Neutral Zone Wrap
by Evan Berofsky
2010 had its moments. The Olympic tournament dazzled worldwide audiences, but only truly mattered to Canadians. The Blackhawks demonstrated that life is sometimes better on the road. And Ilya Kovalchuk made everyone who follows hockey look and feel like an idiot after his prolonged summer contract circus.
But who really cares about those events when you've got a league ready to be dominated ... or waiting to continue being stepped all over. (Sigh.) It's time to refresh those GM skills in the New Year. Maybe you can find the next bargain on the wire or convince other owners to swing a lopsided deal before they sober up. You've got around three months to make that final run. Now go out there and make someone proud.
Carolina may historically be known for growing tobacco, but the area is busy cultivating a fresh set of crops. Thanks to Jussi Jokinen going down (upper-body problem) and Sergei Samsonov sucking (four in 10), the Canes have been able to provide more minutes for their prospects. While the buzz has focused on Jeff Skinner's success (28 points) and Brandon Sutter's slump (zero in eight), youngsters Zach Boychuk (four in five) and Zac Dalpe (two goals in three) have been doing all right on their own. Even 2005 Western Michigan graduate Pat Dwyer (a set of two-point efforts to close out 2010, averaging 15 minutes a night) is getting the chance to skate with better linemates. On the back end, Jamie McBain (three in three) is recovering his offensive touch, while Ian White (nothing in 17) has completely disappeared from fantasy existence. And a message to Joni Pitkanen owners: the Finnish Minute Machine (lower-body issue) is set to return on the weekend, so feel free to plug him back into your lineup.
Ryan Getzlaf (facial fracture) will be out until at least February, but that will only allow for other Ducks to shine. Bobby Ryan is once again on the top unit, this time as the center. If he falters in his latest role, don't be surprised to see Saku Koivu (four in four) jump up. Joffrey Lupul may be inconsistent (three-game point streak in between five zeros), but at least that's similar to how he was before last season's back surgery and its subsequent complications. Same goes for Matt Beleskey (only four points all year), although he hasn't built much of an NHL resume and is closer to becoming a non-factor. This has partially opened the door for Brandon McMillan (five in seven), who has been alternating between the first two lines. Newcomer Maxim Lapierre will also get a boost, thanks to his physical style (106 hits in 2010-11) and his knack for annoying opponents.
Colorado are accumulating injuries as quick as mold - and that hasn't exactly helped their chances for success in the West. It all started when Peter Mueller (concussion) got knocked out last playoffs and continued with Chris Stewart (broken hand, out at least another week) and Craig Anderson (back-to-back knee and groin problems) in November, Cody McLeod (groin strain, return unknown) in December, and now Paul Stastny is battling through a nasty flu bug. All these absences have presented David Jones (four in seven, with two PPGs) and Brandon Yip (his only point in the last nine happened with the extra attacker) further opportunities on the man-advantage. And after three relatively quiet seasons in Phoenix, Daniel Winnik (five in 10) has also benefited from the extra coverage.
Is it time for New Jersey to throw in the towel? The Devils may have already done so implicitly, if you consider career backup Johan Hedberg (5-9-1) is essentially splitting starts with goaltending legend Martin Brodeur (5-18-1). Of course, when you can only muster an anemic 1.7 goals a game and let in 3.13 in return, then that might indicate your franchise is in serious trouble. Brian Rolston (only five points and a minus-12) hasn't necessarily wowed anyone in his second coming, but it must have felt awful for the fan favorite to be placed on waivers - even if he wasn't claimed. While it may be difficult to strongly endorse any Jersey forward, it appears David Clarkson (finally scored after being held off for 15 contests) has the tools and the work ethic to be a decent producer.
Just when you thought it was safe to back San Jose, they pull off consecutive stinkers versus LA and Minnesota and then fell apart against Buffalo Thursday night. The offense must really miss Joe Pavelski (lower-body something-or-other), with only 12 tallies in the five games during his time off. Logan Couture may lead the Sharks in goals (18), but he hasn't found the net in seven outings. Say hello to Benn Ferreiro, who has jumped to the second unit and has even chipped in with a power-play marker. Meanwhile, Devin Setoguchi (two in eight, minus-4) has fallen short in the effort department even though he was recently handed the keys to the big line. At least minute burner Marc-Edouard Vlasic (five in 10) has regained his fantasy form of late.
Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When he's not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble. If you have anything to say about Evan's work (or need any hot word tips), feel free to contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).