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Neutral Zone Wrap: Gifts that keep on giving

by | Rotowire.com
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The holidays are all about giving -- and investing substantial resources to make others happy. The gifts you've purchased this season will only improve your social standing for months to come. Unless, of course, you figured any one of a pair of socks, a sweater or that limited edition Phillipe Bozon bobblehead would make the perfect gift.

Like the presents we receive, a Fantasy trade can often be well-intended but sometimes ends up looking like last year's fruitcake. The thing was probably conceived quickly and without much thought, the ingredients remain questionable, and no one wants to go near it. So why is this type of transaction so frequent in leagues? Does one really believe they can sneak talent through and not consider the consequences? Or is it assumed the opening offer will always be the worst?

The first rule of negotiations is to deal with the other owners like you'd want them to treat you. And it doesn't matter if there's that one yahoo who always runs his/her mouth throughout the season. Most likely, everyone is playing because they hold some basic Fantasy knowledge. So don't insult others with lowball deals; it only reduces the overall level. And don't think including more players to the trade will increase the likelihood of completion. You can't sell a lemon even if you hide it behind a bunch of grapes.

Enough about gift- or food-related analogies. You want the Fantasy goods. So here are a few teams striving for the prize and others resembling bad apples:

It used to be said the secret to Nashville's success was balanced scoring. Now the Predators have nothing to hide and they're still competing well above payroll. If you believed freshman Craig Smith would slow down (seven points in nine games), then you would've lost a few bets. Although you could've recouped a bit of money on Sergei Kostitsyn (three in 13, minus-4). Nothing wrong with Martin Erat of late (nine in nine). Jordin Tootoo (10 in 12 to go along with 47 PIM and 64 hits on the season) isn't as one-dimensional as you'd think. For as much talent as Patric Hornqvist possesses, you'd think he could treat his Fantasy owners better (two in 18). Don't jump on Roman Josi just yet (netted his first NHL goal on the power-play last week), but the Swiss defender is worth a look in keeper leagues.

Unlike Nashville, everybody knew Calgary couldn't compete due to streaky shooters. The same holds true these days, but the situation could be worse. I mean, the Flames could be wallowing near the bottom of their division and fighting with their provincial rivals. Oh, right, they are. No one could have predicted Olli Jokinen as the Flames' leading scorer (28, including an amazing 14 points in his last 11 games). If you aren't already a fan of Curtis Glencross (seven in seven), then get ready to join the club. The ride was sweet while it lasted, right, Brendan Morrison (nothing in five after seven in three thanks a spot beside Jarome Iginla)? Thanks for the memories, Lee Stempniak (zero in six). Someone needs to jumpstart Mikael Backlund (three in 19) or else it's back to the AHL for him. And without Mark Giordano (torn leg tendons, return unknown), Derek Smith (five in six, including two PPAs) has fit in on D and contributed.

Fact: Columbus doesn't suck as much as the first report would've led you to believe. OK, so they won't be raising the Cup in June. But they're actually half-decent if given the chance. Like Jokinen on the Flames, Vaclav Prospal (26, with seven in December) is truly making the most out of his Blue Jacket revival. Try not to fall into the Derick Brassard trap, even if he's recovered a bit (two in the Jackets’ last outing). And Derek Dorsett may have added a few goals to his resume (adding seven to his career total of 19), but don't be fooled. Besides the cool spy name, Nikita Nikitin (all 12 of his points have come since arriving from St. Louis) is also a stealth scorer. And somehow, Steve Mason (3.52 goals-against average, .880 save percentage, dismal 4-14-1 record) has earned a couple starts while Curtis Sanford (2.42 goals-against average, .914 save percentage in 15) waits for the next chance to strike.

If Montreal can string a few wins together, then it doesn't matter what language the head coach speaks. Of course, when you've lost four in a row and have to go without three key regulars, none of that makes a difference. After some early trepidation (one in seven to start), Erik Cole (seven in seven) has no issues finding the scoresheet. Same goes for David Desharnais (five in five). As a result of others' struggles, first-year center Louis Leblanc (two in four) has been asked to assume more responsibility. So much for P.K. Subban (14, with only four PPPs) stepping up as the top defenseman. Don't expect newcomer Tomas Kaberle to assume that role, even if the opening returns (five in six) are encouraging.

With all the injuries in Colorado, you could say the Avs are being held together by glue and hope. But that hasn't stopped the club from winning four of their last five. Or having Jean-Sebastien Giguere (1.87 goals-against average, .931 save percentage in 13, winner of three straight) wresting the #1 mantle from Semyon Varlamov (3.14 goals-against average, .896 save percentage). Ryan O'Reilly (leading the team with 23) is enjoying a career year. Daniel Winnik (four in seven) has been promoted to the top unit thanks to his hard work. The numbers may not be spectacular for Gabriel Landeskog (15, 22 PIM, 93 hits), but the rookie is sticking and - more importantly - learning on the job. Kyle Quincey has served as top blueliner (17, but only one in eight), although he was surprisingly scratched Wednesday. Thanks to a couple missing defenders, Stefan Elliott (three in five) is once again getting the opportunity to do his thing.

