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Frozen Fantasy: Risk Is Relative

Janet Eagleson

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

Its almost midseason. Its time to swing for the proverbial fences.

What do you have to lose?

Statistics tell me its unlikely youre in first. And if you are, its probably in only one of your many leagues. Its exactly the same boat that Im in. So theres only one place to go and thats up. Remember people rarely remember who finished second.

I had to look up the 2007 Stanley Cup loser; you probably will, too. Unless youre a fan.

Winners are remembered. So are those teams that got aggressive and rammed their way into the playoffs.

Fantasy hockey is the same.

Think back to last year. You know exactly where you finished and you probably remember who won. You may also remember who sold the farm to make a wild run either up the standings or into the playoffs.

But you dont remember the second-place finisher unless it was you. Its time to make your mark; its time to be remembered.

Risk really is relative. Do you want to finish second? How big a swing are you willing to take?

Before I get to who caught my eye this week, Ill give you a quick run-down on some guys I think are both undervalued and overvalued right now. You know them all so Ill only give a bullet on each. But remember big swings sometimes produce home runs and sometimes they even become grand slams. But theres also a risk that theyll only produce air.

But you wont know which it is if you dont swing.

UNDERVALUED (Go Get But Only at Some Kind of Discount)

Drew Doughty, D He finished third last year in scoring from the blue line; this year, he currently sits 28th. Like thats going to last.
Ales Hemsky, RW His team sucks; he doesnt. Hes back from injury and will deliver at a point-a-game pace. Some people wont notice.
Ilya Kovalchuk, LW Hes a huge risk but hes really not this awful. And he did play relatively well under old coach/new coach Jacques Lemaire last season. Just be cautious.
Vincent Lecavalier, C Contrary to popular belief, hes not done. His current streak is only the beginning.
Patrick Marleau, LW Is he really just a 60-point player? He hasnt scuffled like this since Ron Wilson was his coach. Hell rebound to a point a game.
John Tavares, C Kyle Okposo will be back a couple weeks; JT will get a big boost then. Imagine him having someone to play with what a novel concept.
Joe Thornton, C Hes 22nd in league scoring; his worst finish in the last five seasons was 11th. He may only deliver helpers but hes not going to finish 22nd.
Marty Turco, G His skills are declining and Corey Crawford is good. But I cant help but think itll be Turco between the pipes as the playoffs approach.

OVERVALUED (Consider Moving at an Inflated Price, of Course)

Dustin Byfuglien, D Last season, only one defender finished at close to a point-per-game; the next guy was nowhere close. The second half will only get tougher for Big Buff. His pace cant help but slow.
Nathan Horton, RW So much for flourishing on a better team. Hes on pace to finish with fewer total points than he did last year (57) thats a problem when he got those points in just 65 games. Hed end up with just 43 if he only played 65 games this year. Big name. Not so big value.
Ryan Malone, LW Hes playing his best hockey ever but hes never come close to 65 points (his current pace). So what makes anyone think he can do it this year?
Patrick Sharp, LW I love him but is he really a 40-goal scorer? Is he really going to finish second in the league in SOG?

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

Anton Babchuk, D, Calgary (8 percent owned) It has taken a long time for Babs to get comfy in Calgary. So long, in fact, that Id started to wonder if he was checking seat sales to Russia again. But he has points in his last two games and four in his last seven. Its nothing spectacular but its enough to put him back on my radar. He has a powerful point shot that can be effective when properly harnessed. And he did once score 35 points in 72 games a couple seasons back. Watch him maybe hell blossom with one less Sutter around.

Sean Bergenheim, LW, Tampa Bay (3 percent owned) There are only two reasons to even consider this energy winger Vincent Lecavalier and Simon Gagne. Theyre his linemates right now and this buzzsaw has benefited with two points in his last three games. It wont last he really is a bit player. But Vinny is heating up and Bergenheim could get points by simply keeping his stick on the ice and heading to the net. Sort of like me in my mens beer league. But thats another story.

Jiri Hudler, RW, Detroit (6 percent owned) So what exactly happened to this guys skill on the plane between Moscow and Detroit? His much-anticipated return to the Motor City has been nothing but a failure; in fact, Hudler has spent time in the media box on more than one occasion. But something lets call it opportunity has gotten into him in his last few games and hes finally taking advantage. The dazzle appears to be back he has four points, including three on the power play, in his last two games. I snapped him up. You should, too.

