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Barometer: Opportunity is Key

Bret Cohen

Bret Cohen writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Hey all, Bret Cohen here filling in for Jan’s (very) capable hands on the Barometer on this long weekend of turkey and shopping. When perusing the waiver wire for pickups, especially in deeper leagues, I try to look beyond who has scored the most points to who is getting the most opportunity in the form of total ice time, power-play time, and especially line promotions and demotions. Keeping that in mind, in this article I will try to look past the pure points to shed some light on some players whose value (or lack thereof) has been driven by a shift in opportunity.

First Liners (Risers)

Teddy Purcell, C, TB – Since losing six of their first seven to start the month, the Lightning have been on a tear, winning their last five and scoring 22 goals in the process. Purcell has jumped on the bandwagon, putting up two goals and four assists in his last four games. The real story for Purcell has been his power-play time – he is skating on the team’s top unit, has topped three minutes in each of his last seven games (including two games of 8:51 and 6:09), and those four assists have all come with the extra man. Ride him while he’s hot.

Derek Stepan, C, NYR – It’s been an up-and-down season for the rookie, who after potting three goals in his first career NHL game put up exactly zero goals and two assists in his next 15, seeing his ice time drop below 10 minutes per game. It’s been all uphill from there, however, as Stepan has put up points in six of his last seven games, with two goals and six assists during that stretch. Not only that, but he has also been promoted to the Rangers’ top line with Marian Gaborik and Alex Frolov, and is also on the top power-play unit. In his most recent game, a 5-3 loss to Tampa Bay, Stepan led Ranger forwards with 21:42 of ice time, including 3:17 on the power play, and chipped in a power-play goal and an assist. While there may still be a few bumps in the road in his rookie season, at least Stepan is starting to dispel the notion that his fast start this season was a fluke.

Andrew Ladd, LW, ATL – Since being named captain last week, Ladd has put up points in three straight games, with a goal and four assists over that span. He has been hot all season, averaging over a point per game, but he’s firing on all cylinders now with four goals and seven assists in his last nine games and should be deployed in all formats.

R.J. Umberger, C, CLM – The Blue Jackets have been starved for secondary scoring since… well, since Rick Nash first burst onto the scene eight years ago. After scuffling a bit in late October and early November, Umberger has helped fill that role, putting up points in seven straight (two goals and seven assists) and amassing a solid plus-7 rating while skating on a line mostly with Antoine Vermette and Nikita Filatov. Interesting fact: while Umberger is still regularly skating with Nash & Co. on the top power-play unit, none of the points during his recent streak have been with the extra man.

James van Riemsdyk, RW, PHI – Big things were expected this season out of the second overall pick in 2007, who put up 15 goals and 35 points in 78 games last season as a 20-year-old. He fell flat on his face, however, notching no goals and four assists in his first 13 games before being benched for four straight. In relatively limited ice time since his benching, he has put up points in four straight – including his first two goals of the season – along with a solid plus-6 rating. More importantly, he is out of coach Peter Laviolette’s doghouse, skating on a line with Mike Richards and Andreas Nodl. Keep an eye on his ice time, but if van Riemsdyk keeps producing, he could merit adding in a number of leagues.

Mattias Tedenby, LW, NJ – Devils need offense. Devils recall former first-round pick from AHL. Former first-round pick records three goals and three assists in first seven games. Was it really that simple? Tedenby won’t replace Zach Parise, but if anyone has caught the 20-year-old Swede’s last few games, his speed has really caused some headaches for opposing defenses, even helping Tedenby draw (and score on) a penalty shot. Temper your long-term expectations for the season, especially given that Tedenby only had five points in 10 AHL games before his recall, but he has the pedigree to go along with the stats, so you (and New Jersey) might do well to give him an extended look.

Dustin Byfuglien, D, ATL – Byfuglien had the Thrashers (and fantasy owners) holding their collective breaths when he left a game against the Panthers last week in the first period and didn’t return. In his three games since, however, Buff has been his normal self, scoring a goal in each game and chipping in an assist to boot. Feel free to exhale.

John-Michael Liles, D, COL – If you had to guess who would be leading all defensemen in scoring through the first month and a half of the season, Liles probably would not have been on the list. But here he is, with 22 points in 22 games, including four goals and seven assists in his last eight games (with four multi-pointers in that span). It’s not rocket science to recommend starting Liles at this point, but he is incredibly hot right now.

