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Frozen Fantasy: Brain Drain

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.

I'm not a Chris Pronger fan. In fact, I think he's a bit – no, a lot – of an arse. But the news he's out for the rest of this season hit me like an Easton to the teeth Thursday night.

His career is on the line. Just like Sidney Crosby's.

At 37, Pronger's road back is long and arduous. And although no one has said it out loud, we've all been wondering the same about Crosby. Does anyone really know if his "setback" resets his recovery time back to zero?

He missed 10 months the first time...

Crosby is only 24. Forget about my earlier comparisons to Eric Lindros. Try Bobby Orr instead. His last great season was at 27; he was done shortly thereafter.

Knees can now be repaired. But brains cannot.

Concussions are epidemic in the NHL. Right now, the league is without its top goal scorer, top point getter, top offensive defender and best overall player...all at the same time.

It's shocking.

I could rant about the impact to fantasy rosters but that seems ignorant and downright self-centered right now. We play fantasy hockey because we love the game, but our beloved game clearly has to change.

Players need protection – I'd rather have a slightly slower game with guys like Crosby, Pronger, Claude Giroux, Kris Letang, Marc Savard, Peter Mueller, Jeff Skinner, Milan Michalek and Andy McDonald in it than a faster game without them.

But what kind of protection do they need?

The NHL introduced new rules to reduce hits to the head. And then there's the "quiet room." But I'm not sure everyone is listening.

I do have to give Philly credit – they must have been thinking about how they cleared Pronger for a return far-too-soon when Claude Giroux got bonked on the head. But even with the NHL's new standards well in place, they let Pronger return when he shouldn't.

It was almost Lindrosian...

But the Penguins should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. They let Kris Letang return to action in mere minutes after knowing dang well they should never have let Crosby continue after the David Steckel hit. Or play the next game.

I thought hindsight was supposed to be 20/20.

Maybe I'm just grumpy because of this stupid head cold. Then again, I don't think so. I've listened to so-called experts on the league's TV network analyze the Pronger situation over and over again. And to a one, they insist the league and its teams are doing their respective parts.

I see things differently from where I sit. I'm pretty sure a lot of you do, too.

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

Trevor Daley, D, Dallas (3 percent owned) – Daley has made my column just about every year since I started writing. He's a classic tweener – he's never figured out how to be really, really good in the offensive or defensive zone. He can skate and join the rush. But he often pinches at the wrong time. He has a big shot but it's more a muzzle-loader than a rifle – it just takes him way too long to pack it and shoot. And he isn't always tough enough in his own zone. But he does put things together well enough in short bursts each season to warrant a roll-on-roll-off application to your fantasy roster. And now is that time. He's on a three-game, four-point streak heading into Friday's game against Jersey.

Danny Cleary, LW/RW, Detroit (10 percent owned) – This mighty Newf has powerful paws and a wicked wrister. And heading into Thursday, he was on one of his many streaks – three goals and two assists in the previous five games. Now, it'd be a mistake to count on him for long – 33-year-old guys with average wheels aren't going to get faster with age. And he's not exactly immune from injury. But he's a good ride when he's streaking. So go on a couple dates and then dump him before you have to spend too much on a Christmas gift.

Colin Greening, LW/C, Ottawa (3 percent owned) – Greening brings an attractive package to the ice in Canada's capital. He has size, Ivy-league smarts, skill and a whip of a shot. And last season, he stepped onto a line with Jason Spezza and proved he could hold his own in the top-six. Why is that important? Two words: Milan Michalek. Many guys will get the audition, including the mustachioed Daniel Alfredsson (shave off the Lanny – Mouvember is over). You and I both know Alfie is getting a bit fragile in his old age. And the Sens will want to spread out their offense. Greening could be one of the answers.

Jamie McGinn, LW, San Jose (1 percent owned) – McGinn's upside is limited. But he's great along the wall and loves to bang the net. And when he's “on” – like he is now – he can deliver surprising short-term fantasy value because of his quick release and work ethic. In the first seven games of December, McGinn has a remarkable five goals and one assist and he's the perfect add for deep leaguers who are desperate for some injury relief.

Michal Neuvirth, G, Washington (16 percent owned) – Carpe diem! Neuvirth's shutout Thursday was just what the doctor ordered for the struggling Caps. Cripes, just a regular win would have been fine. But Neuvirth bricked up the twine tent and injected his team with the dose of inspiration they desperately needed. Call it a hunch but I suspect coach Dale Hunter will roll his hot goalie for as long as he can. Tomas Vokoun has scuffled of late and Neuvirth proved last season that he could carry the mail (and then some). Take advantage.

Matt Niskanen, D, Pittsburgh (10 percent owned) – Niskanen has always had talent. But like most young defenders he's also been inconsistent … until now. There's a bit more maturity to his game – he's still not perfect in his own zone yet but few are. And his natural offensive talents – the hands, the hockey sense, the agility – are emerging with more regularity. His three points in the three games leading into Friday's tilt were good enough for me – I snagged him to try to inject a little life into my Friends and Family roster (don't even ask – Cam Ward and Dwayne Roloson suck). Deep leaguers should take a look, particularly with Kris Letang out.

Kyle Okposo, RW, NY Islanders (7 percent owned) – Don't look now but baby Jarome is finally starting to warm up. His two-point Thursday was his second multi-point effort in the last three games. And he has six points, including three goals, in his last seven games. He's explosive with an edge, an improved release and a cooler head on his shoulders. And he'll deliver great fantasy value if he can march forward on the 60-point pace that I expected from him this season. That is, as long as you can absorb his “fluctuating” plus-minus. Yah, fluctuating – that's the word.

Wayne Simmonds, RW, Philadelphia (17 percent owned) – I love this guy. He plays the game super hard and ultra fast, and he always ears a funny, crap-eating grin on his face. But he's a lot more than just a shift disturber – he's a third-line power forward with second-line upside. His release is freakishly quick and he has no problem bombing the net. And right now, he's using both in perfect harmony. He's on a four-game goal-scoring streak heading into Saturday. And while he might not get to that 40-point, 130-PIM ceiling I see for his future, he could deliver at that pace going forward. And multi-category muscleheads are gold in most fantasy formats.

Derek Smith, D, Calgary (0 percent owned) – Smith is one of those deliciously improbable success stories. He skated in The County with the Junior A Wellington Dukes for four seasons before heading north to Lake Superior State University. Undrafted, he was signed by the Sens and played in 11 NHL games before inking a two-way deal with the Flames this summer. At 27, the dream hadn't died but it was on life support. But he really impressed the brain trust in Calgary and he has played in 25 of Calgary's 32 games this season. Best of all, he's notched his first NHL goal and is currently riding a three-game point streak. He's a great skater with a strong outlet and vision, and he appears to be picking up some of the slack from Mark Giordano's injury. His value is limited to very deep leagues. But he has the skills to give your squad a bit of a boost.

Back to protecting players.

Maybe it's ditching the trapezoid behind the net. Perhaps an improbable shift to Olympic-sized ice would help. And sure, we should soften the armor-like shoulder and elbow pads.

But I think it might just take the re-introduction of the two-line pass to slow guys down just enough to allow them to get out of harm's way. It'd have to be done in a way that didn't bring clutch and grab back. I don't know of any other way to put a governor on game speed.

Speed kills on the road. It destroys gray matter at the hockey rink.

Until next week.