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Neutral Zone Wrap: Ready Replacements

Evan Berofsky

Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When heís not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble(TM). If you have anything to say about Evanís work (or need any hot word tips), feel free to contact him at or follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).

Neutral Zone Wrap
by Evan Berofsky, RotoWire Writer

Depth is your friend. It is something on which you should depend. (Rhyming not intentional. Even if it's one-dimensional.) No matter how many stars are in your possession, there's no substitute for ready replacements at all positions. Because you never know when a player will wreck their knee on a seemingly innocent looking play or take a surprise puck to the face requiring dental realignment and a few happy pills. How can you ensure you're not left in the cold when someone goes down?

- Try to avoid any short-term transaction unless it also addresses the broader goal. And that goal should be winning, or at least not losing too much ground to the opposition.
- Know your skaters' medical histories. If any of them are injury prone, then keep tabs on suitable backups from either the free agent pool or on someone else's roster.
- Talk with the other owners in your league and find out who's available or check if any of them have announced who they're interested in moving or acquiring. And it's never too early to initiate such a discussion, but there is such a thing as being too late or too desperate when it comes to negotiations.

Take my advice, grasshopper: saving for the future is a wise proposition. Don't be like the last arthropod that ignored this warning and ended up frozen and buried beside the lucky loonie underneath center ice at the Salt Lake City Olympics. (OK, I made up that last part. But wouldn't that have been cool?)

Vancouver is running away with the Northwest, but their defensive corps is shrinking by the day. Alexander Edler (back surgery, gone until April), Keith Ballard (knee sprain, gone 4-6 weeks), and possibly Dan Hamhuis (suspected concussion) are out. Fortunately, Sami Salo (missed entire season with torn Achilles) is returning this weekend. Christian Ehrhoff (nine points in 12, including four on the power-play) now doesn't have any excuses as to why his point totals should suffer. Up front, Mikael Samuelsson (12 in seven, with five PPPs) is continuing his scoring exploits. And you may remember Mason Raymond (seven in seven) before he missed games due to injury and illness. But don't bother counting on either Manny Malhotra (nothing in 19) or Raffi Torres (one in 13), who have severely cooled off since displaying early promise.

Like the Canucks, the Penguins are missing a few bodies but are still finding ways to win. Although one would argue the loss of Sidney Crosby (lingering concussion) for the last 16 and Evgeni Malkin (torn ACL/MCL) for the rest of the season qualify as more condemning injuries. But it gets worse for Pittsburgh when you factor in Mark Letestu (knee surgery, gone at least another five weeks) and Chris Kunitz (some mild form of lower-body injury) are also unavailable. Jordan Staal (only three in nine) will act as the obvious beneficiary down the middle, but Tyler Kennedy (three in five) and Dustin Jeffrey (seven in 13 since first being called up in December) should also receive a boost while Matt Cooke (36 PIM in four) can easily maintain his 'excellence' in other areas. Better hold off on Eric Tangradi (scoreless in eight), although his recent AHL demotion shouldn't discourage you from stashing the winger in a keeper league.

Even though Washington have adapted a solid defensive approach (16 goals against in 10), they're not achieving their desired result (only five regulation victories). Alexander Semin (hasn't scored in 16) is back and must produce right away. Mike Knuble (three in 12, minus-5) and Brooks Laich (two in nine) also have to increase their contribution. Besides Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, rookie Marcus Johansson (only six in 13, but earning rave reviews from coaches and fans) is the only other Cap forward who looks like he belongs on the ice. A puck to the head might've been the wake-up call Mike Green (three in 11) needed. Or at least John Carlson's excellent two-way play (five in 11 with a few blocked shots) could prove to be Green's greater motivation.

While they may still be considered an inexperienced club, don't count out Columbus when it comes to fighting for a playoff berth. The rejuvenated duo of R.J. Umberger (12 in 10) and Kristian Huselius (six in six) is leading the way. Derick Brassard (12 in 11, 23 PIM) is finally living up to his #1 center projection, while Jakub Voracek (11 in 13) is slowly becoming the power forward the club had always envisioned. Don't pretend like you knew who defenseman Grant Clitsome (nine in 12) was before this season, as he has come from nowhere to top the Blue Jackets power-play food chain (four PPPs). Guess that means better luck next year, Kris Russell (three in 12).

The impending ownership exchange hasn't distracted the Sabres from making a run. Only two defeats in their last nine, with 34 tallies in those contests. Drew Stafford (15 in 13, including two hat tricks) deserves some of the credit for the upturn, but so does Jason Pominville (11 in 10). Youngsters Tyler Ennis (11 in 10) and Nathan Gerbe (six in eight) should also receive nods for their efforts. Tim Connolly (five in 12) has pitched in, but could do more. Jordan Leopold (five in six) has endured multiple ups and downs, but at least he's earning the minutes to play in all situations. And for those who were worried about Tyler Myers (seven in eight, including two game-winning goals) and a possible sophomore jinx, you can rest easier now.

Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When he's not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble. If you have anything to say about Evan's work (or need any hot word tips), feel free to contact him at or follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).