Just shy of two weeks remain in the NHL's regular season. To put a spin on the league's hot-button topic of the last few weeks: If you're going to put up a fight, now would be a good time to do it. Just as I did last week, The Skinny sits in second, second and third in a trio of leagues – Still kicking, but time is ticking. In many ways, there's only so much you can do. Go to battle with what got you there. Having said that, there could be free points out there in the form of penalty minutes. If there's one category that's easy to leapfrog or two teams in, it's PIMs. David Koci, anyone? Here's the first of the final two full-blown Skinnys. I'll come at you with a season recap on April 8, assuming I don't just decide to forget the whole thing happened:
WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days
Drew Stafford just keeps scoring goals for the Buffalo Sabres. Friday's game-winner gave the rookie his sixth goal in five games and his 10th overall since rejoining the Sabres on Feb. 17. Over the last month only Dany Heatley has more goals as a right wing. Stafford has one fewer, tied with proven goal-scorers Jonathan Cheechoo and Marian Gaborik with nine. Pretty heady company. The rest of the right wing pool – and we're talking about guys like Jagr, Alfredsson and Iginla here – are in pursuit mode.
So the big question is what happens when Buffalo gets healthy. Coach Lindy Ruff hasn't committed to keeping Stafford in Buffalo for the playoffs, but the rookie appears to be forcing the team's hand with his play. Playoffs aside, Stafford sure looks like a solid enough play in a No. 2 right wing position over the last half dozen games of the season. He's averaging a point per game over his last 15 and was recently plus-7 with six penalty minutes in a five-game span. Numbers like that are hard to ignore this time of year, but Stafford remains available in just about 90 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the Kings and Jack Johnson are closing in on a deal that could bring the prized defenseman to San Jose to meet the team by Tuesday. Johnson, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2005 entry draft, could see action in the final six games of the regular season. There's some precedent here that says Johnson could make an impact, albeit a small one, in fantasy leagues over the final two weeks of the regular season. You may remember that the San Jose Sharks added Matt Carle to their lineup under similar circumstances a year ago, and the University of Denver product responded with six points and 14 penalty minutes in 12 regular season games.
In two seasons at the University of Michigan, Johnson scored 26 goals in 73 games and added 232 penalty minutes. By contrast, Carle scored 28 goals in three seasons (though he did add 42 assists as a junior, nearly doubling Johnson's career-high). Johnson has already had success on the international stage as a member of the U.S. National Team, and as a guy with a big shot and a physical edge, he has a skill set that should translate well at the NHL level. Also keep an eye on last year's No. 1 draft pick, Erik Johnson, who may well debut with the St. Louis Blues before the season ends. Erik has more long-term upside, but will likely play only a couple regular season games if he does ink a deal.
One-timers: The Palm Beach Post reports that Florida backup goalie Craig Anderson could get two or three evaluation starts in the final six games. … According to the Ottawa Sun, coach Bryan Murray is considering breaking up Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza. … Todd Bertuzzi debuted on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom. He has no points in three games as a Red Wing. … Marek Zidlicky has been playing some forward for the Nashville Predotors. … Buffalo's Ales Kotalik practiced on a line with Chris Drury and Dainius Zubrus in advance of his return from a knee injury. … The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Johan Hedberg will start Thursday against Toronto. Not a bad time of year to employ spot-starters in goal.
BARGAIN BIN: Top player available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
Gary Roberts, LW, Pit – If he sticks on Pittsburgh's No. 1 power-play unit – and trust me, there are no guarantees the way Michel Therrien shuffles lines – Roberts could chip in with 3-5 man-advantage points over the next half dozen games.
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Cory Stillman, LW, Car &ndas; Things are looking up a bit since Stillman was reunited with old linemates Eric Staal and Erik Cole. Stillman has two goals and two assists in his last five games, Cole has five points in the same span and Staal has goals in back-to-back contests.
Alexander Radulov, RW, Nas – When he first joined the Predators, Radulov was lucky to log 10 minutes of ice time. Today he's regularly in the 14-17 minute range, even topping 20 minutes from time to time. Better yet, coach Barry Trotz has been playing him alongside Peter Forsberg, which has resulted in three goals and five points in his last six games.
Craig Rivet, D, SJ – Nothing spectacular, but Rivet and his right-handed shot have been a perfect fit with the Sharks. In his last eight games, Rivet has five assists and two power-play points.
Andrew Ladd, LW, Car – First 51 games: 12 points. Last nine games: nine points. Hard to explain. Equally hard to ignore.
Patrick O'Sullivan, C, LA – His recent seven-game point streak (2 goals, 8 assists) came to an end Saturday, which I guess makes him a little less than half as valuable to fantasy owners as Paul Stastny.
Andrei Kostitsyn, LW, Mon – Quietly, Kostitsyn is averaging an assist per game over his last nine. He's one of several under-25 guys who have been productive lately for the Canadiens. Add Tomas Plakanec (12 points in 10 games) and Christopher Higgins (four points Thursday) to the list.
Milan Michalek, LW, SJ – Joe Thornton suddenly ranks second in the scoring race and Michalek and winger Jonathan Cheechoo are reaping the benefits. Michalek has 14 points in seven games and Cheechoo has eight goals in six games.
Dustin Brown, RW, LA – Mentioned in this space last week, Brown scored again Saturday and now has four goals and five assists in eight games. Add in 18 penalty minutes over the last month and you have a top-20 rated right wing over the last 30 days.
Rick DiPietro, G, NYI – According to a report on TSN.ca, DiPietro is out indefinitely after showing signs of post-concussion syndrome. It is very possible that he won't play again in the regular season. Backup Mike Dunham allowed 16 goals in three games when DiPietro was originally injured.
Mark Recchi, RW, Pit – Recent power-play struggles prompted some shuffling, and Recchi tumbled out of the first unit. Upgrade Gary Roberts, who lined up with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby and responded with three man-advantage points Sunday.
Jeff O'Neill, C, Tor – That's 12 games without a point if you're scoring at home. Worse (maybe), O'Neill was a healthy scratch Saturday.
Tomas Holmstrom, LW, Det – Nine straight games now without a point. He'll need some time to develop chemistry with Todd Bertuzzi, assuming that line sticks together.
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Busy weekend of transactions as various owners kicked the tires on Karri Ramo, Brad Boyes, Jason Bacashihua and Mike Commodore among others. Still an uphill climb for the Skinny in the final two weeks, but there are still points to be had out there.