Underachievers. They're on every roster. Mine, yours...and the Jets, Leafs, Flames, Oilers, Hurricanes, Rangers and...The list is several miles long.
It's frightening. In a Brian Burke way.
But I digress.
Is it time to cut bait on underachievers? Can you seriously continue to roster guys like Tobias Enstrom (75 percent owned), Nail Yakupov (64 percent owned) and Mark Streit (76 percent owned)? Or Alexander Edler (61 percent owned), David Clarkson (19 percent owned) and Sam Gagner (39 percent owned)?
And don't get me started on Mike Smith (94 percent owned), Cam Ward (70 percent owned) and Henrik Lundqvist (99 percent owned). Or Jimmy Howard (94 percent owned). Or Sergei Bobrovsky (84 percent owned).
Every season brings poor performances. But this one just feels worse than usual. Is it even possible to trade any of the guys I mentioned? OK, Clarkson is pretty much droppable and Gagner is a borderline drop. But it's hard to slice and dice the other ones.
Unless you're creative in your trade offers. And I mean really, REALLY creative.
I recently turned down a deal that would have seen me get Jonathan Toews, Brent Burns and Matt Niskanen. The offer was creative - he knew I have a massive crush on Toews. And both Burns and Niskanen have name value, but they've cooled since their hot starts.
Still, I almost bit. I might have if Patrick Kane wasn't in the request.
Packaging a stud with an underachiever may be the only way to move a slug. I might have to look at packaging Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Edler and Jonathan Huberdeau together, just to jettison Edler. And maybe a bundle of Ryan Getzlaf and Tobias Enstrom would be net me a lesser forward, but a more productive defender.
Sacrifice for net gain. I think that's what it's going to take.
But it's all way easier said than done. I'm not sure I can bring myself to part with either Getzlaf or Backstrom. Could you?
It'll all come down to the taste of the bile rising in your throat. How much hate do you have for your slugs? I know how much I have for mine. And I'm getting closer to that tipping point.
Now let's take a look at who caught my eye this week.
Cam Atkinson, RW, Columbus (10 percent owned) - Atkinson was the draft day darling of many last season after his solid debut in 2011-12. But this tiny offensive wizard didn't increase his output in 2012-13 and was soon discarded. He's toiling in Ohio, but don't hold that against him. He heads into action Saturday with six points (three goals, three assists) in the last four games and the Jackets look like they're starting to pull themselves out of their funk. It's a combination that could make for a decent, go-forward pace for this sparkplug. And that can help in medium-sized leagues.
Paul Gaustad, LW/C, Nashville (2 percent owned) - Gaustad is best known as a penalty-killer and defensive specialist. In fact, his 60.1 percent win percentage at the dot is third in the league. But he's also contributed some offense - two goals and two assists - in the last two games. The offense won't continue at this rate for long, but he might deliver you something worthy in the next couple games. Remember - he did have a 36-point, 85-PIM season in Buffalo, so he isn't just a one-trick pony. Just don't get all crazy and drop someone with a much better track record just to snap him up.
Phillip Grubauer, G, Washington (3 percent owned) - Grubauer is big and technically sound, and surprisingly economical in his movement. And that glove - oh, that glove. He's clearly more athletic than your average shot blocker and that means he could be a star some day...or at least, an above-average starter. He's blocked behind Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth, but he still needs development time. But he has shown well when he does get an opportunity. Like this week - try two wins and an overtime loss, a 1.52 GAA and .957 save percentage in three starts. Neuvirth will be back from his rehab assignment soon enough, but I'm taking a chance on Grubauer for some short-term goalie gains. You?
Eric Gudbranson, D, Florida (5 percent owned) - Just when I thought this guy was pulling his game together he goes and throws a chicken-wing elbow into Eric Fehr's jaw in Friday night's game. Dork. He has four points (one goal, three assists) and a plus-5 rating in his last five games - not bad for a guy with just seven points and a minus-8 rating on the season. A suspension is definitely looming, but don't be afraid to stash him away. He could be a 25-point, 150-PIM blueliner and that's definitely rosterable in a lot of Yahoo! formats.
Carter Hutton, G, Nashville (5 percent owned) - Has Hutton gotten the upper hand in the blue paint in Music City? He looked sharp in two wins this week over the Stars and Rangers - try just two goals allowed, one in each contest. Marek Mazanec hasn't won since the end of November, so Hutton is looking like a star...relatively speaking, of course. He's more a system goalie than a top-notch starter, but that actually works in Nashville. He's in tough against the Sharks and Hawks in the short term, but then the Preds get the Bolts and Habs at the end of next week. There's real opportunity for gain in those two games.
