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Neutral Zone Wrap: You must make the tough decision

by | Rotowire.com
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Breaking up is hard to do. Just ask the Fantasy owner who can't get rid of a certain player mainly out of devotion. You've given so much to support him but he hasn't recently reciprocated the love. You lose sleep trying to figure out the reason for his pathetic performance. Why is he hurting you when you've stood by him for so long?

So when is it time to say goodbye?

Knowing when to drop is not an exact science and often depends on league structure and available replacement options. First, there's the difference between keeper and one-year formats. They are similar in many ways, but the carryover involves an added decision of whether or not you would retain a player for the following season and beyond. Of course, you would not dump anyone without a suitable fill-in. Can Player X in the free-agent pool do more? Or would Player Y on that other owner's squad be a better fit (provided the asking price isn't too steep)?

Patience is a virtue. But sometimes, it gets in the way of statistics and good old-fashioned common sense. Even if your underperformer has established himself as a mid-level scorer, maybe he's better off gone if he hasn't done anything in 10 games and his ice time is steadily decreasing. The signs are often present, but we often ignore them because we believe in what a player once did - and not what they are failing to do now. If that's the case, then cut the cord. Most likely, he will be happier with someone else.

Maybe you'll discover the perfect mate on one of the following teams. Or a match made in Fantasy hell:

In the continuing love-hate relationship between Leaf fans and the club, the momentum is quickly shifting to the negative side. After a preseason romance and a shotgun fling, the mood has soured of late. Is this typical reactive support behavior? Or is the honeymoon over in Toronto? The goaltending situation is deteriorating without James Reimer (concussion), as neither Jonas Gustavsson (3.78 goals-against average, .880 save percentage in nine) nor Ben Scrivens (4.05 GAA, .870 save percentage in three) can handle #1 duties, let alone serve as an able #2. Tim Connolly (upper-body injury absolutely, positively not related to earlier shoulder problem) has already reverted to fragile form after a promising run (six points in four). And Tyler Bozak (zero in six) isn't the solution as the top-line center, but 6-foot-5 kid Joe Colborne (19 in 12 in the AHL) could be the savior down the road. Maybe Cody Franson (one assist, minus-5, healthy scratch in eight of the last nine) isn't fitting in, but that might have more to do with the depth of blueline competition.

After an early European swoon (listless in two OT defeats), the Rangers are flourishing closer to home (winners of five straight). It's always sweet to tag along with a healthy Marian Gaborik. The latest beneficiaries are Artem Anisimov and Derek Stepan (combining for 13 in the last three), but that could easily change with the flick of a head coach's mood. Ruslan Fedotenko (one in seven after five in the first seven) has successfully performed another disappearing act. And hey, Ryan Callahan, you may be up there in goals (six), shots (52), hits (32), and blocks (20) but please try to do more in the points department (only one assist). You too, Brandon Dubinsky (no goals, six assists), although you're a pleasant surprise in the penalty minute category (tied for fourth in the NHL with 47). Ryan McDonagh may not receive much power-play time, but he's the defensive workhorse without Marc Staal (at over 25 minutes a night) and chipping in with the right amount of offense (six).

Not much changed over the summer, so no surprise on Anaheim's terrible beginning following a disappointing playoff exit. When you rely so much on your big guns to carry the load, the deficiencies really show when they - and everyone else - struggle to score (the Ducks sit last averaging 1.83 goals per game). It's unfortunate what happened to Jason Blake (lacerated arm, out another two months), but it is also important to realize he wasn't that important Fantasy-wise (name something relevant he has done since the 63 points of 2008-09). Neither Andrew Cogliano (two) nor Brandon McMillan (three) has earned the open second-line slot, so perhaps it's time to provide rookie Devante Smith-Pelly (first NHL goal Wednesday night, arguably Anaheim's hardest working forward) with more chances to shine. And where in the world is Lubomir Visnovsky (four, minus-9)?

