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Neutral Zone Wrap: Setting realistic goals

by | Rotowire.com
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Anyone familiar with New Year's resolutions knows this process is confusing and often disappointing. Let's face it: you can't fulfill all your goals if you list the first things that come to mind or take suggestions from the hottest Twitter trends. So instead of wishing for several things to change, your best bet is to focus on improving one specific area and setting realistic goals to do so.

As average citizens strive for something better in 2014, so do professional athletes. No matter how successful a player may be, there is always room for improvement -- no matter how minor it is. NHLers are no different, since they've worked hard for years to refine their game and then maintain their position in the top flight. So as a Fantasy owner, you need to decide which slackers you can trust and which ones don't deserve your time and effort.

Using indicators such as underperformance and relative health, who can step up immediately? We've assembled the top candidates below, based mainly on previous results and current opportunities. As was the case last week, no players from the November edition of this topic will be repeated here.

(Stats as of Monday December 30)

Patrik Berglund, F, Blues: When he was selected in the first round back in 2006, Berglund had been touted as a future No. 1 center. The size, the hands, the vision. For one reason (former defensive liability) or another (perceived lack of effort), the anointing never materialized. A few flashes of brilliance here and there (like the 47 points in his rookie year) but nothing consistent over a significant period. Now that a couple of Blues forwards are dinged up (most notably, Alexander Steen), the supine Swede has the chance to provide more in all situations (and five in his last five is a good start).

Tyler Ennis, F, Sabres: Pick a Sabre forward, any Sabre forward. Heck, we could've included Marcus Foligno, Drew Stafford or even (shudder) Ville Leino here. But Ennis has been selected since he skates on the top unit (whatever that would qualify as on Buffalo), has underachieved to date (15 in 39), and owns the moves to break out at any moment. The speedy sniper has proved this in his first three full seasons in the Queen City (114 in 177, 45 of them goals). You may want to lower your expectations based on the complementary offense, but you could pick worse.

Tobias Enstrom, D, Jets: One may be frustrated by Enstrom's performance this season (12 in 40) but it isn't as if he is being prevented from doing well. Check his overall minutes (just under 24 a night) and pay special attention to his solid stint on the power-play (averages 3:30). So the Nordingra native isn't clicking at his normal 0.6 (or higher) points per game rate but at least he notched his first PPP since October 11th (a gap of 32 (!) games). Be patient with this blueliner and you should be rewarded.

Adam Henrique, F, Devils: Ever since his junior days in Windsor with Taylor Hall, Henrique has played second fiddle to some other talented scorer. The 82nd pick in the 2008 draft began his pro career in good company, usually centering a line that included Ilya Kovalchuk. Following an outstanding opening campaign (Calder finalist with 51 in 72), Henrique dropped off considerably in his second spell (16 in 42). And when the Russian superstar opted to retire from North American duty this past summer, it was assumed his numbers would stay low. And while the total isn't awesome (eight goals and eight assists), there is recent hope (tallies in consecutive outings).

Mike Smith, G, Coyotes: Many will remember Smith as that goalie who almost led the Coyotes to the Western Conference Final in 2012. Since then, nothing of note. His record is encouraging (15 wins versus eight losses) but the other indicators would never be categorized as elite (2.83 GAA places him near the bottom, .914 SV% gets him in the middle of the pack). The good news is the lack of competition for the starting job in Phoenix (he ain't afraid of no Greiss), meaning Smith doesn't really have to worry about being replaced unless he really, really sucks.

Honorable mention: Erik Cole, F, Stars; Cory Conacher, F, Senators; David Desharnais, F, Canadiens; Dmitry Kulikov, D, Panthers; Cam Ward, G, Hurricanes

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Player News
Patrick Marleau
Sharks Take Marleau's Alternate Captain Status
Patrick Marleau, C, SJ
8/20/2014
News: The Sharks announced Wednesday that they would enter camp without a captain, which includes taking the "A" off Patrick Marleau's sweater, the Mercury News reports.
Analysis: It had been rumored and hinted at all summer that Patrick Marleau and captain Joe Thornton would have their leadership roles passed to younger players. It has also been rumored that both were asked to waive their no trade clause. Neither did. The team wants the younger generation to take the torch, but as far as fantasy is concerned, you can't reduce the playing time of a player like Marleau, who scored 33 goals and 37 assists last season.

Joe Thornton
Sharks Strip Thornton Of Captaincy
Joe Thornton, C, SJ
8/20/2014
News: The Sharks officially announce Wednesday that Joe Thornton would not be the team captain entering training camp, the Mercury News reports.
Analysis: Coach Todd McLellan said that he doesn't consider it to be stripping Joe Thornton of anything, since he'll be given the opportunity to earn the "C" back. The team has talked frequently this offseason of passing the torch to the next generation and that's what this appears to be. Thornton was not only rumored to be losing his "C," but was involved in trade rumors as well. However, he has a no trade clause and doesn't seem interested in leaving San Jose.

Raffi Torres
Sharks' Torres To Miss Months With Knee Infection
Raffi Torres, LW, SJ
8/20/2014
News: Raffi Torres suffered an infection in his surgically-repaired right knee and is expected to miss the first few months of the season while he undergoes another operation on the knee, David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News reports.
Analysis: Raffi Torres was limited to just five regular-season contests in 2013-14 after undergoing knee surgery and suffering a subsequent setback shortly after returning after the Olympics. He would ultimately rejoin the Sharks during the postseason and looked to be healthy heading into the upcoming campaign, but it seems the infection surfaced at some point over the summer. For the second straight season, he'll open on injured reserve as a result, with no concrete date for his return. Torres has been a useful player for the Sharks when he's been on the ice, but with two years still remaining on his contract, his durability concerns might dampen the remainder of his tenure with his team.

