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Neutral Zone Wrap: Old and Busted, or New Hotness?

Evan Berofsky

Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When he’s not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble(TM). If you have anything to say about Evan’s work (or need any hot word tips), feel free to contact him at eberofsky@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).

People are always seeking out the newest, hottest products, and they want them yesterday. The problem is that some of these items, though they may be shiny and packed with fancy accessories, hide glitches and other defects. Either companies don’t test everything properly or users don’t have the time or patience to read the instructions. But who cares if they don’t last as long as you bought them before everyone else, right?

NHLers can act similarly. Some jump out quickly, then struggle for a while, then tease owners by going on short surges only to revert to their old bad habits. Nothing is more frustrating in fantasy than those who can’t produce consistently, but are still too valuable to drop. So if a better solution exists on the waiver wire or the trade market, then it’s your responsibility to upgrade.

How can you identify these types of miscreants? We’ve made it easy by offering a few examples. Even though some are recognizable, none are widely owned in fantasy (nothing too far above 50 percent). They may be doing well now, but their three periods of fame are running out.

Ryan Callahan, RW, TAM

The Bolts are missing a bunch of forwards, and this has forced others to contribute. A couple veterans in Callahan (five assists in eight games) and Valtteri Filppula (five points in nine), initially stepped up, but younger talents like Alex Killorn (points in four straight), Jonathan Marchessault (ditto), and Vladislav Namestnikov (four in three) have picked up the slack. The former Rangers captain looked as though he was correcting his disappointing season, but the scoring well has dried up recently (nothing in five). It’s amazing to consider that Callahan has transitioned from 54-point producer to defensive specialist (11 points in 33 games) so quickly, but that’s his role and everyone’s happy… except his fantasy owners.

Marian Gaborik, RW, LA

Here we have another ex-Ranger who started slowly (two in his first 16) only to regain his touch in recent weeks (seven in nine). The Slovakian winger hasn’t had trouble finding the scoresheet, but it’s tough to ignore what he did – or rather didn’t do – before. The Kings remain notorious for their lack of production (averaging 2.43 goals per outing), and a major chunk of it has been concentrated on their ‘second’ line, with Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, and Milan Lucic combining for 70 points. If you’re contemplating Gaborik’s worth, ask yourself the following question: “Has he been injured yet this season?” If the answer is ‘no,’ your decision to replace him down the road should prove to be easier.

Jussi Jokinen, LW, FLA

Fellow RotoWire writer (try saying those two words 10 times fast) Dan Waldner discussed Jokinen in his latest Waiver Wire column as someone who is “unlikely to fall below 50 points given this level of performance for the year.” The Wrap disagrees with this analysis, placing his projections in the low 40s. But there’s no denying his ice time (averaging in the 17s) provides an excellent chance of hitting 50, and he’s currently sitting on 23 points in 34 games. What’s going against Jokinen is his age (32), the development of Brandon Pirri (18 points, including seven on the man advantage), and the possibility that the Finn cedes power-play minutes to Nick Bjugstad (upper body) upon his return in about a week.

Kris Russell, D, CGY

It’s been a struggle in the pros for at times Russell, who has always been maligned for his size (5-foot-10 is only considered short in sports). Some success in Columbus followed by a regression in St. Louis in a more stay-at-home role has given way to solid totals since arriving in Calgary (74 points in two-plus seasons). He had very little to show up to mid-November (goal, assist, minus-11), but in his last 12, Russell seems to be back on track (goal, eight assists, plus-8). With five offensively minded blueliners in town, one can’t expect anyone to earn a large share of the Flames’ D points, let anyone someone who is fourth, maybe even fifth, in the pecking order.

Ron Hainsey, D, CAR

The 13th pick of the 2000 draft has hardly lived up to expectations, although three consecutive years with 30-plus points from 2006-2008 counts for something. What Hainsey, 34, brings to Carolina is leadership and experience. This season, he has mixed it up with flashes of offense (three goals, eight assists). He’s already exceeded his point total from 2014-15 (10), but there are red flags over Hainsey’s ability to maintain this pace. The most important warning is his lack of power-play time, but the fact that the Hurricanes are pushing in more gifted younger defenders like Noah Hanifin and Brett Pesce also hurts Hainsey’s cause.

Chad Johnson, G, BUF

It looks like the Sabres have tightened up defensively in their new system, if their 2.49 team GAA tells us anything. Robin Lehner was acquired to be the No. 1 in net, but a sprained ankle in his first game opened the competition for his successor. Johnson was given first crack, but struggled initially (3.16 GAA, .881 save mark in nine October appearances) and was eventually usurped by Linus Ullmark (2.64 and .911 in 14 games this year). However, the ex-Islander’s last nine appearances have been magnificent, as he’s posted a 1.75 GAA and .941 save mark in that span. Despite this run, Johnson can’t really be recommended for long-term consumption – the Buffalo back line is still a work in progress, while Lehner is expected to come back soon.

Next week, we conclude 2015 with a yet-to-be-determined theme. Have a happy holiday season and don’t forget to watch the World Junior Hockey Championship, which begins Saturday with defending champ Canada taking on that other large North American nation not named Mexico.