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Neutral Zone Wrap: Down the stretch we come

by | Rotowire.com
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Even though the holiday season has long gone, presents can still be received in various ways. And like the definition suggests, many of them are unexpected providers of joy. Whether it is as minor as a day off work or as important as a wedding proposal (hi, honey!), everyone likes a good old-fashioned gift.

The same goes for Fantasy Hockey, especially in the Rotisserie format. With a maximum position allocation, contenders may shed decent starters to ensure quotas aren't exceeded. Or perhaps someone wants to gain or maintain their standing in a certain category but must give up ground in other stats. In a competitive league, either of these scenarios occurs often and leads to a higher quality of free agents.

If you still hold aspirations of winning or finishing well this season, then you must be sure to keep a close eye on league transactions. For the player you don't acquire could be the one who lifts your rival to glory. Although a better talent pool generally means any individual will not influence the whole thing. Unless that individual is someone who has magically returned to the NHL after ditching his contract many moons ago for the opportunity to play closer to home. But enough about Marty Turco.

As always, be sensible in your activity. Remember to figure out the best path for your squad, even if that means day-by-day roster planning. The games are dwindling, but your chances of doing well shouldn't. And on that note, here are a few not-so-hidden gems from five teams who may be of service:

Dallas may lead the Pacific today, but could very well be on the outside in two weeks. Heading into the weekend, the Stars sat third in the conference but were only one point out of 9th place (and only three out of 11th). It's nice to have captain Brenden Morrow on the ice again, even if the points (two in seven games, with a minus-5 but 15 PIM) are delayed. No matter how much others hate him, Steve Ott (eight in 12, 25 PIM, 38 hits) will keep proving naysayers wrong. It's been a long, cold winter for Eric Nystrom (two in 24) and little warmth has been bestowed upon Adam Burish (three in 15, only 16 PIM). Hard to gauge Sheldon Souray's performance (three in 14) when he's essentially hurting and being phased off the man-advantage; enter Trevor Daley and his moderately positive numbers (six in 14).

Bet you didn't expect Florida to keep up this pace, especially with Washington and Winnipeg close behind. Credit Tomas Fleischmann (six in seven, tied for team lead with 53) for being both consistent and healthy up front. No time missed for Tomas Kopecky, but the stats (four in six) are slowly catching up. Gotta love having a veteran like Mikael Samuelsson (five in five, including three power-play points) to spur the offense. Even defensive-minded Marcel Goc (four in six) has joined the party. He's usually good for a few shots, but it's been a while since Sean Bergenheim (three -- all goals -- in 11) did anything on a regular basis. After killing it for the first two-plus months, Dmitry Kulikov (knee surgery) will need to restore his place on the point after two months away. It's been four weeks (and 12 outings) since Jason Garrison netted one on the power play but he'll continue to lay the minutes (over 23 a night) in all situations.

It's a shame Chicago plays in the Central Division because they'd be dominating any other group (ditto for Detroit or Nashville). Andrew Shaw (seven in four, plus-6) has been the freshman find of 2011-12. Viktor Stalberg (six in six) has switched back to relevance at the perfect moment. Best known for flattening opponents, Bryan Bickell (five in four) has also contributed where it counts. All Marcus Kruger needed was a boost (four in seven) and a pat on the back. The whereabouts of Michael Frolik (healthy scratch for most of February and March) are murky at best. When the Hawks picked up Johnny Oduya (five in seven), few anticipated he'd be getting it done at the other end too. A little slowdown for Nick Leddy (two in 10), but expect another boon with the impending suspension of Duncan Keith.

With their playoff dreams crushed and tossed into the ocean, Anaheim can now focus on showcasing their youngsters. Cue Devante Smith-Pelly (two in three, 10 SOG) and his ascension to the top unit. Nick Bonino (three assists on Monday) has also been asked to step up his effort, along with former US junior standout Kyle Palmieri (five in five). Meanwhile, the old guard including Saku Koivu (two in 15, minus-4), Niklas Hagman (two in 15, minus-2), and Jason Blake (two in 16, minus-3) have disappointed of late. No doubt Cam Fowler (five in six, including two PPGs) would regain his magic touch. If only Luca Sbisa (one in 12) could manage anything close to even mediocre stats.

