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Frozen Fantasy: Tough Pill To Swallow

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.

Alexander Ovechkin is at a crossroads in his career. And taking the right path could all but doom his first-round fantasy status.

It almost makes me sick.

Yes, Ovie has become predictable. Even the lead-footed Hal Gill can maintain the right gap control on him … because he knows Alexander the Gr8’s needle is stuck in the same groove on every entry into the zone.

Cherry pick. Skate like a demon down the left wing. Cut inside. Shoot. Do not dump. Never cycle. Heaven forbid pass the puck.

It’s easy to plan a strategy against that.

Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love the guy. His pure talent is almost unparalleled. But if you’re not evolving, you’re falling behind. And Ovechkin and the Caps are falling behind.

Unfortunately, it may not be enough for him to become less predictable in the offensive zone. It’ll bring him fantasy glory and maybe an Art Ross or Rocket Richard trophy. But a 100-foot captain rarely hoists the Cup.

Just ask Steve Yzerman.

Ovechkin has some hard choices to make, just like Stevie Y did in 1993 and 1994. That’s when the great Scottie Bowman put the screws into the latter and demanded he discover his own zone. It almost resulted in that trade to Ottawa.

Shudder.

Stevie Y finally “got it”. He went from pure talent to pure leader. He took the right road when he stood where Ovie is now perched. And that path took him and his Wings to three glorious Stanley Cup rings.

But it forever altered his fantasy value.

Yzerman went from being third in NHL scoring, behind only Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky, to being a top-10 league scorer just once – yes, once – after he changed his game. And Caps coach Bruce Boudreau is trying to channel his very best Bowman to make Ovie into D.C.’s version of Stevie Y.

We’re all cooked if Boudreau is successful. Sometimes the right decisions are tough to swallow.

Now let’s take a look at who caught my eye this week.

Luke Adam, C, Buffalo (16 percent owned) – You know I’m not sold on rookies, especially rookie centers, but I have to give a guy props if he deserves them. Lindy Ruff plunked Adam’s big body (6-2, 205) between Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville last weekend and the trio was arguably the best in the NHL. They scored five of the Sabres’ eight goals (Adam had a deuce against the Kings) and they combined for a whopping 13 points on their Euro excursion. Sure, little Derek Roy will be back and Adam’s opportunity will probably disappear. But his size,coupled with his ability to not only drive the net but also protect the puck in possession makes him a relatively rare beast. He could deliver the kind of rookie production that Tyler Ennis did last year.

Andrew Brunette, LW, Chicago (11 percent owned) – Brunette is about as sexy as a 250-lb woman wearing “I Heart Sheldon Cooper” pajamas. Year after year, fantasy owners are generally repulsed by his utter ordinariness and seeming geekiness. But season after season, Brunette’s tenacity and skill deliver strong and steady fantasy production. He rarely misses games and has no problems battling in front of the net. And his passing talents and puck strength have brought him at least 59 points in four of his last six seasons. He could be the cheapest 50-55 point winger you will nab this year. After all, he’s a fixture in the Hawks’ top six and a great complementary player on their power play. Push that pajama image out of your head and take the plunge.

Tim Gleason, D, Carolina (6 percent owned) – Yes, he’s the Tim Gleason who’ll forever be “that guy the Canes got for Jack Johnson”. But right now, he’s your man if you need a tough defender who can chip in points (three in four games), lay the body (he led the Canes in PIMs last season and was third in hits) and block shots (he led the Canes there, too). I smell a career year in points coming on. And you’ll have a perfect waiver steal if he can come close to 25 points to go along with his multi-category strengths. He’s way under the radar right now.

Travis Hamonic, D, NY Islanders (52 percent owned) – This may be your very last chance to pick up the best all-round defender on Long Island. This guy was a revelation of poise, skill and toughness last year. In fact, his rate of production in 62 games would have delivered his owners 34 points and 136 PIMs over a full 82 games. That would have put him right beside P.K. Subban, save for the power-play production, on the list of tough and skilled defenders. One word – wow! His hockey sense is high and his skills are on the upswing. This guy is going to be an absolute fantasy beast. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Go straight to the wire and pick him up.

Johan Hedberg, G, New Jersey (11 percent owned) – Moose was pressed into duty in the first period of Thursday’s game after Martin Brodeur hurt his right shoulder. Early reports say the injury is minor, but that’s what they said in 2008 when he ripped his biceps tendon. Hedberg has become an above-average NHL back-up and he could end up between the pipes Saturday against Nashville. Small gains early in the fantasy season sometimes add up to almost insurmountable leads late in the season. Get the points every chance you can.

David Legwand, C, Nashville (26 percent owned) – Top draft picks always carry the weight of a franchise on their shoulders, and Legwand is no different. He never fulfilled the so-called promise that we believe a number two overall pick should deliver. Truth be told, his hands aren’t the greatest but he does have a nice, hard shot. And he seems to be finally maturing into a solid, two-way playmaker (I know, I know – took him long enough). Can he deliver another 63-point season? Yes, and this year is as good a year as any. He was in on all four goals against the Blues on Saturday night. And seven points in three games is more than what I’d call noteworthy.

