It's amazing how significantly the fantasy hockey landscape has changed since the curtain was raised on the new NHL just four months ago. Reviewing the draft results from our Yahoo! Friends and Family League, an incredible seven of nine players selected in the first round wouldn't even be considered in the opening round if a 2006-07 draft was held today. Have we ever seen that kind of year-to-year turnover in any fantasy sport? Markus Naslund? Sergei Gonchar? Martin St. Louis? We're likely to see some very different names flying off the board next season, along with some old favorites. Jaromir Jagr is looking like a top-of-the-draft guy again after sliding to the third round or lower in 2005.
I'm getting ahead of myself, of course. We still have a second half and an Olympic break to navigate through. Heck, at his current pace Martin Brodeur might once again be a No. 1 draft pick option by season's end. Before we get to that, however, let's look back at the weekend in fantasy hockey:
WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days
Pittsburgh's roster has been responsible for one fantasy tease after another this season. From defenseman Ryan Whitney to right wing Michel Ouellet, several young Penguins players have burst on the scene with promise only to disappear faster than Emily's Reasons Why Not. Hey, who's ready for another letdown? Ziggy Palffy's sudden retirement last week created an opening at left wing on Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby line. Originally, the team announced that Konstantin Koltsov would get the first shot at filling the void. That audition, it appears, lasted less than one full game.
Enter Colby Armstrong, a 23-year-old former first-round draft pick. He finished Saturday's 2-1 loss at Philadelphia on the top line and scored Pittsburgh's only goal in the third period. The tally extended his point streak to five games (3 goals, 3 assists), giving fantasy owners yet another reason to roll the dice on a young forward from the Steel City. Between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre of the AHL, Armstrong has 15 goals and 22 assists in 44 games. Consider this a cautious endorsement.
Can Joe Thornton do for Grant Stevenson what he did for Jonathan Cheechoo in December? The answer is yes if you begin and end your research with Saturday's Kings-Sharks box score. Stevenson had a goal and two assists in the overtime win, the first three-point night of his NHL career. And they weren't meaningless points. Stevenson got the Sharks on the board with his ninth goal in the first period, and then assisted on both the game-tying and game-winning goals. Thornton was in on two of the three goals and Patrick Marleau set up the other.
Time will tell if coach Ron Wilson is married to the changes, but for now Stevenson has replaced Cheechoo on San Jose's top line. Cheech moves to right wing on Marleau's line. Marleau, San Jose's captain, has been removed, at least temporarily, from the point on the power play. Is this the end of Cheechoo's run? Probably not. Marleau is as good as it gets when it comes to No. 2 centers, and Cheechoo managed a goal Saturday to extend his point streak to 11 games. The loss of quarterbacking duties on the power play didn't seem to hurt the captain, either. He enjoyed his second three-point night of the month against the Kings.
Petr Nedved's assist Saturday was relevant for two reasons. First, it was his first point as a Flyer after being acquired from Phoenix in a trade Friday. Second, it gave the center a two-game point streak for just the third time this season. With a bevy of fantasy centers scoring at a point-per-game pace or better, the arrival of Nedved certainly won't cause an immediate buying frenzy. He was, after all, underachieving in Phoenix to the tune of only two goals and 11 points in 25 games.
Still, it would be a mistake to turn a blind eye to his arrival in Philly. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Nedved will be installed as the team's No. 2 center and will man the point in power-play situations. Once top-line center Peter Forsberg returns from his latest groin injury, Nedved is expected to center Michal Handzus and Sami Kapanen. Now he wasn't exactly star-starved in Phoenix – Ladislav Nagy and Shane Doan are talented wingers – but the overall talent base in Philly is a huge upgrade. Keep Nedved on your radar over the next several weeks.
BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
- Martin Erat, LW, Nas
It's been a simple formula for Erat of late. More shots have led directly to more goals. Consider this: In the season's first 44 games, Erat took more than four shots just once. Results were predictable. The winger scored eight goals and he endured a 14-game red-light draught. Orders recently came from coach Barry Trotz. Shoot more, was the directive. He has done just that, taking 15 shots in Nashville's past three games. Enjoying life on a line with Scott Walker and Paul Kariya, Erat has four goals and an assist in his past four games.
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Chris Kunitz, LW, Ana – Playing on the top line with Andy McDonald and Teemu Selanne, Kunitz scored for the third straight game Saturday. It was the game-winner, giving this undrafted 26-year-old six goals and two assists in Anaheim's past nine games.
Kurtis Foster, D, Min – Given the requirement to start four defensemen in leagues using default settings, it's surprising to see Foster available in 95 percent of Yahoo! pools. He had two assists Sunday to boost his recent production to four goals and four assists in nine games.
Marco Sturm, LW, Bos – Sturm extended his goal streak to three games Saturday while upping his overall January production to five goals and four assists in nine games.
Mike Sillinger, C/RW, Stl – The closest thing the Blues have had to a bright spot in a while, Sillinger scored a goal in his fourth straight game Saturday. Defenseman Dennis Wideman also has a three-game goal streak for St. Louis.
Radim Vrbata, RW, Chi – His four-game goal streak was snapped Tuesday, but he was all over the scoresheet two nights later with three assists in an upset of Colorado.
Patrick Eaves, RW, Ott – Ottawa's third line has turned up the heat of late. Eaves has five points in three games while center Chris Kelly (four points) and winger Vaclav Varada (four points) have also been productive over the past four games.
Keith Ballard, D, Pho – Nice point streak for this rookie defenseman. Ballard has at least one point in eight of his past 12 games (two goals, 10 assists).
Miroslav Satan, RW, NYI – When Satan shoots, he scores. The right wing has directed six or more shots on net seven times this season and in those games he has 11 points. Three of those shot barrages have come in January as Satan has clicked with linemates Mike York and Trent Hunter.
Petr Prucha, RW, NYR – Prucha was beneficiary of an overnight upgrade last week as right wing eligibility was added to his player profile.
Ric Jackman, D, Pit – No need to scan the injury report, Jackman was a healthy scratch Saturday against the Flyers.
Antero Niittymaki, G, Phi – Niittymaki was winless in his past four starts leading up to Robert Esche's return Saturday. Bad time to go cold. He's expected to start again Monday to give Esche a rest, but backup duties are rapidly approaching.