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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
Dustin Brown
Kings' Brown Records Two Points
Dustin Brown, RW, LA
4:35 AM
News: Dustin Brown scored a goal and added an assist while firing four shots on goal and skating to a plus-2 in Wednesday's 4-0 win over the Wild.
Analysis: With the Kings having several scoring options up front, the veteran captain only has seven points in 23 games this year, but his 54 shots and 55 hits still give him relevance in many leagues.

Martin Jones
Kings' Jones Pitches Shutout Wednesday
Martin Jones, G, LA
4:27 AM
News: Martin Jones turned aside all 26 shots in Wednesday's 4-0 road win over the Wild.
Analysis: Making his second start in as many nights, the Kings' backup was solid when he needed to be, but ultimately cruised to victory after Los Angeles scored all their goals in the first period. Even though he got the nod in favour of workhorse Jonathan Quick in this one, we wouldn't read too much into a potential job battle in Hockeywood. It's likely coach Darryl Sutter wanted to give Quick some extra rest, especially against a Wild team that's normally formidable on home ice. Martin Jones is now 2-2-1 with a .938 save percentage and 1.68 GAA this year.

Cam Ward
Canes' Ward Gets No Offensive Support In Loss
Cam Ward, G, CAR
1:24 AM
News: Cam Ward stopped 28 of 29 shots Wednesday, but received no offensive support in a shutout loss to Florida.
Analysis: Tough break for Cam Ward, who did his best to try and earn just his second win in six games. While he was excellent Wednesday, Ward has still allowed three or more goals in three of his last four starts. The 30-year-old is now 6-8-1 this season with a 2.61 GAA and .907 save percentage. Judging by his superb play against the Panthers, Ward will get back into the win column soon.

Darcy Kuemper
Wild's Kuemper Expected To Start Wednesday
Darcy Kuemper, G, MIN
12:54 AM
News: Darcy Kuemper is expected to start Wednesday's game against the Kings.
Analysis: After going with backup Niklas Backstrom on Monday night, coach Mike Yeo will turn the net back over to Darcy Kuemper, who seems to have put his early-November swoon behind him. Since being pulled from a Nov. 13 outing against the Sabres after allowing goals on the first two shots he faced, he's won in three of his four appearances, yielding only five goals during that time.

Matt Cooke
Wild's Cooke Showing Improvement
Matt Cooke, LW, MIN
12:49 AM
News: Matt Cooke (hip flexor) has begun skating without full gear this week, Rachel Blount of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Matt Cooke has missed the last 12 games with the ailment and appears set to sit out several more contests, since he'll some time to make up for the lost conditioning work. Nonetheless, the Wild seem to be encouraged that he's at least back on the ice after he had failed to make much progress with his recovery over the last couple weeks.

Alex Tanguay
Avs' Tanguay Likely To Play Wednesday
Alex Tanguay, LW, COL
12:45 AM
News: Alex Tanguay (fractured jaw) is considered likely to play Wednesday against the Blackhawks, Adrian Dater of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: Alex Tanguay appeared set to play Tuesday night in Arizona, but the Avs ended up scratching him after he was still suffering from blurred vision during the team's morning skate. This latest report would seem to indicate that Tanguay's being held out Tuesday was a precautionary measure, so assuming that he's now experiencing some improvement, it looks promising that he'll suit up. The veteran forward is tied with Matt Duchene for the team lead with seven goals on the season.

David Booth
Leafs Activate Booth
David Booth, LW, TOR
12:41 AM
News: David Booth (foot) has been activated from injured reserve in advance of Wednesday's game against the Penguins, James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail reports.
Analysis: David Booth will make his Leafs debut Wednesday after the broken foot cost him nearly eight weeks of action. He figures to slot in among the Leafs' bottom-six forwards this season, which won't allow him to gain much traction in fantasy circles.

Joffrey Lupul
Leafs Activate Lupul
Joffrey Lupul, RW, TOR
12:38 AM
News: Joffrey Lupul (hand) was taken off injured reserve in preparation for his return Wednesday versus the Penguins, James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail reports.
Analysis: The broken hand cost Joffrey Lupul approximately four weeks, but lengthy absences aren't new for the forward at this stage of his injury-riddled career. Though his track record suggests he'll miss time later on this season due to another injury, Lupul has been a productive player when he's been able to suit up. He collected two goals in his first nine games this season before suffering the broken hand.

Brandon Dubinsky
Jackets' Dubinsky Not Expected Back Friday
Brandon Dubinsky, C, CLB
12:16 AM
News: Brandon Dubinsky (abdomen) is not expected to be ready to play in either of the Blue Jackets' games over the weekend, Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: Brandon Dubinsky first returned to the ice Monday following a recent setback in his recovery from abdominal surgery, so he'll still need several more practices to get back up to full speed. The Blue Jackets have dealt with a number of lengthy absences due to injury this season, but few have been more significant than Dubinsky's. While not an elite scorer, Dubinsky is sound in just about every phase of the game and will represent a welcome addition to Columbus' top-six once he's healthy.

Brian Elliott
Blues' Elliott Week-To-Week With Knee Injury
Brian Elliott, G, STL
12:11 AM
News: Coach Ken Hitchcock announced after Wednesday's practice that Brian Elliott is considered week-to-week with a suspected knee sprain, Lou Korac of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Though Brian Elliott will miss multiple games as a result of the injury sustained Tuesday night, he appears to have avoided a more serious issue, as the Blues determined surgery won't be necessary. Still, the week-to-week timetable will make it tough to pin down an expected return date for the netminder. Jake Allen is expected to carry the load for the Blues as the No. 1 netminder and should make for an upper-tier fantasy option in the interim now that he won't have to share duties with Elliott.

 
 
 
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