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Blue Line Buzz: Making up precious ground

by | Rotowire.com
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The NHL is at its halfway point for all intents and purposes. The standings are becoming clearer and teams on the bottom will likely be looking to offload some talent. Teams thoroughly entrenched in the top four of their respective conferences will look to their bottom-dwelling opponents to boost their team. Take the same approach with your Fantasy team. Now is an excellent time to scan the standings and see where you can make up some ground, and pry players from frustrated owners that might be undervalued due to their performances this season, such as Ryan Miller, P.K. Subban and any of Anaheim's big three forwards. Conversely, look to offload some overachieving players using the classic sell high approach.

It's been a busy week in hockey with the Winter Classic in Philadelphia, HBO's "24/7" concluding and Sweden capturing the World Junior Championship thanks to Ottawa draft pick Mika Zibanejad's overtime goal. For those of you who watched Thursday's championship game, you might have thought the game was being played in Stockholm, but Canada was still a bit sore from their semifinal loss to the Russians and threw their support behind the Swedes.

In what could be a sign to come of labor negotiations, the NHLPA blocked the league's proposed realignment, meaning it's another season of time-zone spanning travel for Dallas, Columbus and Detroit.

Weekly Whip Around

• Washington's Dennis Wideman had goals in three straight games this past week, adding three assists for good measure.

Shea Weber returned from his mild concussion on Thursday, notching a goal in Saturday's win over Carolina.

• Columbus recalled defender David Savard in the wake of James Wisniewski's injury, and the rookie had an assist in two games this week, for those of you in deeper leagues.

• Montreal's Tomas Kaberle is showing signs of the talent he left in Toronto, putting up three points in the last four games.

New Year's Resolutions Part 2

Ottawa: Considering the Senators have Erik Karlsson, the NHL's runaway points leader for defenders and a rejuvenated Sergei Gonchar, the Sens are sitting pretty. Jared Cowen is worth a look in deep leagues. They're in the playoff hunt, but recently acquired Kyle Turris couldn't hold his own in a fight with Philadelphia's Danny Briere Saturday.

Philadelphia: Resolve for a miracle cure to concussions to get Chris Pronger back on the ice, who was enjoying nearly a point-per-game season prior to injury. Further resolve to have a team spokesman on hand to clarify any comment Ilya Bryzgalov makes to the media. The team's breakout star of HBO's "24/7" gave reporters jewel after jewel of column inches during the show, and was cagey with reporters after last Friday's practice, according to CSN Philly's Tim Panaccio. Lastly, owners would like to see more production from Andrej Meszaros, who sits with just 14 points on the season and could be a great value in leagues that count secondary statistics such as hits and blocked shots if he saw his name on the scoresheet more often. Update: In two games this weekend, Meszaros did notch a goal and an assist.

Phoenix: Get Oliver Ekman-Larsson to display the goal-scoring aptitude he showed in the season's first week. Of his season's seven goals, just two have come since Thanksgiving, highlighted by a massive 10-game pointless drought. Phoenix may want to invest in a time machine for their defenders as well. With Derek Morris and Adrian Aucoin, the Coyotes have a Fantasy roster that was quite productive 10 years ago. Lastly, remember when Rostislav Klesla was going to be a breakout offensive star for Columbus? Keith Yandle currently sits third on the team in scoring with five goals and 25 points heading into Saturday's games.

Pittsburgh: A healthy defender that can produce offensively. Kris Letang was enjoying a career season before suffering a nasty hit by Montreal's Max Pacioretty while Paul Martin recently returned from a leg injury, costing him several weeks of action. The Pens are still one of the East's stronger teams, but they are missing Letang. Rookie Simon Despres has four points in 14 games while Matt Niskanen has stepped up his efforts on the back end. Sidney Crosby back on the ice would be a bonus as well, especially with the Pens suffering injuries to Jordan Staal and James Neal this past weekend.

San Jose: Resolve for Dan Boyle to play like the Dan Boyle owners expected when making him one of the higher defenseman picked in drafts last fall. Boyle has a pedestrian 20 points on the season buoyed by a three assist night on Saturday. Now could be the time to pounce on him and pry him from a frustrated owner Brent Burns, though is currently being outpaced by Marc-Edouard Vlasic in terms of points, as Vlasic sits with 15 points. Boyle and Burns are not skimping on the shots though, as the two have combined for 234 shots on the season, but just nine goals. The window that is the Sharks' Stanley Cup chances has been slowly closing the last two years, and it's no secret that time is running quite thin for Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to hoist the Cup.

St. Louis: Resolve to have Alex Pietrangelo perform as consistently as he had the last three games, with six points this past week, for the remainder of the season. One of the league's rising stars on defense, Pietrangelo had a wholly unforgettable December, posting just two points in 14 games. His season's 17 points were boosted much by the goal and five assists from this week, but his teammate, Kevin Shattenkirk, seems to have acquired the bug that affected Pietrangelo. Shattenkirk was mired in a four-game points drought through Friday, with just four points in the last 11 games for the resurgent Blues prior to a two-point effort on Saturday. In forward notes, Blues center David Perron has close to a point-per-game this since returning from a concussion, with 13 in 16 games. He could be a great source of assists if he's still kicking around in your league.

