- Tim Kavanagh, Fantasy and Insider
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Despite Sidney Crosby's relapse and subsequent trip back to the sidelines, this was another week of big returns to the ice in the NHL. With slightly more than three weeks left of games, every single start counts, so take a look at the latter three gentlemen below, as they are all still available in some leagues.
It's business time
Marian Hossa, RW, Penguins: Sunday's matinee against the Flyers was set up to be a phenomenal showcase -- Hossa was set to return (and did) to the team already featuring stars Evgeni Malkin (who had another ridiculous stat line) and Sidney Crosby, the face of the league. With Crosby unable to play because of lingering effects from his ankle sprain, we had to settle for a seven-goal game out of the unfriendly host Penguins. The important thing to note is that Hossa skated a full game of 24 shifts and just over 18 minutes of ice time, and should now be instantly back in active duty for all of his fantasy owners.
Mike Richards, C, Flyers: Back to work for the Philly franchise center. Saturday afternoon marked the return of Richards after three weeks on the shelf with a hamstring tear, and it took just 29 minutes for the 23-year-old to notch goal No. 24 on the season. Richards finished that game with just over 19 minutes of ice time, then came back and skated 16:33 just a day later (and picked up 12 penalty minutes!) during the massacre in Pittsburgh, so it would appear quite certain that he's back for good. His ownership percentage dipped into the 60s during his stay on the injured list, but it's back up to 88.1 percent as of now. Clearly, he'll be a solid asset for the remainder of the year and should be picked up and started in all formats.
Joffrey Lupul, LW, Flyers: After just shy of a month on the injured reserve, Richards' teammate Lupul returned last week as well, and assisted on the former's goal on Saturday. Lupul is even more widely available than Richards, and will be just as valuable down the stretch given his proclivity for multipoint games. He had five multipoint games in December and two more just before his injury in February.
Ryan Smyth, LW, Avalanche: Contrary to the initial reports, which had Smyth suffering from a season-ending injury thanks to a hit sustained against the Kings earlier this month, the separation in his left shoulder has repaired itself enough for his return to the active lineup. During his first game back on Saturday, Smyth skated 18:10 and recorded a shot on goal. The left wing has had a remarkably inconsistent season, best exemplified by the stretch of games leading up to his injury, during which he snapped a nine-game pointless streak by scoring five points in three games. It's that kind of occasional dominance that can make a difference as the fantasy playoffs roll on, so certainly take a shot with Smyth if you've got an opening on the wing.
'Tis but a scratch
Zdeno Chara, D, Bruins: Much of Eastern Europe remains a mystery to my Western brain, so it is fitting (for me, at least) that Chara's current condition, listed as "upper torso injury" officially, is shrouded in secrecy as well. What is known is this: He apparently hurt himself somewhere in the upper torso area while taking a slap shot earlier this month, and with each game that passes -- it's been five now -- his fantasy owners are stuck playing the waiting game as to when the large blueliner will suit up again. It's a very slight upgrade to Mark Stuart while the big man is out, but Stuart has yet to capitalize on the added playing time, save for eight penalty minutes in the past two games.
Mattias Ohlund, D, Canucks: Season No. 10 of Ohlund's eerily consistent NHL career is now over, as the Swedish gent underwent surgery to remove bone chips from his knee on Thursday. There is an outside shot that Ohlund could return during a playoff run, but his fantasy 2007-08 is now over and he'll finish with nine goals, 15 assists and 79 penalty minutes in 53 games played. Two guys at whom to take a look if you need to replace Ohlund are Sami Salo and Alexander Edler. Salo is quite injury-prone, and he is currently suffering with back spasms so he is not as safe a bet as Edler, who has scored nine of his 19 points on the power play, a role that should be increased further with Ohlund out of the picture.
Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com.
Tim Kavanagh highlights the returns of Marian Hossa and Mike Richards.