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Frozen Fantasy: Hanging In the Balance

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.

Young studs make the NHL go round these days. And they make fantasy owners' hearts sing. But the race to glory sometimes gets derailed. And sometimes it ruins careers.

Just ask Alexandre Daigle.

The minor leagues and the NHL alumni association are littered with guys who were seriously over-drafted or screwed up by teams who pushed them too far, too soon. And we're watching the latter right now.

Steve Mason is an excellent young goalie. World Junior gold medalist. Calder winner. NHL Second-Team All-Star. And complete mess, at least right now. And his future appears to be hanging in the balance. At just 23.

It's that bad.

I watched his game against the Leafs on Thursday night. Three of the four goals he allowed were bad. Really, really bad. It was cringe worthy, in fact. But I don't blame Mason. It's all on the Jackets.

They've blown it.

Their blue line sucks. They failed to sign a veteran backup to be a mentor and provide insulation. They heaped on the pressure. And he's crumbling.

Steve Mason isn't even a shell of himself - he's almost gone. His body language says it all. His confidence is shot. His resiliency is gone. And those were two things that used to be among his greatest strengths.

Steve Mason has the tools to be a star. He's NOT another Andrew Raycroft. But his future really is hanging in the balance.

Sometimes there's a forest. And sometimes there are just a lot of trees. You can't teach patience in some markets.

Let's take a look at who caught my eye this week.

Joey Crabb, RW, Toronto (0 percent owned) - He's no offensive stud. But Crabb is a highly-motivated buzzsaw who had been on an absolute tear in the AHL before his callup on Tuesday. And that tear has continued in a Leafs' uni - he has two goals in two games. It won't continue but he's worth milking while his confidence is high. And that could continue for another week or so.

Tomas Fleischmann, LW, Florida (31 percent owned) - Bye-bye, blood clots. Hello, scoring charts. Fleischmann's fantasy value is rising faster than a rocket now that he's proving his health issues are behind him. Flash is showing solid chemistry with Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg, and he's riding a six-game, eight-point streak heading into the weekend. He's best known for his ability to distribute the puck but he also has a strong and deceptive wrister. There's no way he should be owned in fewer than a third of leagues, particularly if he can maintain his current level of urgency. A 70-point season could be in the making.

Jason Garrison, D, Florida (8 percent owned) - Garrison is a smart, smooth-skating puck mover with great poise and a deft passing touch. And he pulls that off without screwing up in his own zone. He's only in his second season but he's already playing like a seasoned vet. He has six points, including five goals, in 12 games. And three of those markers have come on the power play. Like David Schlemko (below), he's a top-30 defender right now. He can help you if you just lost Tobias Enstrom or are waiting on Chris Pronger. Or Andrei Markov. Or Brent Seabrook. You get the point.

Josh Harding, G, Minnesota (11 percent owned) - Harding is on a roll. He ripped off two impressive wins over the Red Wings this week and those wins earned him a start Thursday against the Orcas. And that came up sevens for him, too. This three-game performance may have started the resurrection of his career. His knee is healed and this recent success could force Niklas Backstrom to the bench for a week or two. He's a short-term solution but he could quickly become trade bait for a club that needs to upgrade their twine tent. There's value here.

Adam Henrique, C, New Jersey (0 percent owned) - Opportunity has knocked for this smart, underrated pivot. He's skating on a scoring line in the swamp and should thrive in that role, particularly if he can be the glue that binds Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk (heaven knows nothing else has worked yet). Henrique can play with offensive studs - he was Taylor Hall's pivot for the Windsor Spitfires during that team's recent Mem Cup successes. And he's proven that he's a lot more than just the beneficiary of his teammates' successes. He has four points in his last four games and could soon be delivering that kind of output with more frequency. Get to know his game. I guarantee you'll like it.

Roman Horak, LW/C, Calgary (1 percent owned) - Horak may be the one that got away from the Rangers. He can score and he has grit, and that combo has already made him a darling in Calgary. I think the kid just loves the lifestyle out west - he was a stud with Chilliwack of the WHL - and already has five points in nine games with the Flames. Deep leaguers should check him out. You need to anticipate his inevitable streaks but Calgary is desperate for scorers. And that's something this guy can do.

Scott Parse, LW, Los Angeles (0 percent owned) - Parse is a high-energy, high-skill forward with the opportunity of a lifetime - a chance to show his skills alongside Mike Richards and Dustin Brown. He has two goals, including one on the power play, in the last four games and has the talent to deliver you some multi-category fantasy goodness for a little while.

