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Frozen Fantasy: No More Excuses

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson is a four-time winner of the Hockey Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

How many excuses have you already used this fantasy season? My sleepers havent panned out. My best players got hurt. I was forced into an auto-draft. Im so busy at work (or school) that Im never first to the wire.

You might as well just say the dog ate my fantasy team.

Look Im not being critical; OK, I am a little. Stop whining I have. I could have complained bitterly about getting stuck with an auto-draft in the Friends and Family league. But I adjusted those rankings myself my team was my responsibility.

Trust me Ive said my share of those excuses over the years. But the bottom line is simple your team is only as good as you make it, from draft to seasons end. And that includes being brutally honest and unemotional with every single player on your roster.

Honesty that will test your intestinal fortitude for sure. It has mine.

Sure, its hard to only look at the numbers thats why I have a sorely underachieving Tomas Kaberle on my Friends and Family roster. Im still holding out hope that hell rebound (or get traded). Hes not droppable and hes certainly not tradable. So Im stuck with him. But Anton Babchuk? What have I been thinking? Who cares if his opportunity in Calgary is greater than in Carolina. He has sucked.

Early December is a great time to take stock of your fantasy future. All is not lost. And nothing even a big lead is carved in stone.

On November 15, I had 28 points in the Friends and Family league (yah, I already know that sucks but rub it in if youd like). Wednesday, I had 54.

No more excuses.

Now lets take a look at who caught my eye this week.

Justin Braun, D, San Jose (0 percent owned) Who? This guy barely hit the Sharks top-20 prospect list this season but hes turning heads now. He got the call last week and was pressed into heavy action Saturday night when the Sharks went down to four defensemen. He didnt wilt. He didnt look scared. He simply logged close to 23 minutes of ice time and tallied two assists. He then followed it up with a near 20-minute, one-assist performance Tuesday night and he logged his first goal a power-play marker Thursday against Ottawa. He wont overwhelm anyone with a physical game. But hes a college product with great offensive instincts whos hockey smart, skates well and passes with laser-like efficiency. Hmmm sound like any other Shark you know? Hes no Dan Boyle not yet anyway. But his resume and tool belt are more than just a little similar to his teammate. The Sharks blue line has been devastated by injury. I think Brauns opportunity is now.

Tomas Fleischmann, LW, Colorado (21 percent owned) Many of us drafted this shifty stickhandler as a legitimate breakout candidate after his amazing 41 points in his first 46 games last season. But the Fleischmann who showed up this year was the same post-Olympic slug who picked up just 11 points in his last 29 games (including an invisible playoffs). Ugh. But things changed in a big way this week with his move to the Mile High City. Hes no longer a third-line option; hes now the top-line left winger with the great Paul Stastny and aging but still sniping Milan Hejduk. His 60-point potential is now a whole lot closer to reality. Scoop him up before his Friday debut.

Sam Gagner, C, Edmonton (14 percent owned) Remember the fourth-year theory? Well, Gagner is in that magical season and in his last few games, hes starting to look like hes actually about to break out. He stretched his point streak to four games and six points with that goal Thursday night and that shorthanded goal Wednesday night was absolutely filthy. He looked off the defender and Carey Price, and when Price bit on the pass fake, Gagner fired a no-look wrister shelf into an opening no bigger than a Sunkist orange. Its definitely a candidate for goal of the week. The Oil will finish near the bottom of the league and that means a lot of owners will look past its players. You shouldnt, at least not right now.

Tom Gilbert, D, Edmonton (3 percent owned) Two years ago, it took Gilbert 10 games to really get rolling; he finished with 45 points. Last year, he had just 11 of his 31 points in his first 61 games. This year, three points in his first 18 games drove him off just about every fantasy roster. But he has quietly put up five points in the last six games heading into Thursday and is flashing some of the skills we saw two years ago. Will he keep it up? Probably not. But this could be a sign that hes better than he was the first three-quarters of last year. And in a world where productive fantasy defenders are tough to find, Gilbert might just have sneaky value. Might.

