Open Ice: Final free agents for stretch run
Congratulations. You are still in the hunt if you are taking the time to look for free agents this week. Not much longer to go now. The marathon fantasy hockey season is down to the point where you can see the finish line. Try not to trip.
Jarkko Ruutu, LW, Penguins: Now, if you need to find a player who leans a little more toward the PIMs but still has mild potential for points, look Ruutu's way. The Penguins have two games against the Rangers and then two against the Flyers to finish the season. Those are tough division rivals that should force Ruutu to take a few penalty minutes as a pest. He could also drop his gloves with Sean Avery. As a bonus, Ruutu, Georges Laraque and Maxime Talbot have been managing to find the net as a trio lately, making Ruutu not completely dead weight.
B.J. Crombeen, RW, Stars: Then there is the extreme option in which you forfeit points to get a few PIMs in these final games. In that case, try Crombeen. In 65 games with the Iowa Stars of the AHL this season, Crombeen has 158 penalty minutes in 65 games. Plus, he has 22 PIMs in four games for Dallas. The Stars called up Krys Barch late last season only to have him put up huge penalty minutes, helping fantasy teams. Crombeen could be this year's version of Barch over the Stars' final five games of the regular season.
David Krejci, C, Bruins: No reason to hesitate using Krejci as a top option, as long as Marc Savard is out of the lineup with a sore back. With Marco Sturm on one side and Glen Murray on the other, Krejci should be in for plenty of points in the five remaining games. Even before Savard was hurt, Krejci had stepped up his play on a line with Sturm and Chuck Kobasew. That gives you a safety net with Krejci, and you don't have to hope Savard stays out of the lineup to take a chance on the rookie.
Peter Forsberg, C, Avalanche: A lot of owners rightfully bailed on Forsberg when he starting missing games as soon as he returned to Colorado. He remains available in 15 percent of ESPN leagues and has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can still help your team significantly over the stretch as long as he stays on the ice. With four games remaining, Forsberg could easily double his output from six to 12 assists on the season and even add a goal or two.
Sergei Zubov, D, Stars: Out since Jan. 17 with foot problems, Zubov is hoping to rejoin the Stars' lineup for a few warm-up games before the playoffs. If he returns this weekend, that could mean four or five games left for the power-play quarterback. We know how good Zubov can be and still is (35 points in 46 games), so I would certainly have no qualms about depending on him even if he isn't in tip-top shape. He is ready and waiting to help in 50 percent of ESPN leagues.
Christian Backman, D, Rangers: Paired with Marc Staal on the blue line, Backman has been playing much better hockey since moving to New York at the trade deadline. It may not come through on the stat sheet, but watching a Rangers game, you will hear Backman's name more than you would expect. He also is playing a ton of power-play minutes in recent games. The points may not be there just yet, but if I were looking for a defenseman to take a chance on over the final few contests, Backman would be my choice.
Sean Hill, D, Wild: If Backman is unavailable, Hill would be my go-to guy. Through his first 27 games this season, Hill had no goals and three assists. In his past four games, he has a pair of goals to go with a pair of assists. It was exactly four games ago that the Wild lost defenseman Kurtis Foster for the rest of the season. The math seems simple enough to me. Hill has had his offensive side unleashed in his new role for the Wild with Foster out of the lineup. Go ahead and add him to your defense for Minnesota's final four contests.
Clay Wilson, D, Blue Jackets: Wilson is an offensive defenseman in every sense of the term. He scored 12 goals and 32 assists for 44 points in 67 games for the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL, good for fourth on the team. At 6-foot, 190-pounds, he is definitely a mobile, rushing defenseman more than he is a bruiser with a big shot. Columbus gave Wilson his first shot in the NHL over the past week, and he responded with a goal and an assist in his second game. It all depends on the opportunity he is offered by the Blue Jackets over the coming days, but he could put up some decent point totals for deep leagues.
Finally, most owners usually have a boatload of goalie starts at the end of a season. If you want to maximize them over the next few days, start looking at the backup goaltenders on teams that are close to clinching their position in the postseason. Jonas Hiller in Anaheim and Brian Boucher in San Jose could be particularly good starts over the next week or so.
Well, I hope that a name or two in this column helped you this fantasy season. Good luck.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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