Frozen Fantasy: Early Strike

Love him or hate him, Brian Burke has got it right.

I can’t believe I just said that.

Burkie isn’t like a lot of other general managers – NHL or fantasy. He doesn’t wait until the day of the trade deadline to make his moves; he comes in hard, fast and early. And in most cases, the returns almost always favor the Leafs.

Think about it for a second. Do you really think you’ll get a significantly better deal by playing two owners off each other three hours before the deadline? Or is it actually better to leverage a big deal early to get as much production as possible from any new additions?

An early move could actually tip the balance in head-to-head leagues. Or ratchet up specific categories in a standard league. Waiting to deadline day only means lost sleep – who hasn’t been up super late negotiating a deal?

That can be painful.

Two days ago, a buddy of mine channeled his best Brian Burke and sent out a league-wide e-mail outlining the terms under which he would consider moving Alexander Ovechkin. It’s a head-to-head keeper league so the guy clearly has stones. And big ones at that.

Our league has four playoff spots with the top two finishers facing off for all the marbles; third and fourth saw off for the “bronze.” Stakes are high and he has a real shot at one of those top two spots. He’s currently third, just one win from top spot.

Before you say he’s nuts, I offer you this – a good friend of mine sold her house using almost the exact tactic that he has employed. And she ended up selling for close to $50,000 over list.

Now that’s a huge net gain.

My buddy’s terms were clear and deliberate – send your best deal immediately (don’t offer crap), include a guy who’d be a keeper on any team (we keep three; there are 14 teams), and make sure there’s a solid goalie in the mix. And structure the offer based on Ovie’s 2009-10 value, not this year’s. Oh ya – he set out a deadline for receipt of offers and laid out his timeline for considering the deals.

Like I said – that took stones. I took a lot of heat earlier this year for suggesting you should leverage Steven Stamkos(notes) into a jumbo package. But that’s exactly what my buddy has initiated. And based on the package I offered back, he’d have a pretty strong chance to win it all.

And so might I. Next year.

Now let’s take a look at who caught my eye this week.

Anton Babchuk(notes), D, Calgary (17 percent owned) – I’ve whined about Babs before so I won’t spend much more time doing it again. But I will say this. Take away his nine-game adjustment period to the Calgary way and you have a man who has delivered 20 points in 34 games, including six in his last five games. More than four in five leagues are sleeping on this guy; yours shouldn’t be.

Danny Cleary(notes), RW, Detroit (27 percent owned) – I gave up on this Newf three games after his return from injury – what a mistake. It just took him a few games to get back up to speed and he now has seven points in his last five games. He’s not a point-per-game guy. But the Wings are elite and Cleary will deliver in just about every category. And multi-categorical contributors really are hard to come by at this point in the season.

Martin Erat(notes), RW, Nashville (8 percent owned) – Erat’s smile has been lighting up Tennessee for a week now and I don’t think he’ll cover those Chiclets any time soon. He’s a talented, energetic forward who needs a top-flight center to fully showcase his skills and he now has that with the arrival of Mr. Underwood – I mean Mike Fisher(notes). Erat has 10 points in his last nine games; five of those have come since Fisher arrived in Nashville. He hasn’t always skated with Mike but he’s been brilliant when he has. And this point-per-game output could continue for another 15 or 20 games. That’s fantasy gold, especially from a sub-10 percent man.

Curtis Glencross(notes), LW, Calgary (14 percent owned) – Glencross is a serious overachiever. He’s uber fast and has a nasty slapper. But he doesn’t have the in-tight puckhandling skills of a traditional top-six winger. Still, he’s gold when he’s “on” like he is right now. He has six goals and three assists in his last six games, and he, Olli Jokinen(notes) (see below) and David Moss(notes) (2 percent owned) are arguably the hottest line in the entire league right now. He’s best cast as a checker but you have no choice but roll him right now – quick bursts like this are one of the few ways to make up ground in a tight race.