Tampa Bay: Resolve to acquire another offensively adept defender, as Marc-Andre Bergeron has shockingly fallen off the point-per-game pace he established early in the season. The sneaky power-play specialist still has 23 points on the season, but a mere three since the beginning of December and just one point in the last 10 contests. Meanwhile, Eric Brewer, Pavel Kubina and Matt Gilroy have combined for 31 points on the year. If Brett Connolly is available in deeper leagues, expect him to return to the Lightning with confidence following a strong World Junior Championships.

Toronto: After stuffing the All-Star Game ballot box like Mayor Daley of Chicago in 1960, Leafs fans ensured their captain, Dion Phaneuf, was the league's leading vote getter during balloting. Phaneuf isn't entirely undeserving of the votes, with 28 points he is the Leafs' third leading scorer. While Phaneuf is playing like the player both we, and Elisha Cuthbert, knew in Calgary, John-Michael Liles was enjoying a solid season with 21 points before losing time to a concussion. Youngster Luke Schenn is putting up serviceable numbers with 12 points in 39 games. Expect the Toronto media rumor mill to be put in overdrive in the coming weeks with Anaheim possibly looking to offload stars Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan. Leafs GM Brian Burke drafted all three players while in Orange County and, after all, Peterborough native Corey Perry must want to play for the Leafs, as any star Canadian player in a non-hockey market must want to return to Canada (see Shea Weber and Vincent Lecavalier).

Vancouver: The Canucks' defense from a Fantasy perspective is rather solid, with Alexander Edler leading the way with 29 points following Saturday's win over Boston. Kevin Bieksa has enjoyed a resurgence of late with 10 points in the last 11 games, going pointless in just two games over that stretch. Dan Hamhuis and Sami Salo are also adding good secondary scoring. Vancouver is playing like the team that came within a game of the Cup last Spring and should make another run at it this year, hopefully with the Sedins showing up in the postseason this time around.

Washington: Welcome back Mike Green. The Caps are 9-0-0 when Green plays, but he did not register a point in two games this week. Expect Green to find his stride as Alex Ovechkin seems to be heating up as well. John Carlson and Dennis Wideman have provided owners with tremendous value for taking a flier on them in the later rounds. Washington has some ground to make up in the Eastern Conference standings, but reinforcements will be on the way, albeit not immediately. Last year's No. 1 draft pick for the Caps, Evgeny Kuznetsov, garnered top forward honors at the World Junior Championships while having the temerity to celebrate scoring a goal against the Canadians in Russia's semifinal win. Regardless, Kuznetsov potted 13 points in seven games and would give Washington another Russian forward on whom they will receive nothing but consistent production and no off-ice headaches.

Winnipeg: Resolve to have a full complement of defenders for at least a few games this season. Just when Tobias Enstrom returned from a shoulder injury, Dustin Byfuglien suffered a knee injury that will keep him out at least until next week. Buff has 24 points on the season while Enstrom has played consistently since returning to the ice, registering six assists in 10 games since December 17. The Jets are still in the playoff hunt and remain a surprisingly solid source of defensemen production, as Zach Bogosian is in the midst of a solid season.

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Player News
Dainius Zubrus
Devils Release Veteran Winger Zubrus
Dainius Zubrus, RW, NJ
9:15 AM
News: The Devils terminated Dainius Zubrus' contract Wednesday, making him an unrestricted free agent, Frank Seravalli of TSN.ca reports.
Analysis: Dainius Zubrus had never been much of a top-flight offensive producer in his eight seasons in a Devils uniform, but he saw his scoring output completely fall off a cliff in 2014-15, as he netted just four goals and 10 points across 74 games. With the Devils looking to give some younger players an opportunity in their forward ranks and Zubrus' ice time likely to decline even further in the coming season, the team decided it wasn't worthwhile to keep him around at his $3.1 million cap hit. The 37-year-old could conceivably latch on in a depth role with another club, but no matter where he ultimately lands, an ascension to fantasy relevance probably isn't in the cards.

David Steckel
Ex-Duck Steckel Inks Deal With German Club
David Steckel, C, ANA
8:37 AM
News: David Steckel signed a contract Wednesday with the Nurnberg Ice Tigers of the German Elite League.
Analysis: The 33-year-old served as a depth forward for the Ducks at AHL Norfolk last season, producing seven goals and 23 points in 76 games. David Steckel is a veteran of 425 games, but considering his age and his impending move to Europe, we may have seen the last of him in North America.

Brooks Orpik
Caps' Orpik Undergoes Wrist Surgery
Brooks Orpik, D, WAS
7/28/2015
News: Brooks Orpik underwent a successful surgery on his wrist on Tuesday.
Analysis: Brooks Orpik is expected to resume full workout activities in approximately two weeks, and should be ready to go by the time the puck drops for the Capitals' regular season opener. It sounds as though the veteran defender isn't in danger of missing any time once the season gets underway, but the Capitals should provide an update on his status closer to the start of the regular season. Orpik doesn't offer much in the way of offensive upside, but led all defensemen with 306 hits and ranked fourth with 192 blocked shots.

