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Neutral Zone Wrap: Start the stretch run right!

by | Rotowire.com
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Fact: Your players' performance does NOT improve if you are watching them on TV. Same goes for checking the boxscores or perusing the blogs every five minutes. I know these statements may seem absurdly obvious, but you'd be surprised how many times you'll return to whatever media in the hopes Player X will earn that point to put your team over the top -- even if it's only the second day of the week. You will even avoid social contact or hard labor to find out who scored, when it happened, and what that means in terms of your overall fantasy existence.

Like many other areas in life, the key to Roto is moderation. To borrow from a famous sage and chicken vendor, you have to know when to pursue these endeavors, when to cut back, and when to cease operations entirely. These decisions, like any other choice, are important and should be handled delicately. Thankfully, the All-Star break is upon us, thereby giving us an excuse to forget about statistics and related material for a few days. But remember come Monday, it's back to the grind whether you like it or not.

While the top NHLers are set to congregate in Raleigh, how about we meet right here and talk some hockey? OK? OK.

Boston now tops the Northeast and one can claim their success comes as a result of their collective contributions. Patrice Bergeron has led the way both on the stat sheet (15 points in 13 contests) and in the leadership department, especially with Marc Savard (concussion) out again. Brad Marchand (11 in 11, plus-13) has pushed his way into the conversation for top rookie. After a blistering beginning, Nathan Horton (two in 10) ain't what he used to be. Back on the blueline, Dennis Seidenberg (seven in 10) is continuing to be a force while University of Michigan product Steve Kampfer (nothing in four, but four in the previous three) is making a name with his speed and skill.

The Lightning are also leaders of their pack, thanks to the steady goaltending of Dwayne Roloson. The 41-year old has been magnificent since escaping from the Island, with three shutouts in 10 starts and other noteworthy numbers (2.25 GAA, .922 SV%). It took a while, but Simon Gagne (six in eight) is back on track. Some expected Teddy Purcell (five in the last two) to tail off as the season progressed, but the undrafted winger keeps proving 'em wrong. Victor Hedman may never be an elite point producer (although five in eight is ahead of pace), but his total package effort validates his pre-draft hype.

Yet another surprise division frontrunner is Dallas, who continue to defy the odds at both ends. Anyone who believed before the season Kari Lehtonen (22-11) could carry a club and hold the momentum for this long should go directly to Vegas and find the nearest gaming table (double down if you shared positive thoughts about Andrew Raycroft). With most of the pieces in place, the Stars re-acquired Jamie Langenbrunner (four in five, including two on the power-play) to add another veteran body and savvy skater. With most of the attention on #1 center Brad Richards (no slouch at 15 points this month), Mike Ribeiro (17 in 14, including six PPPs) has quietly lit up the opposition of late. Jamie Benn (nine in seven) banged his shoulder earlier this week, but word is the second-year pro will be back by early February.

St Louis are slowly regaining their injured contingent, but clearly need everyone on board if they are to jump back into the playoff race. While awaiting David Perron and Andy McDonald (both sidelined for weeks with concussions), T.J. Oshie (broken ankle kept him out eight weeks) has returned but hasn't matched his minutes (around 19 a night) with any significant scoring (only one goal in five). It's about time Patrik Berglund (seven in seven, including two PPGs) counted on a consistent basis. If there's anything we've learned about Brad Boyes, it's that the man can pass the puck effectively (11 assists in 11). Erik Johnson (zero in four following four straight markers) has continued his reign as fantasy tease, which along with some questionable defensive zone coverage, has opened the door for Alex Pietrangelo (five in eight) to surpass him.

How low can the Senators go? With the Devils surging and the Islanders on the upswing, Ottawa don't have much room to fall back. Even when Jason Spezza (banged-up shoulder) recovers, he'll join a squad with a pathetic offense (second-worst with 2.14 a game) and an even worse attitude. Expect the garage sale to begin soon, maybe with Mike Fisher (five in seven) earning the chance to finally treat Carrie Underwood to that better location she always wanted. Sergei Gonchar (two in nine) would dearly love to join a contender. Chris Neil (only one point in January, but 46 PIM) can be a valuable commodity elsewhere. With all their goalies either injured (hello again, Pascal Leclaire) or grossly underachieving (not much of an encore for Brian Elliott), maybe it's time Ottawa allowed Swedish WJHC sensation Robin Lehner the chance to start on a regular basis.

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Because it's that time of month, we'll have some sort of list next week. Don't know exactly what the topic will be, but I'm willing to take reader suggestions. Yes, I'm talking to all nine of you out there. Maybe 2011 will be the year this column hits double digits.

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I'd like to end by congratulating RotoWire's own Janet Eagleson in taking the 2010 FSWA Fantasy Hockey Writer of the Year Award for a third time. As far as writers go, she is definitely one of the best and deserves every bit of praise that comes her way. I was honored just to be mentioned in the final three. Kudos to fellow finalist Jan Levine for rounding out the RotoWire category sweep.

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Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When he's not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble. 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).

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Player News
Reilly Smith
Bruins Hope To Sign Smith Soon
Reilly Smith, RW, BOS
9:26 AM
News: GM Peter Chiarelli hopes to have a new deal with Reilly Smith done before training camp starts on Thursday, the Bruins' official site reports.
Analysis: The same applies to fellow restricted free agent Torey Krug, though given the team's current salary cap situation, the Bruins may need to make a trade in order to complete new deals with the duo. In any case, once he's re-signed, Reilly Smith remains on track to serve as a top-six forward for the B's, on the heels of a 2013-14 season in which he notched 20 goals and 51 points in 82 games.

