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Neutral Zone Wrap: A strange season, indeed

by | Rotowire.com
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Don't stare directly into the sun. Keep away from power lines. Watch both ways before you cross the street.

Those are just some of the things that make sense and keep you aware and alive.

You know what doesn't make sense? Everything that has happened up to now in the NHL. Undefeated streaks, unlikely heroes, unbelievable results. Anyone who claims they predicted Montreal leading the East at any significant point should be evaluated for further testing. And don't get me started on Anaheim. Or how Ottawa can still excel even without their top two producers.

Unpredictability works its way into the Fantasy game as well, especially early on. One day, you're on top of your league and feeling good. The next day, a couple players are out long-term and you're leaking category points from every position. The reverse can also happen, but this situation can lead to temporary confidence. That is, if you're not ready for a possible downturn. In both cases, the key is preparation. Is your lineup deep enough to contend for an entire season? Are you alert -- and willing -- to make moves if someone should go down? Do you know the way to San Jose?

If you're looking to improve, then this is the place to be. We won't promise consistency and we can't guarantee success or titles. We provide the material -- you make the moves that set your team in motion. Now that we've lost your attention, here are this week's pertinent questions:

(Stats as of Thursday, Feb. 21)

Is there any other franchise that is benefiting more from the shortened season than the Maple Leafs? Many thought Nazem Kadri (14, including four power-play goals) was never going to be an everyday player. Maybe Tyler Bozak (11, 20:35 average), truly is the number No. 1 center Toronto has been missing. A minor injury won't keep Matt Frattin (10 in 10, including seven goals) out for long. Behold Cody Franson (11 and a plus-11) and his ever-growing stat line. Beware of Mike Kostka (finally found a point after 10 scoreless games) and his diminishing returns. Mark Fraser definitely isn't a top defender but he can help you in certain categories (plus-13, 42 hits, 23 blocked shots). Now imagine Toronto with both Joffrey Lupul (broken forearm, another few weeks) and Jake Gardiner (22 in 32 in the AHL) in the lineup.

If the Flames fall down and no one watches, is there anyone around to care? Calgary may have predictably started off poorly, but a couple skaters are grabbing attention. Alex Tanguay leads the club in scoring (four goals, eight assists). Jiri Hudler (10 in 12) has shaken off the extended European layover. Curtis Glencross tops the charts in goals (six). And Roman Cervenka (six in 12) provides a nice veteran complement. But the bubble will eventually burst for Lee Stempniak (10, but just one in four). Jay Bouwmeester may continue to rack up the ice time (25 minutes a night), but T.J. Brodie (a goal Wednesday, almost two minutes of PP action) serves as the rearguard with the higher upside.

How soon is the end in Buffalo? The longest-serving head coach is gone but you can hardly blame him for the club's woes. Ryan Miller has to stand on his head (2.87 GAA, .915 save percentage while leading the league in saves and shots against) just so they can lose by a respectable score. Cody Hodgson (15, but nothing on the man-advantage) will fall and no one will be able to stop it. Wake up, Drew Stafford (eight, minus-5, should be averaging more than 2.5 shots per outing), the boys are counting on you. Steve Ott (seven, 38 PIM) should be provided an expanded role under the new regime. And will someone explain why Mikhail Grigorenko (three in 14, 11 minutes) is playing in the NHL when his talent is being wasted on the bottom two lines? If there is a more underachieving D-man pairing than Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold so far (combined seven points and a minus-13), then they must be hiding really well.

Geez, what's wrong with Washington? So some guy named Alex Ovechkin ('only' 10, but also a minus-8) is shooting but not scoring (only five goals on 68 shots). And another Alexander - Semin, that is - would have really helped the Caps attack (197 career goals with the Caps). But offense is not where they lack. Just look at how well Joel Ward (11, plus-7) and Troy Brouwer (11, with seven PPPs) are producing. Even returnee Eric Fehr (six in 13) has made a difference in his short stint. The problem lies in net, where neither Braden Holtby (3.62 GAA, .891 save percentage in 10) nor Michal Neuvirth (3.05 GAA, .889 save percentage in seven) has been able to show any reliability.

Can people honestly be shocked the reigning champs are struggling to score goals (averaging 2.3)? This story line is not new in LA, as they stumbled offensively through most of last season (at a sizzling 2.25 clip) before sneaking in as an eight-seed. One could point at almost every Kings forward and claim he is underachieving. The exception may be Kyle Clifford (eight, leads with 47 hits), who currently is enjoying life alongside Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. The struggles of Justin Williams  (six) were detailed last week, so let's focus on new press box tenant Simon Gagne (scratched last two) and former resident Dustin Penner (one point). If you haven't heard, Slava Voynov (six points, averaging 23 minutes this month) is accumulating lots of experience with three defensemen on the shelf.

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Player News
Rasmus Rissanen
Rissanen Signs With Hurricanes
Rasmus Rissanen, D, CAR
1:36 PM
News: Rasmus Rissanen has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Hurricanes, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: The 23-year-old Rasmus Rissanen, who notched 10 points and 91 penalty minutes in 62 games with AHL Charlotte in 2013-14, is in line to reprise his role as an organizational depth blueliner for the Hurricanes.

