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Neutral Zone Wrap: Major room for improvement

by | Rotowire.com
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Hope you've enjoyed the holiday season, but please don't tell me you've taken your eye off the game. Now I'm not discouraging people from avoiding others; in fact, I believe you should be spending time with loved ones. But you can always sneak out and devise your next plan of attack. After all, this time of year doesn't have to be a total separation of family and Fantasy.

You've probably ate your weight in cookies by now, so there's some lingering regret. The same feeling may hold true toward some of your players. You expected so much from so few and yet they haven't adequately performed their job. There's always the chance they can turn it around. But then they also might loom one step away from becoming untradeable.

The following NHLers are examples of those who still haven't been brought up to speed. Maybe they were never point-per-game producers, but people expected a lot more from them so far. (See if you can spot your players! And please note I couldn't select more than two listings per team, so don't complain about Jonas Hiller's omission).

Top 5 Fantasy Disappointments Who Can Get Back on Track

These guys have definitely underperformed, but it isn't for a lack of trying…well, maybe not for one of them. Most have received plenty of opportunities to shine, but something just hasn't been clicking. But hope is on the horizon, either in the form of a coaching change, an incentive, or just plain talent kicking in. Maybe a little hope wouldn't hurt either:

Mike Cammalleri, F, Montreal

Cammalleri's current haul (20 points in 32 games) doesn't amount to much of a drop-off (compared to 97 in 132 during the rest of his Habs career), but it is definitely noticeable with Montreal in trouble. The absence of Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez has forced Cammalleri into a greater leadership role up front, something in which he has excelled. Not much room for concern, as the little winger is still being heavily employed in all situations and the stats aren't too shabby (nine in December).

Bobby Ryan, F, Anaheim

If everyone received a nickel for every time a Bobby Ryan trade rumor was announced, then we'd need new pants from all the coinage that would rip the material. But seriously, the numbers don't look awful (18 in 35). The problem becomes evident when you notice he averaged 0.85 points per game and just over 33 goals a season in his first three full Anaheim campaigns. Another worrisome sign is the fact Ryan had been knocked off the top line, including the power-play. As much as this reasoning is cliché, there's simply way too much talent for him to struggle across an entire season.

Alexander Semin, F, Washington

Everybody's favorite slacker has been known to take off a shift or three, but no one truly cares about that. It's only now that he is lagging behind the pack in points (17 in 32) that all this attention -- and, gulp, pressure -- is being placed on Semin. The good news is his success is significantly tied to Alexander Ovechkin, and the Great Eight has had enough of his own on-ice issues. Following the captain's lead, Semin is slowly approaching his usual productive self (six in five) and should be temporarily good to go until the next lapse.

Semyon Varlamov, G, Colorado

The Avs donated a king's ransom (2012 1st rounder, 2012/2013 2nd rounder) to acquire Varlamov, so the up-and-coming Russian was immediately asked to play a major role. And while he hasn't fared too poorly (3.09 goals-against average, .896 save percentage in 25 appearances), Jean-Sebastien Giguere (1.95 goals-against average, .928 save percentage in 15) has served as Colorado's better option between the pipes. A nice comeback performance on Monday helped his cause, not only to regain the #1 spot but also to restore his confidence.

Lubomir Visnovsky, D, Anaheim

The Ducks are quacking their way towards the bottom. Upon first glance, it would seem Visnovsky would be one of the major reasons why. Last season's leading blueliner started off ice cold (four in 16), succumbed to a broken hand (sidelined a month), and now has found himself back on a struggling lineup. However, since returning a couple weeks ago, the Czech D-man has morphed closer to Norris Trophy form (five in six). Another encouraging indication comes from him continuing to log mega minutes (over 23 a game of late) and operating as a fearsome power-play quarterback.

Honorable mention: Martin Brodeur, G, New Jersey; Brent Burns, D, San Jose; Drew Doughty/Jack Johnson, D, Los Angeles; Patric Hornqvist, F, Nashville; Chris Stewart, F, St. Louis

Top 5 Fantasy Disappointments You Might As Well Forget

You know people who can't perform a task even after you repeatedly provide instructions? Well, these skaters are similar in that they keep being sent on the ice and somehow can't get it going. Don't know if they're hiding injuries, some sort of flaw, or merely their age. Send these duds to the curb; they will not be recovering any time soon:

Steve Mason, G, Columbus

Columbus appeared to have turned the corner this past offseason after grabbing both Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski. Naturally, Mason was looked upon to recover from two rather mediocre seasons (combined 3.05 goals-against average, .901 save percentage). Little did we realize neither Mason nor the Blue Jackets were equipped to compete in the NHL on a nightly basis. The top freshman in 2008-09 resides near or at the basement in almost every goaltending category (2nd-last with 3.41 goals-against average and worst at .881 save percentage). And in the off chance Mason were to recover his Calder caliber, he probably couldn't catch a break since Columbus sucks.

