Neutral Zone Wrap
by Evan Berofsky, RotoWire Writer
The NHL trade deadline may be overhyped and leave you underwhelmed, but it's interesting to create your own transaction scenarios. C'mon, you've got to admit guessing which serviceable skater ends up with what contender is a fairly fun process ... for 10 minutes, tops. But if you somehow guess one right, then you look like a genius - albeit one who doesn't get paid for predicting such information.
For fantasy purposes, real-life trades can seriously shake up your roster. Imagine a decent scorer from a struggling squad gets picked up by a top unit to be used as an accessory player. But then again, a third-line winger from the division leaders might finally receive that chance to shine while helping the basement dwellers forget what it's like to miss the postseason for a seventh straight season. A hot starting goalie headed somewhere as insurance? A player who finally righted the ship only to switch cities and get stuck with a diminished role? Um, neither of those situations will sit well as you fight for your own playoff life.
Remember you can't control what the NHL GMs do, so don't worry about those moves until they are signed and sealed. Hearsay and rumors won't work, as they could lead to picking up/acquiring the wrong player or shipping a valuable commodity before their new situations are revealed. Wait for everything to be finalized. And only then can you adjust accordingly.
Ever since last year's playoffs, the Flyers have strengthened their momentum and talent to dominate the East. You wouldn't expect a rookie and an 11-year backup to be considered a competent duo, but Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher (with 37 total wins and matching .920 SV%) are more than proving that this arrangement works. Having all relevant forwards healthy throughout has helped, as opposed to last year when Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne missed large chunks. Big things were predicted for Ville Leino in Detroit, but it took a pre-deadline deal in 2010 for the Finnish forward to excel (an impressive 64 points in 88 appearances). Maybe Kris Versteeg (a four-game streak in between 10 goose eggs) will redeem his place among second-tier forwards following his change of scenery. James van Riemsdyk (six in nine) has been knocking on success's door, and this time someone may end up answering. The only door Nikolay Zherdev (two in 11, a few healthy scratches) is sure to find would be one marked with an exit sign.
The Oilers may be preparing for another high first-round pick, but it's not as if they're ready to lie down and let their opponents have their way. Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner could easily be elsewhere, so the up-and-comers will continue to earn their chances. That means the likes of Jordan Eberle (eight in eight) and Linus Omark (five in nine) must keep up their progress. Magnus Paajarvi (scoreless in six) needs to increase his stats and has been paired with better linemates, but that hasn't stopped Ryan Jones (at 13 goals) from potting a few on the fourth line. Maybe it's too late to care if Kurtis Foster (three in 26) can ever turn it around, although partner Jim Vandermeer (three in six, 26 PIM over 10) and offensive dynamo Taylor Chorney (four in five, with two on the man-advantage) could earn a D-spot in deeper leagues.
Just when you thought New Jersey was out, they go and pull everyone's attention back in. You never count out a perennial heavyweight, and the Devils have responded with only one regulation loss in their last 16. Nice to have Johan Hedberg (four consecutive victories, six goals allowed) fill in for the fallen Martin Brodeur (sprained knee), but the four-time Vezina winner will soon reclaim his duties. It's nice to see stalwarts such as Travis Zajac (eight in six) and Brian Rolston (12 in 13) do well after repeated slumps almost cost them their jobs. Dainius Zubrus (five in eight) is also pitching in at a steady rate. And youth is being served, with freshmen Mattias Tedenby (three in six, regular looks on the power-play) and Nick Palmieri (three in eight, skating with Ilya Kovalchuk) contributing to Jersey's slim playoff cause.
Maybe Colorado was never that good. Perhaps their inexperience has finally caught up to them. But most likely their tailspin comes as a result of multiple injuries. It was nice to see Peter Forsberg last all of two games before once again putting his feet up. From one leader to another, Matt Duchene could sure use a hand since he probably broke his left one. Perfect timing for Chris Stewart (a measly three in nine), although it's been five weeks since he recovered from the same problem. David Jones has all the tools to excel (6'2‚ÄĚ, 220, quick hands), but needs to be more consistent (four in 11). Same with Kevin Porter (also four in 11), who regularly sees action on one of the first two units. Brandon Yip (two in 10) hasn't been able to build off his solid debut in 2009-10 (23 in 38 combined), but should soon regain form.
Montreal is an example of a club that is right on the edge of becoming an elite unit, but their ascent is hindered by costly mistakes and cheap penalties. With the assorted injuries on the blueline, P.K. Subban and Yannick Weber have been forced to play significant minutes and are doing rather well under the pressure (combining for 10 points so far this month). Michael Cammalleri (separated shoulder) is also struggling to return, but young David Desharnais (seven in five, including three PPPs) has stepped in to add strength down the middle. No complaints about the performance of Benoit Pouliot (had goals in three straight), but there are rumblings regarding Andrei Kostitsyn's sudden drop-off (nothing in eight with a minus-8).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).