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Morning Skate: Trick or Trade?

Dan Pennucci

Dan is a former sportswriter and English teacher. He has been covering hockey for Rotowire since 2002. Supports the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC.

Janet Eagleson

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

From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Oct. 24
Subject: Three Stacks of High Society

Remember the reader who asked about trade value for Tomas Hertl this past week? You told him to go after the most rookie-mad owner in your league and dangle Hertl in front of him and see what kind of steady veteran he can get back in return.

This got me thinking about the late-90's classic Rounders, with Ed Norton, Matt Damon and John Malkovich in one of his most iconic roles ever, Teddy KGB. There's a scene in the film where Damon, a ridiculously perceptive poker player and a promising law student, reads the hands of players in a game composed of judges, district attorneys and law school professors. Later in the film, Damon sits down with one of his professors for a drink. The professor, played by Martin Landau, asks Damon how he read everyone's hands in the game earlier in the film. Damon's character notes that he pays attention to the reaction of the players as the cards come out and studies their body language and expressions, essentially playing the man. Landau is fascinated by this approach of not playing the cards, but studying your opponents and their tendencies.

I remember last year in Frozen Fantasy you talked about trading within leagues and how you looked for tendencies in how other owners in your league drafted and coveted certain players. How do you go about looking for those tendencies in leagues you are in for the first year? Leagues that have had the same owners over the years?

Who's coming back to earth soon? Who are you targeting as a buy low candidate?

From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Sent: October 25
Subject: Reading Your Opponent

Ahhh...owner tendencies. I LOVE this topic. Reading other owners, particularly those you only know over the internet, is a challenge, but it's still possible. I was invited into a well-established league this year and I started gathering intel on the owners from the moment the invite arrived. I didn't ask about knowledge level; I asked about the type of people who were in the league. I asked if they were super competitive (read: over intense) or if anyone was impulsively emotional (read: easy to victimize, I mean, manipulate... oops, how about befriend? LOL).

After my early recon, I spent a lot of time listening/reading comments at the draft. If they're quiet, I'll usually fire off a couple zingers to see how people respond. I make note when people type $%$#%$ when a guy they want goes to someone else and I flesh out team allegiances, too. And to be honest, I will often chime in with a "nice pick" or something similar when I feel it's deserved AND when I want to deceive -- I get it that people try to do the same things that I do, so there's nothing wrong with a little misdirection.

Admittedly, I have been a student of human behavior for as long as I can remember and I make note of small details that I've been told others miss. And I have been blessed genetically with the mischievous Irish charm of the Eagleson clan. That lets me get away with saying stuff that others couldn't.

Now, I will say this and it's really, REALLY important. For all the manipulations I've described here, I never approach things with a vengeful or malicious edge. I often talk people into doing all sorts of things and included in that are what could be bad trades for them. It's a fine line to walk between being a student of human behavior and a predator, and I can honestly say I've never used my techniques in that way (and none of our readers should use theirs like that, either). My reputation is as a fair, even-keeled and reasonable owner who doesn't get too bent out of shape. That's important to me. I'd rather maintain my relationship with the other owner than gloat over a one-sided trade.

The other thing that makes this approach work? I don't get emotional or sentimental over players. Yes, people will tell you I heart Shea Weber, but it's more that I'm generally inclined toward stud defenders. But I've challenged myself on that, too, because I don't want to be too predictable. You'll notice in the THL this year that the "studliest" defender on my team is Slava Voynov. Or Cody Franson. Gotta keep the opposition guessing...

Now to your questions. Who's going to crash back to earth? Tomas Hertl for sure. And Marc-Andre Fleury, too. He seemed to recover from Saturday’s embarrassing Tommy Salo goal from center ice, but it's an easy slip back to the psychological space he ended in last season. Alexander Steen, too, but that's bloody obvious in a Hertl kind of way.

I also wonder about the Ducks' Jonas Hiller. He wasn't just beaten on some pretty shots on Tuesday night, but he was also fooled on a bunch more, only to be saved by steel. Kyle Okposo and Mathieu Perreault will be good, but won't keep this up. They're both more likely to finish at 55-60 points than 80, even if their seasons are breakouts. Jason Garrison has a great shot, but I'll eat my dirty socks if he gets 70-plus points. And as much as I absolutely love Joe Pavelski, I don't think he even think he'll net 109 points this season!

Now for buy-low opportunities. I think Henrik Lundqvist's slow start might make him available at a slight discount. He's not a true case of buy-low, but it's rare to get an elite goalie in mid-season. Brian Elliot is a sleeper I've nabbed in one league, if only because of the gaping wound in net in Edmonton. Loui Eriksson is better than his poor start indicates and Claude Giroux would be my target, but only in keeper formats -- his single-year output is going to continue to suffer for a while longer.

How about you -- who are your targets and fallers? Where does Ryan Miller end up? And who'll be in the Oilers' net in a month? Better yet, which of the Oil's pimple-faced studs is moved to get that new goalie?

Eagle out.

From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: October 26
Subject: Sieves

Well said – remind me to never attempt trading with you. I'm picturing a black book with a section on every owner, similar to ones some baseball players keep on pitchers they face.

Loui Eriksson was a player to look at before John Scott took him out on Wednesday night with a nasty, nasty hit. Seriously, how is he still employed? Giroux and Lundqvist have to be two of the most frustrating people to own this year, mainly because of their talent level, and draft cost, vis-a-vis the current levels of production.

Lundqvist did not look good last Saturday against the Devils, and now with him out for a few weeks, it could get interesting on Broadway. Hank was beaten short side by an Adam Henrique slap shot which belied the usual conversation about positional soundness associated with Lundqvist.

