Trade deadline day in the NHL has come and gone, but trade deadline day in your fantasy league likely is approaching quickly. If you need to change anything about your team to make it a championship squad, the time is now. Every person in every league is in a different situation, and based on the number of people who play fantasy sports, I'd have to write about tens of millions of situations to help everyone. So in the interest of brevity, I'll be throwing a blanket over as many of you as possible.
Let's have a chat about owners gunning for the title, on the verge of competing and wallowing in defeat.
Gunning for the title
As the final weeks of the fantasy hockey season play out, your team will either rise to the occasion or fall by the wayside and let someone else take the glory. I'm talking to the top five or six owners in any given league, especially in head-to-head formats. Your team has helped you get this far, but in most cases your team is far from perfect. If you really want to make a run at the title, you need to make sure you minimize your weaknesses.
Categorical weaknesses: These should be easy to identify. In a roto league, it's the category you have the best chance to move up (preferably several places in the standings). In head-to-head, you are looking for a category that you lose by a small margin most weeks. Once you have identified your weakness, you can trade for help in that area. If you need goals down the stretch, consider trading for someone a little underrated who has been lighting the lamp a lot lately (Thomas Vanek, Brendan Shanahan or Alexander Semin). The trade won't be a cheap one, but if you deal properly from your strengths, you may be able to acquire the player you need. For assists, try Sam Gagner, Petr Sykora or Tim Connolly. For power-play points, look to Jere Lehtinen, Jarret Stoll or Tomas Plekanec. For plus/minus help, try Paul Martin, Andrew Ladd or Marek Malik. For goaltending help, try Mathieu Garon, Vesa Toskala or Carey Price.
Injury weaknesses: This is tougher to assess and requires you to be even bolder to make a move, but did anyone react with surprise when Martin Havlat was knocked out for the season? I'm not asking you to trade anyone who is injury prone, but look at the situation regarding your walking wounded and make a firm decision as to whether they can help you. Example: Nicklas Lidstrom says he'll be back next week from his knee troubles, but if he needs more time, the Wings can certainly afford to give it to him considering their place in the standings. But can you afford to miss Lidstrom for any longer than another week? If not, consider looking for an adequate replacement through trade. Look at which players on your team are hurting, look at their teams' position in the NHL standings and then check for the latest on their status. That should be all you need to decide if you need to make a move.
Matchup weaknesses: For head-to-head leagues, you should be able to note who you are going to face in your league's playoffs. If you are one of two dominant teams in your league, you should know who you will likely meet in the final. Check out how your team and your opponents' team match up based on the past few weeks and see if you need to adjust your strengths to beat your likely opponents. If the teams you will be facing dominate in penalty minutes, do you really need to hang on to Jared Boll? If your opponent has power-play monsters like Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar and Mike Knuble, is a power-play specialist like Alexei Kovalev going to be as valuable to you as he could be? Or, if you and your opponent are evenly matched in power-play points, wouldn't it be nice to add Kovalev and essentially lockup the category?
You've made it this far, so trust your instincts and make any deadline deals you feel you need.
The verge of competing
You are walking quite the tightrope right now. There are many ways to handle being on the verge of a championship run, so it is hard to list them all. I am of the firm belief that you should go boom or bust if you are currently sitting between sixth and ninth in your league and have an outside shot of going all the way.
In order to make a run at the championship right now, you are going to have to take on risks, which is key to any trade you make right now. You need to sell safe commodities to owners who are willing to part with an ailing star. There are a lot of points and not much time between you and the money, so you need a boom-or-bust finish to your season. Why not try for it? Does anyone really remember who finished second through last in your league? Or do they remember who won it all?
So, a few suggestions as to whom you should target for the big finale:
Sidney Crosby, C, Penguins: Not an easy acquisition by any means, but Crosby should be back for the final few weeks of the season, and he has that kind of potential you need to make leaps and bounds in the standings. He'll cost you a big name or two, so start with players like Vincent Lecavalier, whose Lightning appear to be doing little more than limping to the end of the season.
Mats Sundin, C, Maple Leafs: No one has more to prove to his fan base than Captain Mats. Refusing to move at the deadline means Sundin has to prove there is still meaningful hockey to play in Toronto this season. He and the remaining Leafs are on fire. He will cost a pretty penny in a trade, but I'll bet you Ilya Kovalchuk could get talks moving. Kovy and crew seem deflated without Marian Hossa.
Alexander Frolov, LW, Kings: Unlike the situation in Tampa Bay, no one expected the Kings to compete this season, so it's OK for the team to play loose and try to finish the season with a decent showing. No line in hockey is exhibiting that spirit more than Frolov, Mike Cammalleri and Patrick O'Sullivan. Go ahead and target all three. If they keep their pace up, they'll finish among the top forwards for the remainder of the season.
Carey Price, G, Canadiens: Say it with me, "I believe." I said it before he was handed the unquestioned No. 1 job in Montreal, and I'll say it again now that it has become a trendy thing to say. Price eats pressure for breakfast, and he will finish the season as one of, if not the best, goalie in fantasy. He should cost less than that in trade despite the hype.
In summary, if you are on the outside looking in but have that slim chance of making a run, throw caution to the wind and do whatever you can to win.
Wallowing in defeat
Don't forget that you signed up to compete for the entire season. Just because it has become apparent that you have nowhere to go in your league, it doesn't mean you should be giving up.
I even like to seek out trades and experiment with my teams to see how it could have been if I had acted earlier. In one of my leagues, I sold the farm in forwards to acquire Wade Redden, Bryan McCabe, Zdeno Chara, Brian Rafalski and Dennis Wideman. This trade allows me the chance to see if my team is any better in this league by building with defense first.
Experiment and set yourself a reasonable goal for finishing the season. I know I said earlier that nobody remembers who finished anywhere but first place, but isn't it also true that you remember where you finished?
Head-to-head leagues should make you even more competitive; there is still the opportunity to move from the bottom to the being the consolation champion. You can also play the spoiler right up until the end.
Teams gunning for a title will come to you first for a trade, so make them sweat. Force them to pay a little more than they should to acquire the puzzle piece they seek.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.