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Player News
Nathan MacKinnon
Avs' MacKinnon Dishes Out Two Assists
Nathan MacKinnon, C, COL
12:53 PM
News: Nathan MacKinnon dished out a pair of helpers in Friday's win over Nashville.
Analysis: The two points snapped a three-game scoring drought for Nathan MacKinnon, who now has nine goals and 29 points in 50 games. While he's been held off the scoresheet in seven of his last nine games, the Avs are playing good hockey right now, picking up at least one point in six of their last seven games. MacKinnon's only 19, so we wouldn't give up on him just yet this season. His whopping 152 shots on goal indicate more goals are on the way. Patience is a virtue.

Mike Ribeiro
Preds' Ribeiro Piles On PIM
Mike Ribeiro, C, NSH
12:39 PM
News: Mike Ribeiro took a break from scoring Friday, racking up 22 PIM in a loss to Colorado.
Analysis: While Mike Ribeiro has 43 points (33 assists) in 48 games this season, he is also now among the league's top-100 PIM leaders. Producing at basically a point-per-game pace and sporting a steady plus-15 rating, Ribeiro is worth owning in most formats.

Marek Mazanec
Preds' Mazanec Gives Up Two Goals In Loss
Marek Mazanec, G, NSH
12:35 PM
News: Marek Mazanec gave up two goals on 27 shots in Friday's loss to Colorado.
Analysis: It was a good effort from Marek Mazanec, who got no offensive support in the shutout loss. It was the first start of the season for the 23-year-old, who had been giving way to Carter Hutton in Pekka Rinne's (knee) absence. Considering Hutton has given up seven goals in his last two starts, Mazanec could be worth a temporary pick-up until Rinne returns.

Semyon Varlamov
Avs' Varlamov Makes 23 Saves, Blanks Predators
Semyon Varlamov, G, COL
12:24 PM
News: Semyon Varlamov stopped all 23 shots he faced in Friday's shutout win over Nashville.
Analysis: A perfect outing for the workhorse, who has started 14 of the Avs' past 15 games. Semyon Varlamov is now 13-10-7 on the season with a .922 save percentage and 2.62 GAA. He's delivered some consistency play of late, allowing more than three goals just once in his last 10 appearances. Considering he's starting almost every game for an Avs team that has picked up at least one point in six of their last seven games, Varlamov is a great own in almost all formats.

Antti Niemi
Sharks Rolling With Niemi On Saturday
Antti Niemi, G, SJ
11:33 AM
News: Antti Niemi will be between the pipes for Saturday's tilt with the Blackhawks, Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area reports.
Analysis: Antti Niemi has faced a bear of a schedule lately. After drawing a loss to a surprisingly competitive Flames squad two Saturdays ago, he was able to outlast the Kings and Ducks his last two times out. He'll have difficulty sustaining that winning streak against the Blackhawks and their impressive attack, which has generated at least three goals in four of its last five games. It might be worthwhile for Niemi's owners to explore other goalie options for Saturday's slate.

Louis Domingue
Coyotes' Domingue Recalled From Minors
Louis Domingue, G, ARI
11:28 AM
News: Louis Domingue was recalled from AHL Portland on Saturday, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: Louis Domingue has made 13 appearances for Portland this season, producing a 8-4-1 record, 2.40 GAA and .922 save percentage. It's unclear if he'll stick around with the Coyotes much further beyond the weekend, but however long the duration of his stay, don't expect him to see much -- if any -- action behind No. 1 twinetender Mike Smith.

Mike McKenna
Coyotes Send McKenna Back To Minors
Mike McKenna, G, ARI
11:25 AM
News: Mike McKenna was reassigned to AHL Portland on Saturday, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: Mike McKenna didn't see any action during his two-game stay with the Coyotes. A similar fate will likely await Louis Domingue, who was recalled from the minors in a corresponding move. The Coyotes appear content to lean heavily on No. 1 goalie Mike Smith throughout the second half.

Taylor Hall
Oilers' Hall Out Again Saturday
Taylor Hall, LW, EDM
11:23 AM
News: Taylor Hall (lower leg) will not play in Saturday's game against the Sharks, Derek Van Diest of the Edmonton Sun reports.
Analysis: Taylor Hall was able to resume skating with the team at morning skate, but his absence from line rushes means that he will head to the press box for a third straight contest. Still, the Oilers have to be encouraged by Hall's presence on the ice, further affirming that a long-term injury has been avoided. He'll set his sights on a return to action Monday in San Jose.

Jimmy Howard
Red Wings' Howard Unlikely For Road Trip
Jimmy Howard, G, DET
11:19 AM
News: Jimmy Howard (groin) isn't expected to be activated from injured reserve during the Red Wings' forthcoming three-game road trip, MLive.com's Ansar Khan reports.
Analysis: If that's indeed the case, it would push Jimmy Howard's return back to no sooner than mid-February. The netminder has been able to skate a few times this week, but has yet to receive clearance to resume practicing.

Jonas Gustavsson
Wings Loan Gustavsson To Grand Rapids
Jonas Gustavsson, G, DET
11:16 AM
News: Jonas Gustavsson (shoulder) was activated from injured reserve and loaned to AHL Grand Rapids on Saturday for a conditioning stint.
Analysis: The Red Wings cleared up a 23-man roster spot for Jonas Gustavsson by waiving Brian Lashoff, but the goalie likely won't be available for action with the big club until next week. He'll man the net Saturday for Grand Rapids in what will mark his first game in three months. The conditioning stint is only expected to last one game, with Tom McCollum set to be reassigned to the AHL club once Gustavsson rejoins the Red Wings. Gustavsson's first start could come as soon as Thursday's game against the Avalanche.

 
 
 
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