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Frozen Fantasy: Stretch Run Strategy

Janet Eagleson

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

There is no such thing as a good trade or a bad trade. There's only the meaning we give them and that's dictated by the lens we use to view them.

Existentialism. It applies to life and hockey. OK I'll stop now.

Two weeks ago, I told you about my league where 30 guys and 21 draft picks moved in 11 deals in less than 48 hours. I missed the start of that trade frenzy and was completely left behind. I justified my failure by telling you I didn't want to be a lemming and just follow the crowd.

That's still true. But how do strategies change when you decide to enter the fray early?

I'm currently fortunate to be sitting in first place in the RotoWire staff league. It's a head-to-head salary cap format where sudden-death playoff games distill down to a winner-take-all-bragging-rights final. Trade talk started in earnest this week and two or three teams went out hard and fast to load up for the playoffs. I was one of them.

Set the standard. Go from pretty good to better. Force some of my opponents to tap out.

I picked up three forwards Jason Spezza, David Backes and Daniel Alfredsson plus Marek Zidlicky in a 14-team league that rolls 12 forwards and six defenders. I sent two inexpensive young (and talented) keepers (Sean Couturier and Tomas Tatar) the other way.

It might be my only move. Or it might not.

My strategy? I decided that forwards would give me the greatest net gain. I bolstered my blue-line depth by targeting a less-than-sexy defender. And he cost me a lot less than a guy like Alex Pietrangelo would have. The point difference between the two isn't as big as you think.

My objectives? I helped set the league standard. I upgraded my team. I was fair to my trading partner, both with a high initial offer and an ultimate offer coveted by my partner.

And if some of my league mates do tap out, then more talent will enter the marketplace thus driving down the prices. I'll definitely jump in again if that happens. But if they don't, they'll blow their proverbial brains out trying to match what has already been done.

Not that I want to watch them suffer. But I kind of do. Admit it you'd take the same evil pleasure...

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

Mark Barberio, D, Tampa Bay (0 percent owned) - I've always liked Barberio, at least from a fantasy perspective. He has QB upside despite not owning a cannon shot - his shots just seem to find ways through legs. And he has now cleaned up his Achilles heel - his own-zone play - and that means more opportunities for him in the Bolts' offense. He scored his first two NHL goals this week and has three points in his last three games heading into Saturday. One of those goals came on the power play, too. He won't deliver a miracle for your team, but he might finally be able to deliver a bit of stable play for the bottom of your roster. At minimum, you need to file his name away for next season.

Matt Calvert, LW, Columbus (0 percent owned) - So, what's a small, pass-first, fringe NHLer doing on this list? Well this small, pass-first, fringe NHLer has decided to shoot. And score. And pick up PIM. He has four points, including two goals, and 11 PIM in his last four games. He's nothing special, but he is opportunistic. Combine that with a super-confident Blue Jackets' squad and this little playmaker should thrive for at least a short period of time. Long term, he's a classic Quad-A type who'll split his time between buses and planes, but right now, he might be worth a peek.

Cody Eakin, C, Dallas (3 percent owned) - What's a second-line, Western Conference forward who's on a three-game point streak worth in your format? Oh, I forgot - that's a rhetorical question. Heading into Saturday, Eakin has seven points, including four goals, in his last eight games. He busts his hump every night out and is a ball of fire on the forecheck. And he clearly has some offensive upside. The knock on him has been his inconsistency, but that's relatively standard for younger players. Yeah, he's probably better suited for the third line, but he brings value to deep formats when he's churning like this.

Jake Gardiner, D, Toronto (7 percent owned) - Gardiner used to be a fantasy darling. The second coming. An offensive superstar the likes Toronto hasn't seen since...since...oh yeah, Borje Salming and Ian Turnbull. To be honest, I never bought in. Maybe it's because I'm within earshot of the Big Smoke and have to hear all those Leaf fans on sports talk radio. Gag. Gardiner's game is just too loose for me, but I have to admit his recent work intrigues me. He has four points, including two goals, in his last six games while getting regular playing time on the Buds' third pairing (and second PP unit). He might actually be growing into the hype. I still question his hockey IQ, but I'll stick him into my fantasy lineup anyway.

Tom Gilbert, D, Florida (3 percent owned) - Don't look now, but Gilbert is having his best offensive season in years. His two assists Friday night give him five assists in his last four games. He's top-40 in scoring from the blue line. Seriously, folks - he really should be owned in more than three percent of Yahoo! leagues. 'Nuf said.

Zack Kassian, RW, Vancouver (3 percent owned) - You know the old adage - power forwards are slow to develop. Well, I'm starting to wonder if Kassian's game will ever least in the way that's useful to most fantasy owners. Harsh? You bet. The guy has great talent, but he has decided to become a meathead instead. And today's game has no room for that type of guy. But there is value in Yahoo! leagues in a guy who delivers 52 PIM in a four-game span. And that's just what Kassian did last week. Now, I'm not going to write him off completely, though - he has two goals and one assist in his last five games. He'd be a multi-category beast if he could put those two elements together. And you need as many of those types as you can get. You can always peel him off your roster if he can't put it together.

Gustav Nyquist, RW/C, Detroit (5 percent owned) - Nyquist's 16 points overall really don't stand out. But his play alongside Henrik Zetterberg on Wednesday and Friday sure did. Wow. Nyquist is a talent, through and through. No - let me rephrase that. Nyquist is a star in the making and his blue-chip upside is now on full display. He's on a four-game, six-point streak that includes three goals. He's getting power-play time. He's skating with a stud. I just jumped all over him and you should, too.

Eric Nystrom, LW, Nashville (0 percent owned) - What did Nystrom put on his Wheaties on Friday morning? Shazam! He almost singlehandedly doused the Flames with four - yes, four - goals on Friday night. He hadn't had a four-point night since 2008-09 and he's only had three, two-goal games in his 458-game career. This is a once-in-a-lifetime game, so don't knock yourself out tying to get him. But then again, he did have three points in his previous four games...

Drew Stafford, RW, Buffao (4 percent owned) - Stafford has three, 20-plus goal seasons under his belt. And two straight 50-plus point seasons. But like the Sabres, he's stunk the joint out since the 2011-12 season. He's still a risk because of the jersey he wears. But in the three games since his return from injury, he has put up five points, including three goals. Yes, I hear you - it's going to be hard to sustain given the cast of characters in the city of fires. But he's worth the risk short-term if you've been hit with injuries. Remember - you can dump him just as fast as you picked him up.

Back to the trades.

I'll never be a lemming. I won't let others dictate my situation - I push forward on my own terms until I get shot down, put in my place or succeed.

I'm still holding out in the league I told you about two weeks ago. I'm a seller there and I'm hoping for some last-minute panic to up the ante to my benefit as a seller.

Come here, little boy - I have some candy for you...

It works in both leagues, just in different ways.

Until next week.