Andre Benoit
Sabres, Benoit Agree To One-Year Deal
Andre Benoit, D, COL
8:44 AM
News: Andre Benoit signed a one-year, $800,000 contract with the Sabres on Wednesday, TSN's Aaron Ward reports.
Analysis: Andre Benoit, 30, logged 79 games with the Avalanche last season, accumulating 28 points and 26 PIM. The blue line was a major area of weakness in the Sabres' dismal 2013-14 campaign, and the additions of Benoit, Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros over the summer should only improve the team on that side of the ice during the upcoming season.

Ryan O'Reilly
Avs, O'Reilly Strike Deal
Ryan O'Reilly, C, COL
7:13 AM
News: Ryan O'Reilly agreed to a two-year, $12 million contract with the Avalanche on Wednesday to avoid arbitration, Darren Dreger of TSN reports.
Analysis: The Avs and Ryan O'Reilly had been far apart on a new deal in recent weeks, but with the prospect of an arbitration hearing closing in, both sides were motivated to strike a quick deal. Still, O'Reilly has been angling for a long-term deal with the Avs for quite some time, to no avail, so he could be motivated to join another organization when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2016.

Chris Kreider
Rangers, Kreider Strike Deal
Chris Kreider, LW, NYR
7:06 AM
News: Chris Kreider was able to avoid an arbitration hearing by agreeing with the Rangers on a two-year, $4.95 million contract Wednesday, The Record's Andrew Gross reports.
Analysis: The 23-year-old reached the deal just before his scheduled 9 a.m. hearing, leaving the Rangers with approximately $6 million remaining under the salary cap. As a rookie last season, Chris Kreider produced 17 goals and 20 assists in 66 games before hand surgery in late March cost him much of the final quarter of the campaign. He ended up providing a big boost to the Rangers in the playoffs as they made their run to the Stanley Cup Finals, totaling five goals and eight assists in 15 contests.

Darren Archibald
Canucks Sign Archibald
Darren Archibald, LW, VAN
12:42 AM
News: Darren Archibald signed a new contract with the Canucks on Tuesday.
Analysis: Darren Archibald, who registered just three points in 16 regular season game for the Canucks last season, is far from fantasy relevancy at this point in his career. The 24-year-old spent most time with the American Hockey League's Utica Comets last season and could be developed similarly moving forward.

Mats Zuccarello
Rangers' Zuccarello Settles Arbitration Case
Mats Zuccarello, RW, NYR
7/22/2014
News: Mats Zuccarello settled Tuesday with the Rangers on a one-year, $3.5 million contract, TSN's Darren Dreger reports.
Analysis: The Rangers and Mats Zuccarello are still trying to reach an agreement on a long-term pact, but after Tuesday's settlement, a new deal cannot be reached until after Jan. 1. The forward is reportedly seeking a contract in the range of three or four years at about $4.5 million a season. He was one of the breakthrough stars of the 2013-14 season, tallying 19 goals and 40 assists over 77 games.

David Booth
Leafs Sign Booth To One-Year Deal
David Booth, LW, VAN
7/22/2014
News: David Booth signed a one-year, $1.1 million contract with the Maple Leafs on Tuesday, Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun reports.
Analysis: A 30-goal scorer for the Panthers back in the 2008-09 season, David Booth hasn't managed more than 23 goals in any campaign since, falling below double digits in the category on four occasions. While it's probably safe to assume the 29-year-old won't emerge as a primary offensive contributor for the Leafs, he'll offer some cheap veteran depth as a second- or third-line wing.

Joe Colborne
Flames Sign Colborne For Two Years
Joe Colborne, C, CGY
7/22/2014
News: Joe Colborne signed a two-year contract to remain with the Flames on Tuesday.
Analysis: Joe Colborne enjoyed his first full NHL campaign with Calgary last season, recording 10 goals and 18 assists in 80 games. The center, who was acquired from Toronto last September, offers modest fantasy value at the moment, but was once upon a time (that is, 2008) the No. 16 overall pick.

Thomas Vanek
Wild's Vanek Tied To Gambling Investigation
Thomas Vanek, LW, MIN
7/21/2014
News: Thomas Vanek made an appearance at the courthouse in Rochester on Monday in connection to a gambling investigation, News 10 NBC in Rochester reports.
Analysis: It's currently unclear just how Thomas Vanek is involved with the investigation, but he showed up voluntarily at the courthouse and left after a two-hour visit. His agent, Steve Bartlett, released a statement Monday that said Vanek is "not the subject of any investigation or prosecution." Rochester where the Sabres' AHL affiliate is located; Vanek spent eight seasons in a Buffalo jersey.

Jeremy Welsh
Blues Sign Welsh To Two-Way Deal
Jeremy Welsh, C, STL
7/21/2014
News: Jeremy Welsh signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Blues on Monday.
Analysis: Jeremy Welsh logged 19 games for the Canucks last season, delivering a lone goal and six penalty minutes. The Blues have superior depth at forward compared to the Canucks, so it wouldn't be surprising if Welsh saw less action at the NHL level in 2014-15.

 
 
 
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