Hockey returned to network television Saturday. That was nice to see, even if panicked NBC execs were forced to sweat out more than 17 minutes of scoreless action in each of the three morning telecasts. In the end they got what they wanted: an overtime thriller in Philadelphia, a shootout in Boston and a Red Wings-Rangers game that went down to the wire. Overall, the broadcast quality was decent. There were no "innovations" that screamed disaster – glowing pucks, anyone? – but I also fear there was nothing fresh enough to compel the typical American couch potato to flick over from his or her morning Rachael Ray marathon.
The new "shift timer" was mildly interesting. It's a simple timer that measures the shift length of each team's star players. The feature got me thinking about just how un-friendly hockey broadcasts are for fantasy owners. Watching football, you're pretty much force-fed fantasy stats and injury updates. Not so in hockey. Would it kill the networks to show me a graphical display of each team's top lines? And update them throughout the game as coaches tinker with line combinations. And don't get me started about injuries. I know some degree of secrecy is necessary, but just trying to determine when, say, Robert Esche will be back in action is enough to give me an upper head injury.
WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days
Gary Roberts and Olli Jokinen have a new linemate. Chris Gratton is out and Nathan Horton is in, and the move has been a huge shot in the arm for Horton. Before coach Jacques Martin shuffled his lines, Horton went nine games without a goal. Since joining Roberts and Jokinen, the right wing has two goals and two assists in three games. Martin has mixed up his top line before – remember that Gratton doubled his goal output after joining this unit – but Florida has claimed five of a possible six points with this latest version on the ice. That should buy Horton more time with the top line.
Center/right wing flexibility is a nice bonus. And don't forget that this kid was the No. 3 overall selection in the 2003 entry draft, so this isn't an out-of-nowhere story. As for his new linemates, we all know what Jokinen is capable of. Roberts, however, remains available in a little more than one-third of Yahoo! leagues. The left wing has a three-game point streak and is averaging slightly more than a point per game over his past 11. If you're thin at either wing, Horton and Roberts can provide a lift – at least as long as Martin is willing to keep them together.
Scott Walker doesn't quite qualify for the Bargain Bin. As of Sunday morning, the right wing was owned in 54 percent of Yahoo! leagues. The cutoff for bargain eligibility is 50 percent ownership. What's the word then? Steal? That could be it. For sure, Walker stole a goal Sunday when a Greg Johnson shot fluttered off a stick before deflecting off Walker's head and into the Pittsburgh net. It was Walker's first two-goal game of the season as it followed a more conventional score.
Remember that this 32-year-old forward led Nashville with 25 goals and 67 points in 2003-04. He was injured early on this season and missed 33 games with a sports hernia, an injury that required surgery. Coach Barry Trotz was understandably stingy with the minutes when Walker returned. He played just 11 minutes on Jan. 8, but has slowly been worked into playing shape. Sunday he was on the ice for 19 minutes in the Pittsburgh win. If right wing scoring is your need, Walker will provide a nice lift.
Rumor season is upon us. One of the names that has surfaced early on is that of former 44-goal scorer Owen Nolan. According to recent reports, he has been cleared to play after rehabbing his right knee following surgery. There are some legal hurdles involving his contract with Toronto to clear as well. It's very likely that Nolan will wind up a free agent. Where he'll wind up is up for debate. Several weeks ago the San Jose Mercury News reported that Nolan had talked to Sharks' GM Doug Wilson about a possible return. The Sharks, the story goes, were interested but wanted the right wing to clear his medical hurdles first.
Other teams will come calling for sure, and there's still the matter of Nolan's health. He'll turn 34 soon, and he is almost four years removed from his last truly productive season. But he's certainly a guy to keep an eye on if he lands in the right place. Now that the front of the net belongs to the offensive player, crease-crashers such as Nolan have enjoyed renewed success. We'll keep an eye on developments here and report further when a signing is imminent.
BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
- David Vyborny, RW, Cob
Everyone in Columbus seems to have benefited from the return of Rick Nash. Vyborny is no exception. He scored only one goal between Nov. 11 and Jan. 8, but since has been on a tear. His goal Monday was his fifth in his past four games, with the last two coming on the power-play. Heck, he even got two game-winners last week. Who knew Columbus could actually win more than one game in a week?
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Milan Jurcina, D, Bos – Known more for his size than his scoring touch – Jurcina scored just 11 goals in two full AHL seasons before joining the Bruins – this 6-foot-4 blue-liner is suddenly Boston's hottest scorer. He has five goals and one assist in five games and is enjoying increased ice time with Brian Leetch and Hal Gill on the shelf.
Radim Vrbata, RW, Chi – Vrbata scored a goal in his fourth straight game Sunday and was included in coach Trent Yawney's shootout lineup. Acquired from Carolina in December, the right wing has averaged 4.5 shots per game with the Blackhawks.
Nils Ekman, LW, SJ – Fantasy owners are slowly coming around, but as of Sunday Ekman was still a freebie in about 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues. The left wing scored a goal Sunday to run his totals since joining the Joe Thornton-Jonathan Cheechoo line to three goals and 12 assists in seven games.
Ryan Malone, LW, Pit – According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Penguins shifted this struggling forward to the center position for their Jan. 10 game against Edmonton. Malone didn't seem to mind the change. He has four goals and an assist in his past six games.
Ray Whitney, LW, Car – Whitney, believe it or not, had not scored a goal since Nov. 15 when he scored against the Islanders on Jan. 7. The left wing has three goals and three assists in his past five.
Bryan Berard, D, Cob – He'll kill you in the plus/minus category, but his offensive production justifies a roster spot as a No. 3 or No. 4 fantasy defenseman. He assisted on two goals Monday, giving him three goals and three assists in his past five games.
Sean Avery, C, LA – Those 24 penalty minutes he racked up Saturday were a nice bonus. He seems to have a good PIM meltdown at least once every 10 games and is already two points shy of his career-best scoring season.
Darcy Tucker, RW, Tor – Tucker missed Saturday's game, and his rib injury is expected to sideline him for at least two more.
Mike Comrie, C, Pho – Coach Wayne Gretzky has put a lot of pressure on Petr Nedved to pick up his game, but Comrie hasn't exactly been setting the world on fire. Monday's game was his seventh straight without a point.
Dan Boyle, D, TB – Monday's game against San Jose was Boyle's eighth straight without a point.