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Frozen Fantasy: Preparing For Trade Deadline Day

Janet Eagleson

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

NHL trade deadline day is a national holiday in Canada. It’s frantic and fun, and the TV, radio and Twitter coverage makes it better than Christmas Day. But I really could do without it from a fantasy perspective.

Most NHL trades hurt – not help – your fantasy team.

Now I’m not talking about fantasy trade deadline day – that’s a completely different kettle of fish. You can stack your roster if you’re willing to sell the farm.

On NHL trade deadline day, teams are looking for that final piece to take them to the hockey Promised Land. But players who are moved often have a hard time fitting into new schemes and structures, and individual performances tend to decline.

And that can kill your fantasy roster.

Just take a look at guys who’ve been moved at or near the deadline in the last few years. Gone are the days when you see a guy’s pace really increase after a deal happens. A decline is almost inevitable.

There are always exceptions and they usually involve goalies. We only need to look to Tampa Bay to see how much better they’ve been with Dwayne Roloson between the pipes. But goalies are a different breed.

Trade your UFAs now. Or at least in the next couple weeks. They’re the only ones likely to move in a salary cap era.

Deadline day is February 28. Most of your fantasy opponents will be getting giddy in anticipation of deadline day. They’ll still be thinking a new home will help most guys. Let them keep thinking that.

Trade now and you’ll be laughing all the way to an improvement in the standings. And a bigger pay-off at season’s end.

Now let’s take a look at who caught my eye this week.

Francois Beauchemin, D, Toronto (5 percent owned) – He’s the target of ire in the center of the hockey universe – but then again, which Leaf defender other than Luke Schenn isn’t? Fans there saw him as an offensive contributor with a big shot but the Buds are using him as half of their top shutdown pair. But with the team’s recent missive to get defenders to jump in the play, Beauchemin has been flashing more of the offense we saw when he was a Duck. He does have a big shot. And he's strong and skates well enough to join the rush. He’s a long shot but the wire is thin on blueliners.

Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston (56 percent owned) – Bergy isn’t exactly the prettiest skater in the league. But he’s far quicker than he looks and that, coupled with elite hockey smarts and excellent lower-body strength, puts him in the right spot at the right time just about all the time. He notched his first career hat trick on Tuesday night and is riding a five-game, 10-point streak. And then there’s the 19 points in his last 14 games. He can’t possibly maintain that pace but he will deliver solid value in the short term… a lot more value than a lot of more-owned centermen.

Brad Boyes, RW, St. Louis (19 percent owned) – A.D.D. isn’t easy to live with – the distractions (“SQUIRREL!”), the careless mistakes, the difficulties focusing and finishing tasks. Now, I’m not saying Boyes has A.D.D. but I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t passed through my mind. He can be awesome when he’s engaged. But last season and this, there were just too many moments when his intensity and focus not only diminished – they all but disappeared. The skills – great release, sweet passing ability and hockey smarts – are all still there. And right now, he’s on a five-game, six-point scoring streak; he’s been held off the score sheet just twice in his last 11 games. Mr. Casual seems to be gaining clarity and focus, and that can only mean more points. Get on board now before he really starts delivering.

Blake Comeau, LW, NY Islanders (9 percent owned) – Sigh. Every year, Comeau catches my eye for a short while but he has never been able to deliver over the long term… until perhaps now. He slipped off the radar with a big slump in November but since then, he has 17 points in his last 19 games and six in his last five. He’s lightning fast and at his best when he consistently lays the body, and right now he’s doing just that. His overall totals (and the colors of his jersey) have kept most people away. You should take a closer look.

Jussi Jokinen, LW, Carolina (42 percent owned) – Wow – what a return Monday night. His two goals and a helper, and a plus-3 rating, helped Carolina to a 6-5 win over Calgary that night. He’s extremely opportunistic and his 30-goal, 65-point breakout last season wasn’t a fluke. Injuries aside, his pace this season is exactly the same (minus a few goals). And that makes him a must-own in all standard 12-team leagues that have positional requirements – left wingers don’t exactly grow on skate trees.

Milan Jurcina, D, NY Islanders (1 percent owned) – Jurcina has always been a tease – he just hasn’t put together all that talent and all that size in the NHL. But the big man with the big shot has four points in his last four games and he’s delivering hits, blocked shots and even the occasional power-play point. And he’s not a plus-minus anchor, even playing on the Island of Misfit Toys. He’s way under the radar; nab him if you need an injury replacement on the back end.

