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NHL Skinny: The good fight

Matt Romig
Yahoo Sports

GOALIE HOT SEAT

COLORADO AVALANCHE RED HOT
1st Chair: Peter Budaj
2nd Chair: Andrew Raycroft
Skinny: Budaj continues to kill ratios one 4-1 loss at a time. He ranks outside the top 30 in goals against and save percentage among semi-regulars, and yet Raycroft can't buy a start (no action in February). Some fed up Avs fans have clamored for the team to sign Manny Legace, but the price doesn't seem right.


NASHVILLE PREDATORS RED HOT
1st Chair: Pekka Rinne
2nd Chair: Dan Ellis
Skinny: Ellis got a foot in the door with a shutout Friday in Minnesota, but gave some of those gains back by allowing two goals on six shots in the first period Sunday (4-1 loss in Dallas). The Preds have made their intentions clear here, but as is often the case there are "for now" provisions tossed in. Rinne gets tested by Detroit and Boston this week.


OTTAWA SENATORS RED HOT
1st Chair: Brian Elliott
2nd Chair: Alex Auld
Skinny: Elliott is a top-20 guy over the past month (5 wins, 2.47 GAA, .912 save pct.) who is widely available in Yahoo! leagues (29-percent owned). Ottawa showed some life with an overtime loss to Boston and a win over Buffalo to close Cory Clouston's first week as coach. Ottawa's upcoming five-game roadie features two sets of back-to-backs, so we'll probably see Auld twice.


ANAHEIM DUCKS RED HOT
1st Chair: Jean-Sebastien Giguere
2nd Chair: Jonas Hiller
Skinny: The Ducks liked what they saw of Giguere in a 4-2 loss in Nashville (one empty-netter allowed), so they went right back to him Saturday and were rewarded with a 2-1 win. We know he's traditionally a strong finisher (2.27, .922 career after the AS break), so if he's past those mental issues then we can once again start him with confidence. Hiller remains a necessary handcuff, of course.


PHILADELPHIA FLYERS RED HOT
1st Chair: Antero Niittymaki
2nd Chair: Martin Biron
Skinny: Coach John Stevens doesn't want to call it a controversy, but in explaining matters did acknowledge that Niittymaki will continue to get time in net if he continues to play well. Biron is winless in five starts while Niittymaki is 3-1 since the All-Star break.


LOS ANGELES KINGS HOT
1st Chair: Jon Quick
2nd Chair: Erik Ersberg
Skinny: The 29-percent owned Quick was a top-20 goalie over the past month with six wins, a 2.84 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage. Over the past week he actually ranks No. 1 (3 wins, 1.67 GAA, .950 save pct.). He's already been named starter for Tuesday's favorable matchup against the Islanders, so there's short-term value even if you don't buy the long-term forecast.


CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS HOT
1st Chair: Nikolai Khabibulin
2nd Chair: Cristobal Huet
Skinny: The beat goes on here as Chicago continues to alternate goalies. Huet was pulled Saturday after allowing three goals in 20 minutes, but it was a total team meltdown against Vancouver and Khabibulin would surrender four of his own.


ST. LOUIS BLUES LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Chris Mason
2nd Chair: Chris Holt
Skinny: The headline says it all: It's all on Mason now. So far, so good (1.10 GAA, .958 save pct. in Feb.). He's only 28-percent owned and the Blues are getting some pieces back, so there are worse places to chase wins.


DETROIT RED WINGS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Ty Conklin
2nd Chair: Chris Osgood
Skinny: Conklin picked up his fifth shutout in his last 14 starts on Sunday. Meanwhile, there's been ample coverage of Osgood's struggles and a rumored rift with coach Mike Babcock. Still, most seem to agree that Detroit would prefer to hit the playoffs with Ozzie in net.


