Icing It Down: Avs get top players back
With fantasy playoff matchups in head-to-head leagues beginning to take shape, the decision on whether to drop a player instead of wasting a valuable roster slot on him is easier than it was a few months ago. As such, some players have become quite expendable, especially if you're on the cusp of that final playoff spot or scratching your way for points in a certain Roto category.
But the past week was also one for returns, especially for the Colorado Avalanche. Ryan Smyth returned during this column's vacation, and two other top-six forwards, Paul Stastny and Joe Sakic, returned over the weekend. Owners of Wojtek Wolski, Marek Svatos and Andrew Brunette should all benefit from the offensive firepower that has been returned to its rightful place in the Colorado arsenal.
Paul Stastny, C, and Joe Sakic, C, Avalanche: Friday night marked the return for young star Stastny and Sunday was Sakic's night, and each man earned points in his first game back. Sakic's ownership jumped 17 points in the past week, but he is still unowned in 6.8 percent of leagues right now. You should lower that number if one of those is your league. As the Avs try to scratch their way to the playoffs -- they sit four points back at the moment -- it will be up to these two leaders at the opposite ends of their careers to guide them there, so making a play for either guy is a smart move.
Nicklas Lidstrom, D, Red Wings" On Friday, Detroit coach Mike Babcock said that Lidstrom's timetable had been moved up: "He's two weeks [away] -- max." This is encouraging to those who are awaiting his return for the fantasy playoffs, so just hold tight if that's you. If you need a stopgap for these two weeks, Lidstrom's teammate (and name mate) Niklas Kronwall is widely available and will be leaned upon for production until Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski return.
Mike Richards, C, Flyers: The timing for this franchise center's hamstring injury could not be worse for his real-life team or his fantasy owners. The Flyers, who this week lost Simon Gagne for the season, are currently on the outside looking in on the Eastern Conference playoffs, just a point behind the Sabres, and the next three weeks (the time Richards is expected to miss) will in the same way determine who's in and who's out in the fantasy playoff hunt. Although no one in Richards' neighborhood for seasonal stats is available, you might want to take a chance on Brandon Dubinsky, as 28.3 percent of ESPN owners have done within the past week. After Sunday's game, Dubinsky has seven points, 24 penalty minutes and a plus-4 in his past five games.
Sergei Zubov, D, Stars: Although Zubov hasn't played a game since the middle of January, there is a status update: He'll now miss three to four more weeks after surgery on his right foot Sunday. While this news provides a timetable for his return, it's time to move on for head-to-head owners. The four weeks that he'll be missing are crucial as the season winds down, and the playoffs begin within that time span in many leagues. The best advice is to look elsewhere, although you might not have to look very far. His teammate, Philippe Boucher, who scored 51 points in 2006-07, is set to return this week from his shoulder injury, and he's owned in just 40.3 percent of ESPN leagues.
Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com.
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