Open Ice: This season's hottest free-agent gifts
It's all right if you've been a little distracted lately. It's the time of year when everyone is focused on gifts or celebrating/lamenting their fantasy football season. Since I can't get your attention via the fantasy football avenue, I suppose I'll have to offer some gifts.
So far this fantasy hockey season has seen more than its fair share of gift-wrapped players off the waiver wire, but for whatever reason a lot of ESPN.com leagues haven't done their shopping yet. That means many of these terrific gift ideas for the fantasy hockey owner are simply sitting untouched on the shelf. Now is as good a time to have a quick pre-Christmas peek at the best presents so far this season so you can consider one last time whether to splurge on any of them. Whether they are a repeat name in this space or not, here is a look at some of this year's hot gift items.
Steve Mason, G, Blue Jackets: He's No. 16 on the Player Rater, yet still owned in only 66 percent of leagues. Mason has done everything right since being called on as an injury replacement for Pascal Leclaire. He leads the league in goals-against average and is a No. 1 fantasy goaltender for those who have jumped aboard. Stopping 47 of 48 shots against San Jose last Wednesday should have been a real wake-up call for any doubters.
Milan Lucic, LW, Bruins: We knew this Boston team would be seeing newer, younger leadership emerge this season in Lucic; we just didn't know he'd be bringing Krejci, Phil Kessel and Blake Wheeler with him every step of the way. Still, Lucic is available in 39 percent of ESPN leagues despite being No. 53 on the Player Rater. Lucic also brings the penalty minutes and hits fantasy teams as well.
Scott Clemmensen, G, Devils: Kevin Weekes might have been all the rage after Martin Brodeur was hurt, but it's Clemmensen who has the Devils still in the hunt. He's showing that he picked up a few pointers while spending several years as Brodeur's backup. With an 11-3-1 record on the season, he's the gift Brodeur owners need to save their season. Clemmensen is available in 59 percent of ESPN leagues and is No. 48 on the Player Rater so far.
Kris Versteeg, RW, Blackhawks: No. 71 on the Player Rater this season, the surprising Versteeg is only owned in 63 percent of leagues. In this case, it might be appropriate, though, as Versteeg's numbers have taken quite a dip since a line shuffle that separated Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Versteeg is still lining up with Toews, but it was Kane as the third member of the unit that really made him special. Expect Versteeg's ownership numbers to continue to fall, and unless he is reunited with a Kane-Toews combo, feel free to return him. With a gift receipt, of course.
David Backes, RW, Blues: The perfect gift for a fantasy team that recently lost an important player now best known for trash-talking about former girlfriends. Backes is on pace for 25 goals and more than 200 penalty minutes this season. It's a combination Sean Avery owners will enjoy as they pitch the former Dallas Star back onto the waiver wire. Backes is available in 86 percent of ESPN leagues and is No. 96 on the Player Rater.
Todd White, C, Thrashers: A recent streak of seven points in five games has helped push White into the top 100 on the Player Rater. He stands at No. 97 and is still only owned in 17 percent of fantasy leagues. He has been playing even-strength lately with Slava Kozlov and Bryan Little, a nice combination of experience and youth, and he still is on the first power-play unit with Ilya Kovalchuk. In fact, six of those seven points in his recent streak have come on the man advantage. They still count, though, making White a good target for last-minute shoppers.
Loui Eriksson, LW, Stars: Six goals in his past three games is really going to make Eriksson sell like hotcakes, so it's best act to now. He seems to be meshing well lately on a line with Brad Richards and Mark Parrish, a pair with whom he also skates on the Stars' second power-play unit. His ownership is up to 45 percent, and his 18 goals help to make him No. 109 on the Player Rater. He is the perfect gift for a team lacking in the goals department.
Some quick notes before we hit the weekly fantasy value barometer: Mats Sundin still remains available in over 20 percent of leagues. If he ends up finding chemistry with the Sedin twins, not only will it tongue-tie broadcasters, but it will have you kicking yourself for not grabbing him. It might be just a gut feeling that I shouldn't be sharing, but I'll bet Simeon Varlamov is back sooner rather than later. If you are in a very deep league, hold on to him. Justin Pogge is with the Leafs and could debut as early as Monday night. His stats are pedestrian in the AHL this season, but he is the team's goalie of the future. He should only be on the radar right now in deep leagues.
Arron Asham, RW, Flyers: You need to find penalty minutes somewhere in your league, and Asham has a bit more upside than some of the other grinders and goons out there. He is on pace for over 200 PIMs, and should provide you with better average ice time than most other players who are going to hit that threshold. Asham and Scottie Upshall even get a shift or two with Mike Richards and/or Jeff Carter during some games.
Troy Brouwer, RW, Blackhawks: Just to reiterate my colleague Jim Wilkie's lead from Thursday's Point Shots, Brouwer needs to be on your radar. Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp are linemates most NHL players would envy having, and Brouwer should get plenty of time to enjoy his new spot given the Hawks' depth.
Kyle Wellwood, C, Canucks: You might expect to see Wellwood on the "Sunny" list after news that his linemate from the previous couple of seasons in Toronto is joining the Canucks. However, I don't think Wellwood benefits from Sundin's arrival, and if anything, he should lose his privileges on the first power-play unit with the Sedin twins. Wellwood has a useful 12 goals this season, but a demotion on the power play for a player with almost half his points on the man advantage is not a positive thing.
Lubomir Visnovsky, D, Oilers: The power play in Edmonton just isn't getting things done, and Visnovsky is a victim of that. Closer to a simple half-point per game pace this season, Visnovsky hasn't been able to channel his 60-point self from earlier days with the Kings. Despite leading the Edmonton team in power-play ice time, Tom Gilbert has just as many power-play points this season (eight) as Visnovsky (in half the power-play ice time), and that goes a long way to explaining the problem.
Miroslav Satan, RW, Penguins: Petr Sykora is finding the net with much more frequency, and Jordan Staal has been replacing Satan on the first power-play unit. Satan seems to have bottomed out after looking like he might have some decent value this season. The power play is key for wingers in Pittsburgh, and Satan ranks eighth in power-play time on the team over the past five games, just ahead of Jeff Taffe.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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