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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
Ryan O'Reilly
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Ryan O'Reilly, C, COL
7/12/2014
News: Ryan O'Reilly and the Avalanche appear destined for arbitration, reports the Denver Post.
Analysis: The two sides haven't had a substantive discussion on a new deal since the Avs filed for arbitration last month. The team made the move to try to save itself some cash, but Ryan O'Reilly and his agent aren't happy. Then again, this same scenario happened the last time they tried to ink a deal. This probably means a short-term deal for the center and then he'll walk away in two years when he is eligible to be a UFA. This could be ugly ... again.

Chad LaRose
LaRose Wants To Return To NHL: Carolina Possible?
Chad LaRose, RW, CAR
7/12/2014
News: Chad LaRose is interested in returning to the NHL after sitting out last season, reports the Raleigh News Observer, and may be signed to a professional tryout by Carolina.
Analysis: "I'd like to talk to him," said general manager Ron Francis. "He took a year off and obviously he'd need to earn his way back. There are some options. We could get him to camp on a tryout. He could start the season in Charlotte (AHL), show that he could still do it." Chad LaRose is a high-energy player whose petulant end to the 2012-13 saw him fail to get a contract from any team for last season. But he seems to have perhaps figured out what he needs to do to continue his career. Unfortunately, his fantasy value will be limited.

Alexander Semin
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Alexander Semin, RW, CAR
7/12/2014
News: Alexander Semin is "progressing as expected" following wrist surgery, according to Hurricanes' general manager Ron Francis, and is on schedule for the start of training camp.
Analysis: He had 20 goals and 42 points in 65 games last season, but that was a far cry from his best production. And he has never played more than 77 games in any regular season. He'll need better luck to return to the point-per-game plateau, but a healthy wrist to start the season is better than we expected.

Cameron Gaunce
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Cameron Gaunce, D, DAL
7/12/2014
News: The Stars signed Cameron Gaunce to a one-year, two-way contract on Friday.
Analysis: The 24-year-old defenseman appeared in nine NHL games last season, totaling nine shots, seven penalty minutes, and a plus-1 rating. He spent most of the season with the AHL Stars where he led the team with a plus-15 rating to go along with three goals and 15 assists through 65 games.

Richard Panik
Lightning Sign Panik To One-Year, Two-Way Contract
Richard Panik, RW, TB
7/12/2014
News: Richard Panik inked a one-year, two-way deal with the Lightning on Friday, Erik Erlendsson of The Tampa Tribune reports.
Analysis: Richard Panik will rejoin the team that he tallied three goals and 10 assists for last season over 50 games. His level of production dipped from the previous season where he tallied nine points in half the games, but the Lightning likely believe they can get more out of the 23-year-old winger.

David Moss
Coyotes Sign Moss To One-Year Deal
David Moss, RW, PHO
7/12/2014
News: David Moss signed a one-year deal with the Coyotes on Friday, Sarah McLellan of The Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: David Moss had a week to sign with a NHL team after signing with a Swiss team on July 10, and it didn't take long to find one. The 32-year-old winger re-signed with the team he tallied 22 points (eight goals and 14 assists) over 79 games last season.

Jamie Devane
Leafs Ink Devane To Two-Year Contract
Jamie Devane, LW, TOR
7/12/2014
News: Jamie Devane signed a two-year contract with the Maple Leafs on Friday.
Analysis: Jamie Devane played in two games for the Maple Leafs, failing to record a point in either game. The 23-year-old spent a majority of the season with AHL Toronto and tallied four goals and four assists over 55 games while racking up a team-high 146 penalty minutes.

Brian Boyle
Bolts' Boyle Admits Leafs Offered More Money
Brian Boyle, C, TB
7/11/2014
News: Brian Boyle acknowledged he passed up more money from the Maple Leafs to sign his three-year, $6 million deal with the Lightning, reports the Tampa Bay Times.
Analysis: Part of the decision was the raving former -- and now current -- teammate Ryan Callahan had done about the Bolts, and part was the fact that his brand-new wife is from Orlando. But clearly, the Leafs have had yet another snub from an NHLer -- money isn't enough to draw them to the so-called center of the hockey universe. Wow.

Philippe Paradis
Bolts Re-Up AHLer Paradis
Philippe Paradis, C, TB
7/11/2014
News: The Lightning have re-signed Philippe Paradis to a one-year deal, reports TSN.ca. Terms were not released.
Analysis: He had six goals and 15 points in 56 AHL games last season and is expected to provide complementary scoring depth at that level in 2014-15.

Brenden Morrow
Lightning Ink Morrow To One-Year Deal
Brenden Morrow, LW, TB
7/11/2014
News: Brenden Morrow (foot) signed a one-year deal with the Lightning on Friday, Stephen Whyno of The Canadian Press reports.
Analysis: Brenden Morrow scored 25 points (13 goals) for the Blues last season before an April foot injury sidelined him for the remainder of the playoff series against the Blackhawks. The 35-year-old will provide depth at the wings for Tampa Bay.

 
 
 
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