Are You For Real?: Laich, McLean, Halak
This time of year often makes for strange bedfellows in terms of fantasy owners and NHL players. With only a handful of games left, those who wouldn't command a smidgen of attention in October are now skaters of interest, if not desire. We fantasy hockey enthusiasts are a fickle, shallow and self-serving bunch, but with ample justification. It's just like giving your ever-annoying cousin Arthur a call because you need help moving. Although you'd rather hang out with just about anyone else under other circumstances, the truth is, Arthur owns a truck. Therein lies his immediate usefulness, regardless of how irritating he is otherwise. Here's this week's slew of "Arthurs" on skates:
Pereira: Here's what we know about Laich -- he's big. Other than that, he's essentially a fantasy unknown. Laich, who's never scored more than eight goals in any single season, already has 19 this season, six in March. Until this season, Laich has been the model of consistency. He played 73 games in each of the past two seasons, picking up seven and eight goals, 21 and 18 points, 26 and 29 penalty minutes, and 118 and 119 shots on goal, respectively. The peripheral numbers remain the same this season, but his goal total has more than doubled, as has his shooting percentage. On a long-term basis, I think Laich falls back in line with his career numbers and won't be much of a fantasy factor. But for now, he's an interesting short-term add if you need goals, so long as he plays on the power play and sees some ice time with Alexander Ovechkin. So yes, he's somewhat for real.
Matiash: No, he's not. The problem lies with the fact that he's not on the ice with Ovechkin enough and doesn't own a spot on the Caps' first power-play unit. The group, consisting of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Sergei Fedorov and Mike Green, will get the bulk of time on the ice with the man advantage. Laich will only get his chances once those guys exhaust their opportunities. And recent solid numbers aside, Laich mostly skates on a line with Eric Fehr -- hardly an offensive powerhouse. There's simply too much other scoring talent on this young, currently hot squad for Laich to carry much value over the next couple of weeks. He'll pot the odd goal and assist, but that's about it. Leave him be.
Matiash: Oh, he's for real all right -- at least as far as we care about now. I'm all over this guy and it's simply due to the company he keeps. McLean is comfortably entrenched on Florida's top line with Olli Jokinen and Rostislav Olesz, and my goodness, is that working out well. He's getting tons of scoring opportunities, at both even strength and with the man advantage, and as I've mentioned in this space in the past, Jokinen makes everyone around him a better player. The added beauty of McLean's position is there's little reason to believe a line shuffling of any sort is on the horizon. The Panthers are disillusioned enough to think they have a legitimate chance at a playoff spot, so they're playing with some extra oomph. Coach Jacques Martin won't mess with either of his top two lines as long as the team continues to win here and there. So McLean's little scoring flurry should continue for a little while, at least.
Pereira: I completely agree. The Panthers have been playing some great hockey of late, they're in the thick of a playoff race (they are!) and McLean has a lot to do with that. With 10 points over his past five games, he's truly been a surprise blessing if you've had him rostered already. Unfortunately, very few were lucky enough -- he remains available in more than 90 percent of ESPN leagues. McLean typically finishes with between 30 and 40 points each year, so when the season is done his numbers won't look that special. But that's only because it's all come lately. I recommend him wholeheartedly as a pickup for the remainder of the season, and for the reasons you mentioned: Playing on the top line with Jokinen, his production will continue from here on out.
Pereira: Halak has certainly been a nice surprise for Montreal, but that's where this discussion should end. The Canadiens have a clear-cut No. 1 goalie in Price, so Halak will remain as nothing more than a busy backup. Brian Boucher has shown us that early success in goal is no indicator of an overall career path, and I would dissuade fantasy owners from rushing to pick him up. While I do think he will be a good goalie in the future, he won't play enough over the remainder of the season to be useful in the average fantasy league. Remember, 30 NHL teams passed over him eight times each in the 2003 draft before he was taken in the ninth round. So he can't be that great, can he?
Matiash: He doesn't need to be great, he just needs to be good enough for a few more games, which he will be. With a 2-0-1 record and .946 save percentage, Halak has stepped in more than adequately in the past week and a half. The Canadiens clearly don't want their young starter (Price) to burn out before the playoffs, so Halak will get his chance every two to three games or so. Therefore, if you need a goaltending performance here or there to get an edge over a head-to-head opponent, why not take the gamble? With unquestionable talent, Halak could easily have a second shutout up his sleeve before the season is done. In other words, he's reasonably for real.
Victoria Matiash and John Pereira are fantasy hockey analysts for ESPN.com.