Pavel Kubina, D, Tampa Bay (36 percent owned) Is it just me or is this guy looking really old? Kubina is on pace for his worst offensive output since 2002-03. But just when things started to look really bleak, he lit things up with four points in his last four games. Hes still a wonky skater with lumbering feet and his pinches are occasionally Darwin worthy. But maybe, just maybe, hes getting a bit of his 40-point-per-season mojo back. That means his value is about to take a tick up, particularly if he can ratchet up the muscle. And if those trade rumors (to San Jose?) are true, his value will go up even more.

Michael Leighton, G, Philadelphia (31 percent owned) He got off to a rough start in his season debut (a win) Thursday night but remember he was 16-5 as a starter last year. You need to stash him on speculation alone, particularly if you have room on your bench. Sergei Bobrovsky cant carry the mail for a full season hes just not used to playing more than 35 to 40 games a year. And the Flyers will give Leighton a chance to prove his playoff heroics from last season (Cup finals aside) were for real. Besides, hell deliver numbers in any start he makes, even if theyre few and far between in the short term. The Flyers are for real.

Andrew MacDonald, D, NY Islanders (1 percent owned) I nabbed MacDonald in one of my head-to-head formats the moment James Wisniewski (58 percent owned) was pitched off Long Island. After all, someone has to soak up the minutes at both even strength and on the power play, and this guy has the tools to do both. Hes a smooth skater with a great outlet pass and a quick shot from the blue line. And he has finally improved his defensive positioning to the point where he can be considered a reliable NHL defender. He has five points in his last six games. Give him a look.

Jason Pominville, RW, Buffalo (29 percent owned) For a while there, it looked like this four-time, 60-plus point producer had forgotten how to score. But his slow production through November was probably tied to the lingering effects of that October concussion and not an erosion of skill. He now has nine points (four goals, five assists) in his last 10 games and he looks like hes finally back in the fantasy groove. Hes not a great long-term keeper hell soon be passed over by the Sabres younger players. And hell likely always carry that underachiever tag. But go ahead and roll the dice hes warm enough to give your lineup a boost.

Tuomo Ruutu, LW, Carolina (10 percent owned) Ruuty is nasty and skilled the perfect fantasy combo. But injuries have plagued him in just about every season hes played and they have turned him into a fantasy pariah everyone stays away from guys they think will end up on the IR. Thats too bad for them, particularly if theyre in leagues with deep or specialized counting categories. Right now, hes second in the NHL in hits (133) and hes on 55-point pace. Hes even on a three-game point streak (one goal, three helpers). He probably wont stay healthy but hes delivering when he is. Left wing is a fantasy sinkhole he may be worth adding and dropping a few times over the next few months.

Dennis Seidenberg, D, Boston (22 percent owned) Ryan Whitney owners get to the wire and see if this guy is available. Seidenberg has an unbelievably powerful and heavy shot that may not always find twine but does create juicy rebounds. And that has resulted in three power-play assists for Seidenberg in his last four games. Hes not Whitney (no guff). But hes a serviceable replacement from an awfully thin wire.

Vladimir Sobotka, C, St. Louis (2 percent owned) No, hes not spectacular. Hes not really even that good. But this plumber has taken things up a notch in the last five games with a four-game, five-point scoring streak. Hes ideally suited as a third or fourth line center but right now, his speed has helped him get into some extra offensive spaces. He may help you in deep leagues if youre desperate down the middle.

Derek Stepan, C, NY Rangers (10 percent owned) Stepan has stepped on the gas again. This smart, poised playmaker is once again scoring goals and has four goals and one assist on his current five-game scoring streak. Hes not flashy nor is he overly fast. But he has buttery soft hands and he plays a very deceptive, puck-possession game. Hes not the kind of center you can carry over the full course of the season but he is valuable in stretches. And hes stretching right now.

Back to taking a risk.

Second sucks. Losing blows. But apathy is worse than both.

Its time to show some of your league mates they cant walk all over you. And that youll never be satisfied with seeing them gloat.

Swing for the fences.

Until next week.