NHL Skinny: Able replacement

GOALIE HOT SEAT

MONTREAL CANADIENS RED HOT
1st Chair: Jaroslav Halak(notes)
2nd Chair: Carey Price(notes)
Skinny: “Jaro’s played well and we’ll stick with him for tonight’s game,” is how coach Jacques Martin explained his decision to give Halak a fourth straight start Monday. The fourth-year goalie battled back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Rangers on Saturday. Would I bet on Halak being the No. 1 in mid-November? No, but four straight starts (including the premier assignment against the Blueshirts) cannot be ignored. Halak should be universally owned, not a free agent in 80 percent of leagues.


TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS RED HOT
1st Chair: Jonas Gustavsson(notes)
2nd Chair: Joey MacDonald(notes), Vesa Toskala(notes)
Skinny: Gustavsson hasn’t been officially anointed, but it’s rapidly becoming clear that if a viable fantasy option is going to emerge in Toronto, it’s going to be The Monster. MacDonald was pretty good Saturday (22 saves on 24 shots) but profiles as nothing better than a career backup. Toskala, meanwhile, might be running out of chances in Toronto.


NASHVILLE PREDATORS RED HOT
1st Chair: Dan Ellis(notes)
2nd Chair: Pekka Rinne(notes) (1a)
Skinny: Unlike some of the more toxic situations out there, you get the feeling a legit fantasy No. 1 will still emerge in Nashville. Ellis (32 saves) was solid Saturday in a 2-0 loss to Chicago. At 32-percent owned, he’s under-employed in Y! leagues. It’s pretty much a coin toss here. With back-to-backs ahead (@ Min., Chi) expect the even timeshare to extend until the weekend. Too bad neither player can put the puck in the net.


WASHINGTON CAPITALS RED HOT
1st Chair: Jose Theodore(notes)
2nd Chair: Semyon Varlamov(notes)
Skinny: I was as impressed as anyone by Varlamov’s playoff performance, but Theodore owns the better numbers (.914, 2.55) and seems to be the favorite of Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. Is sentiment against Theodore in the fantasy community really that strong? There’s just no other reason why the favorite to be No. 1 here is owned in 20 percent fewer leagues than the likely backup.


CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS HOT
1st Chair: Cristobal Huet(notes)
2nd Chair: Antti Niemi(notes)
Skinny: We’re not ready to sound the all-clear yet for Huet. The shutout Saturday bought some goodwill (and another start Monday), but his last two wins (and that SO) came at the expense of a Nashville team that has scored 18 goals in 10 games. Monday’s home start against Minnesota (22 goals in 10) could further boost confidence.


DETROIT RED WINGS HOT
1st Chair: Chris Osgood(notes)
2nd Chair: Jimmy Howard(notes)
Skinny: Howard has stopped 34 of the last 37 shots he’s faced, but still doesn’t have a win to show for his efforts. Osgood’s numbers (.890, 3.16) look a lot like they did at the end of October last season (.879, 3.38). Only difference this year is that the wins have dried up.


ANAHEIM DUCKS WARM
1st Chair: Jonas Hiller(notes)
2nd Chair: Jean-Sebastien Giguere(notes), Justin Pogge(notes)
Skinny: Giguere is dealing with a groin injury and was unavailable Monday. He aggravated the injury late in a Saturday loss to Columbus that also saw him allow five goals (35 shots). The Maple Leafs are steadfastly denying rumors they may be interested in Giguere. Even if it passes the nostalgia test, such a move doesn’t make financial sense.


TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING WARM
1st Chair: Mike Smith(notes)
2nd Chair: Antero Niittymaki(notes)
Skinny: Saturday’s shootout went six rounds before either team could score. Unfortunately for Smith owners, it was Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers(notes) who finally converted. Smith is in the midst of his best stretch of the season (62 saves, 66 shots) and at least for now the heat remains off.


NEW YORK ISLANDERS WARM
1st Chair: Dwayne Roloson(notes)
2nd Chair: Martin Biron(notes) (1a), Rick DiPietro(notes)
Skinny: The fantasy masses aren’t interested in the Islanders starter (Rolson is 31-percent owned, Biron 25). The rehabbing former No. 1 overall pick isn’t attracting much of a following, either (8-percent owned). Frankly, this is one situation where I can’t take issue with owner apathy. Nothing to see here.


ATLANTA THRASHERS WARM
1st Chair: Ondrej Pavelec(notes)
2nd Chair: Kari Lehtonen(notes), Johan Hedberg(notes)
Skinny: The big news is that Lehtonen has stopped skating and is no closer to returning than he was immediately after offseason back surgery. Hedberg was pulled from Saturday’s start against San Jose, paving the way for Pavelec (3-21, .913) to reassume No. 1 duties.