About once a season I use this space to address the issue of penalty minutes in fantasy hockey. We get a fair amount of inquiries every season from novices who think something is broken when penalty minutes are rewarded, and an equal number from veterans who know the rules, but just completely disagree with how scoring for this category is handled. A penalty puts a team at a disadvantage, the argument goes, so why on earth is that a good thing for a fantasy roster? First things first: the positive treatment of the PIM category is an industry standard. Sure you might find a provider who turns things upside-down, but Yahoo! adopted the standard scoring formats that existed when folks were still updating their standings manually using the box scores in the back pages of the Hockey News.

And there is some logic at work here. If a category of player has value to an NHL general manager, then that value should be reflected in the fantasy environment. When the career of Donald Brashear comes to an end, probably after 1,000-plus games in an NHL uniform, it won't be because team execs looked at some game film and suddenly realized, "you know, I just don't think we'll ever get 30 goals out of this guy." Brashear, employed by four teams in his 15-year NHL career despite never amassing 30 points in any one season, will hang up the skates when he can no longer sufficiently intimidate opponents with his mere presence on the ice. The league's salary cap may have turned the traditional goon into a luxury rather than a necessity, but look around the league and you'll see plenty of guys in the Brashear mold – Jody Shelley in San Jose, Philly's Riley Cote and Jared Boll in Columbus to name a few. These guys are specialists. They fill a role. It's a bit of a stretch, but in some ways they are no different for fantasy purposes than kickers in football, closers in baseball and paint-clogging shot blockers in basketball. None of the above would be considered complete players within their sports, but all have fantasy value given widely accepted scoring formats.

The trump card for those lobbying against penalty minutes is the lazy hooking minor late in a tie game that leads to a power play and an eventual one-goal defeat. There's no explaining that ugliness away. Some penalties that absolutely kill teams are deemed beneficial in our little imaginary world. If we could separate the momentum-swinging fights and the I've-got-your-back roughing calls from the careless hooks and high sticks, we would. It's simply not practical, from our end or yours. So we're left with what we've got. Penalty minutes do have value in the NHL. Look at Brashear. Look at Mike Richards, who racked up 76 minutes in 2007-08 and was rewarded with the Flyers' captaincy. If penalty minutes were excluded or penalized in fantasy leagues, an entire class of player would be rendered useless. Anyway, that's something to consider the next time you scratch your head over how a delay of game call is reflected in your fantasy league.

I'm not actually hoping to win anyone over here. Like the fighting debate that is currently raging (the result of which, now that I think about it, could throw fantasy scoring for a loop), there will always be two camps and they may never get along. Just wanted to give those with questions an idea of where we stand. And hey, you can always create your own league and exclude the category altogether.

Let's move on.

Weekend UpdateNeed-to-know info from the past few days

Is it possible to go from over-hyped to under-owned in a two-game span? Normally I'd say no. Make a leap like that and you're likely overreacting to a very small sample size. In the case of Mats Sundin, however, I'm not so sure. I was as guilty as anyone of drumming up interest in his inevitable return. When he finally picked Vancouver I did everything short of hacking accounts to get his ownership figure more in line with my expectations. Was it realistic to think he'd pick right up at the 1.05 points-per-game pace he established last season in Toronto? Of course not. But when Sundin's "training camp" period with the Canucks resulted in just three points in his first nine games, plenty of owners had seen enough.

In case you didn't catch Saturday's box score, Vancouver's line of Pavol Demitra, Sundin and Ryan Kesler combined for eight points in a 7-3 win over Chicago. They've been together for two games. Demitra (44-percent owned) is a proven scorer who can thrive under the right conditions. He has four assists as Sundin's left wing. Kesler (15-percent owned) has capitalized on the move to right wing with three goals and three assists in two games. He has eight points in his last three. Sundin (55-percent owned) was brought in to invigorate Vancouver's power play and he earned his check Saturday with all three of his points on the man advantage. He has five points in two games. At this point I think it's safe to say we expected too much, too soon from Sunday, but his current ownership numbers are a little low for a proven 30-goal, 80-point, 60-PIM centerman.

