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Frozen Fantasy: Struggling Studs

Janet Eagleson

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

We've all had one before some of us have one right now. And a few of us even have a couple. Can you ever give up on a struggling stud?

I wish.

This year's fantasy arena is littered with what seems like a disproportionate number of big names in even bigger slumps. Eric Staal. Vincent Lecavalier. Alex Pietrangelo. Drew Doughty. Rick Nash. Alexander Semin, Bobby Ryan. Cam Ward. Jonas Hiller.

Do I really need to continue?

The lowest ownership of any of that group is a whopping 77 percent. The highest? Ninety-six.


A couple will bounce back to career norms. Most will rebound a little. But one or two won't. And they're the ones who'll sink your year. So how do you predict who comes back and who doesn't? And who you need to trade

Because you sure can't drop them.

Eric Staal and Rick Nash and to a lesser extent Alexander Semin and Drew Doughty should all see upward corrections in their offensive output before too long. Their current shooting percentages are well below career norms. Cripes, Staal's is under half of where he usually sits.

The goalies? Ward can't save the Canes they suck. Ditto Hiller and the Quacks. You're pretty much stuck with them.

But Pietrangelo and Lecavalier? I'd trade both in a heartbeat.

Pietrangelo just hasn't adjusted to Ken Hitchcock's new system he has just four points in 19 games since Hitch arrived. He'll be better next year.

Lecavalier isn't scoring. And a closer look at the home/road splits shows his road shooting percentage is way below his normal while his home split is way above.

A correction is looming. Trouble is, the Bolts will be at home a whole lot more going forward than on the road. A slight improvement on the road might just be met with a much bigger downward movement at home.

It's sad. Vinny is already just the 62nd best center over the last 30 days. That isn't even relevant in some of the deepest of Yahoo! leagues.

How he has fallen...

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

Derick Brassard, C, Columbus (11 percent owned) Doghouse to penthouse? That's what Brassard experienced this week when he went from being a frequent healthy scratch to skating with Rick Nash and playing a key role on the power play. Sure, it's likely a showcase for a trade he needs out of Columbus bad. But four points, including three on the power play, in his last two games are bringing back some of his fantasy value. And a trade should only improve it. Stash him now for future gains.

Jared Cowen, D, Ottawa (5 percent owned) I've always seen Cowen as the perfect crease clearer big and mobile, with enough nasty to make speedy defenders think twice about venturing into the kitchen. But his four-point explosion against Pittsburgh on Friday night made him look like a veritable Bobby Orr. OK Zdeno Chara. Nine of his 11 points have come in the 11 games in December and he's looking a lot more like a two-way, top-two defender than just a simple shutdown guy. Keeper leaguers should snap him up. And single-year owners in deep leagues should take a look to see if he fits your format. He may be the rookie surprise of the season.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Phoenix (6 percent owned) Ever get so caught up watching a play from the bench that you don't realize the guy you're supposed to relieve is screaming in your ear to get out there? Me, too. And watching a guy like OEL can cause that just about every shift. He's an effortless skater that's as smooth as an 18-year-old single malt from Glenlivet. He's quick and graceful in all directions and can explode end-to-end to completely take over a game. He heads into action Friday night with a goal and three assists, two of which came on the power play, in his last four games. He's been streaky but he's starting to look like he's putting things all together. I picked him up; you should, too.

Kurtis Foster, D, New Jersey (6 percent owned) The Devils needed help on the power play and Foster needed a team that'd appreciate him. It was a trade made in special-teams heaven (lord knows his game at even strength is a tad sketchy). And in his first four games, he has two helpers, including one on the PP. Snap him and his monstrous shot up coach Pete DeBoer should be able to help him tighten up his defensive game just enough that he won't weigh you down in other categories.

Curtis Glencross, RW, Calgary (18 percent owned) Anyone need a 30-goal winger? I'm talking to you, Nikolai Kulemin (27 percent owned), Andrew Ladd (51 percent owned) and Martin Havlat (61 percent owned) owners. Glencross is now tied with Jarome Iginla for the team lead in goals (13) and he's on a three-game, four-goal streak heading into Friday night. And six of those goals have come in the last eight games. Most people can't tell the difference between $20 and $200 jeans as long as your butt looks good in them. And Glencross looks great in cheap jeans.

