Open Ice: Free agents with power-play potential
It's by no means a hard and fast rule, but the players in the NHL who spend the most time on the power play tend to be the most valuable for fantasy hockey purposes. Think of power-play time as the icing on a player's fantasy-value cake. If the player is talented and plays top-six minutes on his team, the cake is probably going to taste good. By no means would you turn down this cake just because it doesn't have any icing on it. However, if the coach of said cake-player decides to smother him with a thick, tasty icing, it makes the cake that much more enjoyable than it would have been.
OK. I have to take a quick break to eat some cake
Back to the point: To make a player that much more mouth-watering for fantasy owners, they need to log significant power-play time for their team. That isn't the only factor, though, as the team's power-play success will play a big role in whether that icing tastes good or is bland and watery. Team power-play percentages range from a low of 10.3 percent (Columbus) to a high of 27.7 percent (Detroit) so far this season. That means the Red Wings have a recipe for the tastiest icing, and the Blue Jackets are about as good at baking as a mountain gorilla.
If you factor these two things into consideration, you might just find a hidden gem among the array of baked goods on your waiver wire. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
P.J. Axelsson, LW, Bruins: Also no slouches on the power play, Boston ranks third behind the Red Wings and Flyers this season. Axelsson's recent promotion to the first line has carried over into the man-advantage as well. He is ninth among Bruins skaters for average power-play time per game this season, but is fifth over the past five as he shares time with Michael Ryder and Marc Savard.
Drew Stafford, RW, Sabres: The Sabres are converting at a rate better than one in five on the power play, with Stafford solidifying his role on the first unit. On the ice with Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy and Jaroslav Spacek, you'd better believe the power-play points will start rolling Stafford's way in greater numbers.
Sergei Samsonov, LW, Hurricanes: While Carolina's success on the power play doesn't rival that of Philadelphia, Boston or Buffalo, it's hard to overlook the streaking Samsonov. With 12 points in 14 games, Samsonov is making good on his power-play time on the first unit with Eric Staal and Tuomo Ruutu. He has three power-play assists in his past five games.
Kyle Okposo, RW, Islanders: It appears coach Scott Gordon is loosening the training wheels on Okposo. He has recently found himself on the first power-play unit with Bill Guerin, Doug Weight, Mark Streit and Mike Comrie. A five-game point streak for the rookie was snapped Saturday, but expect to see him back on the horse soon as long as he continues to get such a good opportunity for playing partners.
Bobby Ryan, RW, Ducks: Ryan is putting up ridiculous numbers since Teemu Selanne was injured, thanks in large part to his role on the power play. He has 11 points in his past eight games, with seven of them coming on the power play. It helps that Ryan is working the first unit on the man-advantage with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
Owen Nolan, RW, Wild: Although he is about as safe a bet as Marian Gaborik was to stay healthy, Nolan is chipping in when he is not in the press box. A power-play goal Sunday gave him three straight games with a man-advantage tally. It was his sixth power-play goal in 20 contests this season. He might not be healthy often, but his value when he is makes him worth picking up.
Carlo Colaiacovo, D, Blues: Despite their place at the bottom of the standings, the Blues are seventh this season in power-play conversions, so their first unit remains fantasy-relevant because of it. Colaiacovo inherited the quarterback position on this power play after coming over from Toronto in the Lee Stempniak trade. His contributions have been muted thus far, but as long as he keeps skating with Keith Tkachuk, Brad Boyes, Patrik Berglund and David Perron on the power play, the points will come.
A few notes before we hit the fantasy stock watch: Act quick and get Jonathan Quick. Seriously. He is owned in just 5 percent of ESPN leagues and is as hot as, if not hotter than, Steve Mason. Continued success for the young goaltender in Los Angeles is a real possibility. Go ahead and drop Marian Gaborik. Even if he does come back at the end of the season, we don't know where he will be playing. Teemu Selanne is being dropped in some leagues. The best-case scenario on his cut quadriceps was a recovery of four weeks. It's already been two. Pick him up if he has been dropped in your league. Ty Wishart is a top prospect that the Lightning fetched in the Dan Boyle trade. He is up with the club now and might get a look on the power play should coach Rick Tocchet opt to use a defenseman on the first unit.
Erik Cole, RW, Oilers: Speaking of the improving Oilers, Cole is one of the main reasons for optimism on the team right now. He has really taken to new linemates Sam Gagner and Robert Nilsson by tallying three goals and three assists in four games. Go get him and Gagner in deeper leagues.
Mike Commodore, D, Blue Jackets: One of the more subtle fantasy options, Commodore just seems to find a way to be useful every season, regardless of the team he is on. The Blue Jackets aren't the best place for fantasy purposes, yet Commodore has three goals, 15 assists, a plus-10 rating and 55 penalty minutes. He makes a great fifth defenseman.
Jason LaBarbera, G, Canucks: Yeah, he looked OK in two games for the Canucks so far, and it is clear the team traded for him to be a starter until Roberto Luongo is healthy. However, if he couldn't pin down a job in L.A., there's no reason to think he can be much better for Vancouver. The Kings have the stingiest defense in the NHL, allowing just 26.3 shots per game, while the Canucks are in the middle of the pack, allowing 29.3. I'm not saying he won't take to these new circumstances and find the success that made him the best AHL goaltender in 2006-07, but I am saying I'm not optimistic about his chances. Beating Nashville and losing to Atlanta and Dallas doesn't exactly impress me.
Christian Ehrhoff, D, Sharks: His stats inflated by a hot start, Ehrhoff has only one assist in his past 17 games. He is still a part of this impressive San Jose team despite a recent one-game benching, but he is seeing less time on the power play of late. His inflated stats mean there is potential to deal him to an unsuspecting owner as he remains in the top 40 for defensemen in points.
Peter Budaj, G, Avalanche: Budaj's grasp on the No. 1 job in Colorado can withstand maybe one more bad outing before Andrew Raycroft enters into a timeshare with him. Yeah, it's that bad. Bench him now, and in deeper leagues make sure to roster Raycroft. A six-goal drubbing at the hands of the Blue Jackets on Friday was the final straw for fantasy owners, and with all the goaltending options emerging this season, you would be justified in dropping him in shallower leagues.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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