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Frozen Fantasy: Baby Steps

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Injuries and poor starts litter the NHL landscape – your fantasy team may need a transfusion to overcome a sluggish start.

I knew my Yahoo! team sucked this season – injuries to Shea Weber, Dan Boyle and Martin Straka, and the slow starts of Sidney Crosby, Scott Gomez, Bryan McCabe, Marc-Andre Fleury and Ryan Miller pretty much guaranteed it. And I know I'm not alone in my misery – I can already see a few of you nodding in shared sympathy.

I didn't realize how far off the pace I was already until I started digging a little deeper into the "Full Standings" link on my League tab.

On the bottom of the standings page, I found a new Yahoo! feature called "Distance from Competition." This chart graphs how close – or far – you are from the other teams in your league.

So after the swearing stopped, I put away my voodoo doll and took a closer look. Ya, my team blows, even with Sid the Kid, but there is hope. The "Distance from Competition" chart showed me where I was relative to the leader in every category and to the guy who was just one spot ahead of me.

Hallelujah – a target, something to shoot for to drag my team back into respectability. And being at the bottom of a 12-team league means I'm the one the big guys are staring at in their rearview mirrors.

But in order to make my climb, I need some new blood. And you probably do, too, unless you're the one with the rearview mirror. I've started talking trade with some league mates – big names will need to leave my roster. And I'm scouring the wire for a pint or two of streaking scorers.

Take a look who might just qualify.

Chris Osgood, G, Detroit (55.01 percent owned) – Get him now. Open a new browser, log into your league and claim him without even reading this. Trust me, I'll wait. You see, Dominik Hasek has another ouchy and it's a big one. His hip is hurting him and news Thursday night said "out indefinitely." Osgood might be a crusty old fart but he's going to get you wins and good ratios playing with that team.

Johan Hedberg, G, Atlanta (11.62 percent owned) – Surprise, surprise – Kari Lehtonen has a groin problem. Hard to believe, you say? I know I'm finding it difficult to comprehend myself. Not! Lehtonen's injury makes Moose the man in Atlanta; that is, until he goes into rut and loses his mind. And I expect that to happen within a couple weeks. But for owners desperate for netminding help, you need to take a long, hard look at the moose man. He has to be good for something – are the Thrashers really this bad? Better yet, grab him and the next guy on my list.

Ondrej Pavelec, G, Atlanta (1.29 percent owned) – Call it a hunch, because that's really all it is. But I think Pavelec could see a lot of time between the pipes in the next several weeks. The Thrash adore this kid and given Kari Lehtonen's groin "issues", Pavelec could become the next one a whole lot sooner than anticipated. He has lightning reflexes and is quick post-to-post. Best of all, he has a steely composure that will be sorely needed playing in Peach Town, a place where defense is pretty much a foreign word. If you have an IR spot open, you should consider stashing this kid away. I did that just as soon as he was called up. If I can parlay a trade – or better yet, make up a little quick ground in my goalie categories – I'm laughing. He's starting Saturday night.

Randy Jones, D, Philadelphia (34.35 percent owned) – Who? Jones was probably left out of every fantasy hockey guide this season – that's what happens when you put in a 22-point, minus-14 season as a 25-year-old rookie. But this season, he rocketed out of the gate with six points and a plus-7 rating in his first eight games and he looks like a changed man. Don't get too excited – the guy has five goals in 106 career games. But he plays a good defensive game and he can move the puck to the Flyers' speedy forwards. And that's got to be worth at least 35 – if not more – points on the season.

Paul Ranger, D, Tampa Bay (7.64 percent owned) – Ranger is one sick passer – the guy could thread a needle at 200 feet. OK, so I'm exaggerating but he's one of the best already and he's only 23! I agree his value will decline when Dan Boyle comes off the IR later this week. But honestly, I don't think by much. Boyle will need time to develop his strength and Ranger has shown he's worthy of top-flight minutes. His nine points in his first eight games are worthy of a pick up.

Christopher Higgins, LW, Montreal (8.79 percent owned) – Higgins is a great young player with top-notch skills, the heart of a lion and the mind of an impetuous teen; you know, the guy who breaks his arm doing silly stunts while trying to impress the girls? He risks his body far too much for my liking and it cost him time twice last season – first, the ankle and then the shoulder. But even the young learn from their mistakes (and their stupidity) and I think Higgins has figured something out this season. He has three goals and seven points, including three on the power play, in eight games. And he'll give you a few penalty minutes, too. If you're hurting on the wing, you should take a look at this kid.

