- Sean Allen
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It's been one of the most surprising fantasy seasons in many years for hockey fans. Most rankings for the season have been turned on their ears so far, as surprise players have made the biggest headlines.
Jeff Carter leading the league in goals? Four Boston players in the top five for plus/minus? Steve Mason, Craig Anderson, Scott Clemmensen and both Bruins netminders leading the league in goals-against average? It really has been quite the season.
With the New Year ringing in this week, let's have a quick peak at what fantasy owners might want each team to adopt as their New Year's resolution.
Anaheim Ducks: "Give Bobby Ryan some playing time on a scoring line to see what he can do." The second-overall pick from the Sidney Crosby draft is yet to catch on in the NHL, as he has yet to play big minutes with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
Atlanta Thrashers: "Find someone -- anyone -- to play with Ilya Kovalchuk." While Bryan Little, Slava Kozlov and Todd White have clicked as a unit, Kovy is stuck with linemates Chris Thorburn and Marty Reasoner. Kovalchuk hasn't scored since December 12.
Boston Bruins: "Don't. Change. A. Thing." The B's are the class of the league and all cylinders are firing. If fantasy owners can ask for anything, it's for the team to pick a goalie and ride him to give either Manny Fernandez or Tim Thomas that extra hit of value.
Buffalo Sabres: "Let Drew Stafford truly be the answer for right wing on the first line." Since taking that role from Jason Pominville last month, Stafford has pieced together a stretch of 11 points in 13 December games.
Carolina Hurricanes: "Make sure Eric Staal stays as hot as he has been in December." After notching just 15 points in the season's first 25 games, Staal has nine goals and 13 points in 12 December contests.
Calgary Flames: "Start scoring while Dion Phaneuf is on the ice at even strength." Phaneuf's minus-10 is doing a real number on his fantasy dominance. Even his defensive partner of late, Adam Pardy, is a plus-2.
Chicago Blackhawks: "Make sure everyone stays happy and healthy." The output from the team's star players has been phenomenal and fantasy owners just want their players to finish out the year on a similar note.
Columbus Blue Jackets: "We already have Steve Mason, we aren't pushing our luck." Mason leads the league in goals-against average and is looking like a lock for the Calder Trophy. Fantasy owners would love to see him finish the season in such fashion.
Colorado Avalanche: "Give T.J. Hensick a shot at being the No. 1 center." After losing Joe Sakic and now possibly Paul Stastny, the Avs only have Tyler Arnason to fall back on. Hensick is a blue chip prospect and should get a shot with the first line.
Dallas Stars: "Keep playing like we have in December." Most fantasy owners would be content with the Stars continuing to play like they have in December, when they have seven wins. They had eight in October and November combined.
Detroit Red Wings: "Give Jiri Hudler more ice time." With ESPN standard leagues using average time on ice as a category, Hudler is not as popular as he could be. Despite averaging slightly more than 13 minutes a game, Hudler has 29 points. Not only would more ice time make him more attractive to fantasy owners, but who knows what he could produce with 20 minutes a night?
Edmonton Oilers: "Find someone to step up and score some goals." Sheldon Souray, with 11 goals, is the only Oiler with more than 10 tallies. Whether it's lighting a fire under the young guns' line or calling up one of their prospects, fantasy owners need more pucks going into the net to make Edmonton players useful.
Florida Panthers: "Find something that can wake up Nathan Horton." The supposed leader of this young team has but seven goals and eight assists on the season. A fired-up Horton would have a domino effect and help make several other Panthers fantasy relevant.
Los Angeles Kings: "Make the hot streak for one of our goaltenders last more than a half-dozen games." After seeing various positive streaks from Jason LaBarbera and Erik Ersberg, Jonathan Quick is the latest to make noise. The Kings allow the fewest shots in the league and some consistency in net would translate into a very useable fantasy goaltender.
Minnesota Wild: "Keep Marian Gaborik healthy." Gaborik has four points in four games since lacing them up after a groin ailment. The Wild have points in three of four games with Gabby back after a five game skid before his return.
Montreal Canadiens: "Work day and night until the potency returns to the power play." Les Habitants are 25th in the league in power-play conversion after leading the way last season. Much of that has to do with the droughts of Alexei Kovalev, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn. Fantasy owners would love to see them wake up and start producing with the man advantage again.
New Jersey Devils: "Have Scott Clemmensen continues to channel Martin Brodeur's energy." There is nothing the Devils or fantasy owners would like to see more than Clemmensen continue to carry them until Brodeur's March return.
New York Islanders: "Get committed to the youth movement." Despite heading for the league's basement, the Islanders have been pretty consistent with playing veterans Doug Weight and Bill Guerin as the featured pair. With future stars like Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey on the team and toiling with few minutes, it's time to let fantasy owners see what these kids can do.
New York Rangers: "Find the right combination of forwards to pace the scoring." With names like Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, Nikolai Zherdev and even the fading Markus Naslund, you might expect the Rangers to be able to piece together one strong line. It may mean shifting players from their most comfortable positions, but the team needs to find a combination that can start scoring.
