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Frozen Fantasy: The Lemming Effect

Janet Eagleson

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

One trade - it all seemed so innocent. Now 48 hours later, 30 players and 21 draft picks have been moved in 11 deals. All in the same league.

I need a scorecard just to keep up.

I'll admit - I was tempted to jump in, too. It's like a goalie run on draft day. It starts. There's panic.

Moths fly toward a light bulb.

This phenomenon isn't restricted to just this league - there's activity ramping up in one of my other leagues, too. So what gives? The trade deadline is a long way away for most of us. Why now?

I have no clue.

Things like this often defy explanation. I could say it's because of the upcoming Olympic Games, but how do I possibly verify that?

The lemming effect has a remarkable pull.

I missed out on all those trades. I was out on a snow excursion and had no smartphone reception. In hindsight, I'm glad that happened.

I'm not going to win this league. I'm not even going to be in the hunt. I finished in the money last year, so it'll be another year before I compete again. But history tells me the leaders will grow even more desperate as the deadline approaches and I'll be there to sell high.

At that point, my assets will look a whole lot shinier than the other guys'.

As fantasy owners, we all too often fall victim to the lemming effect. We think we need to get involved in something because everyone else is doing it. But sometimes we don't even know what the line is for when we get in it.

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

Cam Atkinson, RW, Columbus (10 percent owned) - Atkinson is one shifty and skilled little dude. And little dudes with talent almost always do better when there are a couple big, strong lads on their team - call it the Don Cherry effect. Nathan Horton has been back for four games now and while Atkinson isn't skating with him, he sure looks to be reaping the benefit of the bigger ice Horton provides. He scored a goal and added an assist Friday night, and had a goal Monday night, too. He'll move up the lineup if he keeps this up. And maybe - just maybe - Marty St. Louis lite might show up. I'm certainly keeping watch for that.

Matt Beleskey, LW, Anaheim (1 percent owned) - Beleskey is a hard-nosed role player whose value has been limited to leagues that count least he was until this year. Heading into the weekend, Beleskey was riding a five-game, seven-point streak (two goals, five assists). Yes, you read that right. Seven points. And his plus-7, 13 shots, 10 PIM and 15 hits in those same five games make him a multi-categorical stud. He can't possibly keep this up, but we'd both be stupid to pass up the opportunity to inject a little short-term life into our rosters.

Justin Fontaine, RW, Minnesota (1 percent owned) - Fontaine has finally gotten his shot in the NHL. The Wild inked him as a free agent in 2011 and he hoped to make the squad the following year. Wrong. Along came Zach Parise and Jason Pominville, and the world changed for this small center turned wing. He produced at nearly a point-per-game clip in the AHL (56 points in 64 games) in 2012-13 before he became a Wild man this fall. His hat trick Thursday night was his first in the NHL and it moved him into third on the team's goal list. Yes, Justin Fontaine is third in goals in Minny. And five goals in his last six games is money in the bank, at least in the short term. Cha-ching.

Marcus Kruger, C, Chicago (1 percent owned) - Is the Michal Handzus experiment as Chicago's second-line center over? Marcus Kruger sure hopes so. He was living the dream Wednesday night when he replaced Handzus between Patrick Kane and Kris Versteeg. #Sweet. He's a solid checker, but also brings a bit of offensive upside to the ice. Not a lot - his finish is a tad limited. But he's top-10 in the NHL in faceoff percentage and that means he could get points simply by winning at the dot. He'll skate with Kaner and Steegs against the Habs on Saturday night. I'm buying if he can spark Kane who has just one assist in his last five games.

Darcy Kuemper, G, Minnesota (1 percent owned) - Josh Harding is on the IR. Niklas Backstrom has a bad back. And Kuemper just emerged from the phone booth, ready to save the day. Sure, Backstrom was in the net Thursday night, but Kuemper will get some starts, especially if Harding's absence is related to his MS. And I think it is. He was adjusting to some new meds just before he went on the IR and stuff like that is unpredictable. Kuemper is big and talented, and he's the Wild's future starter between the pipes. He should be good for a few goalie points in the next little while.

Elias Lindholm, C, Carolina (1 percent owned) - Lindholm returned from the World Junior tourney with a silver medal and a newfound swagger. He blitzed the Leafs with a goal and two helpers on Thursday night, and was one of the most noticeable guys on the ice. He's the prototypical Swedish skill player - he has a killer work ethic, strong defensive awareness, great offensive abilities, excellent leadership skills and a willingness to drive straight into the dirtiest areas of the ice. That's a man after my own heart. He's still a bit thin, but then again, a guy like Jonathan Toews filled out and he does just fine. He's a rookie, so his production will be sporadic. But who knows - he could match Florida's Aleksander Barkov in second-half production. I'm not saying he will, but he has that kind of talent. And he'll come a whole lot cheaper.

Nino Niederreiter, RW, Minnesota (12 percent owned) - Global warming is in full effect - El Nino has found his game. Go figure. Heading into the weekend, he's riding a four-game, five-point streak (two goals, three assists) and has seven points - including three goals - in his last six games. There'll be some instability in the team's forward ranks, what with Mikko Koivu on the shelf. But I like El Nino to maintain his warmth.

Dan Paille, LW, Boston (1 percent owned) - Paille is the perfect private in the Bruin army. He knows his role as fourth-line player and accepts it willingly. No bitching or moaning - just pure hard work. His three game-winning goals in last year's Cup finals thrust him into the limelight, but until recently, he hadn't resurrected that glory. His five points in the first 30 games were largely forgettable and then came the concussion. But he has five more - including four goals - in seven games since his return from the IR. Yes, he's only helpful to the truly desperate. But at this point, you're probably hopping mad at the pathetic play of at least a few of your guys. Designate a spot and try rotating the Pailles of the world through it. You might just catch lightning in a bottle a couple of times.

Ondrej Palat, LW, Tampa Bay (8 percent owned) - I profiled Palat last week and a few of you picked him up. Smart. Now his streak stands at eight games and 10 points, including four goals. You may still have time. Go check.

Michael Stone, D, Phoenix (2 percent owned) - Who? Stone doesn't get the same number of pixels as the other young studs on the 'Yotes blue line, but that might be changing. He plays a steady and smart two-way game. He makes crisp and accurate outlet passes. And he's stepping up and taking calculated chances alongside the stable Rostislav Klesla. Those chances have delivered five points, including four helpers, and 12 hits in his last five games. That's worthy in any format.

Back to the lemming effect.

I'm going to be ready come deadline day. I'll be looking for a first-round pick and we'll see who blinks first. But at least I'll have the assets to start the next run of the lemmings.

Come to think of it, I seem to remember my mother always asking my brother, "If Janet told you to jump in the manure pile, would you do it?"

I guess I've played this game before. You should try it, too. Stop being a lemming. Be the one who elicits the run.

Until next week.