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Neutral Zone Wrap: Beware the Career-Year Bust

Evan Berofsky

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With another fantasy campaign winding its way to conclusion, there are those who will be making final preparations for victory. Others will sit and wait for the end to determine their fate. The rest of us will reflect on the past few months, since there's nothing better to do as we were eliminated from prize contention long ago. You may think your team is the only one that sucks, but trust me when I say you're definitely not alone.

The first half may have promised good tidings but reality, a couple injuries, and some bad breaks spoiled the momentum. You may have entered the shortened season as a defending champion or a successful veteran but will gladly walk out with your pride intact. There's no shame finishing third. Or fourth. Or even fifth and beyond. Because the owner who receives the most flak is the one who finished *just* out of the winner's circle. So, yeah, way to go, second-place dude.

As discussed last week, some NHLers were able to battle through adversity and make a name for themselves. We will repeat this exercise here, but with a slight twist: the following are players who picked up their game but are also examples of who to stay away from going into next season. No knock against any of them, as they are all probably really nice people and so forth. But let's face it: fantasy hockey is a business. So if you're in a keeper league, then you may want to think twice before protecting these individuals:

Francois Beauchemin, D, Anaheim

Beauchemin may be getting on in years but that hasn't stopped him from producing (23 points, seven of them - all assists - on the power-play). The 33-year old has benefited from Cam Fowler enduring a significant first-half slump (two points in his first 17 games) and Luca Sbisa not progressing as planned (eight in 41). But with Fowler at least regaining some of his super freshman form and Sami Vatanen starting to work his way into the offense (two goals since being called up), Beauchemin's role for the near future appears to be muddled at best.

Ben Bishop, G, Tampa Bay

The Lightning were eager to clear the goaltender glut in Ottawa, but did so at a price. To acquire Bishop, Tampa sent hotshot rookie Cory Conacher and a fourth-rounder in return. Two weeks later (and following a contest where he had been pulled after one period), the 6'7" netminder was locked up on a two-year contract extension. Hey, anyone remember the last goalie the Bolts signed to a two-year deal? Yup, that would be Anders Lindback, who also apparently was worth the effort (three draft picks) and money ($3.6 million) to bring over in June. But this is not a slight against either behemoth's skills; the Lightning defense simply sucks enough to make it difficult in endorsing anyone who occupies their blue ice for long-term fantasy purposes.

Mikkel Boedker, F, Phoenix

The 8th selection from the 2008 draft may never live up to expectations but that doesn't necessarily qualify him as a bust. One could claim Boedker's current efforts, such as almost hitting his professional point peak (25, three below the 28 he notched in his debut season), would make him the perfect candidate for improvement. Alas, the world doesn't always work like that and the Dane will most likely dwell in mediocrity for the majority of his playing days. But he can still help you out as a nice later-round pick or a handy waiver-wire acquisition for special teams purposes (career-high seven PPPs).

Brendan Gallagher, F, Montreal

The kid who is already being anointed as this generation's Esa Tikkanen may be one of Montreal's most valuable players, but he will never amount to anything close to a superstar make-believe contributor. Although Gallagher proved to be quite the junior sniper (40-plus goals in each of the last three seasons), his small stature (5'8", 175) puts him at a disadvantage against much larger defensemen. He will post solid stats (14 goals, 12 assists so far as a rookie) but don't expect anything in the 50-plus point range over a full year.

Mark Letestu, F, Columbus

Letestu is your prototypical feel-good hockey story: boy meets game, boy doesn't get drafted, boy toils in provincial league for three years, boy electrifies fans at college level, boy signs contract with NHL organization. Oh, wait, there's more: boy rocks in the AHL, boy doesn't get fair shot with parent club, boy gets traded for fourth-rounder, boy breaks hand, boy starts to impress with new linemates. Since arriving in Columbus, Letestu has built a nice portfolio (51 in 96) but try not to be fooled by the flashy figures. Even if the Elk Point product is listed as the Blue Jackets' #1 center, history has shown us that fact isn't something to become excited about. Let's wait and see how he - and just as importantly, his team - fares over an 82-game schedule before recommending his services.

(Honorable mention: Grant Clitsome, D, Winnipeg; Vernon Fiddler, F, Dallas; Tomas Kopecky, F, Florida; Benoit Pouliot, F, Tampa Bay; Luke Schenn, D, Philadelphia)