Open Ice: Stretch run All-Stars
With the All-Star Game a distant memory and fantasy owners buckling down for the stretch run, I think it's time to name the Open Ice All-Star teams. The requirements for both the "Pick' em up" and "If you're hardcore" teams are similar, in that the player must have appeared in this column before and must be someone whom I believe can contribute to your fantasy team for the rest of the season. The only difference between the squads is that the hardcore team should be more widely available on waiver wires.
Like the All-Star Game, we have a starting center, right wing, left wing, two defensemen and a goalie for each squad.
David Clarkson, RW, Devils: In the Dec. 14 edition, Clarkson was noted as a great contributor to both PIMs and plus/minus. He is a real "chippy" hockey player who goes hard after the puck, isn't afraid of anyone and benefits from his tough style. Playing with John Madden and Jay Pandolfo of late, his plus/minus has really benefited to the tune of plus-5 in four February games. He hasn't had fewer than 20 penalty minutes in a single month this season, either. Clarkson helps out everywhere.
Andrei Kostitsyn, LW, Canadiens: One of my favorite sleeper candidates for this season, Kostitsyn needed a month to bust out. But since the calendar flipped to December, he has been almost a point-per-game player. His puck-control skills are out of this world, and I will be even higher on him going into next season. For now, he is still available in just over 30 percent of ESPN leagues.
Cory Murphy, D, Panthers: Another preseason darling of mine, Murphy burst onto the scene with a strong October but has been sidelined with shoulder "problems" since mid-November. Since returning to the ice Jan. 22, Murphy was notching goose-eggs. At least he was, until a bout with the Maple Leafs on Tuesday. Murphy found his October form with a goal and two assists and should quickly be added back onto fantasy teams.
Tom Poti, D, Capitals: Probably the biggest bust of all my sleepers for this season, Poti still has time for some redemption. A groin problem sidelined Poti for parts of November and January, but he looks like he is back to full speed again. Though the arrival of Mike Green has mounted a different kind of challenge for Poti, he has been up to task lately and might finally be flashing that 50-point potential I pegged him with as the quarterback of Washington's power play. I'd be more than comfortable going forward with Poti as a No. 3 defenseman.
Brent Johnson, G, Capitals: Another Capital rounds out the "Pick 'em Up" All-Stars. Johnson is still performing as the better goalie in Washington. The reasons haven't changed since he was mentioned in the Jan. 25 Open Ice. Olaf Kolzig may be in his final season for Washington there has been little mention of him negotiating a new contract, and Johnson still has potential as a ho-hum No. 1 goaltender. Kolzig and Johnson have split the previous six Washington starts 50-50. Although I foresee a 60-40 split in Kolzig's favor, Johnson can still have value.
Owen Nolan, RW, Flames: The Flames have five players who are guaranteed to make up the top five forward positions, and Nolan has been the sixth man of late. He offers up no shortage of PIMs, still has a scoring touch and plays for a defensively-sound team. Nolan can chip in across the board in deep leagues.
Nigel Dawes, LW, Rangers: Chris Drury and Petr Prucha have had good chemistry of late with the diminutive Dawes. The Rangers have been hard-pressed for goals this season, so I don't foresee coach Tom Renney messing with the trio too much -- as long as they continue to find the net. Dawes has potential as a great finisher, and Drury seems to be bringing out the best in him.
Johnny Oduya, D, Devils: A powerhouse defensive-defenseman on the best defensive team in the league. Hello, plus/minus. Oduya is a great addition as a No. 5 defenseman and can single-handedly make up for owning another player who is a drag on your plus/minus.
Derian Hatcher, D, Flyers: Hatcher has shown his abilities as a mentor, with the breakout of Braydon Coburn in recent weeks. As a bonus, Hatcher continues to be Coburn's defense partner at even-strength. Hatcher is still a good source of PIMs and should be fantasy relevant again in deep leagues because Coburn can make up for the fact that Hatcher is about as effective as a pylon in his own zone. He's a No. 6 defenseman who will be chipping in penalty minutes and a respectable plus/minus.
Patrick Lalime, G, Blackhawks: Murmurs of Nikolai Khabibulin being shipped out have creaped up after Lalime started playing like the better goaltender of the two about a month ago. The Hawks have a fast, young defensive core and make a positionally-sound goaltender like Lalime look a lot better than he is. If the 'Bulin Wall goes and Lalime is handed the keys, he could be a nice waiver find come March.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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