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Neutral Zone Wrap: Keeping Too Long

Evan Berofsky

Evan Berofsky

Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When hes not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble(TM). If you have anything to say about Evans 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
by Evan Berofsky

We're nearly two months in. By now, you should know in which direction your fantasy team is headed. There's no reason to worry about a poor start, assuming you've stayed active on the free agent and/or trade markets. Injuries are inevitable but prolonged slumps can hang around like an albatross. Why hold onto someone if there are no signs for improvement? Unless you're in a keeper league, why stash a minus on your bench if better candidates exist?

In honor of Thanksgiving (you lucky Americans), let's see what turkeys can be discarded and who can serve as the stuffing that binds the ingredients of your team for the remainder of the season. (Yikes, that was pretty corny.)

Top 5 Players You've Been Keeping for Too Long

Like the relatives you can't shed after a holiday gathering. The longer they stay, the more aggravated you become. You can't throw out the in-laws without consequences, but you can confidently drop players who are underperforming:

Brian Campbell, D, Chicago

It seems like only yesterday when Campbell inked an 8-year, $56 million deal. A healthy 52-point first season in Chicago justified the signing and a 38-point follow-up served as a fine complement, but his responsibilities have diminished over time. Clearly behind defensive stalwarts Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook (maybe even Niklas Hjalmarsson) on the depth chart. He's also no longer a mainstay on the man advantage, although that may have translated to Campbell leading the Hawks with a plus-8. Knee problems have hurt, limiting him to 11 games and only four points.

Dan Ellis, G, Tampa Bay

Nabbed from Nashville, moved out of Montreal, tainted on Twitter, and now toiling in Tampa. Neither Ellis (2.81 GAA, .900 SV%) nor Mike Smith (3.15 GAA, .880 SV%) has done anything to claim first chair, which is a shame considering the Lightning score a ton. It's unfortunate, but it's nothing you can control from your couch. Go for another goalie in the meantime. Holding onto Ellis isn't a wise proposition and won't end up paying for his gold-plated bathroom, gazebo extension, or extinct animal collection.

Scott Gomez, F, Montreal

Forget about those 70 and 80-point days. Just be happy if Gomez can hit 50. And if you hope for that number, then you're better off showing him the door. Gomez (at seven points in 22 games) may receive a boon from teaming up with Michael Cammalleri, but don't count on anything special from the Alaskan forward.

Erik Johnson, D, St. Louis

Johnson has never been a scorer and you can clearly tell this season. His ice time ranks up there with the top NHL D-men (over 23 minutes a night, including three-plus on the power-play), but the opportunities just aren't coming. On top of that, Alex Pietrangelo (five in six) and Carlo Colaiacovo (four in five) have handled the bulk of the offense, so there's no reason to push Johnson into an uncomfortable role.

Travis Zajac, F, New Jersey

Even with all the troubles and injuries in Jersey, you'd expect consistency in at least a few team areas. Wrong again. The only balance for the Devils is related to how poorly everyone is doing (with a few exceptions, see below). This includes Zajac, the club's ironman, who has also experienced a rapid stat decline. While November (five points) has produced a marginal improvement over October (four), there's no evidence leading anyone to believe a complete turnaround is forthcoming.

(Honorable mention: Sean Avery, F, NY Rangers; Tomas Fleischmann, F, Washington; Shawn Horcoff, F, Edmonton; Pavel Kubina/Mattias Ohlund, D, Tampa Bay; Manny Malhotra, F, Vancouver)

Top 5 Players You Should be Adding Immediately

When you win a championship, remember to be thankful for those who helped along the way. Like these guys, who have the opportunity to be of service but don't receive the love in most leagues:

Jonas Gustavsson, G, Toronto

The Monster scared the Leafs last year after a heart problem was diagnosed. He also frightened fans based on his early shaky performances (only nine wins in the first five months). But since March (10-6-2), Gustavsson has excelled as a starter and is ready to unseat J.S. Giguere as the #1 – even when the veteran returns from injury.

Roman Hamrlik, D, Montreal

With Andrei Markov (knee) out indefinitely, someone else on the Montreal blueline will have to fill in. And P.K. Subban is not available in your league. Trust me. However, Hamrlik should be there for the taking and has maintained his offensive skills (five in nine) even after 18 seasons. We'd also like to recommend Jaroslav Spacek (six in nine), but he's generally unreliable and can be as flaky as a day-old croissant.

Teddy Purcell, F, Tampa Bay

The Newfoundland native started off with a bang (five assists in six) and has kept up the pace (eight points in eight). It also doesn't hurt that Purcell sees action on one the league's top power-plays, where he has picked up seven of his 15 points. With Vincent Lecavalier (broken hand) sidelined at least another month and Simon Gagne (sore/pain in the neck) still a week or so away from returning, expect Purcell to continue reaping the benefits associated with the Tampa scoring machine.

Mattias Tedenby, F, New Jersey

A first-round selection in 2008, Tedenby was content to stay in Sweden for two more years instead of developing his game in North America. The Devils started him off this season in the AHL, but he quickly outgrew the league (five in 10) and was ready to make the jump. In his short stint, Tedenby (six in seven) has boosted Jersey's anemic offense and is already earning the confidence of his coaches and linemates. Even if both Zach Parise (knee, out until February) and Jamie Langenbrunner (neck problem, missed six so far) came back today, there would still be enough room for the Swede in the forward corps due to his undeniable talent.

R.J. Umberger, F, Columbus

While Derick Brassard (17 in 20) is grabbing the attention for his breakout effort and other youngsters are impressing, it's easy to forget about those in Columbus who are pushing their late 20s. An example of one is Umberger, who has the experience of producing during both the regular season (averaging 50 points the last three) and playoffs (remember that 10-goal outburst for Philly in 2008?). The Pittsburgh-born center has been rewarded for his hardnosed play with a boost in shifts and a spot in all situations. Umberger has responded with a seven-game point streak and has added some toughness (nine points and 20 PIM during this run).

(Honorable mention: Brad Boyes/Andy McDonald, F, St. Louis; Cam Fowler, D, Anaheim; Jussi Jokinen, F, Carolina; Steve Ott, F, Dallas; Ondrej Pavelec, G, Atlanta)

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