Brian Burke made his first major move as the Calgary Flames president of hockey operations by firing Flames GM Jay Feaster on Thursday. It remains to be seen who Feaster’s replacement will be, but Burke has made it clear that he wants the team to be “truculent.”
So it sounds as if the Flames could end up mirroring Burke’s old team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, which ranks near or at the top of the NHL lists in hits, penalty minutes per game and fights. That shift might not happen this season, but it will be worth remembering over the summer. Calgary might seek an aggressive fourth-line enforcer and that player might get enough ice time to breach the top-20 in penalty minutes.
For now, though, let’s take a look at who’s worth picking up this week:
Erik Gudbranson (FLA) – D – Owned in 5% of Yahoo! leagues
While we’re talking about enforcers, let’s shine a light on Gudbranson. He recently received a match penalty for his hard and arguably high hit on Washington’s Eric Fehr, although the NHL has no plans to suspend him for his actions. It’s the kind of game that makes Gudbranson valuable in fantasy leagues, even if few owners pick him up. Assuming you’re not fortunate enough to have a number of players who get both points and PIMs, you want your penalty minutes to come from a defenseman so you don’t have to start a fourth-line enforcer over a second-line forward. The problem is there really aren’t that many defensemen who fit that mold. Gudbranson is tied for second among NHL blueliners with 70 penalty minutes and below him is Brenden Dillon with 49. If you’re in a league that values hits and blocked shots, then Gudbranson’s value goes up considerably as he has 76 and 53 respectively.
Christopher Higgins (VAN) – LW – Owned in 15% of Yahoo! leagues
Higgins found the back of the net Saturday night to extend his point streak to five games, so if nothing else, he’s a decent short-term pick-up in the hopes that he still has a bit of juice left in his hot streak. That being said, there might be a bit more to him this season. At the age of 30, Higgins isn’t a breakout candidate by any stretch of the imagination, but new coach John Tortorella seems to like him, as evidenced by the fact that he’s given Higgins 19:07 minutes per contest, up from his career average of 16:49. In fact, at this rate he’ll beat his previous high by over a minute. In the end, he’s a good bet to maintain his current pace of 20-25 goals and 45-55 points even if those numbers have been skewed upwards by his recent hot streak.
Valeri Nichushkin (DAL) – RW – Owned in 11% of Yahoo! leagues
Last month I pointed to Nichushkin as someone worth picking up on Waivers and given that he’s owned in only 11% of leagues, I’m putting forward that recommendation again. He’s certainly not for everyone. Rookies are often prone to extreme hot/cold streaks and so far Nichushkin has been something of an example of that. At the same time, he could be in line for a strong second half. He already has 16 points and a plus-10 rating in 30 games, which are pretty solid stats for a rookie, but nothing to write home about, otherwise. However, if you shave off his October, when he was making the transition from the KHL straight to the NHL, he has a much more noteworthy 14 points in 19 contests. Given that he’s often been playing alongside Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, he’s a good guy to grab if you’re in a gambling mood.
Martin Jones (LAK) – G – Owned in 39% of Yahoo! leagues
If you even remotely need a goaltender, pick up Jones. It will almost certainly be a short-term move given that Jonathan Quick might be just a couple weeks away from returning, but even still, no goaltender is hotter right now. The 23-year-old rookie has won his first five NHL starts with a 0.99 GAA and .967 save percentage. There’s even an outside chance that the Kings might decide to keep him in the roster beyond Quick’s return over Ben Scrivens, although even if that happens, Jones’ fantasy value will still plummet at that point as Quick will get the vast majority of the starts.
Nick Bonino (ANA) – C – Owned in 20% of Yahoo! leagues
The Ducks know they’ve got one of the best offensive duos in the league in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, but it’s secondary scoring that has been the make-or-break factor in Anaheim over the last few years. They have gotten that support this season from Bonino, who has been consistently solid. He’s a bit of a late bloomer at 25, but he was previously dominant in the NCAA and AHL, so the fact that he has eight goals and 23 points in 34 contests in 2013-14 isn’t shocking. Look for him to maintain his current pace.
Kris Versteeg (CHI) – LW/RW – Owned in 15% of Yahoo! leagues
After detours in Toronto, Philadelphia, and Toronto, Versteeg is back with the team he won the Stanley Cup with and the move seems to have been good for him. He’s only averaging 14:45 minutes per contest in Chicago and has formed some chemistry with Andrew Shaw. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to pencil him in for around 25 points in Chicago’s final 47 contests, but he’s also a decent short-term gamble after recording six points in six games.
Andrej Sekera (CAR) – D – Owned in 31% of Yahoo! leagues
Getting out of Buffalo seems to have done Sekera some good. He’s having one of the best seasons of his career with six goals and 18 points in 31 games with the Carolina Hurricanes. A big part of that jump has been the Hurricanes’ willingness to give him a larger role on the power play than he had in Buffalo. Consequently, he has six power-play points after recording just one in 106 contests over his previous two seasons. If you’re looking to replace an injured or slumping defenseman, don’t be scared away by Sekera’s lackluster production with Buffalo in 2011-12 and the shortened campaign.
Olli Jokinen (WPG) – C – Owned in 11% of Yahoo! leagues
It’s been a while since Jokinen’s glory years, so when he had just 14 points in 45 games during the shortened campaign, it was easy to write him off for 2013-14. He’s shown that he still has something left in the tank, though, by scoring eight goals and 21 points in 34 contests. With Jokinen, what you see is pretty much what you’ll get. He’s a decent stopgap measure for a team dealing with injuries, and lately he’s been hot enough to warrant a look from owners who like to try and ride hot streaks.
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- Erik Gudbranson
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- Calgary Flames