Andrej Meszaros, D, Philadelphia

With Chris Pronger out for the season, it was believed most of the available work would be handed to Meszaros based on experience. Unfortunately, Matt Carle (eight in nine) has vaulted ahead of the big Slovak in both minutes and special-teams shifts. And while Meszaros has upped his game the last few weeks (six in nine), he still stands with subpar stats (adding in six from the first 23). Based on history, he's not going above the 30-point mark. In other words, try and stay away from Meszaros unless you are desperate on defense.

Kyle Okposo, F, NY Islanders

Another member of the Islanders' youth revolution, but not the one who has been making news - unless you count missing most of 2010-11 after shoulder surgery. While Okposo was able to fully recover from the injury (and post 20 in 38), he may not have completely regained his grip on a solid roster position. This season has been a disaster and has been characterized by scoring slumps (currently three in seven, three in all of November), a perceived lack of effort, and a short stint in the press box. While Okposo should resume racking up points, his totals will not approach his peak (52 from two years ago).

Magnus Paajarvi, F, Edmonton

The 10th overall pick from 2009 took a little while to get going, but eventually found his confidence by the end of his rookie campaign (including scoring in five of the last six contests). Unfortunately, Paajarvi began this season by stalling out of the gates (didn't point until Game 13) and hasn't shown much improvement (only two since). You might think the Swedish forward can pick up his pace based on skills and pedigree, but Edmonton has found success rolling out other young studs ahead of him on the depth chart.

Marek Zidlicky, D, Minnesota

When you are 34, struggling, and fresh off an injury, then your prospects will probably look bleak. The outlook won't appear any brighter if you factor in teammates who are passing you in the pecking order. Such is the case for Zidlicky, a once-proud defenseman who boasted six straight seasons of 25-plus assists. Reality has set in for the Czech veteran (six in 25 tells the story), who knows his time is running out. Newcomers like Jared Spurgeon (15) and Marco Scandella (six) are being given more chances to shine offensively, thereby relegating Zidlicky to third fiddle at best.

Honorable mention: Mikael Backlund, F, Calgary; Andrew Brunette, F, Chicago; Marc-Andre Gragnani, D, Buffalo; Jarret Stoll, F, Los Angeles; Cam Ward, G, Carolina.

Sorry, but once again there will be no column next week. Not going to explain why, but I'll accept guesses (hint: it's not hockey-related, although it could be). Try to fill your time effectively in the meantime. Maybe by counting down the hours until the Wrap returns.

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Player News
Cody Eakin
Eakin Agrees To Four-Year Extension With Stars
Cody Eakin, C, DAL
8/28/2015
News: Cody Eakin agreed to a four-year, $15.4 million contract extension with the Stars on Friday, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports.
Analysis: The 24-year-old was a solid producer for the Stars in 2014-15, registering 40 points (19 goals, 21 assists) in 78 games with the team. He will likely return to his role centering the Stars' third line this season, and should produce similarly barring significant injury.

Elias Lindholm
Lindholm Signs Two-Year Extension With Hurricanes
Elias Lindholm, C, CAR
8/27/2015
News: Elias Lindholm signed a two-year, $5.4 million contract extension with the Hurricanes on Thursday.
Analysis: Elias Lindholm was a solid contributor in his first full NHL season in 2014-15, registering 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists) in 81 games with the team. He will return to his role as a top-six forward with Carolina this season, and should have a great shot at improving upon his offensive numbers from a year ago as he continues his development as an NHL forward.

Patrik Berglund
Blues' Berglund To Require Shoulder Surgery
Patrik Berglund, C, STL
8/27/2015
News: Patrik Berglund aggravated a dislocated right shoulder while working out and is set to undergo surgery Friday, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. He'll require at least four months of recovery time.
Analysis: Patrik Berglund first dislocated the shoulder in 2013-14, and required surgery last offseason to address the issue. The center was able to recover in time from that procedure to play on Opening Night last season, but given how late in the offseason calendar the setback occurred this time around, it looks like Berglund won't take the ice again until the calendar flips to 2016. His extended absence could allow prospect Robby Fabbri to claim third-line center duties out of training camp, with veteran Scott Gomez also in the mix if coach Ken Hitchcock prefers a more experienced option for that role.