Kevin Shattenkirk, D, COL – Originally called up from AHL Lake Erie as an injury fill-in at the beginning of November, Shattenkirk now has points in five straight (three goals and three assists). The rookie's play lately has contributed to coach Joe Sacco playing him over some veterans on the blue line. Even with Kyle Quincey returning to the lineup, Shattenkirk has remained on the top power-play pairing with Liles. The former 14th overall pick has not disappointed in Colorado, and it does not look like he is going anywhere soon.

Semyon Varlamov, G, WAS – Varlamov, who has missed most of the season due to a groin injury, picked a perfect time to come back, as Michal Neuvirth tweaked his own groin during a morning skate and has missed the past two games. While Neuvirth has been very good this season, he has had his shaky moments, and don’t forget that Varlamov (who was drafted in the first round in 2006 ahead of Neuvirth, who was taken in the second) has been the primary backstop for the Caps in the last two playoffs. Adding to the intrigue, Varlamov was terrific in stopping 28 of 30 shots to help end the Caps’ three-game losing streak in their last game over Carolina. If Varlamov still is on your waiver wire, at the very least he should be picked up as a handcuff for Neuvirth owners, and perhaps more widely as well.

Johan Hedberg, G, NJ – Sure, as soon as Martin Brodeur is healthy he will have his starting job back. And I know that the Devils are the second-worst team in the league. Still, this is the second time Brodeur’s elbow has forced him to miss time this month, and Hedberg has conjured up some of the magic from his younger days since taking over, allowing only one goal on 55 shots in consecutive wins, including a 5-0 shutout of Washington, the second-highest scoring team in the league. In deeper leagues, the Moose could be a viable option, especially as a Brodeur handcuff.

Others include: James Neal, Brad Richards, Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Ville Leino, Ryan Malone, Andreas Nodl, Ray Whitney, Lee Stempniak, Dan Girardi, David Schlemko, Alex Pietrangelo, Mike Commodore, Joni Pitkanen, Andrej Meszaros, Tom Poti (back after missing six games due to a groin injury), Peter Budaj (especially with Craig Anderson suffering yet another injury), Carey Price, Martin Biron, Ilya Bryzgalov, Steve Mason, and Patrick Lalime (has been filling in for the injured Ryan Miller).

Training Room (Injuries)

Teemu Selanne, RW, ANA – Age has not stopped the Finnish Flash, who - at age 40 - has maintained a point per game average this season. A week ago, however, his 40-year-old body did, as he left a Nov. 19 game against Columbus with a groin injury. Luckily for the Ducks, they had only one game scheduled the following week, but Selanne missed that one and reportedly left practice early on Wednesday for precautionary reasons after he “felt a strain.” The Ducks have three games over their next four days, and it would not be surprising to see Selanne miss most of them.

Matt Stajan, C, CGY – Stajan had points in six straight before taking a controversial hit to the head by Marc Staal on Nov. 22, forcing him to miss the Flames’ next game. Coach Brent Sutter said that Stajan may be ready to return soon, though he was unable to stake with his teammates Wednesday morning.

Mike Green, D, WAS – Green was having a subpar season (for his standards) with 13 points in 19 games before missing the Caps’ last game with an undisclosed injury. As of the last report, he is not sure whether he will play Friday against Tampa. It sounds like he will consider coming back, but with no points in his last four games, one has to wonder if this mystery injury is affecting Green’s production.

Marek Zidlicky, D, MIN – Zidlicky is on the shelf for the third time this season due to lower-body injuries, the most recent time after returning for only four games. The Wild are playing this one pretty close to the vest, but Minnesota’s offense from the blue line suffers when Zidlicky misses chunks of time.

Martin Brodeur, G, NJ – After taking another shot off his bruised elbow on Nov. 18, Brodeur was pronounced out for approximately 10 days, and “a maximum of two weeks.” Supposedly every MRI he took was negative, and there was no structural damage, so he just needs the swelling to go down. Still, this the second stint Brodeur has missed this season, so Johan Hedberg might be a necessary hedge for Brodeur owners.

Ryan Miller, G, BUF – Miller has missed the past two games due to a groin injury, which makes the second injury to his legs that has forced him to miss time this season. He reportedly took part in a full practice Thursday, but despite his strong play in November, I would be wary about relying heavily on Miller over the rest of the season.

