Four days ago, Cory Murphy was sitting on the NHL waiver wire, unvalued by his professional club. Today, he should be your No. 1 claim target.
Murphy's trip to the NHL was a long and strange one; the Ontario native played four years at Colgate University (111 points) before jetting to Finland in 2001. Pro hockey in North America wasn't ideally suited for small defensemen at the front of the decade, so it was a logical move for Murphy to play overseas. After a successful run in the FNL, he was lured to North America – and an NHL debut – by the Panthers in 2007, who handed him a two-year contract and the keys to their power play. They thought he could be their version of Brian Rafalski, an undersized blueliner who earned his keep with slick passing and quick decision-making.
Initially, it was a fit all around – Murphy racked up nine points (eight on the PP) in his first 12 games. But shoulder problems hit in November and dogged him the rest of the year, and another shoulder problem kept him down this fall. The Panthers were able to waive Murphy through the league in October, but when they tried the same move in January after a conditioning stint, the Lightning stepped in and took a shot.
Murphy picked up a power-play assist in his first Tampa start Monday, and he was even better Wednesday night (goal, assist, No. 1 star, 23:32 of ice time). He's going to get first-run time with the power-play until further notice, and his shoulder sure looks healthy right now. Murphy's ownership level is sitting below 15 percent as I assemble these notes, but if people are paying attention, that number should triple in the next week (he's especially valuable in leagues where you don't have to pay a plus-minus tax). Make the call.
With that order of business taken care of, let's have a peak at what else happened during the NHL's nine matches on Wednesday night:
• What's a just penalty for the goaltender who allows two quick goals on seven shots against the hapless Islanders? Immediate release? One-month suspension? Death by firing squad? The Ducks merely pulled J.S. Giguere Wednesday night, much to his chagrin, giving Jonas Hiller the tap on the pads. Hiller easily stopped the mere seven shots he saw over his 45 minutes, but Anaheim only beat Yann Danis once in 40 tries and had to accept a frustrating 2-1 loss on the Island. Emerging star Bobby Ryan had the Ducks tally, a power-play goal.
• Maybe Peter Budaj got your attention with a snappy 39-save effort Sunday, but you never know when the other skate is going to drop with him. He got a quick hook Wednesday against the Kings, allowing four quick goals on 15 shots (including a trio of tallies in a 3:36 span in the second period). Andrew Raycroft was capable in relief stopping 11-of-13, but he's just a dog with different fleas and this is a crease to steer clear of. The Kings held on for a 6-5 victory, paced by Jon Quick's 36 stops, Dustin Brown's goal and assist (he's got 3-2-5 on the three-game road trip) and two more assists for good-looking blueliner Kyle Quincey.
• Marty Turco took a step back in Monday's loss at Tampa but he had his good stuff at Florida Wednesday, kicking out 28 of 29. The window for a trade discount might be closed. Mike Ribeiro played like his spot on the roster depended on it, picking up a hat trick (one into an empty cage) and firing a game-high seven shots.
• You never want to blow off the significance of a shutout, but Chris Mason (22 saves) wasn't really taxed that much by the floundering Chicago offense. What's happed to the high-flying Blackhawks attack, anyway? Fourteen goals in eight games? One point in 11 starts for Patrick Kane? If you've got a theory, I'm all ears.
• Another night of strange shootout picks, but the Bruins and Flames were laughing at the end. Claude Julien sent out "long reach" Martin St. Pierre (first career attempt) in his batch of three at Toronto, and Michael Ryder (1-for-11) got the call when the shootout went to an extra round. Both scored for the Bs, as it turned out. I scratched my head when Mike Keenan selected Todd Bertuzzi (welcome back) as his No. 3 shooter against Columbus, but Bertuzzi justified the call with a beautiful drag-and-roof backhander, and Miikka Kiprusoff made the goal stand up with three stops on the other side. Not all the wild-card picks worked on Wednesday night; Ron Wilson tried Nikolai Kulemin as his fourth option and was denied.
Ice Chips: Mike Smith, starter you can trust? You probably buried him for good after that ugly seven-spot on New Year's Day against the Caps, but he's on a 4-1 run right now, including a 31-save effort in Wednesday's victory over the Sabres. … Keith Tkachuk has been solid in his return to action this week (goal, assist, physical play), and the Blues would love to move him prior to the deadline. … Tim Thomas (31 saves) was under siege for most of the overtime at Toronto, but fortunately for the Boston netminder most of the Toronto shots missed the cage. Thomas seemed to slump over a bit at the end of the 5-minute session, but the Bruins kept him on for the shootout so apparently he's fine. … Jason Blake kept up his outstanding play of late, with two points, five shots, and a shootout goal against Boston. Linemates Lee Stempniak (1-1-2) and Dominic Moore (0-2-2) are coming along for the ride. … I'd like to see David Krejci shoot the puck more often, but he's got five multiple-point games in seven starts, so why quibble? … Ilya Kovalchuk is looking for his shot more of late and it's led to a productive 8-4-12 month so far. You get the idea he's auditioning for his next team, don't you? … I'm sure T.J. Hensick can score in the NHL if the Avalanche commit to a role for him. He picked up a power-play goal and an assist Wednesday, and now has five points in five starts. … Kris Versteeg left Chicago's loss with an undisclosed injury, but Joel Quenneville doesn't think it's a major concern . . . Pavel Datsyuk (hip) and Nicklas Lidstrom (elbow) are skipping the All-Star Game, which is pretty much what you want if they're on your fantasy roster. … Manny Legace (groin) was healthy enough to be the backup to Mason Wednesday. … The Senators are expected to put Martin Gerber on waivers Thursday.