Torey Krug
Bruins Working To Sign Krug
Torey Krug, D, BOS
9:19 AM
News: GM Peter Chiarelli hopes to complete a new deal with Torey Krug before training camp starts on Thursday, the Bruins' official site reports.
Analysis: The same applies to fellow restricted free agent Reilly Smith, though given the Bruins' current salary cap situation, the team may need to make a deal in order engineer new deals with the duo. In any case, Torey Krug -- who notched 40 points in 79 games last season -- remains in the team's long-term plans, and we'd expect him to be officially back in the fold before too long.

Jonathan Quick
Kings' Quick Still On Schedule After Surgery
Jonathan Quick, G, LA
8:28 AM
News: Jonathan Quick (wrist) hasn't had any setbacks in his recovery and has begun to face shots as part of his rehab work, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Analysis: Jonathan Quick may not make it back for any preseason games but the Kings don't seem overly concerned with their veteran netminder. Backup Martin Jones might see a heavier workload in the early going as Quick comes back up to speed but there doesn't appear to be anything here that would impact Quick's spot in your draft day plans.

Milan Lucic
Bruins' Lucic (Wrist) Will Be Limited In Camp
Milan Lucic, LW, BOS
9/15/2014
News: Milan Lucic (wrist) will remain limited during training camp, ESPN reports. "It's getting better," Lucic said. "Obviously it was a long summer, having to be in a cast for 12 weeks. I feel like I've turned a corner on it the last week, week and a half. Still working hard to get it up to 100 percent."
Analysis: Milan Lucic continues to work toward building strength in the wrist since injuring it during Game 1 of the Bruins' second-round series against the Canadiens. He said he plays to be cautious in camp, which should enable him to be at full strength when the regular season begins. "Every time you have surgery, it never really goes back to 100 percent," Lucic said. "But you hope that you can get back to a point where you were feeling as good as before the surgery. For myself, just trying to get mentally healthy and get that out of the way, the mental part of it. That part of it is a big part of it to overcome, as far as shooting and just pushing and just all that type of stuff. It's a lot of hard work when you get injured to get to 100 percent, and that's your main goal is to try to get there."

Carl Gunnarsson
Blues' Gunnerson (Hip) Skates With Team
Carl Gunnarsson, D, STL
9/15/2014
News: Carl Gunnarsson skated with the team for the first time Tuesday, skating for 10-15 minutes, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Analysis: Carl Gunnarsson underwent surgery in the offseason to repair a hip flexor injury, and his most recent step is encouraging in regards to his readiness for training camp.

Troy Grosenick
Grosenick Stops 30 For SJ In Scrimmage Loss
Troy Grosenick, G, SJ
9/15/2014
News: Troy Grosenick got the start in the Sharks' second prospect scrimmage against Anaheim. He stopped 30 of 32 shots in a 2-0 loss.
Analysis: Troy Grosenick will start the year with AHL Worcester and will battle J.P. Anderson for minutes in net there. Should an injury occur or should San Jose trade Antti Niemi — there's been much speculation on that front — the battle for minutes between Anderson and Grosenick would gain significance as it's not 100% clear who is third in line on the depth chart. For now, his significance to most fantasy formats is nil, though Sunday's performance is a step toward being number three on for the Sharks.

Hunter Shinkaruk
Canucks' Shinkaruk Strikes In Penticton
Hunter Shinkaruk, C, VAN
9/14/2014
News: Hunter Shinkaruk scored twice in Sunday's 5-4 OT loss to the Jets in the Young Stars Classic tournament.
Analysis: Hunter Shinkaruk was credited with a game-high eight shots on goal, and now has three points (two goals, one assist) in two tournament games. The 19-year-old tallied his second goal of the game with just 39 seconds remaining in regulation, tying the game at four and sending it to overtime. Shinkaruk will need to keep up this level of play if he hopes to make the Canucks' roster out of training camp.

Ryan Strome
Isles' Strome Could Start Season In The AHL
Ryan Strome, C, NYI
9/14/2014
News: Ryan Strome could begin the season in the AHL, according to Newsday.
Analysis: The reason for this has nothing to do with Ryan Strome's play but he could be caught in a numbers game as the Isles are deep at forward but only Strome and Anders Lee can be sent to the AHL without passing through waivers. Now a trade is always a possibility also. The Isles could always move a forward to a team (Boston, Chicago) that is having salary cap problems and may want to deal a defenseman. Strome could also end up on the top line with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. Islanders training camp should be an interesting one.

Brenden Dillon
Dillon Without A Deal In Dallas
Brenden Dillon, D, DAL
9/14/2014
News: Brenden Dillon, a restricted free agent, still has not signed a contract with Dallas and Dallas GM Jim Nill says that little progress has been made recently, according to Mark Stepneski of NHL.com.
Analysis: A late contract signing, even if Brenden Dillon misses some of camp, shouldn't effect Dillon's fantasy value. They're likely to have a deal done by opening night and Dillon figures to be a prominent part of Dallas' very young defense. One hitch for the team, making it better to get a deal done sooner than later, is that Dillon will still have to clear immigration after signing, meaning that he'll be ineligible to play or practice for a few days after signing.

Cody Eakin
Eakin Still Un-signed In Dallas
Cody Eakin, C, DAL
9/14/2014
News: Cody Eakin, a restricted free agent, is still without a contract in Dallas and Dallas GM Jim Nill said Friday that little progress has been made toward a new deal, according to Mark Stepneski of NHL.com.
Analysis: Cody Eakin figures to get a good role on the Stars third line and a deal is likely to get worked out before opening night, but the time frame is worrisome as far as Eakin getting to camp on time. As Nill points out, Eakin can't play for a few days after a deal is signed because he'll still have to sort out immigration after the deal is put in place. Could be an issue for the team, but a late contract signing isn't likely to effect Eakin's fantasy value.

 
 
 
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