When Mike Richards headed to Hollywood, many believed he was the final piece to place Los Angeles as legitimate Cup contenders. But after the first 15 contests, the Kings do not display any resemblance to hockey royalty, at a mediocre 7-5-3. The eternal Dustin Penner problem may have finally yielded a glimmer of hope (woke up with two points Tuesday). Jarrett Stoll may also be breaking out of a slump (adding two on Tuesday). Scott Parse was looking to be a worthy secondary contributor (two goals), but now he's gone indefinitely with some mystery malady. For someone who showed promise in his first full year (16 in 60), it's amazing it took 14 outings for Alec Martinez to register his first point. No question Jonathan Quick can dominate in net (1.87 goals-against average, .940 save percentage, three shutouts), as Jonathan Bernier (3.37 goals-against average, .870 save percentage in three) hasn't exactly stolen the headlines with his play so far.

This ain't your father's Minnesota Wild. You know, the one that has existed since inception with a defense-first mentality. This version will come at you with, well, moderate offense (still near the bottom of the league in goals for). Remember when many gave up on Pierre-Marc Bouchard (four in four) due to health issues? And others who pigeonholed Guillaume Latendresse (eight) as a shoot-first, power-play specialist (although the last three were goals)? Surprised Matt Cullen (six) is leading the team in goals? Who is waiting for Jared Spurgeon (three) or Marco Scandella (two) to emerge as second-tier D-men? And does anyone really believe Josh Harding (1.18 goals-against average, .965 save percentage, undefeated in five) can surpass stalwart Niklas Backstrom (2.05 goals-against average, .926 save percentage) on the depth chart?

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Player News
Ryan Ellis
Preds, Ellis Still At Odds Over New Contract
Ryan Ellis, D, NSH
9/21/2014
News: Preds GM David Poile addressed Ryan Ellis' contract situation Saturday, saying the main stumbling block continues to be money, according to the Tennessean. "Unfortunately at this time we have not agreed what they think and what we think is fair compensation," Poile said. "We want [Ellis]. We are not trading him, we really like him. We really like the way he played last year. It's just a disagreement on dollars."
Analysis: Ryan Ellis, who has missed the first two days of training camp so far, played in 80 games last season for and finished with 27 points - his highest full season total to date. And while there is still plenty of time left to get a deal done before the start of the season, the clock is ticking. Not only is he missing out on conditioning drills and scrimmages, the more Ellis misses of training camp, the greater the chances of some other defenseman impressing the coaching staff and grabbing a roster spot that might otherwise go to Ellis. Bottom line, we think Ellis will get signed by the start of the regular season, but what his role on the team will be is anybody's guess. He's a risky fantasy pick right now, until all of the above gets sorted out.

Jon Merrill
Devils' Merrill Misses Practice With Head Injury
Jon Merrill, D, NJ
9/21/2014
News: Jon Merrill missed the second day of Devils' training camp on Saturday due to a head injury he suffered after colliding with teammate Ruslan Fedotenko during Friday's practice, Rich Chere of NJ.com reports.
Analysis: Luckily for Jon Merrill, the Devils' first regular season game isn't until October 9th. While head injuries are never a good thing, the promising young defender should have ample time to get healthy before the regular season kicks off.

Mark Stuart
Jets' Stuart Dealing With Muscle Issue
Mark Stuart, D, WPG
2:59 PM
News: Mark Stuart is dealing with a minor muscle issue, Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun reports.
Analysis: Mark Stuart is apparently improving and is considered day-to-day at this point. The injury doesn't appear as though it will cost him any regular season time.

Jordan Staal
New Linemates For Canes' Staal Early In Camp
Jordan Staal, C, CAR
1:44 PM
News: Jordan Staal has been skating with Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty so far in training camp, reports the Raleigh News & Observer.
Analysis: Although it's early and new coach Bill Peters will likely experiment with various line combinations before the start of the regular season, Jordan Staal could really benefit from inheriting his brother Eric's linemates from the last two seasons. Semin and Tlusty are two reliable, scoring wingers who are used to playing on the same line together, something Staal has often lacked since joining the Canes two seasons ago. One thing is for certain - Staal will once again open the season as the Canes' second-line center, so it's really just a matter of who will be his wingers at this point - likely some combination of Semin, Tlusty, Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm.