Ottawa Senators: "Make coach Craig Hartsburg realize he has a square peg." In this analogy the round hole is a defense-first system for a hockey team. Hartsburg has been hammering this group of offensive juggernauts into a defensive style of play that has the Senators with fewer goals than all 29 other NHL teams so far this season. Let them run-and-gun for the sake of fantasy owners everywhere.
Philadelphia Flyers: "Continue shifting the focus in net from Martin Biron to Antero Niittymaki." Niitty carried the load in December and has better numbers this season than Biron. Here is a just-for-fun stat: Take away Niittymaki's poor outings against the powerhouse San Jose Sharks this season, and he has a 2.36 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage in 14 games.
Phoenix Coyotes: "Find some smelling salts for the rookies and sophomores." Peter Mueller is on a pace to finish short of last year's decent numbers. Kyle Turris is struggling at even strength with only five points away from the power play. Martin Hanzal is on pace to beat last year's numbers but likely can't sustain a 17.6 percent shooting percentage.
Pittsburgh Penguins: "Keep Marc-Andre Fleury healthy for his second-half tear." Now that he's back from a lower-body ailment, Fleury needs to stay on the ice for the Penguins and repeat his numbers from the second half of last year. After the All-Star break, he went 10-2-1 with a 1.53 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.
San Jose Sharks: "The Sharks' New Year's resolution is to work for peace on earth." They can afford to resolve something irrelevant to hockey as there isn't much the team can do to make fantasy owners any happier.
St. Louis Blues: "Increase Patrik Berglund's role on offense." Berglund has 22 points in 23 games after a mostly uneventful October. If his role increases even more, who knows what his rookie ceiling could be. His plus-11 on a team whose leading scorer is minus-21 makes him extra palatable for fantasy owners
Tampa Bay Lightning: "Find the right winger for Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier." Clearly Vaclav Prospal is no longer the solution. Ryan Malone is the most recent candidate for the role, and given his early success, might be the answer.
Toronto Maple Leafs: "Get some goaltending." Vesa Toskala's 3.32 goals-against average isn't awe inspiring and Curtis Joseph's 4.12 is downright awful. Although he wasn't tested much, Justin Pogge looked solid in his NHL debut and is the future between the pipes. The Leafs need to dispatch Joseph and work in Pogge as Toskala's backup.
Vancouver Canucks: "Make this Mats Sundin drama worth the hype." Though, given the hype, that might not be possible. Still, the Canucks need Sundin to be a success on the team and should consider all line combinations to make that possible. Even if it means busting up the Twins or making Henrik Sedin learn right wing.
Washington Capitals: "Have Alexander Semin and Alexander Ovechkin scoring points at the same time." Through November 12, Ovechkin had 13 points in 13 games while Semin had 27 points in 15 games. Since then, Ovechkin has 36 points in 22 games and Semin has five points in six games.
A couple of quick notes before we get into the players of rising and falling value: Two goalies who are quietly making a case to be their teams' No. 1 are Andrew Raycroft and Antero Niittymaki. I'd grab either in deeper leagues. Rick DiPietro is available in 72 percent of ESPN leagues. He won't be a No. 1 fantasy goaltender, but he'll do better than Joey MacDonald and may be a No. 2.
Sunny Days Ahead
James Neal, LW, Stars: Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen are great linemates to work with and Neal has been catching up with them lately. His hat trick on December 23 in Toronto was a real eye opener to his goal-scoring abilities, and he could even improve his pace if the Stars work him onto the power play.
Brendan Morrison, C, Ducks: Since the Teemu Selanne injury, Morrison has been the guy to step up in Anaheim with secondary scoring. Two straight two-goal games has him with five points in his past three. Bobby Ryan and Andrew Ebbett have displayed some chemistry with Morrison and his value should sustain as a No. 3 center as long as Selanne is out.
Jonathan Quick, G, Kings: It's always worth noting a new starting netminder for the NHL team that allows the fewest shots on net. Quick is yet another of the Kings' assets expected to keep the seat warm for Jonathan Bernier as early as next season. Still, the job is there for the taking this season and Quick is doing what he can to get it. He's started four straight, with two of the past three going down as shutouts. Add him if you are still using a revolving door of goalies.
Storms A Brewin'
Alex Auld, G, Senators: Four straight games of five goals allowed. Is that enough said? It's not like Martin Gerber is an option, though, as the Sens really are struggling on all fronts at the moment. This had to be expected at some point with Auld and if you managed to feed off his strong start, it's time to fly away and find a new host.
Alex Goligoski, D, Penguins: This is a no-brainer. The return of Ryan Whitney pushes Goligoski onto the second power-play unit. Not a bad place to be, but he had just been catching on as a fantasy asset with the first unit in recent weeks. Goligoski still has a long career as a fantasy-relevant blue liner ahead of him, but expect a dip for the rest of the season -- making him borderline roster-worthy in shallower leagues.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
14hMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne