Open Ice: The 'Grand Theft Roto' edition
In this space every week, we usually concern ourselves with a quick glimpse of whether a player has been finding the score sheet and deserves your attention, or has been performing poorly and maybe deserves less of your attention. Each week we look at players seeing a rise in value ("Sunny days ahead") and players whose value is tanking ("Storms a-brewin'").
Since the "Sunny Days" players are mostly guys off of the waiver wire who are on hot streaks, and the "Storms" players usually are owned in a high percentage of leagues and struggling mightily, this approach often prevents me from touching on players who are owned in most leagues and could be on the verge of improving, or players who are owned in a lower percentage of leagues but might be about to tank. Honestly, would you keep reading every week if I tried to tell you Pavel Datsyuk is good and should be on your team, or that Mike Rupp's four-points-in-seven-games streak beginning in late November was just a blip on the radar? Of course not, since most of you know those things already. But a slight format change for this week only will allow me free range on making some different recommendations.
Sometimes with my weekly assessments, you can find a "buy low" or "sell high" notation, but not always. We are close to the halfway point of the season now, so in the spirit of the renowned weekly series you'll find in other fantasy sports here on ESPN.com, Grand Theft Roto, here are "six players I'm stealing" and "six players I'm dealing."
Travis Zajac, C, Devils: Two reasons I like him here: New Jersey is now an offensive-focused team without Martin Brodeur, and Zajac complements Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner perfectly. The Parise and Zajac combination is fourth in the league in "combination goals" (in which each player has received a point) with 24 of 'em. Zajac's points per game have also increased each month of the season.
Alexander Semin, LW, Capitals: Injury problems have taken some of the polish off of what most fantasy owners thought was gold after Semin's blazing start to the season. Although back problems can be troubling, Semin's issues look to be behind him; he is back to skating 20 minutes per night. The main reason I'm targeting Semin, as he will cost a pretty penny, is consistency. Semin has a point in 21 of 25 games played this season. That statistic (recording a point in 84 percent of his games) easily paces the NHL.
Daniel Alfredsson, RW, Senators: The Sens can't really be this bad, can they? They have been atrocious to watch this season and have been a drag on any fantasy owner who invested in the "Big Three" of Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza. That said, while all three have fallen below their point-per-game expectations, Alfie's 36 points in 39 games is still nothing to sneeze at. Yes, he is underperforming, but things are bound to get better in Ottawa as the team starts finding solutions to whatever is ailing it. Alfredsson is still showing good chemistry with Heatley, and only Spezza seems to be the focus of trade rumors.
Dion Phaneuf, D, Flames: You could make an argument that Phaneuf has done more harm than good for his fantasy squads of late, but with players of his caliber you have to take the bad with the good and know that things will even out. Take Nicklas Lidstrom as an example -- owners had to suffer through two months of average output from Lidstrom before he finally started acting like a top defenseman again in December. Phaneuf has suffered through two months of mediocrity in November and December and now is starting to turn the corner again, with three points in four January games. More importantly, though, is his plus-3 rating in January. His biggest downer from the previous two months was his minus-12 rating. Trust in Phaneuf and try to coax a concerned owner out of his services.
Tomas Vokoun, G, Panthers: So much has been made of Craig Anderson's exploits between the pipes this season that many have failed to notice Vokoun has not only won the starting job back but also has been excelling since late November. His December stats, which include a hurtful six-goals-allowed loss to Tampa, show a 2.45 goals-against average and an awesome .925 save percentage. And now he is 3-0 in January and is a great trade target to slot in as your No. 2 goalie. Combine him with a goaltender that wins a decent amount of games and your numbers should look good at season's end.
Shea Weber, D, Predators: It was quite a ride for the first two months of the season; Weber roared out of the gates, posting 22 points in his first 23 games. But since the end of November, he has settled into a more-expected pace of eight points in 19 games. With his numbers still inflated from a hot start, feel free to trade him for another No. 2 defenseman and an upgrade elsewhere. The Preds are built to have shared responsibility on the blue line, and that should be the case for the remainder of the season.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere, G, Ducks: He still carries enormous name value on a team known more for winning than losing, yet Giguere's record shows more losses than wins this season (12 wins, 9 losses, 4 overtime losses). Yet most folks probably haven't noticed that he's been such a drain this season, and you likely can find someone who thinks he'll turn things around. And he could, but Randy Carlyle is a smart coach, and it won't be long before he recognizes Jonas Hiller's excellent play and splits the two goalies' time more evenly. Heck, hoping for a timeshare might even be too optimistic considering Giggy's play of late. Deal him and find another answer in net.
Jason Pominville, RW, Sabres: Drew Stafford has nailed down a job as the Sabres' top right winger, and Pominville is staring at a finish nowhere close to the 80 points he had last season. Without Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek as regular linemates, Pominville has looked a lot more like a 50-point player. He might finish with a few more than that thanks to power-play time, but he is no longer someone you want to start in a shallow league. See if any of your league mates have faith in him, and make a swap before his decline becomes more apparent.
Scott Hartnell, LW, Flyers: Going back a month, Hartnell has been on fire, with 10 goals, 5 assists, a plus-6 and 37 penalty minutes over the past 30 days which makes him a good sell-high option. This is simply based on Hartnell's yearly trend in which he produces like a top-15 player for about a month at a time but falls back to oblivion in between those times. If you can swap him for someone who might score 15 goals from here on out, you likely will at least match his production.
Rene Bourque, LW, Flames: Bourque was supposed to help provide adequate secondary scoring for Calgary. That should have meant maybe 20 goals this season. Here we are in early January and he has 15 goals, 29 points and a plus-14 rating. His past seven games have been especially productive, with 10 points and a plus-7. Rest assured that he won't maintain this kind of production all season. As soon as opposing teams realize they can't put all their efforts into stopping Jarome Iginla, Bourque should slow down. He will certainly pot 20 goals this season, but it's doubtful --- even with his hot start --- that he'll finish with more than 30 goals.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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