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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
Eric Staal
Canes' E. Staal (Abdomen) Back On Ice
Eric Staal, C, CAR
8/30/2014
News: Eric Staal (abdominal surgery) was back on the ice Friday at an informal skate with the Hurricanes, reports the Raleigh News Observer
Analysis: He had surgery in late July for a core-muscle issue that was described more as an abdominal wall injury rather than a sports hernia. He had changed his offseason training approach after delivering his lowest offensive numbers in a full season since his rookie year. The injury was characterized as a training injury, but it's behind him now and he's been on the ice for 10 days. "It was frustrating," he said. "At the time of the injury I thought I was in the best shape I've ever been in." If that's the case and if he can get out of the blocks strong, Eric Staal could be in line for a fantasy rebound. But he's going to turn 30 in October, so don't expect his output to recover to his previous best.

Kimmo Timonen
Flyers Planning On Season Without Timonen (Clots)
Kimmo Timonen, D, PHI
8/30/2014
News: Kimmo Timonen (blood clots) is back in the U.S. after undergoing treatment in Finland, but the Flyers are planning as though he won't be contributing to the squad this season, reports the Courier-Post.
Analysis: "We haven't had a chance to look at him yet," general manager Ron Hextall said, "but there's something going on there" when asked if Kimmo Timonen was on a regimen of blood thinners like warfarin or herparin. Both drugs are used to prevent clots from developing in the future, but put the patient at risk of bruising and make it hard to get bleeding wounds to clot. Hockey would definitely be off-limits because of the body contact, but Timonen is making good progress.

Nicklas Grossmann
Flyers' Grossmann (Ankle) Will Be Ready For Camp
Nicklas Grossmann, D, PHI
8/30/2014
News: Nicklas Grossmann (ankle) was on the ice this week and will be ready for training camp, reports the Courier-Post. "It's a matter of just getting better and better, but I'm feeling pretty good," said the defender.
Analysis: The surgery to repair tendons in his right ankle required six-to-eight weeks of rehab. The big Swede delivered one goal, 13 assists and 55 PIMs in 78 games with the Flyers last season and should replicated those totals this season. Unfortunately, that won't make him much of a fantasy play.

Sean Couturier
Flyers' Couturier (Ankle): Ready For Training Camp
Sean Couturier, C, PHI
8/30/2014
News: Sean Couturier (ankle) has been skating since July and will be ready by training camp, reports the Courier-Post. "I feel great," said the center who had surgery in June. "I feel stronger than last year."
Analysis: He had a month of rehabilitation and then hit the training hard in July and August. Consider him good to go -- slot him onto your cheat sheet where you expected him to be pre-surgery.

Scott Gomez
Gomez Gets Tryout With Devils
Scott Gomez, C, NJ
8/30/2014
News: Scott Gomez will attend Devils' training camp on a tryout basis, reports Tom Gulitti of The Record. He hopes to follow a path similar to that of Petr Sykora, who attended Devils' camp on a tryout in 2011 and ended up making the team.
Analysis: Scott Gomez played sparingly last season in Florida, recording two goals and 10 assists in 46 games. He admitted to Gulitti that he'd thought about retiring at points last season, but realized he still had something to give when he did see playing time late in the season. "I've still got a lot to prove," said Gomez. "I still want to play. There's a lot of hockey left." He's working with Vladimir Bure, the Devils' former fitness consultant and the man who helped him prepare for his Calder-winning rookie season. Still, that alone won't win him a job. "There's nothing guaranteed," continued Gomez. "I've got to make them keep me."

Justin Schultz
Oilers Sign Schultz To One-Year Deal
Justin Schultz, D, EDM
8/29/2014
News: Justin Schultz signed a one-year, $3.8 million deal with the Oilers on Friday, Ryan Rishaug of TSN reports.
Analysis: The restricted free agent defenseman averaged 23:21 of ice time per game last season, registering 11 goals and 22 assists. His production has still been somewhat disappointing, though, as he hasn't quite shown the consistent offensive game that vaulted him to college stardom. Still, he's been a consistent contributor and should return in a similar role in 2014-15.

Ryan White
Flyers' White Undergoes Surgery On Chest Muscle
Ryan White, C, MON
8/28/2014
News: Ryan White underwent surgery Wednesday to repair his left pectoral muscle.
Analysis: The Flyers haven't provided a timetable for a return for Ryan White, who signed with the organization on a one-year, two-way contract on Aug. 7. White, 26, totaled six points and 50 PIM in 52 games with the Canadiens last season. He was slated to compete for a fourth-line role with the Flyers in training camp, but those hopes could be dashed as a result of the procedure.

Lance Bouma
Flames' Bouma Inks One-Year Deal
Lance Bouma, LW, CGY
8/27/2014
News: Lance Bouma signed a one-year contract with the Flames on Wednesday.
Analysis: Lance Bouma is coming off his first full season in the NHL, in which the center supplied five goals and 10 assists over 78 games. The 24-year-old probably has room to grow as a scorer given his relative youth, but he may not amount to more than a second- or third-line center at his peak.

Brandon Manning
Flyers, Manning Agree On One-Year Deal
Brandon Manning, D, PHI
8/27/2014
News: Brandon Manning signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Flyers on Wednesday, Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports reports.
Analysis: Brandon Manning was one of the more productive offensive rearguards in the AHL last season, scoring eight goals and 23 assists over 73 games for Adirondack. He earned a late-season promotion to the Flyers and appeared in six games, totaling two assists. He'll be given the opportunity to compete for a role on the blue line with the parent club in training camp, but more likely than not, he'll head back to the AHL to begin the 2014-15 campaign.

Brett Hextall
AHLer Hextall Signs With Flyers
Brett Hextall, C, PHO
8/25/2014
News: Brett Hextall signed a contract with AHL Lehigh Valley on Monday, Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News reports.
Analysis: Brett Hextall's connections with the Flyers' front office (his dad, Ron, is the GM) was likely a major factor in his landing with the new organization. The 26-year-old Hextall spent the past three seasons with AHL Portland, totaling 53 points and 221 penalty minutes in 197 games.

 
 
 
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