Joffrey Lupul, RW/LW, Toronto (25 percent owned) – I have a soft spot for Lupul – he was my first-ever junior draft pick back in 2003. That pick clearly didn’t work out so well then – yes, I could have had Alexander Semin or Cam Ward instead – but Lupul has finally scratched his way back into fantasy consideration. He works the cycle well and seems to be able to create space for linemate Phil Kessel. And that’s translated into a goal and three helpers in his first two games. He’ll always be an injury risk, and he doesn’t have the elite agility or quickness to make him a true top-line player, but his hands are silky smooth and his shot can rip twine. That combo plus an opportunity in Big Smoke (not to mention multi-position qualification) gives him some sneaky fantasy value right now.

Milan Michalek, LW/RW, Ottawa (34 percent owned) – How much light does a compact fluorescent bulb make inside a 55-gallon drum? Ottawa can only be described as a dark and scary place this season, but MiMi is doing his best to bring a little light to town. The one-time 66-point man jumped 11 percent in ownership from midnight Wednesday to early evening Thursday, courtesy of three goals and five points in his first four games. Will he keep it up? Not if pigs can’t fly. It’s way too easy for him to revert to that ugly perimeter game he seems to love. But he could be a smart, short-term waiver grab if you have the room.

Al Montoya, G, NY Islanders (34 percent owned) – Don’t look now but Montoya has picked up right where he left off last year. He has allowed just four goals in three games and appears to be coach Jack Capuano’s choice between the pipes. Yeah, I didn’t know he was still coaching on the Island, either. Montoya single-handedly rescued the Isles late last season and he could perform miracles for them again this year. He’s a great athlete with exceptional reflexes and his game has really matured from his younger, more “adventurous” days. He now knows how to shake off a bad performance and he could deliver you surprisingly good numbers – his team really could surprise this year.

Vinny Prospal, LW/RW, Columbus (32 percent owned) – Yo-Yo drives me nuts – one year up, next year down. But his extraordinary vision of the ice makes him the perfect set-up man for a strong sniper. And he now has two of those in Ohio. Their names? Jeff Carter and Rick Nash. That situation alone was enough for me to yank him off the wire. Way back when, he had tremendous chemistry with the big-bodied Vincent Lecavalier, and these guys fit a similar mould. What’s the risk? If he flops then drop.

Craig Smith, C, Nashville (9 percent owned) – Six months ago, Craig Smith was just another fourth-round draft pick working on a college degree. Then came a surprise pick to – and performance for – Team USA at the Worlds (three goals, six points against the world’s best … who weren’t in the playoffs, of course). Next came a goal-scoring explosion at rookie camp (six in just two games) and now, four points in his first three games in the NHL. He, Legwand and Colin Wilson were arguably the second-best NHL line in the season’s first weekend. And Smith’s speed, smarts and skill (his release is wicked) have the likes of Legwand and Shea Weber actually gushing. Grab him, abuse him and pray he can keep it up – he might be the rare guy you don’t actually have to drop again right away.

Sheldon Souray, D, Dallas (59 percent owned) – Check your wire and grab this guy if he’s available. The Sheldon Souray circa 2006-07 and 2008-09 appears to be alive and well. He has three points and 11 PIMs in his first four games and seems inspired to stick a Texas longhorn right up the shaft of a certain western-Canadian oil rig. His best years are behind him and he’ll be hard-pressed to reach the lofty heights of those years I mentioned above. But he’s going to give you multi-category lovin’ for little money down.

Planning for the Future

Chris Neil, RW, Ottawa (11 percent owned) – There’s something about the Leafs and the Flyers that bring out the ugly in Chris Neil. But that’s good if you’re desperate for PIMs – they often come in double figures against those two teams (and the Pens, too). The Sens skate at home against the Flyers on the 18th (that’s this Tuesday) and against the Leafs on the 30th. Get him in and get him out. He’ll be better for your PIMs than a shot of 5-hour Energy.

Back to Alexander the Gr8.

Here’s hoping that he can be more like Sidney Crosby, whose focus on improving the things he wasn’t “as good at” actually led to two years of fantasy improvement … and less like Stevie Y.

The latter isn’t a bad option by any means, though. But if he manages to pull off a Stevie Y – this year, next or any time soon – then I’m going to let someone else draft him early in the first. And I’d certainly be looking at leveraging him in any keeper leagues before my buddies realize what’s going on.

Solid production does not equal spectacular.

I think I’m going to go read Greg Wyshynski’s Puck Daddy take on Ovie now. I almost re-wrote this whole piece when I learned he’d fermented on the same topic. But his take won’t give a fantasy angle. Oh yeah – welcome back to fantasy hockey.

Until next week.