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Frozen Fantasy: Black Friday

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson is a four-time winner of the Hockey Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

Forget the playoffs; your team may be doomed. They’re not likely to get a playoff spot if they’re not in one today.

Go get a Kleenex; I’ll wait while you wipe your tears.

U.S. Thanksgiving is the benchmark used by NHL general managers to assess their playoff hopes. And according to a fascinating article this week in the Toronto Star, some 77.5 percent of teams that were in a playoff spot on U.S. Thanksgiving still had a playoff spot come spring. Just 22.5 percent of those on the outside made it back in. The data goes back to 1993.

Ouch.

Twelve of the teams in playoff contention at this time last season made the postseason; 14 of 16 made it the year before. But the sample size isn’t restricted to just two seasons. Since ’93, 186 of 240 teams (77.5 percent) that were in at Thanksgiving stayed in.

It gets even more definitive when you look at these facts:
84 percent of teams that had 17 or fewer points at U.S. Thanksgiving failed to make the postseason (think Islanders, Oilers and Devils)
89 percent that had 28 points or more at the same point made the playoffs (think Flyers, Capitals, Canadiens, Lightning, Penguins, Red Wings and Blue Jackets)

The pain runs deep. No preseason prediction put the Devils on the outside and the Blue Jackets on the inside.

None.

Black Friday now means a lot more than deep discounts at retail. This year, it could be the foreshadowing of the Jackets, Thrashers, Lightning and Rangers all making the playoffs.

And it could mean my Blackhawks slide from Cup carriers to golfers. I’m glad I bought three-ply tissues with lotion.

Now lets take a look at who caught my eye this week.

Justin Abdelkader, LW, Detroit (3 percent owned) – How do the Wings keep doing it? They just keep plugging in able-bodied talents each and every year. Abdelkader didn’t exactly impress with his offense last year but he sure caught my eye when he hit the agitation cycle. Man, this guy can hit. He’s throwing his weight around again this year but he’s added some offense to the mix – seven points in 11 games to be exact, enough to surpass his entire output from last year. And Wednesday night, he was promoted to the second line in place of the pathetic Jiri Hudler. He didn’t pick up a point but he will if he can stick there. His points may come in spurts but the hits are all but guaranteed. And that combo is gravy in specialty formats.

Peter Budaj, G, Colorado (34 percent owned) – He may be on waivers with the “return” of Craig Anderson. But the latter left Wednesday’s game after re-aggravating that groin injury and the Avs will be cautious with his recovery. Put in a claim if his owner dumped him and hope you have priority. A starter is a starter, especially those on teams in playoff contention.

Mike Commodore, D, Columbus (1 percent owned) – Commodore still profiles best as a shot-blocking, number four or five defender whose greatest value comes in muscle categories. But since his return from injury, he has four points in seven games (actually, all four have come in his last five) and he looks like a guy who could actually be a 30-point, 120-PIM player. I got lucky with him on Monday night – his goal was the game winner. You may just get lucky with him, too.

Ryan Malone, LW, Tampa Bay (20 percent owned) – I’ve never been completely sold on this guy, particularly in fantasy. I just don’t think he’ll ever be a 30-goal, 60-point, 120-PIM guy. But right now, he’s firing shots at an unprecedented rate and I fully expect his depressed shooting percentage to normalize soon. Look out when it does, particularly with his growing power-play chemistry with Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis. His five points, including four on the PP, in his last five games could be a foreshadowing of his pre-Vinny’s-return future.

Cody McLeod, LW, Colorado (4 percent owned) – McLeod is a one-category wonder but man, that category is flat-out outstanding. This fiery redhead finished in the league’s top-20 sin-binners last season and this year, he’s sitting top-two. Wow. He can deliver the kind of single-night impact can catapult you up faster than a fat kid on a teeter-totter.

