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Neutral Zone Wrap: Leaders of the pack

by | Rotowire.com
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One month to go. You can almost taste the end of the NHL regular season. Well, that along with whatever you didn't digest for dinner. But enough about what you shouldn't have eaten last night.

Your league is either winding down the schedule or has started its playoff format. So what can you do to hold on to a lead or pull back into contention? If your postseason has begun and you're not one of the select few who advanced, then you need not worry. And whether you're gunning for the next level or fighting off the pack, there are a few tips that can help achieve either goal.

Team improvement becomes the obvious task, but fulfilling this proves to be more difficult with fewer resources. We're going to assume all leagues' trade deadlines have come and gone, so that avenue is closed. The free-agent market has been mentioned numerous times in this column as a great way to boost your squad, so we'll leave that aside. Let's turn our attention to roster maintenance.

Several factors go into whom you should start on a weekly basis. And while an increased number of games may tilt the favor for one player over another, this basic formula does not always work. Favorable matchups, better skills, and improved health also come into play. Maybe insert the guy who happens to go up against three soft defensive lineups and has been riding a five-game point streak over the slightly-injured fading star that may or may not be ready for any or all of the four contests.

(I should've taken the latter piece of advice last week, as Kris Versteeg stuck me with nothing while Patric Hornqvist excelled on my bench. Fortunately, that didn't cost me a playoff berth. Stubbornly, I retained Versteeg in the starting lineup for this period's wild-card battle while Hornqvist continues to laugh at me from the scoresheet. Let's see how hard this will hurt me come Sunday night.)

And now that we've displayed the silverware, we can now direct you to our select choice of items. Please choose carefully. And don't forget to tip your server:

If you would've announced in early November that St. Louis (then sitting at six wins and seven losses) would be leading the Western Conference by the beginning of March, then many would have gladly turned you in at the nearest government-approved relaxation facility. Andy McDonald missed so much time (four months, to be exact), but is clearly making up for it (seven points in six games, including five goals). Jason Arnott (three power-play points in five) is taking advantage of his elite power-play role. Baby steps for Chris Stewart (four in 14) in his quest to reclaim his role among the league's top power forwards. As Alex Pietrangelo (six in five, including a whopping five power-play assists) emerges back into prominence, Carlo Colaiacovo (two in 10, minus-2) gets shoved out of the picture.

Maybe Montreal's woes on the ice have made locals forget about that whole head coach-isn't-a-francophone deal. No, wait, maybe that was the problem all along. Suuuuuure. Or can we blame the skaters? Let's face it: Erik Cole (three in nine) isn't the same as he used to be. Rene Bourque (six in 23 since arriving from Calgary) wasn't the player the Habs thought he was. And Lars Eller (three in 11) is not the four-goal scorer he revealed himself one night in January. Life isn't all tough in La Belle Province, since P.K. Subban (seven in 12, with five PPPs) has briefly awoken from a two-month nap. And Tomas Kaberle (six in nine, including four PPAs) is not too bad either. Although Yannick Weber (two in 10, minus-8) has slowed down considerably after a few spurts of promise.

Philadelphia has managed to hang on, even when their skaters are dropping like flies at both ends. Don't expect James van Riemsdyk (broken foot) to be available before the playoffs. After getting decked Tuesday, Jakub Voracek (probably concussion) may be slow to recover. Father Time has done laps around Jaromir Jagr (groin problems, now it's his hip), but don't tell that to his hands (44 in 56 is very impressive for someone who belongs in a retirement home). Wayne Simmonds (13 in 16, plenty of special-team minutes) remains far from being a secret. Neither is rookie Matt Read (six in 10), who is playing well above his experience. While still without Andrej Meszaros (dreaded lower-body malady) and now missing Pavel Kubina (sporting an upper-body wound), Matt Carle (four in 14) once again gets the hesitant fantasy thumbs-up due to seniority.

As is often the case with non-contenders late in the season, Columbus has upped their game after their fan base essentially lost interest. Derick Brassard (nine in nine, cemented role centering Rick Nash) has been scorching the ice of late. Veterans Vinny Prospal (seven in seven) and R.J. Umberger (five in eight) are playing as if they were much younger. Due to the multiple defections up front, Mark Letestu (only three points since February 1st) has been given the key to the second line but hasn't yet taken advantage. Jack Johnson (three in two after scoreless in the first three) fits in very well with his new surroundings, while second-year surprise Nikita Nikitin (four in seven) should receive a boost with Fedor Tyutin (crushed hand) presumably done for the season.

Colorado has fought so hard possessing so little, but in the end all their effort may go for nothing. The latest blow has fallen upon Matt Duchene (twisted ankle), who only recently returned from a different (knee) injury. That should open the door for San Jose transfer Jamie McGinn (five in five with nine PIM) to grab some better looks. While not the most consistent, David Jones (seven in eight) has a knack for potting some points. Peter Mueller (three in six) hasn't quite found his pre-concussion form (that 20 in 15 to end 2009-10). And Milan Hejduk (one in nine) isn't approaching anywhere near his usual numbers. For someone as talented as Erik Johnson, he sure isn't using his skills to his benefit (nothing in six). NOTE: The Stefan Elliott experiment (two in 11) may be close to shutting down for the year.