Sven Baertschi
Baertschi Inks One-Year Deal With Canucks
Sven Baertschi, LW, VAN
7/28/2015
News: Sven Baertschi signed a one-year (one-way), $900,000 contract with the Canucks on Tuesday, Sportsnet's Irfaan Gaffar reports.
Analysis: Sven Baertschi played well with AHL Utica last season, registering 40 points (15 goals, 25 assists) in 51 games with the team. The 22-year old also suited up for 18 regular season games at the NHL level in 2014-15, tallying six points (two goals, four assists) in those contests. He will get a chance to compete for a roster spot with the big club in training camp. If Baertschi is able to lock down a roster spot with the Canucks in training camp, he will likely slot into a bottom-six role with the team.

Sean Couturier
Couturier Signs Six-Year Extension With Flyers
Sean Couturier, C, PHI
7/28/2015
News: Sean Couturier signed a six-year, $26 million contract extension with the Flyers on Tuesday, Sportsnet's Chris Johnston reports.
Analysis: Sean Couturier hasn't developed into the front-line talent that seemed to be his destiny after he recorded 27 points in 77 games as a 20-year-old, but he's been a steady, two-way player for the Flyers the last two years. He finished with 15 goals and 22 assists while suiting up in all 82 games in 2014-15, and should be back to serve as the team's third-line center once again.

Adam Clendening
Canucks Deal Clendening To Pittsburgh
Adam Clendening, D, PIT
7/28/2015
News: Adam Clendening was traded to the Penguins on Tuesday.
Analysis: The Canucks have agreed to send Adam Clendening, Nick Bonino and a 2016 second-round pick to Pittsburgh in exchange for Brandon Sutter and a conditional third-round pick. Clendening, 22, is coming off a season in which he appeared in 21 total NHL games -- 17 for the Canucks and four for the Blackhawks. The 2011 second-round pick cumulatively tallied one goal and three assists.

Nick Bonino
Canucks Send Bonino To Pittsburgh
Nick Bonino, C, PIT
7/28/2015
News: Nick Bonino was traded to the Penguins on Tuesday.
Analysis: The Canucks will send Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, and a 2016 second-round pick to the Penguins in exchange for Brandon Sutter and a third-round pick. Bonino had 15 goals and 24 assists in 75 contests for Vancouver in 2015, and he tallied a goal and a pair of assists in six playoff games. He'll likely be plugged in as the Penguins' third-line center, assuming Sutter's old spot.

Brandon Sutter
Pens Trade Sutter To Canucks
Brandon Sutter, C, VAN
7/28/2015
News: Brandon Sutter was traded to the Canucks on Tuesday.
Analysis: The Penguins will send Brandon Sutter and a third-round pick to Vancouver in exchange for Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, and a 2016 second-round pick. Sutter notched 33 points and 14 penalty minutes in 80 games for the Pens last season. In five playoff contests, Sutter recorded a goal and an assist to go with a minus-1 rating. He's expected to center the Canucks' second or third line in 2015-16.

Eric Fehr
Pens Sign Fehr To Three-Year Deal
Eric Fehr, RW, PIT
7/28/2015
News: Eric Fehr signed a three-year deal with the Penguins on Tuesday, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: The deal will keep Eric Fehr in Pittsburgh through the 2017-18 campaign and has an annual value of roughly $2 million. The 29-year-old spent last season with the Capitals, where he accrued 33 points (19 goals) to go with a plus-8 rating. Fehre underwent elbow surgery in early-June and was given an initial timetable of 4-to-6 months, so it's possible he won't be ready for the start of training camp.

Noah Hanifin
Hanifin To Get Chance At Cracking Canes' Roster
Noah Hanifin, D, CAR
7/27/2015
News: Carolina GM Ron Francis said that Noah Hanifin will receive consideration for opening the season with the parent club, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. "We don't want to force him [up to the NHL] if he's not ready," Francis said. "We'll give him time to develop. I'm certainly not ruling [making Carolina's opening roster] out, but we want to be careful and make sure we do what's right for Noah."
Analysis: Noah Hanifin, the fifth overall pick in June's NHL Entry Draft, made the surprise decision to sign an entry-level contract with the Hurricanes two weeks after being selected, thereby foregoing the remaining three years of his eligibility at Boston College. While an assignment of an 18-year-old defenseman to the NHL isn't unprecedented, Hanifin isn't quite on the same level as Florida's Aaron Ekblad, who achieved the rare "exceptional player" status during his time in the OHL before capturing the Calder Trophy last season. The 6-foot-3, 207-pound Hanifin profiles as a top-tier, two-way defenseman in the long run, but he still needs some further refinement, particularly on the offensive end. He should be the Canes' top defenseman before long, though it's more likely he'll spend most of 2015-16 developing at AHL Charlotte.

 
 
 
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