Others include: Tim Connolly (missed a game due to a groin injury suffered during practice), Ales Hemsky (sat out Thursday’s game with a groin injury), Jamie Langenbrunner (has missed six straight with a sore neck), Adrian Aucoin (has missed the last two games due to the ever-nebulous “lower-body injury”), Michal Rozsival (appears ready to return after missing eight games due to a shoulder injury), and Craig Anderson (after missing 10 games due to a knee injury, made it through only one full game before leaving his last matchup with a groin pull).

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, NJ – You can’t really call him much of a faller anymore, but Kovalchuk has no goals in his last five games, and only one in his last 13. When the Devils made him a $100 million man, they were probably expecting something like the 0.54 goals per game Kovalchuk had averaged over his career heading into the season. On top of that, he is worst among team forwards with a minus-10 rating, which must really be irking usually defense-first GM Lou Lamoriello, who not only shelled out the dough but also lost two draft picks in the process of signing Kovalchuk. On the bright side, there is nowhere to go but up, right? Right?

Nikolay Zherdev, RW, PHI – Excluding a three-point effort against Tampa Bay on Nov. 18, Zherdev has no points and a minus-6 rating in his last six games. Not only that, but he has seen his ice time slashed lately, and he is mostly pulling fourth-line duty with luminaries such as Jody Shelley and Blair Betts. There is always a chance he will go on a heater, but for right now Zherdev has been relegated to fantasy (and real life) obscurity, which is disappointing given how awesome the Flyers have been this year in the offensive zone.

Andrew Brunette, LW, MIN – After notching 61 points in 82 games last year, Brunette’s 10 points in 20 games are a serious disappointment. Despite still getting top-six ice time, the 37-year-old has no goals and two assists in his last eight games.

Magnus Paajarvi, LW, EDM – After regularly logging top-six time at the start of the season, Paajarvi has not scored a point in November and saw his ice time dialed down to as low as 5:33 this week. He is back off of the fourth line, but the scoring woes continue for Paajarvi, who despite his age had a lot of pundits predicting big things coming into the season. Except in keeper leagues, stay away.

Duncan Keith, D, CHI – Last year’s Norris Trophy winner, who put up 69 points in 82 games, has been struggling along with the rest of the stripped-away Blackhawks, with only one point in his last 10 games. Keith is bound to turn it around, but such numbers are extremely disappointing, especially considering that Keith was expected to be one of the top fantasy defenseman this season. But hey, at least he has more points this season than Kovalchuk, right? Right?

James Wisniewski, D, NYI – Wisniewski aptly demonstrates the peril of relying on an Islander defenseman, an offense-first (read: defense-never) one at that. At least his grotesque plus-minus was tolerable when he was averaging over a point per game (which he was over his first seven). Over his last 12, however, he has exactly two points to go along with an ungodly minus-14 rating. In leagues that heavily weigh plus-minus, you should seriously consider axing Wisniewski despite his offensive potential.

Cody Franson, D, NAS – Those who got caught up in Cody-mania over his hot start, where he put up eight points in his first 15 days, have undoubtedly come crashing down to earth as Franson has gone pointless with a minus-2 rating over his last five games. On top of that, Ryan Suter is healthy and back in the lineup, cutting into Franson’s power play time. While Franson has the potential to be an offensive force down the road, he should be stowed away for now.

Michal Neuvirth, G, WAS – As mentioned in the Varlamov update, what a brutal time for Neuvirth to tweak his groin, during a morning skate no less. Thrust into action when Varlamov suffered a groin injury of his own early in the season, Neuvirth shined, going 12-3-1 and picking up Rookie of the Month honors for October. While Neuvirth said on Thanksgiving that he is “ready to go if needed” on Friday against Tampa Bay – and it appears that he might be given that the Caps demoted their third-string netminder – even if he is, he will face stiff competition from Varlamov over the rest of the season.

Others include: Alexander Semin, Martin Erat, Olli Jokinen, Valtteri Filppula, Tyler Ennis, Jamie Benn, Erik Cole, Raffi Torres, Colin Wilson, Jack Johnson (one point and a minus-10 in his last six games), Alex Goligoski (second week in a row), Tyler Myers, Joe Corvo, Jeff Schultz, Jonathan Ericsson, Niklas Backstrom, Henrik Lundqvist, Jonas Hiller, and Jonathan Bernier.