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From the Press-Box: Tough Decisions

Paul Bruno

Paul Bruno is co-host of the RotoWire fantasy hockey podcast, The Great Ones. He has been an accredited member of the Toronto sports media for more than 20 years. Paul also helps with RW's DFS podcast and is a contributing writer for RW NFL, MLB and CFL content. Follow him on twitter: @statsman22.

To start off this New Year, we take a look at the impact of the annual outdoor hockey game. Up next it's a look at several players that fantasy owners should be checking out. How does a mid-season promotion get a winger onto the top two lines with the Rangers? Fantasy owners in keeper leagues have decisions to make. There are two ways to evaluate a player like Corey Perry. We highlight three pretty solid options to upgrade your defense, plus some news on the injury list. There are a handful of forward who have put up good numbers, yet they are still available in 50% of the current fantasy pools. Finally, with the number of players out with concussions, what do you do with them in your keeper leagues?

The Winter Classic one again pitted bitter rivals in a unique setting as the game between the Rangers and Flyers was played out before 45,000 fans in Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park last Monday. The game has become one of those can't miss programs on the annual sports calendar. Why? Well, apart from the natural rivalries that are usually highlighted in the annual matchup, the game has become a signal that we are entering the second half of the schedule and the race toward the playoffs is on. More than that, the NHL is using this showcase to draw the attention of US viewership, which has treated the sport of hockey like a poor cousin to football, baseball and basketball. Fun, competition, a historical component and a great venue make this an instant classic every year.

The New York Rangers won the game and are a bit of a surprise as the top team in the entire league. However, a couple of weeks ago they promoted Carl Hagelin, a fleet-footed winger from their AHL affiliate, the Connecticut Whale. He was instantly placed on one of the top two lines, playing alongside Brad Richards. How did he qualify for this plum assignment? Well, the Swedish-born left-winger completed a four-year commitment to the University of Michigan, where he evolved into a point per game player in his junior and senior years. When he kept up that pace in the AHL this season, the Rangers wanted him to test his mettle in the NHL. The early returns, with seven goals and 11 points, to go with a (+10) rating, indicate that he has found good chemistry with likes of Richards, Gaborik and other top-scoring Rangers.  

For fantasy team owners, just as with NHL GMs, these are among the most trying days because you have to decide whether your team is a pretender or a contender. Then you have to figure out if you can afford to add talent or rid yourself of a troublesome expiring contract for a player whom you may not be able to resign. These are the complex decisions that make all trade deadlines significant, for all teams. Once a bottom-feeder team makes the decision to deal a player whom they have decided not to re-sign, that team should be making every effort to create a bidding war for that player, between interested contending clubs.

Making a proper valuation of a player can be difficult sometimes. Consider the case of Corey Perry, for example. He is coming off a season where he totaled 98 points and was the league's only 50-goal scorer. This season, on a very low-ranking Anaheim Ducks team, he is on pace for a 30-goal season. While he has another year, with a $5.25M cap hit with the Ducks, he is unlikely to be dealt in the NHL this year. However, it is likely that you, as a fantasy owner of Perry, have been negatively impacted by his sub-par season. How do you value him for trade purposes in your keeper league? That can be a challenge because, while you may point to his MVP numbers from last season, your trade partners will undoubtedly counter with the ‘what has he done lately' refrain. After that exchange, fantasy pool trade partners have to find a middle ground. Perry owners have to coax potential suitors by comparing him and his scoring potential to the roster of forwards on the inquiring team. From my vantage point, he is still among the most impactful players in the game, so I wouldn't be prepared to just give him away. I would contact as many other owners in my pool and try to get a bidding war going for his services.  

With the ranks of the injury list swollen by the number of concussion victims, many fantasy owners have been forced to examine the free agents in their pools with unprecedented frequency. The ranks of top-scoring defensemen have been particularly decimated this season. When I look at the names of players who are surprisingly available in many pools this year, I would begin my search with a couple of the top NHL teams. In Boston, everyone knows that Zdeno Chara is a top-notch all-around option, but behind his on the depth chart, you can be reasonably confident that veterans such as Andrew Ference and Dennis Seidenberg may be available to you. These players will chip in to a deep offense and will also be an asset to you if your pool includes a plus/minus component. In addition, you need to be aware of players who are returning from long-term injuries. Marc Staal made his regular season debut with the Rangers at the Winter Classic game. Once he gets into game shape, he will take his place as one of New York's top minute-playing defensemen and the points will come. Similarly, Mark Giordano is close to returning as the key man in the Calgary power play. Fantasy pool owners need to do your homework and be aware of these evolving developments. Heck, Andrei Markov of the Canadiens is apparently close to a return to active duty. You may want to take a chance on him and checkered recent health history (Though, I wouldn't, based on his recent track record). 

In terms of offense, there are once again a number of viable options to plug in as viable options. Michael Ryder, a four time 25-goal scorer, has had an impressive start to his first season with the Dallas Stars. He is on pace for a career-high in goal scoring with 17 tallies in 38 games. He has posted a (+8) rating and is also earning a regular shift on the Stars' power play unit. P.A. Parenteau has been a fixture, on the top-line of the Islanders and has formed solid on-ice chemistry with team leader, John Tavares. Parenteau only has seven goals, but has added 25 assists in 37 games played. In his last seven games, he has produced eight points, to serve notice that he belongs on the top line in Long Island. Though there may have been skeptics, who viewed his 53-point 2010-11 campaign as a fluke, but he has quieted those naysayers as well. Petr Sykora dropped off most radars after playing in Europe last year. This season, he came back to the scene of the best years of his NHL career, in New Jersey. While he has only 22 points in 38 games played, he has stepped up his productivity with six points in his last seven games. In Chicago, Viktor Stalberg has parlayed his blazing speed into a regular turn among the Hawks scoring lines. He has opened up many holes in opposing defenses and worked well to create opportunities for himself and his talented line mates. As he gains more experience, he should produce more than his current 22 points in 36 games played, but he has already proven to be somewhat responsible defensively, with a (+8) rating.

Finally, with all the talk of concussions, fantasy owners in keeper leagues will likely be faced with important decisions, with respect to any stars that are currently sidelined with this injury. Not much is known about the recovery time from one case to the next, so the pro-active fantasy owner needs to pore over team sites, individual player updates, as well as game broadcasts to monitor the status and recovery of key players, between now and the offseason. You do not want to surrender a player like Sidney Crosby or Kris Letang, if it turns out that they are deemed capable of making a complete recovery.

I invite you to send your feedback and you can follow me on Twitter (statsman22). You can also listen to me on Tuesday nights, at 9:30 EST on Sirius/XM Radio, on "THE FANTASY DRIVE", Sirius 210 and XM 87.