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Frozen Fantasy: Familiar Face, Old Place

Janet Eagleson

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

I wonder if Bon Jovi is as popular in Latvia as they are in North America. Wait - let me ask Ted Nolan, the newest coach in the NHL.

"Who says you can't go home?"

Nolan's last tour in Buffalo ended very, very badly some 16 years ago. He walked away from a low-ball contract offer from the recently-departed Darcy Regier with his dignity intact and the Coach of the Year trophy in his fist. He fully expected to land another coaching gig and quick.

Not so fast.

There were murmurs he was blackballed, something that has never been proven. But I think we all can't help but wonder, given his only high-level coaching gig has been Team Latvia.

Yes, Latvia.

Nolan is a great motivator and a phenomenal teacher. New general manager Pat Lafontaine is a rock star in Buffalo. And together, they provide a delicious distraction from the ugliness that has gone before. And that might just take enough heat off some guys to jumpstart their games.

Then again...

Friday's win was a nice touch. But the Leafs pretty much blow in Buffalo - their energy level has never been good when they go south on the QEW. I'll never understand that. But that's not the point here.

I don't expect many fantasy miracles in the land of many fires. This team is young with a lot of middle-of-the-road talent. But there could be some latent value in a few guys if Nolan can get them to commit to working hard.

Veterans like Steve Ott and Christian Ehrhoff are already talking about rejuvenation of careers (are you listening, Tyler Myers? Tyler Ennis?). Maybe Teddy will even save the development of young guys like Nikita Zadorov, Risto Ristolainen, Mikhael Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons, who should all be back in junior or in the AHL in short order.

More importantly, every smart fantasy owner should seize the opportunity to trade their underperforming, so-called rising Sabres for 85 cents on the dollar. It's better than holding at a 40-cent loss. There will be at least one, if not two, owners in your league who think Nolan can resurrect the careers of Tyler Myers, Tyler Ennis, et al. Trade them now. The honeymoon will be over soon enough. This team sucks.

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

Ryan Carter, C, New Jersey (0 percent owned) - I did a double-take when I scoped out the top seven-day performer on Thursday night. Carter was lurking as the fifth-most productive skater in that span. No guff. He had two goals, two assists, eight PIM, seven shots and a plus-4 rating in that span. He might help for a game or two; just don't get too excited. He's an excellent bottom-six guy whose career best is 15 points. But he could deliver you 100+ hits this season. Use him for that, but only if he can be rolled as a forward. Center is just way too deep for him to be useful.

Grant Clitsome, D, Winnipeg (2 percent owned) - The guy with the most unfortunate name in the NHL looked like a superstar Sunday night - cripes, he notched a goal and added two helpers. Four of his six points this season have come in the last four games and this smooth-skating defender could be poised to take a step forward with his offensive game. Remember - he did notch 19 points in 31 games back in 2010-11, so the talent is there. And he's been a whole lot more valuable than the two points in 16 games Tobias Enstrom (87 percent owned...spit).

Trevor Daley, D, Dallas (1 percent owned) - Daley makes his annual appearance on my watch list a bit early this year. The guy has the talent to deliver more offense, but he's settled into a groove as a 25-point, 100+ blocked shots guy. And at least once or twice a season, he goes on short offensive burst that makes him worthy of a temporary roster spot in standard Yahoo! leagues. He's in the middle of his first such microburst right now - he had a point in three straight games heading into action Thursday. It won't last long, so be prepared to cut him loose as fast as you scooped him up. But he might help you fill out an empty roster spot for a game in specialty formats like single-day head-to-head (yes, they actually exist and they're unbelievably fun!).

Peter Harrold, D, New Jersey (0 percent owned) - There once was a day - well, a day in just about every preseason - when Harrold was touted as a real fantasy sleeper. Right. He never quite lived up the unrequited love that was tossed his way, but his two points and plus-four rating in his last three games have sparked my curiosity. I'm not prepared to commit just yet. But eventually someone in Jersey has to score. Right? Maybe he just needed to turn 30 to be helpful in fantasy formats. I'm going to watch and be ready to hit the add button.