Mike McKenna, G, Columbus (2 percent owned) - Welcome back to the NHL; it's been a long time. It was 2007-08 when you last graced the blue paint for an NHL squad. Well, it looks like you're “the man” in Ohio going forward … at least for a few games. Curtis McElhinney left after one period Thursday night with a lower-body ouch and Sergei Bobrovsky is out four to five weeks. McKenna is never going to be a fantasy rock star, but he's going to deliver decent totals if his mates continue their recent strong play. Snap him up now. At minimum, you'll block a desperate Bobrovsky or McElhinney owner from snagging him. You won't be loved, but you play fantasy because you like to rub things in. Right?
Petr Mrazek, G, Detroit (1 percent owned) - Jimmy Howard is out two-to-four weeks. And bless his heart, but Jonas Gustavsson is prone to some serious speed wobbles. Remember Toronto, or have you banished that from your memory? My money is on Mrazek - I've loved him and his plucky approach for years. He'll be a frantic add for a lot of people when the Monster goes back under the bed. I'm getting on board now.
Dylan Olsen, D, Florida (2 percent owned) - Olsen is on fire since his Florida debut on Nov. 25. He's better known as a defense-first crease clearer, but he has a heavy, accurate shot that seems to find its way through a forest of legs. And that has delivered him a remarkable seven points, including three goals, in nine games. Six of those points have come in his last five games. Take advantage. It won't last, but it might be nice for a while. And he might even move into a more prominent role if the kitties trade Dmitry Kulikov. Just saying.
Antoine Roussel, LW, Dallas (8 percent owned) - Roussel is quickly becoming the NHL's newest super pest and it's clear he loves every second of it. He's not naturally gifted, at least by way of offense. But he is like a dog with a bone when it comes to the puck. And that tends to put him in the right place at the right time. He was an absolute menace against the Hawks on Tuesday. He agitated and irritated, and ultimately goaded Jeremy Morin into an end-of-the-game melee that earned him 14 PIM. But he also scored both Dallas goals in the loss. And he has seven points, including five goals, in his last eight games. Yah, I know - that's not what I expected to see either. Slot him in - he's not going away.
Nate Schmidt, D, Washington (0 percent owned) - Who the heck is Nate Schmidt, you say? Hey - I didn't really pay attention to him until this past week, either. That was until last Saturday when he put home his first NHL goal. Then he followed that up with another goal the very next night. The undrafted college product is a great skater who comes with offensive upside, defensive smarts and physical ability. Sounds like a perfect defender. He's behind a lot of prominent names in the U.S. Capitol, but he might surprise if Mike Green keeps up his Sideshow Bob routine. He bears watching. Who knows? Maybe he can put together a Matt Carle-like career. There's value in that...at least at times.
Daniel Winnik, LW, Anaheim (1 percent owned) - So why is a durable, 28-year-old, defensive specialist on this list? Well, Mr. Reliability is also extremely versatile and he doesn't mind doing the dirty work down low. That has earned him ice time on a scoring line and there he has produced a three-game, five-point (all assists) scoring streak heading into Sunday. Winnik is big and it's tough to move him and his butt off the puck. That means he's a good fit in the Ducks' cycle game, so expect him to get more offensive opportunities in the next couple outings.
Short Circuits = BIG PIM Gains
Jeremy Morin, LW, Chicago (0 percent owned) - Morin lost his mind twice this week, first against Dallas and then against Philly. And the resulting 30 minutes of penalties - yes, you read that right (not to mention it was on back-to-back nights) - was enough to vault him into the top-25 Yahoo! performers this week. The guy is actually a whole lot more than a swollen-knuckled meathead, but he's making his fist mark in Chicago with his fists. He can also score - he had 30 goals in 67 AHL games last year. So he might just be one of those risk/reward sleepers that make you look like a complete fantasy superstar.
Ryan Strome, C, NY Islanders (8 percent owned) - The Isles called Strome up Wednesday, but haven't played him...yet. But Saturday is a new day and the Habs look ripe for the picking. This guy is supremely talented and a lot of fantasy owners are jumping on board on pure speculation (his ownership went up six percent overnight Friday). And that's why you should grab him. He becomes a delicious trade chip when he shows off his offensive wizardry. Someone in your league will be guaranteed to overpay.
Back to the slugs.
I really do own Edler and Enstrom; thankfully, in different leagues. But it's hard to carry Enstrom on a squad with the also-underachieving Kimmo Timonen and Christian Ehrhoff.
Particularly when I only roll six defenders.
I need to seriously think about the net gain I could earn by improving my blue line with a small sacrifice up front. But it's going to take some serious analysis and then weighing of the risks.
That needs to happen now. Otherwise, the anchor around our rosters will get heavier and heavier and...you get the point. I know I have.
Until next week.