Andreas Nodl, RW, Philadelphia (1 percent owned) – Nodl just quietly goes about his business in Philly… to the tune of nine points in his last 10 games heading into action Friday night. He’s the most talented player to come out of Austria since Thomas Vanek. OK, he’s the only player to come out of Austria since Vanek but he’s still an above average, complementary player who can perform alongside talented linemates. And there will always be plenty of those in Philly. I invested in him in one of my keeper leagues a few years back but I just couldn’t keep him – he took longer to arrive than I could wait. I’m going back now to take a look.

Patrick O’Sullivan, C, Minnesota (1 percent owned) – I have no expectations for Patty – he’s talented but he has never lived up to the potential he flashed in L.A. in his sophomore season. Then again, he never really fit in to the system in Edmonton or Carolina. In Minny, he’ll get a chance to polish off the layers of rust from his offensive toolbox; after all, they need someone to score. And be creative on the PP. Center is awfully deep. But keep an eye on him – he could pick up eligibility on the wing. And he could prove the Kings, Oilers and Canes completely wrong.

Teddy Purcell, RW, Tampa Bay (3 percent owned) – Purcell has always teased us – those soft hands, that big body. But he just never found his niche in L.A. or Tampa Bay… until now. He’s riding a four-game, six-point scoring streak heading into action Friday. And while he still doesn’t play with enough of an edge, he has found a home on the Bolts’ power play – four of those six points have come with the man advantage. Heading into action Thursday, he was the sixth-best skater in Yahoo! rankings; yes, sixth. Play the odds and roll him while he’s picking up the points.

David Schlemko, D, Phoenix (0 percent owned) – Who? Schlemko is a late-blooming puck mover who has struggled for acceptance at every level. And with young studs Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Maxim Goncharov and Brandon Gormley on the horizon, his window of opportunity is right now. This undrafted 23-year-old took close to a dozen games to get his confidence up this year. But since then, he has four points in his last three games. He’s obviously motivated to prove his mettle and that means he could produce will some measure of urgency, at least over the next little while. Take a chance if you need some help on the back end. What do you have to lose?

Mattias Tedenby, LW, New Jersey (2 percent owned) – Tedenby’s speed is somewhere between the Roadrunner and a top fuel dragster – here now and gone in a split second. Meep, meep! The guy is so fast he looks like he has been shot out of a cannon. He’s a blast to watch because this supercharged atom ricochets around the rink at top speed, making plays at top speed. He may ultimately succumb to Jack Russell syndrome; after all, he’s not very big and he hasn’t yet figured out how not to throw himself into risky spots. But right now, he has six points in his first seven games and is riding a three-game, four-point streak. I love him a keeper. And even if you don’t take advantage of him in single-year formats, you should watch a Devils’ game and iso on this guy when he hits the ice. You’ll love him.

James van Riemsdyk, LW, Philadelphia (7 percent owned) – Your window of opportunity to pick this guy up is quickly closing, particularly in keeper formats. Remember his hot start last season (six goals and 11 assists in 15 games)? Well his first 15 games this year couldn’t have been more opposite and he fell out of favor with a lot of owners. But his talent hasn’t disappeared and that coupled with a five-point, four-game streak heading into action Friday has me thinking he’s about to fulfill his promise of a 50-point season. And that means there are a lot of points coming over the next 60 or so games.

Radim Vrbata, RW, Phoenix (21 percent owned) – After a slow start, Vrbata ratcheted things up last week with a three-game, seven-point spurt. His hands are sick and he’s utterly lethal from the half-boards on the PP. And once he fires up his engine, he historically stays hot – well, hottish – for a period of time. Unfortunately, there’s also a historical fade in the second half and that means you should monitor his output and be ready to pull the trigger in a trade-high situation. You don’t want to be left hugging a cactus later in the season.

Back to the stats.

Yes, I am worried the Hawks may be in trouble. They’re currently tied with the Sharks for eighth in the West. But they’ve played 24 games to the teal’s 20. And Dallas is one point behind both of those teams after just 20 games, too.

It’s just way too hard to make up points at the end of the year.

The West is so tight; I’m preparing for the worst. But I’m also praying that the Hawks will be like the 54 teams since 1993 that came back to earn a playoff berth.

Until next week.

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