The Olympic break is upon us. We’re already dreaming of gold, silver and bronze. And if you’re like me, you're more than a little distracted by pitchers and catchers reporting. The D-Backs and Dodgers are already in, you know...
Hey. HEY - back to me now. Right here. Focus.
Yes, there are loads of distractions right now. And yes, they seem even louder if you're back in the pack. But are you really out of it?
The full standings tell the real story. You'll probably discover you can make up some ground against the guys ahead of you...with the right moves. But you need to be cutthroat and emotionless. And you'll need to ignore the criticisms and trash talk if - or when - you dump or trade a sexy player just to pick up a marginal performer.
That marginal performer might be a one-category wonder. And that might steal you points.
I actually traded for Radim Vrbata and Matt Moulson in the same deal this week. Yeah, I know - I'd be checking my temperature, too. Those guys have been colder than a blizzard in Iqaluit.
Look it up. #ColdestplaceinCanada
But there's a method to my madness. Vrbata may be scuffling, but he's a goal scorer. So is Moulson. They're both still firing a lot of pucks (when they're not injured, of course). I'm within spitting distance of making up three, if not four points by taking a run on the SOG category. And rebounds from both Vrbata and Moulson might just get me enough goals and power-play points to steal 1.5 or two points from the guy just ahead of me.
That's the difference between third and second.
The post-Olympic schedule is incredibly dense - there's no other way to get the Cup presented before the start of July. One guy on a sweet little run might just turn the tide for you. And what's the point of keeping another guy if you don't actually need his contributions to protect a category? Ego? It ain't worth it. But winning is.
Now let's take a look at who caught my eye this week.
Justin Abdelkader, LW/RW, Detroit (13 percent owned) - Abdelkader is like a dog to a bone. See puck. Want puck. Get puck. It's as simple as that. And that has been a great fit with Gustav Nyquist and Henrik Zetterberg this week. Heading into the weekend, he's on a three-game, four-point scoring streak that includes three goals. Add in a plus-2 rating and five hits, and he might just help you make your leap.
Simon Despres, D, Pittsburgh (0 percent owned) - I'm sure Despres would prefer to force his way into a regular role on merit than to win a spot because of injury, but a job is a job. And it looks like Despres could stand to seriously benefit from Kris Letang's absence (Godspeed). Despres brings it in both ends of the ice - he's stable and aggressive in his own zone, and smart and savvy in the opposition's. Letang will be out six weeks minimum and perhaps the rest of the season. Despres, Olli Maatta and Matt Niskanen will be picking up the slack. Despres will get a shot if the other two falter. Monitor.
Raphael Diaz, D, Vancouver (3 percent owned) - One man's trash is another man's treasure. Diaz couldn't consistently crack the lineup in Montreal, yet he has a point-per-game in Vancouver. Different cities. Different attitudes. And different opportunities, particularly on the power play. Diaz won't shut anyone down, but he sure can walk the line with the man advantage. And we both know that PP can use help. Snap. Him. Up.
Carter Hutton, G, Nashville (16 percent owned) - I thought Hutton was a goner when Devan Dubnyk arrived from the Oil Patch. Man, was I wrong. Dubnyk has wilted behind one of the best defensive systems in hockey while Hutton has continued to trundle along. He's not great, but good enough to get starts. And that might help you, depending on your categorical needs.
Boone Jenner, C, Columbus (2 percent owned) - Jenner is a hard-hitting, hard-working pivot who'll pick up 65-70 points some day. He oozes leadership from every pore and it's clear he has real chemistry with Ryan Johansen and Nathan Horton on the Hijack Line (because they can just take over a game). Jenner is the only one with reasonable ownership (for now), so my focus is on him. He has five points, 11 PIM, a plus-6 rating and 11 hits in his last five games. I'm buying.
Olli Maatta, D, Pittsburgh (8 percent owned) - I doubted Maatta before this season - products of the London Knights (OHL) tend to have inflated numbers and egos. But the Hunter boys do produce a lot of NHL-ready players, so I'm willing to cut the big Finn some slack. He has size, snarl and two-way skill. And now - like Simon Despres (above) - he has increased opportunity with Kris Letang on the shelf. He's ultimately more of a shutdown guy, but he does have nine points in his last 11 games. You can do worse. Real worse. Jump on him.
Marc Staal, D, NY Rangers (4 percent owned) - Staal has finally become Staal-like in the last few games...and it's about damn time. I'll withhold judgment whether this is a real return to dominance, but I'll take his five points and plus-10 - yes, you read that right - rating in his last five games. He's also blocking shots (nine). He's not naturally fast, but he uses his edges remarkably well. Take advantage of this outburst. He's still a shutdown guy, but it's nice to know he can deliver points should be called up on to do it.
Drew Stafford, RW, Buffalo (4 percent owned) - I put Stafford on this list a couple weeks ago and his ownership hasn't budged. Too bad, so sad - at least I'm reaping the benefit of his play. He has six goals and three assists in his last seven games, albeit a span interrupted by an injury. But still. I'm continuing to reap the benefits. Shouldn't you?
Anton Stralman, D, NY Rangers (0 percent owned) - Stralman has quietly become the smooth-passing, defensively sound player every Leaf fan dreamed about way back in the mid 2000s. And right now, he's putting on a plus-minus clinic. He's plus-11 with three points, including two assists, in his last six games. Before you spit, consider this - that kind of swing could give you a couple points in the standings. Maybe three, depending on how tight things are. It's the kind of move you have to consider if you're duking it out in the standings.
R.J. Umberger, RW, Columbus (5 percent owned) - Umberger is boring. Average. And aging. But he's on pace to finish the season with close to 45 points and 125 hits. He's proof positive that you do not have to insert a low-offense pylon to make gains in hits. And that combination may prove to be quite valuable depending on how your league's categories are shaking down. There are times when multi-category production is better than single-category domination.
Joel Ward, RW, Washington (7 percent owned) - It just figures. I dropped this guy two weeks ago when I had to make room for an inbound trade. An opponent snagged him off the wire and Wardo went on a four-goals-in-three-games tear. And that's the rub with him. Hot. Not. He's about as easy to predict as the weather. You can't count on him in weekly formats, but he might offer you a tall drink of cold water in roto-style leagues. His next goal will set a new career mark. And it might just come on the power play. Just don't expect him to boost your hits, PIM or plus-minus.
Back to making a run.
I can almost taste second place. I was only a half-point back a week or so ago. Not bad given my sixth-place position before Christmas.
So, use the early part of the Olympic break to dig in and find the soft spots where you can make a move. Start offering trades. Make them delicious. Make them irresistible.
Those owners who have fallen asleep will suddenly stir. Especially if they think they're making off with a stud in exchange for their bag of pucks.
And just think of the damage you can do if you target the right team in a trade. They'll be behind you, of course. And if they can carve a couple points off the guys who are ahead of you...
Cha-ching. It's all fun and games until a fantasy owner ahead of you panics.
Until after the Olympics.
Editor's Note: "Frozen Fantasy" will return Saturday, March 1st.