Scott Gomez
Gomez Signs PTO With Blues
Scott Gomez, C, NJ
8/27/2015
News: Scott Gomez accepted a professional tryout offer with the Blues on Thursday, Andy Strickland of FOX Sports Midwest reports.
Analysis: After failing to garner a contract in free agency for the second straight offseason, Scott Gomez will again head to training camp on a PTO, as he did last season in New Jersey. Though he wasn't able to crack the Devils' Opening Night roster, he continued to work out with the team after the tryout period ended and was eventually signed to the team when injuries opened up an opportunity in late November. Gomez would end the season as one of the more productive contributors on the offensively challenged Devils, finishing third on the team with 34 points. The Blues boast a far deeper roster of forward talent, but with the news surfacing after Gomez's signing that Patrik Berglund would miss at least four months following shoulder surgery, an opening on the third line could exist for the 35-year-old.

Max Pacioretty
Habs' Pacioretty Still On Schedule With Rehab
Max Pacioretty, LW, MON
8/27/2015
News: Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said recently that Max Pacioretty (knee) remains on schedule in the rehabilitation process, Arpon Basu of LNH.com reports.
Analysis: Max Pacioretty sustained the knee injury while working out in Florida in early July, and was given a projected recovery timetable of 10-to-12 weeks. Given the length of the timetable, Pacioretty is expected to sit out all of training camp, and while his availability for the Oct. 7 regular-season opener in Toronto remains possible, he'd likely be subjected to limited minutes in the early going as he looks to build endurance. Once back to full health, Pacioretty should reemerge as the Habs' most dangerous offensive option after he potted 37 goals and a career-high 67 points in 2014-15.

Ladislav Smid
Flames Expecting Smid Back For Training Camp
Ladislav Smid, D, CGY
8/27/2015
News: The Flames' front office believes Ladislav Smid (neck) will be ready to skate during the team's first on-ice session at training camp in September, the Calgary Sun reports.
Analysis: Ladislav Smid's season came to an end last January when he required surgery on his neck, but his communication with the Flames to this point in the offseason suggests he has recovered well from the procedure. If healthy, Smid will compete in camp with Deryk Engelland for a spot as Calgary's sixth defenseman.

Sidney Crosby
Pens' Crosby Likely To Play Next To Kessel
Sidney Crosby, C, PIT
8/27/2015
News: Coach Mike Johnston said earlier this week that Sidney Crosby is expected to play next to Phil Kessel to begin training camp, CBS Sports reports.
Analysis: The Penguins have cycled in a number of right wingers next to Sidney Crosby throughout his career, and while Patric Hornqvist proved capable in that capacity last season, he's not nearly as prolific at finding twine as Kessel, a five-time 30-goal scorer. With his health concerns beginning to fade away after missing only seven games over the last two seasons, Crosby once again looks like a reasonable choice at No. 1 overall in fantasy drafts, even after scoring only 28 goals in 2014-15, his lowest total in any year he's suited up for at least 60 contests. Crosby probably won't come close to approaching the 51-goal peak he reached in 2009-10, but a slight uptick in his anomalous 11.8 shooting percentage coupled with the likely increase in assist opportunities with Kessel blitzing the net could make a return to 100 points conceivable.

Mike Richards
Charges Announced For Ex-King Richards
Mike Richards, C, LA
8/27/2015
News: Mike Richards was formally charged with possession of a controlled substance while entering Canada stemming from a June 17 border stop by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Manitoba, Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports reports.
Analysis: The Kings determined the incident gave them just cause to release Mike Richards for a "material breach" of his 12-year contract, a decision that prompted the NHL Players Association to file a grievance. The nature of the border stop likely won't affect the outcome of that legal battle, as both the NHLPA and the Kings were aware of the circumstances surrounding the incident. Currently a free agent, Richards is able to sign with any team while the grievance remains underway, but his steep decline in performance over the last few seasons coupled with this ongoing dispute probably has few organizations interested in his services.

Kyle Okposo
Isles Begin Contract Talks With Okposo
Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI
8/26/2015
News: Kyle Okposo and the Islanders have begun talks on a new contract, according to Islanders Point Blank.
Analysis: Both sides are hoping to get an agreement done before the start of the season but the parameters on a new deal could be difficult to negotiate. Kyle Okposo will make $4.5 million this season and could command a deal north of $6 million per year on the open market, a figure the Islanders may not be willing to approach at this time. If the two sides can't come to an agreement before the start of the season then Okposo's name will be one we will hear quite often in trade rumors.

Sami Aittokallio
Avs Re-Sign Aittokallio
Sami Aittokallio, G, COL
8/26/2015
News: Sami Aittokallio has re-signed with the Avalanche on a one-year, two-way contract, General Fanager reports.
Analysis: Sami Aittokallio appears to be the clear No. 4 goalie in the Colorado organization behind Semyon Varlamov, Calvin Pickard, and Reto Berra, so it's somewhat surprising he elected to commit for another year rather than bolt for Europe. Even so, Aittokallio's contract does at least include a clause for him to play overseas if he isn't guaranteed a roster spot with the Avalanche, potentially opening the door for him to leave the club if he's assigned to the AHL out of training camp, as expected.

 
 
 
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