Ales Hemsky, RW, Edmonton (8 percent owned) - Don't look now, but Hemsky has four points in his last six games. Sure, his plus-minus is hideous. But he's a talented playmaker who - when healthy - has topped 50 assists in a season. It's not quite Henrik Sedin territory, but it's not exactly chopped liver, either. The Oil have been trying to pawn this guy for a couple years and a sustained run might actually make him look appealing to a club in the hunt. Either that or Craig MacTavish will have to take him to Vegas to see what Rick, Corey, the Old Man and Chumlee might give him in exchange. Watch for a move. That plus-minus might resolve itself on a better squad...

Philip Larsen, D, Edmonton (2 percent owned) - The Oil desperately need a stud on the blue line. But until that guy drops out of the sky, Larsen and fellow youngsters Justin Schultz (73 percent owned) and Jeff Petry (2 percent owned) will be "the men." Larsen has become the top dog, what with Schultz sidelined with a groin injury. Long term, Larsen has the advantage of being a right-handed shot with offensive ability and speed, and that gives him a leg up over most other defenders in the Oil Patch. Just beware the putrid plus-minus - rolling an Oiler is one of the best ways to sink you in that category. Use him if you can withstand a hit in that category.

Antoine Roussel, LW, Dallas (2 percent owned) Qui est Antoine Roussel? Well, this Made in France agitator doesn't actually have much offensive upside, but he's living proof that you can carve out a role in the NHL by busting it every shift, busting a few chops along the way and taking advantage of the offensive opportunities that get dropped in your lap. He heads into the weekend with a modest two-game, three-point streak that includes seven penalty minutes. He's on track right now for a 25-point, 225-PIM season. There's some value in that in deep sin bin leagues.

Ben Scrivens, G, Los Angeles (30 percent owned) - Well, if he wasn't already snagged in your league before Friday, he has been now. A shutout will do that for a guy. Remember - this is the guy who flirted with starter's minutes in Toronto and acquitted himself well in that role, at least for a short period of time. He's laid back and unassuming, and he has a six-week period to demo his skills. The Kings are good; Scrivens is good enough to keep them in the hunt. Check your wire - you might get lucky.

Tyler Toffoli, RW/C, Los Angeles (15 percent owned) - Toffoli is a blue-chip sniper. He was held off the scoresheet Friday night, but had picked up at least a point - including three goals - in the five games he'd played since his callup at the start of the month. Last year's AHL Rookie of the Year is getting limited ice, but that hasn't slowed him - he has seven points in six games! And I loved what I saw in his 28 AHL goals (58 games) last year. Jeff Carter could be out another three weeks. By then, Toffoli will have cemented a spot with the Kings, Pick him up now.

Kris Versteeg, LW, Chicago (10 percent owned) - Who says you can't go home? Oh right - Bon Jovi. But I digress. Versteeg won a Cup with the Hawks and has bounced around ever since. Yah, he was jettisoned for salary cap reasons, but I don't think the Hawks really wanted to see him go. I know he didn't want to leave. He looks to start on the third line with Bryan Bickell (8 percent owned) and Andrew Shaw (16 percent owned), and it's a combo that will bring abrasion, aggression and ability to the ice. Shaw has already started to heat up; the rest of this group should, too, if they stick together. Speculate on Versteeg - his natural abilities will start to show now that he doesn't have to carry a top-line load.

Joel Ward, RW, Edmonton (8 percent owned) - Wardo often produces in fits and spurts. At least that's what his past performance suggests. But this year, he might actually be poised to deliver more than he ever has before. So far, he hasn't gone more than three games without some kind of point and he's really using his big body well in front of the net. Will he hit his current 53-point pace? Probably not. But a career mark (>35 points) is well within reach. And some of those points will come on the power play. He's a solid value pick for your last right wing spot.

Back to Buffalo.

Nolan says he has nothing to prove in his return to the city of fires. But I don't agree. He's a proud man who was made a fool the last time around.

Sure, he's a great teacher and motivator, but he's not exactly good with Xs and Os. And these guys need some hands-on instructional work to unpack the patterns disinterest and fear saddled their games under Ron Rolston and Darcy Regier.

Still, motivation can go a long way. You can go home. And if you can get Latvia back to the Olympics, you can surely motivate a few underperforming young least for a little while.

And that's long enough for you to free yourself from the Buffalonian noose around your fantasy team.

Until next week.