Are You For Real?: Vanek, Horton, Fleury
We are just days away from the NHL trade deadline, always an exciting time for fantasy leaguers. With every move comes a potential change in value for both those directly involved and those not. The "luckiest" fantasy owner is he or she who predicts and properly anticipates a trade before it happens.
Furthermore, most fantasy leagues are seeing their own trade deadlines approach as well. So time is of the essence and shouldn't be squandered.
Vanek, now in his third season, has been a fantasy darling ever since he stepped onto the NHL ice. But things haven't come quite so easily for the young Austrian this season. He is on pace for 57 points, which is a big disappointment, considering his 84 points last season. But things have become interesting recently, as eight of his 22 goals have come since Feb. 1. Newsflash: Vanek is good again. Is now the time to trade for him?
John: No, no, no. Vanek is not for real. At least in my mind, there is some cause for concern. Exactly half of his goals this season have come on the power play, and it's no secret the Sabres are looking to trade away quarterback Brian Campbell. The job then would fall to Jaroslav Spacek, who, although decent, certainly is no Campbell. I doubt Vanek will continue playing as well as he has, although he does have the pure talent to create opportunities for himself and be a fantasy factor down the stretch.
Victoria: Never mind your Brian Campbell talk. Vanek absolutely is for real. He is just finally playing up to expectations. He surely has been a disappointment this season, but that has had far less to do with his teammates as opposed to what has taken place in his own head. There is little doubt the franchise winger got all freaked out after signing that monster $50 million contract. Initially, he just couldn't deal with the pressure. But since everyone in Buffalo has written him off (to a degree), he is relaxed and producing again. You nailed it square on the head when mentioning talent, Johnny. Vanek is a natural goal scorer; one way or another, he finds a way. Regardless of whom he skates with. Now that he is a little less panicked, I expect good numbers out of him down the stretch. Besides, trade-wise, you wouldn't get much in return at this point.
Horton is no stranger to us here at AYFR. He was featured, early on, as a candidate set to have a breakout season and someone to target via trade. So, what's changed? Everything. It has been rumored, often, that captain Olli Jokinen is on his way out of town pre-trade deadline, leaving poor Nathan alone to fend for himself. Will Horton be able to keep up his career-best pace if, and when, Jokinen is no longer a Panther? And more importantly, will he hear a who? (shout out to Dr. Seuss)
John: Unfortunately, he isn't for real anymore. I've been a fan of Horton's since his OHL days with the Oshawa Generals, but even I am willing to say now is the time to pull the trigger and trade him away. His value will never be higher this season than it is right now. He has 10 points in nine games this month and has been held off the score sheet only once in February. A lot of that has to do with time spent on the power play with Jokinen. What's making things even worse is the injury suffered by linemate Stephen Weiss this week. Weiss will miss two weeks with a broken finger, meaning Horton will be centered by Kamil Kreps in the short term. I'd be willing to bet you could get something good in return, maybe an equally red-hot Patrik Elias.
Victoria: Yeah, we're on the same page here. Now is the time to talk trade and capitalize on Horton's stellar numbers, before they take a nosedive. Often underrated as an unselfish team player, Jokinen makes everyone around him better. If he leaves, Horton's production will suffer. So, the only question in play is: Will Jokinen be dealt? I think so. After several seasons of pre-deadline Jokinen trade talk, I bet Florida actually goes through with it this time. That's how it smells from here, anyway.
Fleury is on the verge of returning from the same injury that has sidelined Sidney Crosby for the past month. While it's expected that the former first overall pick will be recalled from the AHL at the end of the week, his exact role upon return is anything but clear. The team has invested a lot into this young netminder; he is its goalie of the future, but he has been inconsistent this season. What should a fantasy leaguer do?
Victoria: This situation is a toughie to assess, but I believe Fleury is for real. He played well in his last starts before falling to injury, and I expect him to respond positively to the pressure of having to earn his everyday job back. He never has had to deal with that strain before, and it will be good for him. Besides, as adequately as the backup has performed, Ty Conklin still is Ty Conklin. He is not someone on whom the Penguins can rely in their drive to, and hopefully through, the postseason. Fleury will have the opportunity to win his starter's role back, and he will rise to the occasion. I wouldn't give up much for him, but if he is there for the taking, for little to no cost, it's a gamble worth making. Especially if your roster isn't otherwise saturated with strong goaltending.
John: His ownership numbers in ESPN leagues have jumped more than 12 percent this past week, so if he is available in your league, you better act quickly. Goalies are to fantasy hockey what running backs are to fantasy football; you stock up on them and hoard as many as possible. So when one becomes available, you take him, no questions asked. But whether he will play well upon his return is a completely separate question. Unlike you, Victoria, I sincerely doubt he will play impressive hockey upon his return. He has shown he has trouble controlling his rebounds, and being rusty certainly won't help. The Penguins have a rock-solid option to fall back on in Conklin and won't feel pressured to use Fleury for the remainder of the season. That hurts his potential value.
Victoria Matiash and John Pereira are fantasy hockey analysts for ESPN.com.
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