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Neutral Zone Wrap: The Point of No Return

Evan Berofsky

Evan Berofsky

Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When he’s not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble(TM). If you have anything to say about Evan’s work (or need any hot word tips), feel free to contact him at eberofsky@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).


Valentine's Day brings out the softer side in all of us. If you're lucky enough to share this holiday with someone special, then you're all too familiar with its major characteristics. The sappy gift exchanges, the various displays of affection, the late-night waiver wire searches. Yes, you read that last one correctly. Fantasy hockey can play an integral part in a loving relationship.

Think about it: you want to do well in your league. Your significant other wants you to be happy. What better way to achieve both than by making transactions that will improve your team? You can't make it to the top by sitting around and hoping you can coast to the title. And your partner undoubtedly understands that. He/she will do anything to support your cause, even if that means leaving you alone for a couple hours in front of a computer screen. (No, not for that. Get your mind back in the game.)

It may seem like we just started the season but we're already 25% of the way through. So let's spread the love. There are some stars who have underachieved, so they won't be displayed here. That means we have spared Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, and Tyler Myers the embarrassment of a detailed report on why they've been terrible. We know they rank as top-level (or near top-level) defensemen who can regain most, if not all, of their form for the remainder of the schedule.

At the same time, others have performed much better than expected. A few have finally reached their potential, some are right near their highest level, and the rest are destined to crash hard. This final category proves to be the most intriguing of the bunch, since it acts as a warning for owners who might be blinded by gaudy stats and the promise of consistent returns. Remember, kids: nothing lasts forever, especially in a fast-paced, high-action league such as the NHL.

Look through the following two lists. See how many of these guys you currently own. If you own a couple from the first group, then congrats on your non-existent first-quarter championship. And if you are stuck with at least three from the second category, then that would explain why you may be ready to liquidate your assets:

(Stats as of Wednesday February 13th)

Legends of the Fall

The faster they rise, the harder they fall. Their efforts will not be forgotten but let's just say it's time…to ship them to an unsuspecting colleague who honestly believes their value hasn't yet peaked:

Raphael Diaz/Andrei Markov, D, Montreal

Now that P.K. Subban is back in the fold, the ones who filled in offensively will inevitably see their stats chopped. That means both Markov and Diaz should not be expected to thrive. In fact, in the six games since Subban's return, the Russian and Swiss blueliners have hit a wall (combining for three points) – a far cry from their earlier efforts (16 in the first six).

Viktor Fasth, G, Anaheim

So a 30-year old rookie Swedish netminder will be the one to lift the Ducks to the top of the Pacific Division and keep them aloft? Yes, Fasth has begun his NHL career 6-0 and posted some sparkling stats (1.74 GAA, .933 SV%). And yes, incumbent Jonas Hiller has struggled (3.69 GAA, .872 SV%) and wobbled himself (lower-body problems) out of the starting gig. But if you think Fasth can last, then let me convince you to invest in Nigerian royalty.

Tom Gilbert, D, Minnesota

The points came flying for the native Minnesotan right out of the gate (six in seven). And while Gilbert has continued to log significant ice time (at nearly 24 minutes a pop), his chances are dwindling thanks to superstud freshman Jonas Brodin finding his way (three) and Jared Spurgeon (at 3:35) already sniping a significant chunk of power-play duty.

Cody Hodgson, F, Buffalo

How long can Hodgson maintain this pace (12 in 14)? Guess that depends on how long you believe he will remain on Buffalo's top unit. The former 10th overall pick looks like he can persevere but let's look at the reality. Hodgson may line up for both ends of the special-teams spectrum, but he's not relied upon heavily in either (about four minutes total). And furthermore, there's his history of injuries since being drafted. The signs are there; use them whatever way you please.

Lee Stempniak, F, Calgary

Stempniak has boasted a history of hot starts but has only backed it up once with something resembling a complete season (2006-07 with STL: 52 in 82, 19 PPPs). Fast forward to the present and you'll see a promising debut (nine, plus-5) and a burgeoning partnership with Michael Cammalleri. On his current pace, Stempniak will hit 36 points. Projected to an 82-game schedule, that comes out to a career-high of 61. Umm, that's not gonna happen.

(Honorable mention: Sam Gagner, F, Edmonton; Andy Greene, D, New Jersey; Saku Koivu/Daniel Winnik, F, Anaheim; John Mitchell, F, Colorado; Fedor Tyutin, D, Columbus)

Point of No Return

By no means are any of these players facing a do-or-die situation. While some have already turned the corner, the remainder require a wake-up call. If you have kept faith up to now, then please try to hold out for a little bit longer:

Dan Girardi, D, NY Rangers

Those first few contests probably got you worried (two in eight), but Girardi (three in the last two) looks safe for now. Still leads the Blueshirts in minutes (at 25) and a hard worker at both ends of the ice. Not the world's best D-man producer but someone who has elevated his game in each of his last few seasons.

Ondrej Pavelec, G, Winnipeg

With Dustin Byfuglien (lower-something something) healthy and Zach Bogosian (wrist surgery) not too far behind, the Jets defense corps is nearly at full strength. The reinforcements should allow Pavelec (3.28 GAA, .886 SV%) to gain more confidence behind a solid blueline without having to try to act as savior every outing.

R.J. Umberger, F, Columbus

A veteran presence can really benefit a young squad. But while the youth have consistently found the scoresheet, Umberger (three in 13) has mainly gone missing. It isn't a sign of laziness, since the former Flyer leads by example (#1 forward playing almost 19 minutes) and suits up in all situations (includes a first-PP role). But let's face it: Columbus isn't exactly the most potent lineup (2.2 goals a game). Guess Umberger will keep fighting for points like the rest of 'em.

Justin Williams, F, Los Angeles

Heck, any Kings forward belongs on this list for the team's continued inability to score during the regular season (no one has exceeded seven points). But Williams has been singled out due to his low numbers (five) despite meaningful minutes (almost 17 a night, including 2:30 on the PP). His last two full seasons have netted an average of 58 points (doesn't include the 15 from last year's Cup haul) so the talent is there but the opportunities haven't fully presented themselves.

Travis Zajac, F, New Jersey

Like the last two entries, Zajac (three in 13) characterizes yet another example of sufficient opportunities combined with insufficient results. One cannot complain about his appearances (averaging just over 21 minutes, four-plus of those on the PP) but his output is becoming worrisome. The indicators say to cut Zajac a little slack and ride out this brief bout of suckiness.

(Dishonorable mention: Kevin Bieksa, D, Vancouver; Braden Holtby, G, Washington; Olli Jokinen, F, Winnipeg; Dmitry Kulikov, D, Florida; Kyle Okposo, F, NY Islanders)