I'm running far away from any goalie in Edmonton. Yes, Dubnyk and the Oil beat Montreal and Ottawa this past week, but that defense is beyond porous. There might be a win every few games, but at what expense to your averages? I prefer to use a goalie in a timeshare who won't hurt your averages too much rather than a goalie who is on the Oil.

Miller's going somewhere and I think injuries to netminders could dictate where that happens. We've seen Cam Ward, Pekka Rinne, Lundqvist and Josh Harding go down this week. Will Miller end up at any of those teams? I can't speak with accuracy on that topic, but he could be a buy-low target right now. Miller's not playing poorly, it's just that Buffalo isn't a great team at this moment. There are some pieces there, but you have to figure all veterans will be priced to move, especially Thomas Vanek considering he's a UFA at season's end.

I'd have to think about selling on some of the Sharks' fast starters right now, perhaps Patrick Marleau as he started this hot last season and disappeared. The Sharks were a bit less prolific this week against Boston and Detroit, playing a defensive game against better foes, but I wonder if we're going to see the top players in San Jose vanish for a few weeks again.

Kris Letang is a target simply because you don't know how he's going to perform once he comes back, which can be soon, we're hearing (Ed. note: Letang has since returned to action). Slava Voynov has been quiet in Los Angeles to start; he didn't have a point when the Kings exploded against Phoenix on Thursday with seven goals. Considering where he was drafted and the type of talent level we saw in the playoffs last year, Voynov can be a value if someone is frustrated with him.

Of the goalies who went onto IR this past week, which of their replacements can be a boost for owners: Hutton and Hellberg in Hockey Tonk or Justin Peters in Carolina? Can we go back after Darcy Kuemper now that the Wild have swapped injured goalies?

From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Sent: Monday, Oct. 28
Subject: Vanek

Ironic you mentioned Vanek -- the trade to the Isles is an interesting one. I think the Sabres won it outright because UFA Matt Moulson can be flipped at the deadline for a first-round pick. 30-goal scorers are worth something in this league. And that means they'll have moved Vanek for two firsts and a second. Well done. #overpayment. Worst case they have him skate with Cody Hodgson and they discover that it was Moulson who made the man on Long Island and not the other way around.

The other thing about the Moulson-Vanek deal is John Tavares. Seems Garth Snow didn't consult with his captain -- and Moulson's best friend -- before the deal was made. It's business, I know. But wouldn't it have been smart to give JT a heads-up? There's no guarantee of chemistry between those two [Vanek and Tavares] and remember, Vanek has already signed an offer sheet with the Oil. Then again, I think that was before he and his wife had kids. That may change the “I'll live in frozen Edmonton with you honey” attitude.

Goalies? Spit. None of those guys makes fantasy sense -- you might as well put their names on pieces of paper, fold them into paper airplanes and send them for test flights. The one that goes the furthest is the one that you pick. Seriously. But I liked what Richard Bachman did in Edmonton on Sunday night. And Frederik Andersen is sure making the Hurricanes look stupid right now, eh?

As for my little black book, just be glad you're in it. Most men are. LOL

Eagle out.

From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Tuesday, Oct. 29
Subject: Moulson Lite

I wonder how much the ninth-round draft pick stigma still has on Moulson. Some members of the media ascribe his success to being alongside John Tavares, but the guy had 30-plus goals in three consecutive seasons and was near a point-per-game following the lockout. The whole "he's lucky" argument doesn't hold much weight as someone needs to know when and where to be. Seems like it's more "right place, right time." That's an intangible that can't be taught, in any walk of life. Moulson’s second goal last night against Dallas showed a good understanding of the offensive zone as he wheeled back toward the blue paint after Christian Ehrhoff received a cross-ice pass at the point. Moulson got himself in position for a slick finish off a deflected shot.

For a player who was a ninth-round pick, this guy seems to know well where to be and what's going on, as well as making himself available for his teammates. This was evidenced by his first goal of the evening where he trailed slightly behind Tyler Ennis on the counterattack but with just enough space in front of the defense to be fed for an easy one-timer. Wherever Moulson ends up, there's going to be a happy center and a team that will get a few more goals than they're used to because of Moulson's awareness.

I can't imagine Tavares was too happy with this development, but kudos to Buffalo for swapping one tradable asset to get another one they can flip in a few months. A lot of talk has been made about Tavares playing alongside Vanek and how those two will mesh. How about putting one of the league's most quietly consistent finishers shotgun with a rising talent like Cody Hodgson? That duo looks like they'll mesh well if Monday night was any evidence, but Moulson has always struck me as a guy who knows how to work with teammates and finish; great hockey sense.

Silly question, but is there any chance Moulson will get to don one of those awful Team Canada sweaters in Sochi? (Don't worry, the Team USA sweaters are worse).

From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Sent: Tuesday, October 28
Subject: Ugly Sweaters

I don't think Moulson will get a sniff with Team Canada. There's so much depth in Canada that a lot of centers are going to go onto the wing. He might be the perfect add in Buffalo -- he's mature and smart, and can help those young'uns. Maybe he re-signs. He's close to home and that might be enough to keep him there.

As for the jerseys, I think the same bad designer came up with both. The Canadian ones look like pajamas; the American ones look like 80s “Like a Virgin” regurg. What's with the fake laces? And the "sheen" stars on the shoulders? Maybe it's not a bad thing since they likely won't show on TV. I have two Team Canada jerseys in my collection -- the original black one from 2002 and the Vancouver Olympic version. The 2014 version WILL NOT be added.

There's already a goal of the year candidate. Did you see Phil Kessel get his second on Tuesday night? Shelf from the bloody goal line. It might even lead on ESPN. It's that good.