Jack Hillen(notes), D, NY Islanders (0 percent owned) – I really like this guy. Sure, he’s undersized but he’s fast, smart and offensive-minded. And he has four helpers in his last four games. His overall numbers are unimpressive but this former college star is starting to emerge as the steady, top-pairing ¬defender he became last season. Yes, I said top pairing – he suited up alongside the now-injured Mark Streit(notes). Hillen isn’t Dan Boyle(notes) (yet) but his career trajectory may end up being similar, just with a slightly lower peak. And that means there will be value to getting his skates into your lineup, particularly in deep keeper formats. And right now, he might just prove to be a reasonably productive, short-term injury plug in single-year leagues. Just don’t count on big penalty minutes like we saw in the last week – that brawl won’t be repeated any time soon.

Olli Jokinen, C, Calgary (43 percent owned) – So, let’s be honest – did you think this was possible? I’d written off Rolie-Polie-Olli a couple seasons ago – there’s no room in most Yahoo! leagues for a sub-60 point center. But he has exploded with 11 points, including four goals, in his last six games. He’s playing with a surprising amount of enthusiasm, something that has been questioned for years, and his line with David Moss and Curtis Glencross may actually be the Flames best. Get him in your lineup and ride the wave. He’ll get distracted again. He always does.

Andy McDonald(notes), LW/C, St. Louis (25 percent owned) – The pride of Strathroy needs to find a four-leaf clover; maybe that would change his injury luck. Man, has he been cursed in St. Loo. But he’s back producing well enough to be solid third center in deep Yahoo! formats and his five points in his last five games make this slight speedster a decent injury fill-in over the short-term in two-center leagues.

Curtis McElhinney(notes), G, Anaheim (9 percent owned) – McElhinney is not the answer in the Ducks’ net. But he’s their man right now given the uncertainty of Jonas Hiller’s(notes) fatigue and a starter is a starter. Worst case scenario? League leaders in netminding categories should pick him up and then waive him the next day. Sound stupid? Maybe. But not if your next closest competition is hovering right behind you in goalie categories. Like it or not, there’s absolutely no rule against fantasy interference. And you really should set that pick if there’s a chance your buddy might gain even a single win on you. McElhinney will be unavailable for just enough days for Hiller to come off the IR. Hey – it ain’t dirty if you do it first.

Robyn Regehr(notes), D, Calgary (4 percent owned) – I never thought I’d ever put this guy on a fantasy watch list. But nine points in his last eight games make him a regular Bobby Orr. OK, that’s an obvious stretch but his output would be impressive coming from an offensive defender let alone one of the league’s most talented – and feared – shutdown blue liners. It cannot last – he’s never scored more than 26 points in any season. But you have to roll the dice on him for at least a couple games, just in case he keeps this up. And given the rash of defensive injuries of late, you probably have a hole to fill. I know I do.

Michael Ryder(notes), RW, Boston (12 percent owned) – This on-again, off-again sniper appears to be on again, particularly on the power play. Three of the five points he has delivered in his last five games have come on the PP. And with fellow winger Blake Wheeler(notes) potentially headed out of Dodge by deadline, the one-dimensional Ryder could see a slight uptick in ice time. He could pick up the pace and hit 25 goals.

Jakub Voracek(notes), RW, NY Islanders (47 percent owned) – I expected a breakout this season after this shifty winger potted 22 points in 24 games post-Ken Hitchcock last season. But I punted him after a slow start – patience has never been a virtue for me, I guess. He’s finally warming up – he’s on a three-game, four-point streak and he has six points in his last five games. That’ll help your team.

Back to early trades.

It’s hard to say if Brian Burke’s moves will get his team to the playoffs. But his ability to make-over the Leafs has been nothing short of impressive (you don’t have to like the guys he’s gotten back but you do have to be impressed by the contracts he has been able to dump).

And it remains to be seen if my buddy will even move Alexander the Gr8. But it was interesting to see the obvious anxiety that underscored the league banter – especially from his closest foes – as his offer was both debated and ridiculed.

He’s in the driver’s seat no matter what he does. He came out hard, fast and early, just like Mr. Burke. He’ll get back plus-plus value if he pulls the trigger. And he won’t be screwed for next year either.


But even if he doesn’t consummate the deal, he’ll know exactly which guys are available and precisely how much his current owner thinks each is worth. And his offer is going to create a cascade of potentially panicked moves among our league’s best.

That’s impressive no matter how you look at it.

Until next week.

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