Bad news for Thomas Vanek owners. He's gone for 3-4 weeks. If you want some early news on how Buffalo's lines might be re-shuffled, check out Monday's report in the Buffalo News. There's some industry support for Clarke MacArthur as a fantasy beneficiary here. Buffalo won't play until Wednesday against Ottawa, we we'll have to wait a bit to see how things shake out ice-time wise for the Sabres.

One-timers: Fresh off signing that four-year contract extension, Blues center Andy McDonald could return to the lineup Tuesday. … Carolina center Matt Cullen has nine points in five games. … The No. 1 fantasy goalie over the last month is Marty Turco (9 wins, 1.97 GAA, .924). Nobody's situation looked more desperate than his in November, which is one of the many reasons I wouldn't be too concerned about J.S. Giguere.

BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
Pekke Rinne, G, Nas (49-percent owned) – Dan Ellis has lost the job in Nashville, yet remains owned in 63 percent of Yahoo! leagues. You can take a gander at the goalie hot seat for details here, but the quick summary is that the Preds are expecting Rinne to backstop their playoff push.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Ville Leino, LW, Det – We'll keep him in this spot after learning that Tomas Holmstrom will miss 3-5 weeks following hernia surgery. Leino has three points in four games and now an extended stay on one of Detroit's scoring lines.

Steve Ott, C, Dal – Another holdover from last week, Ott extended his point streak to eight games (6 goals, 6 assists) in Sunday's 4-1 win over Nashville. Center is deep, yes, but sometimes you have to look beyond position needs to category needs, and most teams out there can make use of a guy with points in eight straight, at least a minor penalty in six straight and power-play points in half of his last six games.

Kurtis Foster, D, Min – As a post-lockout rookie Foster had 10 goals and 18 power-play points in 58 games for the Wild. The points pace remained a bit flat over parts of the next two seasons, but the man-advantage points were still there, at least until a broken leg intervened. His rehab is nearly complete, and Foster should be back with Minnesota after maybe one more start in the AHL. He's only 1-percent owned, so you can probably afford to monitor his progress before making a move.

Christian Ehrhoff, D, SJ – He had two points in Saturday's loss to Columbus, a good sign considering they came with Dan Boyle back in the lineup. Ehrhoff has seven points in seven games while Marc-Edouard Vlasic, at least short-term, has flatlined (one point in six).

Jason Blake, LW, Tor – One more mention here and that will probably be the end of it. Either he'll come back to earth and we can write him off as just another 50-60 point forward with little PIM/PP upside, or he'll keep up his recent pace (16 points in 10 games, including two goals Saturday) and the 65-percent owned wing will move toward universal ownership.

Matt Niskanen, D, Dal – He fattened up with three points in that 10-2 blowout of the Rangers, but there's been steady production here with points in five straight games (eight assists).

Marek Svatos, RW, Col – He's getting the confidence back, which is key for an Avs team desperate for some consistent scoring. Svatos fired a blank Saturday against the Blues, but before that had six goals in 10 games. There's 40-goal potential here.

Jere Lehtonen, RW, Dal – A top-five right wing over the past month (5 goals, 10 assists), Lehtonen remains available in roughly 90 percent of Yahoo! leagues. His current point streak is at a career-best eight games.

Rich Peverley, C, Atl – It looks like Peverley has been excused from duty on Ilya Kovalchuk's line. He'll line up with Slava Kozlov and Joe Motzko and the fantasy value won't make the change with him.

Yahoo! Friends and Family League update
It's still Buser atop the standings, and by an impressive 11-point margin. Team Romig made a run at Evgeni Nabokov, but he went to McKeen's in a pending blockbuster involving Mike Green. Oh well, back to the drawing board. In addition to the trade, recent moves involved Craig Anderson, Todd Bertuzzi, Daniel Cleary and Simeon Varlamov among others.