Nikolai Kulemin, LW, Toronto (26 percent owned) – Guess who was the top- rated forward on the Yahoo! player rater heading into action Thursday night? Yep, it’s Kuley, the guy with three goals, five assists, three power-play points and a plus-4 rating in the last four games. He’s on pace to obliterate his previous career best and may even top 30 goals and 60 points. Grab him and his filthy wrister now – there were only 24 guys who potted 30 goals last season.

David Legwand, C, Nashville (1 percent owned) – Go figure – the last original Predator is on a roll. He’s never lived up to his draft position and he never will. But he has goals in three straight games (four points in total) and seven points in his last seven games. The chronic underachiever might just help you over an injury hump.

Robin Lehner, G, Ottawa (2 percent owned) – So when do the Sens go with a youth movement? And when do they finally admit that Pascal Leclaire’s (23 percent owned) career really does hang in the balance? Lehner is big and talented, and he’s the team’s future between the pipes. Sooner or later, they have to let him play. And let’s be honest – Brian Elliot just isn’t the answer on that defensively fragile team. Lehner seems to bring a sense of calm to his mates even if he is having trouble catching – and hanging onto – the puck. There’s always a chance he might bring a James Reimer-like boost to Canada’s capital. Heaven forbid I draw a parallel between a Bud and a Sen, eh?

Kyle Okposo, RW, NY Islanders (22 percent owned) – Sure, it’ll take Iggy-lite a week or two to get back to game speed (he’s still a couple weeks from returning from injury). But when he does return, this explosive winger will once again be undressing opposing defenders before they even get a chance to say yes. Stash him – he’ll be John Tavares’ wing man sooner rather than later.

Kevin Poulin, G, NY Islanders (2 percent owned) – Poulin was ripping it up in the AHL as a pimple-faced rookie pro before getting called up to cover for the ever-injured Rick DiPietro. But it’s the Isles, right? You just don’t expect much. Maybe we all should. This guy already looks like the best goalie in the entire Isles’ system, DiPietro included, and his competitiveness is off the charts – I love his passion, particularly after Mason Raymond’s shootout spin-r-ama earlier this week. Thursday night aside (and yes that second goal was a stinker), he had stopped 101 of 107 shots for an impressive .944 save percentage. Sure, he’ll be sent down the moment DP gets healthy but I don’t think that’ll be soon – Tricky Ricky looked slow and frustrated Thursday while working with his goalie coach. Until then, Poulin might just deliver cheap and cheerful production for goalie-desperate owners. What fantasy owner doesn’t like that? And what does a goalie-desperate owner really have to lose?

Jose Theodore, G, Minnesota (19 percent owned) – I’m hoping beyond hope that the Wild are telling the truth about Niklas Backstrom’s MRI results. Why? Not because I don’t believe in Theo but because I missed out on nabbing him in a big head-to-head league where Backstrom was my top twine tender. Theo still has some gas left in the tank – he’s 4-2 with a shutout this month and has been solid in every one of those starts (except Tuesday’s debacle, of course). Minny is in the hunt for a playoff spot and they’ll take it easy on Backstrom’s hip even if he’s declared healthy. Theo may be another one of those cheap and easy bumps to your goaltending categories, even in an enhanced back-up role.

Wojtek Wolski, LW, NY Rangers (32 percent owned) – One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure. Now, I’m not sure that Rangers’ general manager Glen Sather ever had the ability to discern fool’s gold from the real stuff. But Slats thinks Wolski might be a good fit with Marian Gaborik and that has to be worth something, right? Wolski goes hot and cold on a dime (sort of like your girlfriend after you’ve been out all night with the boys). But when he’s hot, he really is golden. Expect a quick start on Broadway with lots of power-play opportunities. So date him for a while and trade him at the peak, say in another couple weeks. He’ll get cold again; he always does. But you should enjoy the early rush while you can.

Trade Target

Ville Leino, LW, Philadelphia (66 percent owned) – He’s not sexy. Cripes, he’s not even the least bit attractive. And a lot of owners are just sitting on him without realizing what they’ve got – ugly guys will do that to you. But ever so quietly, the steady Leino has delivered six points in his last four games. And he’s on pace for a 60-point season with a top-three (yes, in the league) plus-minus. Go trolling and see if his owner realizes what he’s got. If not, pounce.

Back to deadline day.

Last season, there were 32 deals on deadline day – a big number but almost none had any kind of positive fantasy impact. Only one – the Wojtek Wolski-Peter Mueller deal – made a difference.

Well, at least last year.

Now keeper leagues are completely different beasts. You need to not only consider post-deadline implications but the potential for the next three years, too.

But we don’t have to look much further than Ilya Kovalchuk to see how that might work out. UFA signings haven’t really panned out much lately.

Now get out there and do some trading. Go fleece your competition.

Until next week.