ST. LOUIS BLUES LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Chris Mason(notes)
2nd Chair: Ty Conklin(notes)
Skinny: Mason has yet to play on consecutive nights this season, so we should see both goalies when St. Louis plays back-to-backs Wed.-Thu. Conklin suffered his first loss of the season on Super Saturday (27 saves, 31 shots).


FLORIDA PANTHERS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Tomas Vokoun(notes)
2nd Chair: Scott Clemmensen(notes)
Skinny: Clemmensen lasted just two minutes (3 shots, 1 save) in his second of back-to-back starts on Oct. 21. Vokoun is averaging 38.5 shots faced per 60 minutes. If things are going to turn around (1-6-1, 3.60) things are going to have to improve on the Florida backend.


If you make a habit of reading local coverage of NHL teams, you’ll likely find a lot of 10-game report cards out there. After play is completed Monday, all but 10 teams will have 10 games in the books. It’s not an insignificant sample size. So while the beat writers hand out their marks, why not take the time to take inventory of things in fantasy land?

It’s still too early to write off individual slow starters. Hang in there, Ryan Getzlaf(notes) owners. But it’s not acting rashly to address a team need right now. There’s a tendency among casual owners to just visit the league home page, look at the overall rotisserie standings and accept his or her standing in the league as a measure of team success or failure. It’s important to frequently visit the “Full Standings” page to see exactly where you stand category-by-category. And make sure to note your distance from competition in the accompanying graph. It’s easy to make a move in a category like penalty minutes or shots with a few shrewd moves. It’s also not necessary to panic in a category like goals if a jump of, say, three goals would net you a gain of four rotisserie points. Your league could still be tightly packed in some areas.

See where you need help and then re-join us here for the Skinny. We’ll wait …

This is rapidly becoming an injury column, so why not dedicate the opening bullet to news that Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) will miss four weeks after breaking his right foot Saturday against the Sharks. So that makes a first-round broken foot to match the third-rounder (Daniel Sedin(notes)) broken opening week. This one hit a little closer to home as Kovy (9 goals in 8 games) was a keeper in my experts league. Oh well. Injuries will come. Let’s deal with the latest. At practice Monday the Thrashers were also without Nik Antropov, so the top two lines consisted of Bryan Little(notes)-Slava Kozlov-Max Afinogenov and Evander Kane(notes)-Rich Peverley-Colby Armstrong(notes).

The guy getting the most attention in fantasy circles right now is Kane, Atlanta’s first-rounder from the 2009 draft (No. 4 overall). Against San Jose he eventually replaced Kovalchuk on the No. 1 line with Afinogenov and Antropov, playing a rookie season-high 19:04 and scoring his third goal. In his third-line role he had four points and eight penalty minutes through seven games, not looking at all out of place with the big boys. In the aforementioned keeper league (we start four left wings) I scooped up Kane and cut loose Patric Hornqvist(notes), who was a surplus wing. Scanning the waiver wire, Matt Moulson(notes) (38-percent owned) and Andrew Brunette(notes) (6 goals, 25 percent) are other widely available options at left wing.

(A quick note about injured players: To be eligible for the IR in Y! leagues, a player must be on the official IR. In some cases this happens within 48 hours of an injury, in others considerably longer. Erik Cole(notes), for example, hasn’t played since Oct. 3, but was just placed on the IR on Saturday. I have no idea what factors come into play when teams determine how to handle injured players. Perhaps the IR move is only necessary to facilitate another move. Anyway, just thought I’d try to shed some light on why it takes so long for some players to earn IR eligibility. It might not be entirely fair, but given the frequency of hockey injuries and the lack of information offered by some clubs, making a case-by-case evaluation on each injury simply isn’t practical. Real-life IR equals fantasy IR.)

One-timers: Jackets center Derick Brassard(notes) was demoted all the way to Columbus’ fourth line on Saturday. … J.P. Dumont(notes) (43-percent owned) had five points Thursday against Ottawa. He’s averaged 68 points in his two seasons in Nashville. … Lightning forward James Wright(notes) has points in back-to-back games and has been seeing ice time with Vincent Lecavalier(notes) and Martin St. Louis(notes).Antoine Vermette(notes) (10-percent owned) has a 5-game point streak (2 goals, 5 assists) while linemate Jakub Voracek(notes) has points in four of five (4-2-6). … Avs center Ryan O’Reilly(notes) has a seven-game point streak (2-7-9). … Kings wing Wayne Simmonds(notes) had a 3-game goal streak snapped Sunday. He’s been seeing some top line time with Justin Williams(notes) out of the lineup. … Sharks wing Ryane Clowe(notes) hasn’t scored a goal in 20 straight regular season games. … Alexander Frolov(notes) has six points in three games since returning from his benching.