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Player News
Jordan Caron
Caron Signs Two-Way Deal With Blues
Jordan Caron, RW, COL
12:59 AM
News: Jordan Caron signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Blues on Thursday.
Analysis: Jordan Caron saw time with the Bruins and Avalanche last season, but failed to register a single point in 30 games. The Blues boast an overwhelming stable of talent at forward, so it seems unlikely that he'll be able to claim a roster spot with the team out of training camp. Look for him to head to AHL Chicago to open the 2015-16 campaign.

Robert Bortuzzo
Blues Agree To New Contract With Bortuzzo
Robert Bortuzzo, D, STL
12:56 AM
News: Robert Bortuzzo agreed to a two-year, $2.1 million contract with the Blues on Thursday, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Analysis: The Blues elected to retain both Robert Bortuzzo and Chris Butler in free agency, likely ensuring that both players will compete for the sixth defenseman spot during training camp. In 51 games spent with the Penguins and Blues last season, Bortuzzo compiled three goals, five assists, and 93 PIM.

Slava Voynov
Kings' Voynov To Spend Three Months In Jail
Slava Voynov, D, LA
12:51 AM
News: Slava Voynov (Achilles) accepted a plea deal Thursday for his domestic assault charges and will spend 90 days in jail and face three years of probation, ESPN.com's Katie Strang reports.
Analysis: Slava Voynov was arrested on charges of domestic violence back in October and suspended indefinitely by the league. The defenseman has yet to be reinstated by the NHL, which will conduct its own investigation before making a ruling on his eligibility. Further complicating matters is that the Kings have instituted their own suspension on Voynov for suffering a torn Achilles tendon in a non-hockey related activity this past spring. His future with the Kings and in the NHL remains up in the air, and it's uncertain when a resolution might be reached.

Tyson Strachan
Strachan Signs Two-Way Deal With Wild
Tyson Strachan, D, BUF
12:43 AM
News: Tyson Strachan signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Wild on Thursday, Chad Graff of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.
Analysis: Tyson Strachan was able to stick in the NHL with the Sabres all of last season, but he'll face a much more difficult ascent up the depth chart on a deep Minnesota squad. The 30-year-old didn't help his cause by registering only five points in the 46 games he played with the Sabres in 2014-15, production that doesn't hint at much upside if he's able to earn ice time with the Wild.

Cole Schneider
Sens Sign Schneider To One-Year Deal
Cole Schneider, LW, OTT
12:34 AM
News: Cole Schneider signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Senators on Thursday.
Analysis: The 24-year-old Cole Schneider will more than likely return to AHL Binghamton for the fourth straight season. He recorded 29 goals and 58 points in 69 games for Binghamton in 2014-15.

Cameron Schilling
Hawks Sign Schilling
Cameron Schilling, D, WAS
12:34 AM
News: The Blackhawks signed Cameron Schilling to a two-year, two-way contract Thursday, the Chicago Tribune reports.
Analysis: Cameron Schilling, who spent the bulk of the 2014-15 season with AHL Hershey, recording three goals and 15 assists in 63 games, will bolster Chicago's depth on defense, but he's off fantasy radar in all but the deepest of formats.

Korbinian Holzer
Ducks Sign Holzer
Korbinian Holzer, D, ANA
12:12 AM
News: The Ducks signed Korbinian Holzer to a one-year, $750,000 contract on Thursday.
Analysis: Korbinian Holzer, who the Ducks acquired this past March in a trade with Toronto, saw action in 34 NHL games last season (all with the Leafs), recording six assists and 25 PIM in the process. He'll continue to provide the Anaheim blue line with depth this coming season.

Brandon Halverson
Halverson Inks Entry-Level Contract With Rangers
Brandon Halverson, G, NYR
12:11 AM
News: Brandon Halverson signed an entry-level contract with the Rangers on Thursday.
Analysis: Brandon Halverson sits at 19 years of age and is a budding prospect who'll stick with the junior club this coming season, as he's not yet AHL eligible. He's likely several years away from reaching the NHL, making him a consideration only in dynasty leagues.

Will O'Neill
O'Neill Signs With Penguins
Will O'Neill, D, WPG
12:02 AM
News: Will O'Neill signed a two-way contract with the Penguins for the 2015-16 season.
Analysis: Will O'Neill spent last season with AHL St. John's in the Jets organization, where he compiled 48 points after 72 outings. Without any NHL appearances to his credit throughout his career thus far, he'll likely spend the majority of the upcoming season in the AHL yet again.

Kyle Brodziak
Brodziak Signs With Blues
Kyle Brodziak, C, MIN
7/2/2015
News: Kyle Brodziak agreed to a one-year contract with the Blues on Thursday.
Analysis: Kyle Brodziak spent the last six seasons with the Minnesota Wild, but the 31-year old will now head to the Blues. During the 2014-15 season, Brodziak finished with nine goals and 11 assists while playing in 73 games. His fantasy value was limited to just those in deeper fantasy leagues during that span, so we'll have to wait and see if a fresh start in St. Louis is enough to improve his value.

 
 
 
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