Milan Hejduk, RW, Colorado (72 percent owned) Count me among the people who downgraded this guy on my preseason list based on those nagging back and knee injuries from last year; man, was I wrong. Hes healthy and looking like the sniper of old, and with the addition of Tomas Fleischmann, hell be the prime beneficiary of not one but two elite playmaking linemates. Hes not available on the wire in most active leagues; in fact, his ownership jumped six percent in just a few hours Thursday afternoon. But he might be languishing on an inactive league-mates roster. Go ask about him in a trade. Hes worth it.

Alex Pietrangelo, D, St. Louis (20 percent owned) A lot of you will likely disagree with what Im about to say but then again, Im pretty much used to that by now (wink). Eric Johnson is sorely overrated; Carlo Colaiacovo (7 percent owned) and Pietrangelo (15 percent owned) are significantly better offensive (and fantasy) defenders than Mr. Johnson, who might be nothing more than another Jay Bouwmeester. Pietrangelo has four points in his last five games and is showing off the tools that will make him a stud fantasy defender in very short order. Hes a fantastic keeper and right now, hes more than worthy in single-year leagues.

Brandon Prust, LW, NY Rangers (3 percent owned) Prust is a Don Cherry special quick, gritty and physical, and willing to drop the gloves whenever needed. But hes not just a meathead he does have talent. Nine of his 14 points last year came in the 26 games he played after arriving in Madison Square. And he has seven in his first 26 with the blueshirts this year. Couple that with the fourth-best penalty total in the league and hes definitely a guy who can bolster your sin bin position without completely crippling you in the other categories. Just take a look at his last five games two goals, one assist, plus-2, 11 hits and 19 PIMs. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Kevin Shattenkirk, D, Colorado (26 percent owned) Ive talked about him before so I wont spend much time right now other than to say this go get him. People are noticing his output his ownership skyrocketed a whopping 15 percent in just four hours Thursday! And couldnt you use a guy whos delivered six points in his last five games and 11 in 13 overall? Right now, Id rather have this guy than Tomas Kaberle who has 11 (all assists) in 23 games. But I dont. Im stuck with the wilting Leaf.

Jeff Tambellini, LW, Vancouver (1 percent owned) I think this guy has finally taken the word entitlement out of his vocabulary. Its easy to see how it could have gotten there initially its a vicious combo for a teenager to handle when youre the child of a former NHLer (and current NHL exec), a Junior A scoring stud, king of the campus at Michigan and a first-round pick by age 19. But he never fulfilled any of his so-called potential and has had a rude awakening to life in the pros. But this recall by the Orcas feels different somehow. He has four goals in nine games and his team is 8-0-1 with him in the lineup. And his speed takes the lightning line of Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler to mach levels. He always wanted to be a Canuck it shows. Grab him now.

Alex Tanguay, LW, Calgary (39 percent owned) There are a lot of adjectives to describe the play of the Flames this season horrific, abysmal, pathetic the list is long. But none of those apply to Tangs whose 22 points heading into action Thursday night leads his team. His pace is close to that of his glory years and his chemistry with the resurgent Jarome Iginla is palpable. Hes on a four-game, five-point streak heading into Minny on Friday night and he should definitely be owned in a whole lot more than just over one in three Yahoo! leagues, regardless of format.

Scottie Upshall, RW, Phoenix (3 percent owned) If only this guy could stay healthy. He suffers from Jack Russell syndrome you know, little dog with big dog thoughts and that puts him on the IR way too often. In fact, hes never managed a full season. Never. His 12 points in 24 games are unimpressive. But take a look at his last three contests three goals, including a game winner and two helpers and his eight goals overall. Theres short-term value in this little dawg. Just understand he will not might get hurt again.

Antoine Vermette, C, Columbus (22 percent owned) Ive officially given up on this guy ever breaking the 70-point barrier his inconsistency is maddening. But right now, his powerful combination of speed, (lower-body) strength and skill has him on a four-game, seven-point scoring streak. Dont count on him over the long haul; at least not yet. But short-term, I say stick in the spurs and enjoy a great eight-second ride.

Back to excuses.

We make them every day. And we all know someone whos never to blame for anything.

But trust me once you stop making excuses and start adding objectivity to your fantasy game, youll be able to skate circles around your league-mates. Their whine will be your opportunity, whether its through an impetuous drop or a frustrated trade.

Even if it isnt, its a whole lot of fun to sarcastically toy with your mates on the message board. You might not win your league but you will win the respect of a lot of owners.

Until next week.