Lauri Korpikoski, LW, Phoenix (2 percent owned) The Korpedo is a versatile, up-tempo checker and penalty-killing specialist. But he also has a real nose for the net and quick hands in tight. Those last two attributes delivered a surprising 19 goals last year and nine already this year. Four of those goals plus an assist have come in the last six games. He can really help as an injury patch as long as you don't need power-play points. He's just not going to get much, if any, time in those situations going forward. But count him in if your league uses shorthanded points he already has two goals with a man short and could end up one of the league's best scorers there by season's end.

Drew Miller, LW, Detroit (1 percent owned) Boy Friday really put on a show this week with four goals in three games. Maybe he figures some spicy production might help him catch the eye of a hot actress just like his brother Ryan did. Or not. Still, he's smart and super versatile with good speed and obviously a nice scoring touch. The Wings can slot him into any forward spot on any line, depending on need. And he's an excellent penalty killer. Right now, he seems to have good chemistry with Darren Helm and Danny Cleary. You can do far worse if you're beset with injuries.

Evgeni Nabokov, G, NY Islanders (19 percent owned) I know, I know it's the Islanders and that all but guarantees he'll get hurt. But Nabokov is now the de facto starter on Long Island and goalie points don't exactly appear under the tree on Christmas morning. He's unlikely to experience a Dwayne Roloson-like erosion of skills so see if you can land him. He might provide you with decent spot starts depending on the opponent.

Michal Repik, RW, Florida (0 percent owned) Repik wasn't exactly ripping it up in the AHL this year. But last year's AHL Western Conference All-Star was called up Wednesday anyway after the Panthers got absolutely hammered by injuries. Talk about an opportunity and he delivered almost immediately. He looked like a natural with that power-play goal from Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg on Thursday night. And he has the talent to perform in a top-six role for the Kitties, at least in the short term. You may benefit from his opportunity.

Viktor Stalberg, LW, Chicago (5 percent owned) Stalberg is hot to the tune of a two-goal and three-assist scoring streak heading into the break. He'd been toiling on the fourth line until Marcus Kruger's injury forced a line shuffle and he found himself with Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa. That's quite a Hanukkah gift. Stalberg's plus-minus is currently fifth best on the Hawks and he's on pace to double last year's 24-point total. Grab him as long as you don't need help on the PP.

Kyle Turris, C, Ottawa (4 percent owned) Turris traded in the desert sand for skating on the frozen Rideau Canal and you know what? He couldn't be happier. His won't be able to wear his flip flops any time soon but he will get to center the Sens' second line. And once he gets his game legs, he could deliver on a 60-point pace. That won't be tomorrow or even next week. But his new location plus an attitude adjustment could help you in the future. The Sens are better than anyone including me thought.

Blake Wheeler, RW, Winnipeg (15 percent owned) I've talked about him before so I won't spend much time on him now. Other than to say this. His three-point outburst Thursday night is part of a 16-game, 17-point stretch. Can you use a right winger on a point-per-game pace? Thought so.

Back to struggling studs.

We tend to put far too much value on big-name players. We hold onto them for a whole lot longer than we should.

It's hard to admit our mistakes.

And we almost continuously minimize the success of so-called lesser-lite players just because of their names or roles.

The Friends and Family League is a perfect illustration. Peter Maingot, another writer, is perched on top of the pack. And he's doing it on the back of just one big-name starting goalie (Marc-Andre Fleury), a pack of backups (Cory Schneider, Tuuka Rask and Mathieu Garon) and a couple of astute waiver grabs (Ray Emery and Jason LaBarbera). The backups are good but they're just that backups.

And to think I took the bait on Cam Ward, Dwayne Roloson and Evgeni Nabakov, seemed like a good idea at the time.

I have nowhere to go but up in my goalie categories (the league, too). If only I hadn't been blinded by the bright shiny names...

Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas.

Until next week.