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Neutral Zone Wrap: A strange season, indeed

by | Rotowire.com
  •  

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
Viktor Arvidsson
Preds' Prospect Arvidsson Hoping To Crack Roster
Viktor Arvidsson, RW, NSH
7/29/2015
News: Viktor Arvidsson could crack the Predators' roster this upcoming season, according to the Tennessean's Adam Vignan.
Analysis: In his first full season in the AHL, Viktor Arvidsson led the Milwaukee Admirals last year with 55 points, and also led the entire league with 272 shots on goal. If Arvidsson can secure himself a roster spot with the Preds, he could flourish under coach Peter Laviolette's uptempo, attacking system and provide the team some scoring depth. In deeper fantasy formats, Arvidsson is one player to keep an eye on.

Oliver Kylington
Flames' Kylington To Play In North America in 2015
Oliver Kylington, D, CGY
7/29/2015
News: Oliver Kylington will play in North America in 2015, Roger Millions of Sportsnet Calgary reports.
Analysis: The defenseman's team in Sweden allowed him to get his path to the NHL started this season, which is good news for both Oliver Kylington and the Flames. Calgary will likely let its second-round pick grow his game in the minors for a while, especially with its current depth on the blue line. Kylington has an abundance of hockey talent, but needs to put it all together to be a standout player.

Dainius Zubrus
Devils Release Veteran Winger Zubrus
Dainius Zubrus, RW, NJ
7/29/2015
News: The Devils terminated Dainius Zubrus' contract Wednesday, making him an unrestricted free agent, Frank Seravalli of TSN.ca reports.
Analysis: Dainius Zubrus had never been much of a top-flight offensive producer in his eight seasons in a Devils uniform, but he saw his scoring output completely fall off a cliff in 2014-15, as he netted just four goals and 10 points across 74 games. With the Devils looking to give some younger players an opportunity in their forward ranks and Zubrus' ice time likely to decline even further in the coming season, the team decided it wasn't worthwhile to keep him around at his $3.1 million cap hit. The 37-year-old could conceivably latch on in a depth role with another club, but no matter where he ultimately lands, an ascension to fantasy relevance probably isn't in the cards.

David Steckel
Ex-Duck Steckel Inks Deal With German Club
David Steckel, C, ANA
7/29/2015
News: David Steckel signed a contract Wednesday with the Nurnberg Ice Tigers of the German Elite League.
Analysis: The 33-year-old served as a depth forward for the Ducks at AHL Norfolk last season, producing seven goals and 23 points in 76 games. David Steckel is a veteran of 425 games, but considering his age and his impending move to Europe, we may have seen the last of him in North America.

Brooks Orpik
Caps' Orpik Undergoes Wrist Surgery
Brooks Orpik, D, WAS
7/28/2015
News: Brooks Orpik underwent a successful surgery on his wrist on Tuesday.
Analysis: Brooks Orpik is expected to resume full workout activities in approximately two weeks, and should be ready to go by the time the puck drops for the Capitals' regular season opener. It sounds as though the veteran defender isn't in danger of missing any time once the season gets underway, but the Capitals should provide an update on his status closer to the start of the regular season. Orpik doesn't offer much in the way of offensive upside, but led all defensemen with 306 hits and ranked fourth with 192 blocked shots.

Sven Baertschi
Baertschi Inks One-Year Deal With Canucks
Sven Baertschi, LW, VAN
7/28/2015
News: Sven Baertschi signed a one-year (one-way), $900,000 contract with the Canucks on Tuesday, Sportsnet's Irfaan Gaffar reports.
Analysis: Sven Baertschi played well with AHL Utica last season, registering 40 points (15 goals, 25 assists) in 51 games with the team. The 22-year old also suited up for 18 regular season games at the NHL level in 2014-15, tallying six points (two goals, four assists) in those contests. He will get a chance to compete for a roster spot with the big club in training camp. If Baertschi is able to lock down a roster spot with the Canucks in training camp, he will likely slot into a bottom-six role with the team.

Sean Couturier
Couturier Signs Six-Year Extension With Flyers
Sean Couturier, C, PHI
7/28/2015
News: Sean Couturier signed a six-year, $26 million contract extension with the Flyers on Tuesday, Sportsnet's Chris Johnston reports.
Analysis: Sean Couturier hasn't developed into the front-line talent that seemed to be his destiny after he recorded 27 points in 77 games as a 20-year-old, but he's been a steady, two-way player for the Flyers the last two years. He finished with 15 goals and 22 assists while suiting up in all 82 games in 2014-15, and should be back to serve as the team's third-line center once again.

Adam Clendening
Canucks Deal Clendening To Pittsburgh
Adam Clendening, D, PIT
7/28/2015
News: Adam Clendening was traded to the Penguins on Tuesday.
Analysis: The Canucks have agreed to send Adam Clendening, Nick Bonino and a 2016 second-round pick to Pittsburgh in exchange for Brandon Sutter and a conditional third-round pick. Clendening, 22, is coming off a season in which he appeared in 21 total NHL games -- 17 for the Canucks and four for the Blackhawks. The 2011 second-round pick cumulatively tallied one goal and three assists.

Nick Bonino
Canucks Send Bonino To Pittsburgh
Nick Bonino, C, PIT
7/28/2015
News: Nick Bonino was traded to the Penguins on Tuesday.
Analysis: The Canucks will send Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, and a 2016 second-round pick to the Penguins in exchange for Brandon Sutter and a third-round pick. Bonino had 15 goals and 24 assists in 75 contests for Vancouver in 2015, and he tallied a goal and a pair of assists in six playoff games. He'll likely be plugged in as the Penguins' third-line center, assuming Sutter's old spot.

Brandon Sutter
Pens Trade Sutter To Canucks
Brandon Sutter, C, VAN
7/28/2015
News: Brandon Sutter was traded to the Canucks on Tuesday.
Analysis: The Penguins will send Brandon Sutter and a third-round pick to Vancouver in exchange for Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, and a 2016 second-round pick. Sutter notched 33 points and 14 penalty minutes in 80 games for the Pens last season. In five playoff contests, Sutter recorded a goal and an assist to go with a minus-1 rating. He's expected to center the Canucks' second or third line in 2015-16.

 
 
 
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