Hutch's Hockey: It's Not Over

Hutch's Hockey: It's Not Over

Just a couple of weeks ago, I had good news to share with the return of several big-name players. This past week was a sobering reminder of how staying healthy can be a challenge in a sport where the players can skate nearly 30 miles per hour and have a tendency to crash into each other. 

You really feel for the guys who are on the back half of their careers. Max Pacioretty suffering another Achilles injury just two weeks after returning from the one he sustained over the summer is tough to see. He had three goals in five games, but we never really got to see him flourish with the Hurricanes. At 34 years old, he's running out of time to pursue the Stanley Cup, especially if he can't stay healthy. The one silver lining from this latest injury is that he should have upwards of eight months to heal instead of rushing back in five. 

On the other end of the age spectrum, it's just as awful to see Cole Caufield needing shoulder surgery halfway through his second full season. He set a career high in goals with 26, but there's a lot more he could have done. With any luck, he'll be back in tip-top shape for training camp, ready to continue being on the front line of the Canadiens' rebuild. 

It's always a little tougher to enjoy hockey once the season-ending injuries start to pile up. This sport is best when the best players are playing. Good health is the best thing we can hope for -- and speedy recoveries when those hopes fall short. 

In fantasy, losing a star player for the year is tough to overcome. Most of the time, 40-goal scorers and point-per-game players aren't available on the waiver wire. It could take multiple moves to recover the lost production of one injured player. The key thing to remember is that while their season may be done, yours isn't. Don't throw in the towel at the first sign of adversity -- it's okay to be sad for the players and the fans, but you've got to keep pushing forward. 

If either of those aforementioned injuries left you a bit short this week, Jason Zucker's a solid option for wing depth. He's scored five goals and added two assists over his last eight games. The Penguins' offense seems to come and go on a whim lately, but Zucker's done enough alongside Evgeni Malkin lately to warrant a look. He's an injury risk in his own right -- Zucker hasn't played more than 80 percent of the games in any of the last three seasons. If the injury bug bites him again, you'll just have to find another replacement. 

On the other side of the Keystone State, Kevin Hayes is having an excellent January. He's got six goals and seven assists in his last 11 games, helping the Flyers to a 7-4-0 record this month. I harp on John Tortorella's tough-as-nails approach a lot -- it's not one that I agree with, but one positive out of it is that his benching and scratching of players creates a competitive drive to avoid being on the outside looking in. Hayes saw that earlier in December, and he didn't let it derail what's shaping up to be a career year. You have to think he won't end up in the press box again, at least not as a healthy scratch. 

Colin Miller is not a player I'd have thought would warrant discussion in a fantasy column this year, but he's worth a look right now. Three points in his last five games is nothing special, but a plus-6 rating, eight hits and nine blocked shots beef up that line a bit. The 30-year-old's power-play time is dependent on whether Nils Lundkvist is in or out of the Stars' lineup, so I wouldn't expect an increase in offense from Miller. Outside of his two years with Vegas, he hasn't done much to grab attention, but he could top the 20-point mark for just the third time in his career this season. He's also sporting a plus-20 rating. There's some deep-league value to be had. 

Florida's regression to the middle of the pack has lessened some of the general appeal of its roster. I still think Carter Verhaeghe is undervalued at a 57 percent rostered rate in Yahoo! formats. He had a 55-point campaign last year, and he's on pace to push for 70 this season. His 22 goals put him two shy of matching his total from last year. The lack of physical play will hurt a bit in formats that count hits, but the scoring profile is one of a player that should be much closer to 75-to-80 percent rostered. 

Any concern about J.T. Compher slipping once the Avalanche got healthy has gone unfounded so far. He's picked up two goals and five assists over his last seven contests while playing on the second power-play unit and the second line. The 27-year-old's 46 blocked shots have him tied for ninth among forwards in the league -- he gets it done defensively, which essentially makes him immune to a demotion to the bottom six. With 29 points, including nine on the power play, through 45 contests, he's getting close to a career-best season across the board. The Avalanche won't be hovering on the playoff line forever, and Compher's contributions will likely be a big part of what gets them back above the playoff line. 

If you don't need the defensive boost but still want in on the Avalanche's offense, Evan Rodrigues is also an option. He's posted a goal and seven assists with a plus-10 rating over his last eight games. Head coach Jared Bednar wants to spread out the talent on the roster, so Rodrigues has seen some time alongside Nathan MacKinnon while Mikko Rantanen works on the second line. With 24 points in 34 outings this season, Rodrigues is on a better pace than he had last year with the Penguins (43 points in 82 games). 

Maybe I haven't been looking closely enough, but it's beyond time I give some respect to Cole Perfetti. He doesn't do much eye-popping stuff, and to be fair, it's tough to stand out on a team with Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Josh Morrissey and Connor Hellebuyck getting all the headlines. There's been some ice time fluctuations for Perfetti, but he's solidly in a middle-six role in his first full season. He's got a goal and seven assists over his last eight games, and he's at 27 points in 42 contests overall. He's done enough to help in standard formats this season, and he shouldn't be flying under the radar in next fall's drafts either. 

Matt Grzelcyk is probably the third-best Boston defenseman to roster, but he's taken it up a notch with two goals and five assists over his last seven games. As has been a theme this week, he's on a career-best pace -- his 16 points in 41 contests would have him comfortably exceed the 24 points he posted in 73 outings last year. He doesn't add much for hits or blocks with just 24 and 53, respectively. Still, a plus-26 rating and a top-four role with the Bruins in the midst of an impressive season gives him a safe floor. 

Sometimes, you don't need your fantasy goalie to be great -- you just need games. Consider Sam Montembeault's last two weeks: a 4-3-0 record, 2.56 GAA and a .934 save percentage in seven starts. The Canadiens' rest-of-season outlook sans Cole Caufield isn't pretty, but if Montembeault can make them look even respectable, that's good enough. Jake Allen (upper body) remains in the vague area between day-to-day and week-to-week, so this could turn into a timeshare situation in the Montreal crease when he returns. 

Next week's post will be another one a little away from the usual fantasy fare. I'll be running back one of my favorite breakdowns from last year, providing full "second team" All-Star rosters for each division. With the All-Star break and bye weeks approaching soon, there won't be as much need to focus on roster decisions -- the reduced number of games should allow you to play whoever is active. If your depth isn't strong, you can make some moves to get extra appearances. 

It's a good time to evaluate what you've got and what you'll need for the stretch run. Just remember to keep your foot on the gas this week. If you're still hovering outside of a playoff spot, you should be feeling the firm pressure of time running short to catch up. In addition to the All-Star fare, I'll have the usual waiver-wire suggestions next week to help you navigate the light schedules that are just beyond the horizon. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shawn Hutchinson
Shawn has covered sports independently since 2010, and joined RotoWire in 2019. He serves as a beat writer for the Calgary Flames and contributes in hockey and baseball. Shawn also enjoys soccer, rooting on his hometown teams: Sounders FC and Reign FC.
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