BARGAIN BIN: Top player available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
Brent Burns(notes), D, Min (27-percent owned) – Burns was drafted in the 8th and 10th rounds in the two Yahoo!-hosted experts drafts that I participated in and curses followed the selection both teams. Seems Burns was on everyone’s breakthrough list on defense. Now he’s on a very different list after starting the season as a minus-10 with one point through six games. Everyone is jumping ship, but take note that Burns has three points in his last four with two points on the power play and four penalty minutes. The transition to Todd Richards’ system has been a clumsy one, yes, but there’s simply no way Burns isn’t rosterable over the long haul in leagues that start at least four defensemen.

Full disclosure: If this were a true “player you must own” among bargain qualifiers, the bin would be occupied by Jaroslav Halak right now. But we’ll let the goalie battles play out over on the hot seat for the most part this season.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Maxim Afinogenov(notes), RW, ATL – The goods news here is that Afinogenov played himself onto Atlanta’s No. 1 line and the promotion translated to a goal and two assists in two games. The bad news is that Ilya Kovalchuk’s injury (see above) robs that assignment of much of its glitter. I’m still willing to roll the dice in deeper formats.

James Neal(notes), RW, Dal – He’s got three goals and two assists in his last three and is slightly ahead of a point-per-game pace despite being a free agent in nearly half of Yahoo! leagues. He’s also helping Loui Eriksson(notes) (6 points in 3) ramp up the scoring pace.

Joni Pitkanen(notes), D, Car – Injuries have kept Pitkanen under the radar (37-percent owned) but he’s on a point-per-game pace (5 in 5) and his 14 penalty minutes serve as a reminder that Pitkanen was a sneaky source of PIMs back in his Philly days (where else?). The skill is there to justify a D4 roster spot and you’re generally not making a big investment to turn over your final D spot.

Marc-Andre Bergeron(notes), D, Mon – He’s been discussed here and here, and to be honest there’s not much new to offer. You know what you’re getting here: a power-play specialist with a proven track record of man-advantage production and even-strength liability. Expect weekly non-updates here until the ownership level (currently 11 percent) climbs into a sensible territory.

Colin Wilson(notes), C, Nas – Someone has to provide a spark in Nashville, so why not their 2008 first-round draft pick? Wilson picked up his first goal of the season Oct. 21 in Boston (he played college hockey at BU) and has points in two of three. You’re only kicking the tires here if you’re starting three or four centers in a 12-plus team league. Everyone else can check back in 2011.

Ryan Vesce(notes), RW, SJ – For an undersized guy, Vesce sure scores a lot of high-traffic goals. The 5-foot-8 right wing has points in all four of his appearances this year (3 goals, 1 assist). Playing on Joe Thornton’s(notes) wing gives Vesce a chance to remain relevant. He did miss Sunday’s game with a lower-body injury, however, and he’s basically auditioning for a role beyond when Joe Pavelski(notes) returns from injury.

Nicklas Bergfors(notes), RW, NJ – Keep looking for Scott Pianowski’s Red Light District after full-slate weekday nights and see if he can continue the hot hand after picking up Bergfors before his two-goal effort Saturday. The special teams time is a bonus (his goal Sat. was on the power-play).

Jeff Tambellini(notes), LW, NYI – With Doug Weight(notes) out of the lineup Tambellini has been working the point on the power play in practice. He scored two man-advantage goals Monday, giving the former first-rounder goals in back-to-back games.

David Moss(notes), RW, Cal – I liked Moss as a pre-season bargain and while the circumstances have changed (injury, line juggling), he’s back in the lineup and he has a top-6 gig with Oli Jokinen has a linemate. Moss has goals in three of the five games he’s played so 25 goals is still a realistic goal.

Yahoo! Friends and Family League update
It’s Rotowire - Maingot atop the standings after Rocky from NHL.com briefly held the top spot. The Maingot entry is enjoying the success of Frolov and Dustin Brown(notes) and things are looking better in the Pacific Time Zone for Roberto Luongo(notes) lately, too. League-wide transactions included contracts offered to Mathieu Garon(notes), Michael Grabner(notes), Brett Clark(notes) and Mason Raymond(notes), among others..