Eric Staal
Canes' Staal Has New Linemates In Camp
Eric Staal, C, CAR
1:25 PM
News: Eric Staal has been skating with Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm so far in training camp, reports the Raleigh News & Observer.
Analysis: Eric Staal, who is attempting to rebound from a disappointing 2013-14 season (61 points in 79 games) in which he skated primarily with Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty, could be looking at a fresh start this season with a new coach (Bill Peters) and new linemates. And although Peters cautioned reporters on the first day of camp not to read too much into his initial line combination choices, the thought of Staal playing with Skinner and Lindholm - two of the Canes' most skilled forwards - is an intriguing one. While it's still just the first week of training camp, and nothing is written in stone at this point, it's a situation worth keeping an eye on.

Taylor Beck
Preds' Rookie Beck Remains Unsigned
Taylor Beck, LW, NSH
1:00 PM
News: Taylor Beck has been a participant at training camp this week, despite being an unrestricted free agent, according to the Tennessean.
Analysis: Taylor Beck, who is coming off a three-year, $2.7 million entry-level deal, has spent most of his time playing for AHL Milwaukee, posting 44 goals and 86 assists over the last three years. He has appeared in 16 career games for the Preds, including seven last season. Unless he makes a major impression in training camp, expect him to start the season back in the minors, when and if he gets re-signed.

Jhonas Enroth
Sabres Coach Confident In Enroth
Jhonas Enroth, G, BUF
11:09 AM
News: Sabres head coach Ted Nolan believes Jhonas Enroth can be a starting goalie in the NHL, reports the Olean Times Herald.
Analysis: Jhonas Enroth will battle Michal Neuvirth for the starting job, but if one of them has the edge, it's Enroth. Despite his lack of wins the previous season, Enroth still had a respectable .911 save percentage on the league's worst team and made the Swedish national team for Sochi. He has been Ryan Miller's understudy for the past few seasons, but Neuvirth is also reunited with Arturs Irbe, his goaltending coach in Washington. Nolan will split starts between Enroth and Neuvirth for the time being. The Sabres have six exhibition games this season.

Tyler Bozak
Leafs' Bozak Dealing With Lower-Body Issue
Tyler Bozak, C, TOR
11:05 AM
News: Tyler Bozak is dealing with a lower-body injury, Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun reports.
Analysis: Tyler Bozak reportedly skated in full equipment before the Leafs' practice Saturday, but didn't participate with the team. He and David Clarkson both suffered the injuries in pre-camp workouts, but both are believed to be minor injuries.

Matt Hackett
Sabres' Hackett Could Skate Soon
Matt Hackett, G, BUF
11:00 AM
News: Matt Hackett suffered an ACL injury on April 12 and could start skating soon, reports The Buffalo News.
Analysis: There is still no return date for Matt Hackett though he is expected to return midway through the season, perhaps in late December or early January. Hackett is coming off a tough season, losing the starting job in the AHL to Nathan Lieuwen. He is in a contract year and faces an uphill climb on a team deep with goaltending prospects. The 24-year-old goalie may not figure into the team's long-term plans. Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth are battling for the NHL job while Andrey Makarov and Lieuwen will handle the duties in the AHL.

David Clarkson
Leafs' Clarkson Dealing With Lower-Body Injury
David Clarkson, RW, TOR
10:52 AM
News: David Clarkson is dealing with a lower body injury, Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun reports.
Analysis: David Clarkson joined Tyler Bozak as the two out for the practice, with both reportedly dealing with lower-body injuries. They both ocurred during pre-camp workouts, and coach Randy Carlyle believes the injury is minor.

 
 
 
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