Raffi Torres, LW, Edmonton (4.30 percent) – Torres reminds me of a torpedo – open the chute and he'll destroy everything on his way to the net. He came to training camp last season a little "chubby" and never really got his legs under him. But this year is different. He's using his speed and aggressiveness to full advantage, and that means his ice time is up in Oil country. This guy lifts his teammates when he delivers those thunderous body checks. And he'll lift your team with a nice scoring touch and an armament of penalty minutes. Check out his line, particularly from Thursday night – you'll be pleasantly surprised when you do. I know I was.

Jason Ward, RW, Tampa Bay (0.04 percent owned) – OK, Ward's a third-line mucker with slow feet, kind of like a utility infielder in baseball. So what's he doing in this article? Ward got promoted to Brad Richards' line in Tampa Bay a couple games ago and he and Richie have shown immediate chemistry. Yes, I dismissed Ward just like everyone else. But not any more. He has scored in back-to-back games this week and he'll ride the Richards' wave as far as it'll take him. He's a short-term fill-in … unless he sticks on this line. If that happens, he could be worth a little bit more.

Nikolai Zherdev, RW, Columbus (49.59 percent) – Zherdev has a world of talent and a universe of bad attitude. But this year, his approach has changed and he seems more engaged. Go figure. And that means his flashy skating and sick skills can be used for good, not evil. His seven points in nine games, coupled with his sky-high potential, means he should be snapped up in those leagues where he's dangling on the wire. For the first time, you might not be sorry.

Eric Belanger, C, Minnesota (2.08 percent owned) – Minnesota is for real and so is Belanger. In fact, he's a part of the reason the team is doing so well. He's hard working and defensively responsible. And it has earned him eight points, a plus-10 rating and four penalty minutes in his first nine games in Minny. He's not glamorous; in fact, he's the furthest thing from it. But he's a serviceable guy who can successfully roll on and off your roster, helping you in every category except power-play points (at least for right now).

Mikko Koivu, C, Minnesota (9.68 percent owned) – Koivu is arguably the Wild's most improved player this season. And more than that, he's been one of their best overall. Now, we both know best-on-the-ice doesn't necessary translate into the fantasy realm but Koivu is holding his own. He has seven points and eight penalty minutes in his first nine games and I think things go up from there. Again, he's another guy who might be worth a stash-and-hold for the moment when he pops.

Mike Richards, C, Philadelphia (27.05 percent owned) – Richards is one of those gutsy players every Canadian hockey fan loves – he works hard, leaves it all on the ice and can pick up points, too. The trouble is his size – 5-foot-11 and 190 lbs – and that means his hard-working style will take its toll. But for right now, I'll gladly take five goals (including a couple on the power play) and 10 points in nine games. He's just 22 with two seasons under his belt and you can expect some streaky play. So use him and abuse him until he slows down, and then drop him for the next streaker who comes along. You'll enjoy the show while it lasts.

Tuomo Ruutu, C, Chicago (0.99 percent owned) – Lost under the glow of the Blackhawks' two teenage sensations (Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews) is Ruutu, a 24-year-old natural center who has flipped to the wing in order to play with these two studs. His physical intensity is a perfect fit on the Acne Line and he has six points and 10 penalty minutes in eight games. Ride this crafty skater until his next injury – yep, it'll come. But until then, he's worth the risk, particularly if he earns positional eligibility at wing.

Now back to our earlier discussion. Some of you share my pain. I'm here for you. Don't give up hope.

And if you haven't checked out that "Distance from Competition" graph, you should. Right now. Take a chance on Rotowire's free 10-day trial, too.

It'll help and I'm not just saying that because I write for them. Rotowire's writers scour the news feeds, papers, sports websites, broadcasts – everything we can get our paws on – to give you up-to-the minute news on players and trends. It can save you a lot of time when it comes to setting your roster.

I'm using these updates (and that Distance from Competition graph) to go for the jugular. I plan on having fun doing it, even if someone else owns Osgood. And you can, too.

Until next week.

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