Dennis Seidenberg
Bruins' Seidenberg Eyes Training Camp
Dennis Seidenberg, D, BOS
8/20/2014
News: Dennis Seidenberg (knee) expects to be ready for training camp, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Dennis Seidenberg, who last suited up on Dec. 27, had surgery in early January to repair an ACL/MCL injury in his right knee in. At the time, the estimated timetable for a return was in the 6-8 month range. With no reported setbacks since then, and given that the sturdy blueliner indicated that he probably could have returned to action had the Bruins advanced to the Eastern Conference Final, things appear to be on track for him to be at, or near, 100 percent in advance of the upcoming regular season.

Henrik Zetterberg
Wings' Zetterberg: Healthy Heading Into Camp
Henrik Zetterberg, LW, DET
8/20/2014
News: Coach Mike Babcock relayed that Henrik Zetterberg (foot) said he was "feeling the best he has in years" this offseason, suggesting he'll be a full participant in training camp, NHL.com's Dan Rosen reports.
Analysis: With both Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk missing 37 games apiece last season, the Red Wings were forced to get by with a patchwork forward ranks to so-so results. Now that both players are feeling healthy, the depth chart should enjoy more stability in 2014-15, but don't be surprised if Zetterberg notices a drop in ice time for maintenance purposes as he enters his age-34 season. Still, Zetterberg hasn't had many health issues prior to last season, and managed to supply 48 points over the 45 contests in which he suited up. There's plenty of value to be had in Zetterberg, even as he takes on a more deferential role to emerging wings Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar in the years to come.

Pavel Datsyuk
Red Wings' Datsyuk Feeling Good Heaing Into Camp
Pavel Datsyuk, C, DET
8/20/2014
News: Coach Mike Babcock relayed that Pavel Datsyuk (knee) said he was feeling "the best he has in years" this offseason, suggesting he'll be ready to go for training camp, NHL.com's Dan Rosen reports.
Analysis: Considering Pavel Datsyuk hasn't played since late April, it's no surprise he's feeling spry, but there's serious questions he'll hold up for 82 games as he enters his age-34 campaign. He's missed a total of 76 games over his last four seasons, muting the impact of the nearly point-per-game production he provides when healthy. Considering his injury history, Datsyuk might not be worth the markup price his name will cost fantasy players on draft day.

Stephen Weiss
Red Wings' Weiss (Hernia) Feeling Healthy
Stephen Weiss, C, DET
8/20/2014
News: Stephen Weiss indicated he's feeling healthy following his April 21 surgery to repair his sports hernia, NHL.com's Dan Rosen reports.
Analysis: Stephen Weiss was a disaster in his first season with the Red Wings after inking a five-year, $24.5 million deal last summer, appearing in only 26 games and totaling four points. He ultimately required a pair of sports hernia surgeries that prevented a second-half return, but after spending the last four months recovering, he appears ready to go for 2014-15. Weiss will be given the opportunity to win back his job as the Wings' No. 2 center, but it seems dubious that he'll be able to return to the 50-point form he showed during his prime years with the Panthers.

Mike Mottau
NHLer Mottau Calls It A Career
Mike Mottau, D, FLA
8/19/2014
News: Mike Mottau announced his retirement from professional hockey Tuesday, Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com reports.
Analysis: The Massachusetts native was exploring the option of playing with AHL Providence to stick with his hometown Bruins organization, but decided he was content to spend more time with his family. Mike Mottau, 36, appeared in 321 career NHL games with the Rangers, Flames, Devils, Islanders, Bruins and Panthers, with his most productive seasons coming in the late-2000s with New Jersey.

Josh Harding
Wild's Harding Cleared For Training Camp
Josh Harding, G, MIN
8/19/2014
News: Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said Josh Harding is "a go" for training camp, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. "Everybody seems to be feeling pretty good, and at this stage, all of our players who were banged up at the end of the season are feeling better. Josh has felt good. Right now we're not expecting any issues for anybody with respect to passing training camp medicals."
Analysis: With an 18-7-3 record, 1.65 GAA and .933 save percentage, Josh Harding was playing as well as any goal in hockey before a setback in his treatment for multiple sclerosis sidelined him after the end of December. Because he's missed large chunks of both of the last two seasons while dealing with the effects of the illness, fantasy players shouldn't look to invest heavily in Harding. Even if healthy, he's no lock to open the season as the regular starter in goal for the Wild with Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper still around.

Niklas Backstrom
Wild's Backstrom Good To Go For Camp
Niklas Backstrom, G, MIN
8/19/2014
News: Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said Niklas Backstrom (abdomen, hip) is feeling good and and will be ready to participate in training camp, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Any way you spin it, Niklas Backstrom had a miserable 2013-14 campaign, as the veteran netminder suited up for 21 games and posted a lousy 3.02 GAA and .899 save percentage before undergoing season-ending abdominal and hip surgery. Though he's ostensibly healthy, Backstrom is now 36 and doesn't appear poised to enter the season as the club's starter, especially with Darcy Kuemper and Josh Harding still around. His sizable contract may be the only thing keeping him around.

 
 
 
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