If Edmonton continues to draft well, then they'll be postseason regulars in no time. But alas, at least some truth exists in defense winning championships (and the club find themselves in 26th overall in goals against). Devan Dubnyk has looked promising recently (seven wins in 11, no more than three allowed per start) but is he the Oilers' long-term solution in net? No injury lag for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (10 in 13 since returning) and no new contract hangover for Ales Hemsky (scored four in two games since re-signing). We all realized Sam Gagner wouldn't hit Gretzky-like numbers every night, but the drop off (four in 14) has been dramatic. Nothing terribly exciting from Shawn Horcoff (four in 14, although three of them are PPPs), but there's a glimmer of promise from Teemu Hartikainen (three in three after 30 in 48 with the AHL affiliate). Corey Potter's decline (one in 10) becomes Jeff Petry's gain (four in three).

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Player News
Niklas Backstrom
Elbow Could Sideline Backstrom For Start Of Season
Niklas Backstrom, G, MIN
7/8/2015
News: The agent for Niklas Backstrom (elbow) acknowledged that his client likely won't be ready to play at the start of training camp in September, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Niklas Backstrom underwent surgery in May to address nerve damage in his right elbow, an injury that was so severe that it prevented him from moving two of his fingers during the Wild's first-round series against the Blackhawks. Devan Dubnyk and Darcy Kuemper had surpassed Backstrom as the Wild's two preferred goalies by that point, which likely would have made the 37-year-old a buyout candidate for the team had he been back to full health this summer. Instead, it looks like the Wild will have to wait until the start of the season to make a decision on Backstrom, with his placement on the team's long-term injured reserve list seemingly the most likely outcome. Regardless of what the Wild end up doing with Backstrom, don't expect him to see the ice with the parent club next season barring an injury to one of the top two netminders on the depth chart.

Justin Hodgman
Hodgman Signs With Blues
Justin Hodgman, C, ARI
7/8/2015
News: The Blues agreed to terms on a contract with Justin Hodgman on Tuesday. The details of the contract have not been released.
Analysis: Justin Hodgman will provide the Blues with some depth at forward, but likely won't spend much time in the NHL, unless St. Louis suffers a slew of injuries at center. The 27-year-old tallied 35 points in 62 games with AHL Portland in the Coyotes' organization in 2014-15.

Trevor van Riemsdyk
Van Riemsdyk Signs With Hawks
Trevor van Riemsdyk, D, CHI
7/8/2015
News: The Blackhawks signed Trevor van Riemsdyk to a two-year, $1.65 million contract extension on Tuesday, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Van Riemsdyk, notched only one assist in 18 regular-season games with the Blackhawks last season, but impressed the team with his defensive responsibility at the back end. Unfortunately, he was the victim of some bad luck on the injury front, suffering a fractured left kneecap and then requiring wrist surgery before he finally returned to the Blackhawks midway through the Stanley Cup Finals. Now healthy, the 23-year-old will thus reprise his role as a depth blueliner for Chicago, with more regular ice time this year a plausible outcome if Johnny Oduya signs elsewhere as expected.

Vladimir Tarasenko
Blues Sign Tarasenko To Extension
Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, STL
7/8/2015
News: The Blues signed Vladimir Tarasenko to an eight-year, $60 million extension Tuesday, ESPN.com reports.
Analysis: Vladimir Tarasenko is coming off a breakout campaign in which he racked up 37 goals -- many of the breathtaking variety -- and 73 points in 77 games for the Blues, to go along with a plus-27 rating. Thanks to his lucrative extension, the 23-year-old winger is now under contract with the team through the 2022-23 season, at an annual cap hit of $7.5 million. The deal makes him the highest-paid member of the Blues, but if Tarasenko remains among the league's scoring leaders the next few several seasons, the contract will probably go down as a bargain.

