab defender fits the bill of offensive contributor. Part of this comes from a balanced commitment at both ends, but the losses of Marc-Andre Bergeron and Paul Mara hurt the overall point production. The only holdover that comes close to qualifying is Josh Gorges (reached 23 points in 2008-09), who logs significant ice time and makes the odd rush but will never be confused for Bobby Orr.

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Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When he's not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabbleä. If you have anything to say about Evan's work (or need any hot word tips), feel free to contact him at eberofsky@yahoo.comor follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).

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