Grand Theft Roto: Cash cows and ugly ducklings
As just one of the many services we offer here at the Grand Theft Roto headquarters, I like to go through the league and identify players you might want to consider dealing away. I can talk about trade theory until the cows come home (rumored to be sometime in mid-May), but it doesn't do any good unless you have some players in mind to wheel and deal with. In combination with my advice of players to trade, I will suggest players to trade for. There is no set schedule as to when I will roll out the "who to trade for/away" column, but it will be an intermittent feature in GTR.
So let's have a look at some "Cash Cows" and "Ugly Ducklings."
The cash cows are impressive creatures. Wild and untamed, they score at a prolific pace to start the season. If left grazing in your fantasy fields too long, however, they will soon become bloated and unmovable. That might have been the most awkward analogy I've ever used.
Mats Sundin, C, Maple Leafs: Historical numbers tend to mean very little in the big picture, but history is betting the house against Sundin's current pace. He is on track for a 105-point season, which would represent his first visit to triple-digit territory since he was a Quebec Nordique. It's very easy for a fellow fantasy leaguer to buy into Sundin. He's the captain of one of the most talked-about teams in the league, he's a big-name player, and his numbers seem reasonable right now. But reasonable they are not. Sundin might have one of his best performances of the current decade, approaching a point per game, but his pace is too high right now. There are a dozen centers liable to finish ahead of him in fantasy value. Feel free to trade down for one of them.
Daniel Carcillo, LW, Coyotes: Carcillo is on pace to finish the season with just shy of 400 penalty minutes. No way he'll reach that number. He's a shifty winger with two-way ability, and he actually has a touch of offense to his game. He is too valuable on the ice to be off it so much. His current 85 PIMs represent a little less than half of what I expect his final total to be. His value will never be higher than right now. Just make sure you make someone pay a Sean Avery-like price to get him. He's worth holding on to if you can't get solid value.
Robert Lang, C, Blackhawks: The inevitable return of the great Hawk hope (Martin Havlat) will spell a reduced role for Lang. With Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp all having breakout seasons, there is just no way Lang will keep up his quick start.
Ryan Malone, LW, Penguins: Despite playing much of the young season with arguably the two best young players in the game, Malone has but eight points. He looks like a great acquisition, though, because of his 40 penalty minutes and all the focus he has received as Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby's linemate. The PIMs hide a relatively quiet year, considering the advantageous position he is in, though. I'd sell, noting that Michel Therrien changes lines as much as any coach.
Eric Belanger, C, Wild: I liked Belanger as a sleeper before the season, but as Dave Matthews might say, he scores too much, ah, too much. The recent injury to Mikko Koivu will push Belanger's value a little higher over the next seven days, but sell him before the week is out. Rookie James Sheppard is being given opportunities in the top six to develop his game, and when Koivu returns, Belanger will be pushed into a third-line role.
Brent Burns, D, Wild: Burns is turning into a terrific young defenseman, but his output is going to take a hit with the return of Sean Hill from his performance-enhancing substance suspension. Hill throws checks, blocks shots and moves the puck. He's the kind of player Burns is going to develop into. Burns has been a No. 2 defenseman this season, but I expect him to finish as a serviceable No. 3.
Brian Pothier, D, Capitals: Tom Poti was brought in to do the job Pothier has been doing so far. Poti is slowly recovering from lingering groin issues, but when he finally starts clicking, I don't expect much from Pothier.
Tim Thomas, G, Bruins: Unless Thomas has completely transformed his demeanor since last season, a blowup is inevitable. And Thomas is just one of many buy-low goaltenders out there right now. Manny Fernandez is too good not to win back at least a 50-50 share of the net when his knee feels better.
They're hideous to look at right now, but you don't want to take these "ducklings" for granted. They should be beautiful swans by the end of the season.
Marian Gaborik, RW, Wild: Gaborik's start has been slowed by a groin problem, but I'm still banking on a 90-point season from him. That's a 1.20 point-per-game pace over the rest of the season. Not too outlandish when you consider that last year he finished with 1.18 PPG.
Marty Turco, G, Stars: The Stars are a better team than an 8-7-4 record indicates; we should be able to project a better wins pace for Turco, whose only awful outings this season have come in the past two weeks. He's your best bet of the buy-low goaltenders.
Jared Boll, RW, Blue Jackets: I noted that Carcillo's penalty-minute pace was too much to continue, but Boll's steady pace is actually reflecting what I expect. If you are looking for PIM, he's your man. I would not be shocked to see him approach 300 penalty minutes with a very respectable plus/minus (but just a few points). He can win the category single-handedly.
Travis Zajac, C, Devils: The chemistry he oozed with Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner last season was downright scary, considering his development to that point. The trio is reunited, and Zajac has another year under his belt. I like him as a strong No. 2 center.
Kimmo Timonen, D, Flyers: The plus/minus of the Flyers' stars will turn around soon. They have been doing an imbalanced amount of their damage on the power play, and that should level out when Simon Gagne gets back to full steam. Timonen has registered 10 of his 11 points on the man advantage. Transfer a reasonable amount of those to even strength, and his current plus/minus (minus-2) becomes much more palatable. He'll come around, and he can be had for cheap right now.
Chris Gratton, C, Lightning: Gratton will reap benefits as an under-the-radar contributor on the run-and-gun Tampa Bay offense. His tendency to register "five-for-fighting" penalties with regularity makes him that much more useful as a No. 3 center. This isn't a hot streak. He'll be serviceable all season.
Dustin Penner, RW, Oilers: I love the pairing of Penner with Shawn Horcoff, a strong man in the corners, and Robert Nilsson, a nifty playmaker. The trio will start paying off in spades before too long, with Penner camped out in front of the net.
Tim Connolly, C, Sabres: The Buffalo Sabres are much better than what we've seen. Connolly needs to step up and be a leader on this team. Once his oblique is feeling better, he'll be closer to a 0.85 point-per-game player.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can E-mail him here.