Mikkel Boedker
Boedker Signs One-Year Deal
Mikkel Boedker, LW, ARI
11:52 AM
News: Mikkel Boedker signed a one-year, $3.75 million contract with the Coyotes on Tuesday, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: Mikkel Boedker was on pace to register his second straight 50-point season in 2014-15 with 14 goals and 14 assists through 45 games, but a ruptured spleen ended his campaign prematurely. He will likely return to his role on the Coyotes' first line during the upcoming season, and could be in line for a moderate breakout if he is able to stay healthy.

Nicklas Backstrom
Caps' Backstrom (Hip) Uncertain For Opening Night
Nicklas Backstrom, C, WAS
8:14 AM
News: Head coach Barry Trotz said "all indications" have Nicklas Backstrom (hip) skating by training camp, but it's "up in the air" as to whether he will be cleared to play at the start of the season, Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post reports.
Analysis: Nicklas Backstrom underwent successful arthroscopic hip surgery in late-May, but there have been rumblings since that he may not be cleared to play by opening night, including speculation from Backstrom himself that the timeframe for his recovery might extend into the start of the 2015-2016 season. Backstrom's health is the biggest question mark for the Capitals this offseason. and should he miss the start of the season, Evgeny Kuznetsov should see a significant boost in fantasy value. Similarly, the uncertainty surrounding Backstrom could send him sliding on draft day making him a better value pickup. Continue to monitor the situation as the offseason moves on.

Sonny Milano
Jackets' Milano Has Impressive Offseason
Sonny Milano, LW, CLB
7:24 AM
News: Sonny Milano added 15 pounds of muscle to his frame this offseason and feels that he can now both skate faster and shoot harder, the Columbus Dispatch reports. "Definitely one of the concerns last year was my weight and my strength, so I really focused on that this year," Milano said last week at the Jackets' development mini-camp. "I think when [training] camp comes along we'll see a difference this year."
Analysis: The 2014 16th overall pick is probably ticketed for AHL Lake Erie to open the season, even after the Jackets' cleared away some roster competition in the Brandon Saad deal, but Sonny Milano is intent on making the decision to send him down a difficult one. After scoring 22 goals and 68 points in 50 games last season for OHL Plymouth, the highly-skilled winger added five assists in 10 AHL games in his pro debut at the end of the regular season. It may take him a year or two to nail down a regular spot in the NHL lineup, but Milano figures to be a big part of a very bright future in Columbus.

Zach Boychuk
Canes' Boychuk Re-Signs For One Year
Zach Boychuk, C, CAR
7:11 AM
News: Zach Boychuk agreed to a one-year, two-way contract with the Hurricanes.
Analysis: The 25-year-old Zach Boychuk split 2014-15 between the NHL and AHL, tallying 30 combined points in 70 games, with just six of those coming in his 31 NHL appearances. He'll figures to compete for an NHL roster spot during training camp.

Brandon DeFazio
DeFazio Signs With Bruins
Brandon DeFazio, LW, BOS
12:21 AM
News: Brandon DeFazio signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Bruins on Monday.
Analysis: Brandon DeFazio, who played two games for the Canucks last season, gives the B's organization some added depth up front and the 26-year-old could compete for a fourth-line role with the big club in training camp.

Anders Nilsson
Nilsson Inks One-Year Deal With Oilers
Anders Nilsson, G, NYI
7/6/2015
News: Anders Nilsson signed a one-year (one-way), $1 million contract with the Oilers on Monday.
Analysis: It didn't take long for the Oilers to lock up Anders Nilsson after acquiring him from the Blackhawks on Monday. The one-way nature of the deal suggests that the Oilers are confident Nilsson can slot in as the team's backup goaltender. Ben Scrivens may be the odd-man out in Edmonton.

 
 
 
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