What a difference a year makes. This time 12 months ago hockey fans were being teased by optimistic labor updates while wondering if a compressed four-month season was really worth all the trouble. Now we have the shootout, Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, zero-tolerance and, here in the Bay Area, Joe Thornton in teal and black. The Skinny is still not a huge fan of the shootout, but it's great to be following hockey again. Hope you all enjoyed a safe and happy new year's celebration. Here's what you missed while buried in party poppers and champagne glasses.
WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days
The Florida Panthers had lost four straight when coach Jacques Martin shuffled lines and teamed Olli Jokinen with Gary Roberts and Chris Gratton on Dec. 13. Since then, the Panthers have won seven of 10, success that can be traced to the play of one of the hottest lines in fantasy hockey. Roberts netted the game-winner Sunday. A free agent in roughly 40 percent of Yahoo! leagues, he has six goals, six assists and plus-8 rating since the line was formed 10 games ago. Gratton's contribution has been more modest. He has two goals, three assists, a plus-7 rating and 20 penalty minutes with his new crew.
As for Jokinen, Roberts and Gratton have been a shot in the arm. The Fin failed to score at a point-per-game clip in each of the season's first two months. Since joining his new line, he has a 10-game point streak. Jokinen has six goals and 10 assists during that span. Center Joe Nieuwendyk has also pitched in. He scored Florida's first goal Sunday to extend his goal streak to three games (four goals, one assist). Of all parties involved, Roberts has the most fantasy value. He's widely available and he carries eligibility at left wing – a bonus in a player pool overstocked with productive centers.
Kristian Huselius scored Calgary's game-winning goal Saturday, capping a two-point night with a goal in the final two minutes. Jarome Iginla assisted on the goal for his only point of the night. Incredibly, that's just about how the points have been distributed between these two linemates in the past month. Huselius had a productive fantasy month, piling up 14 points in 12 games with a plus-5 rating and 14 penalty minutes. Iginla had the type of month that has prompted What is wrong with Iginla? headlines in Calgary. The Flames' captain had seven points in 13 December games.
Drop Huselius and sign Iginla? Or course not. But you should give your left wings a good look as we flip the calendar to 2006. Huselius, a left wing, is available in roughly 95 percent of Yahoo! leagues. With Florida, he tallied four points on the power play in 24 games. Since joining the Flames' top power-play unit, he has eight points on special teams in 12 games. Looks like a change of scenery has done the trick for this 2002 Calder candidate. As for Iginla, who knows? Fantasy owners obviously have to wait out this dry spell. If it's any consolation, his current goals pace is ahead of his 2003-04 clip, and that year he wound up tied for the Rocket Richard Trophy. That season he scored 28 goals from January through March after scoring just four in his first 21 games.
With a little less than a minute left in the second period of Sunday's Atlanta-Washington game, rookie Alexander Ovechkin crashed the net and plowed over goalie Kari Lehtonen. On a night that didn't feature too many tests – Lehtonen stopped 19 of 21 shots to earn his first win of the year – the collision served as the game's defining moment. It was the first physical challenge for a goalie who has missed almost 90 days with a myriad of groin problems. Lehtonen got up. Fantasy owners exhaled.
Lehtonen has been hyped here in the past several weeks, with little results apparently. As of Sunday morning, Lehtonen was owned in 48 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Exiled St. Louis goalie Patrick Lalime was owned in 47 percent. Now that may speak more to the activity level of some Yahoo! owners than the perceived value of each goalie, but Lehtonen is still under-owned. The Thrashers have turned a corner by winning six of their past nine. They'll get Peter Bondra back in the next 1-2 weeks. And now they have their No. 1 goalie back between the pipes. At the very least, Lehtonen is deserving of a No. 3 goalie position on your roster ahead of the likes of Kevin Weekes, Jason LaBarbera and Ray Emery.
BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
- Nils Ekman, LW, SJ
Ekman was sheepish after Friday's four-assist performance – an effort that more than doubled his previous assist total. "I'm trying to make the best of this opportunity," Ekman told the San Francisco Chronicle. The opportunity he referenced is playing wing on San Jose's top line. He was promoted to Joe Thornton's line the previous game. In the Sharks' past four games, Ekman has two goals and five assists. The Swede recorded just two points in his previous 10 games. This could be the revival the Sharks have been waiting for. Ekman had 55 points in 82 games with San Jose in 2003-04, but he's been a disappointment so far this year.
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Bryan Smolinski, C, Ott – According to the Ottawa Sun, Smolinski will stay on Ottawa's top line now that Daniel Alfredsson is out with a cracked rib. Smolinksi had two goals and five assists in four games as Jason Spezza's replacement as No. 1 center.
Michael Cammalleri, C, LA – Cammalleri enjoyed a season-best three-point night Thursday while extending his goal streak to five games. The 5-foot-9 center has eight goals and two assists in his past 11 games.
Darcy Tucker, LW, Tor – With a goal and an assist Saturday, Tucker closed his most productive month of the season. In 13 games, the left wing tallied eight goals, five assists and 28 penalty minutes.
Sami Kapanen, RW, Phi – He's still making the most of his ice time with Philadelphia's top scoring lines. Kapanen scored a goal in his third consecutive game Saturday to extend his point streak to five games. In his past 11, Kapanen has seven goals and seven assists.
Michel Ouellet, RW, Pit – Since joining his former AHL coach with the Penguins, Ouellet has four goals and four assists in five games. The fourth-round pick in 2000 closed the year with a three-point night in a win over the Rangers.
Scott Gomez, C, NJ – The roller coaster is cresting again. After another dry spell (two points in eight games), Gomez is on fire again. The center scored all three New Jersey goals in a 6-3 loss Saturday and he now has eight points in his past three games.
Brad Stuart, D, Bos – One of the few bright spots for coach Mike Sullivan, Stuart has two goals and four assists in his past five games. He took a season-best seven shots Thursday against Florida.
Dan Hamhuis, D, Nas – All you want out of your No. 3 or No. 4 defenseman is a contribution, and Hamhuis has been good for that over the past two weeks. He's riding a streak of 10 straight games with at least an assist or a minor penalty (nine assists, 14 penalty minutes).
Alexei Yashin, C, NYI – No stranger to the doghouse, Yashin was demoted to the fourth line Friday while playing a season-low 10:16 against Ottawa.
Alexander Frolov, LW, LA – He finally snapped his goalless streak at 16 games Saturday. "He's looking at diminished ice time if he doesn't compete harder," coach Andy Murray told the Los Angeles Daily News. So far he's still getting his 20 minutes.
Daniel Briere, C, Buf – Bad news on the medical front, where Briere was finally diagnosed with a sports hernia, an injury that will sideline him for three months.
Scott Thornton, LW, SJ – Nils Ekman's gain is Thornton's loss. He's no longer skating on a line with cousin Joe, so for now he's just another gritty checking-line forward.