David Schlemko, D, Phoenix (1 percent owned) - Schlemko will never be a physical defender. And he's not really going to overwhelm you with any specific skill. But he's mobile with decent agility and solid passing skills. Heck, if Tomas Kaberle can carve out a solid fantasy career on similar “finesse” skills then why can't Schlemko? He had a four-game assist streak on the books heading into Thursday's shutout and is the second-highest point producer (six points in 11 games) on Phoenix's blue line. Oliver Ekman-Larsson will likely overtake him by midseason but right now, he's a top-30 offensive defender. Yes, you read that right. Go get him.

Craig Smith, C, Nashville (8 percent owned) - So...heading into play Thursday, there were two Predators tied for the team lead in goals with four. One was Patric Hornqvist (54 percent owned) and the other was late bloomer Smith, who has more than twice the number of points that Hornqvist has. He knows how to score - he had 19 goals and 43 points in 41 games last season at Wisconsin. His upside is limited - I see him ultimately settling into third-line duty with the occasional promotion to the second line. Center is deep and that's going to drag Smith's value down. But he might be a solid guy to roll in favorable matchups right now. Take a look.

Kyle Turris, C, Phoenix (1 percent owned) - There appears to be some movement on the Kyle Turris cold front. Contract talks are apparently underway as a precursor to a trade. And there are at least six teams hot on his trail with Calgary and Ottawa near the top of the list. He'll be a little rusty once he does get moved. But at the same time, he's going to be incredibly motivated to give the ‘Yotes a face wash post-trade. And that's the kind of boost a lot of fantasy squads can use … as long as he doesn't suffer the same kind of fate as Mr. Mason. And that's a distinct possibility.

Radim Vrbata, RW, Phoenix (17 percent owned) - That sizzle you hear is the ice melting in the desert. Vrbata had been out of his mind brilliant on a three-game, six-point streak heading into Thursday night. He won't keep up his 10 points in 12 games pace but this guy just loves to play for the Dawgs. We've all been waiting for him to really click with a playmaking center and it actually looks like Martin Hanzal is that man. He may still streak. But this could be the year he breaks the 60-point ceiling.

Kyle Wellwood, C, Winnipeg (3 percent owned) - Welly is an easy target in the sporting arena. He's a cerebral, eccentric type with a rap for being passive. And of course, there's his “Canadian tire” (he probably still hears a fat joke every other week despite being a svelte 181). Weird isn't wonderful to most fantasy owners and that, coupled with his historic inconsistency, is likely why his ownership is so low. It shouldn't be. Yes, I'm concerned he could return to his inconsistent ways. But right now, he and his brilliant stick handling are third on the Jets' scoring list with nine points in 12 games heading into Thursday. And his five goals are tied for the team. He's not the guy who potted 42 points in 48 games in his sophomore season. But he's way underrated. And he's the perfect short-term fit for your injury-riddled squad.

Allen York, G, Columbus (0 percent owned) - York is big, skilled college product who has the potential to be a real fantasy gem in a few years. He was a two-time finalist for the ECAC Hockey Ken Dryden Award, presented annually to that league's top twine tender (he finished second in voting as a sophomore and third last year as a junior). He's supposed to be plying his trade in the AHL this season but he's on emergency recall to Columbus. And with both Curtis Sanford and Mark Dekanich out for what could be a couple more weeks and Steve Mason sucking, York could see a lot more NHL playing time than anyone ever believed. His value is completely tied to a turnaround by the woeful Jackets. If that happens, you may get a couple of wins out of this guy. Worst case? You now know the name of the Jackets' starting goaltender in a couple years.

LOOKING AHEAD

Mark Dekanich, G, Columbus (1 percent owned) - The door in Columbus is wide open for Dekanich, a product of Nashville's goaltending factory, who is set to start his ankle rehab in the AHL. He's poised with enough talent to carry the mail for a little while … at least until Mason rights the ship or the team signs a seasoned free-agent veteran. Goalie points are hard to come by … sometimes speculation is the only way to steal a few. Watch him and get ready to grab him before someone else does.

Back to Mason.

I hope I'm wrong. Maybe he'll get his mojo back. Maybe the team will bring back Ken Hitchcock. Maybe they'll even send him back to the AHL to right the ship.

It worked for former Blue Jay Roy Halladay. And just look where that got him to today. The Jays saw the forest. Right now, the Jackets only see the trees.

Until next week.