Open Ice: Returning players can help in stretch run


Talent sources for fantasy owners to tap are beginning to dry up in these final few weeks. Trading is no longer an option, and most players who have been performing are scooped up. What about those players who haven't been on the ice for a while? It may be down to the final 10 games for most teams, but injured players returning for the final few games can still provide a boost to fantasy teams.

Hawks forward Patrick Sharp returned Sunday from a sprained knee suffered in mid-February and immediately made his presence felt. He potted two goals and assisted on another playing on a line with Jonathan Toews and Troy Brouwer. Sharp has 41 points in 55 games and is available in 15 percent of ESPN leagues.

Nathan Horton's ownership in ESPN leagues has slipped to 84 percent during a two-week absence due to a severed tendon. He's due back for the Panthers today and will provide a boost to any fantasy owner who can scoop him up or activate him from the bench. Injuries have prevented him from breaking any career marks, but his per-game production hasn't fallen much.

The often injured but highly skilled Justin Williams made his L.A. debut Friday after coming over from Carolina on the trade deadline. Williams has been out since Feb. 15, when he broke a finger in his left hand. On Sunday he skated on the team's second line with Jarret Stoll and Alexander Frolov. Depending on the chemistry he can find with his Kings linemates, Williams could be a deep-league asset going forward. The Los Angeles power play features some skilled players, and Williams had 24 power-play points in his last full season with the Hurricanes in 2006-07.

From the anticlimax department: The return of Brad Richards to the Dallas Stars' lineup was short-lived. After posting a minus-2 in 15 minutes of ice time, Richards suffered a broken bone in his left hand. That will finish a disappointing season for Richards, who had just returned from a 15-game absence because of a broken wrist. Any boost in value Loui Eriksson or Brendan Morrison would have received by having Richards as their centerman can be erased.

Marian Gaborik played for the first time since Dec. 23 and is ready to become a wild card in many fantasy leagues. The oft-injured sniper has been limited to just six games this season (in which he has five points) and will be playing for a payday, as he is set to test the free-agent market this summer. Not only that, but it seems Gabby is coming back only for the playoff hunt, telling the Pioneer Press, "If we weren't in the playoff hunt, if there was no chance we could make it, I wouldn't be playing." He's available in just shy of 18 percent of ESPN leagues and will prove to be a huge coup to those fantasy owners who take the chance. When motivated, Gaborik is one of the best in the business, and he has plenty of reason to push himself in the final 10 games of the season. He immediately was placed on the top line with Mikko Koivu and Antti Miettinen (until Koivu was injured in the second period) and was a staple on the first power-play unit. The points will come.

Sunny Days Ahead

Joel Ward, RW, Predators: With Jason Arnott sidelined, Ward has been riding on the hot streak by J.P. Dumont. He has goals in three straight and a total of five points in those contests. The Preds still have two solid lines to ice, so Ward, Dumont and center Vernon Fiddler aren't the sole focus of the opposing defense.

Brendan Bell, D, Senators: The surging Senators are likely rallying too late for a playoff spot, but that doesn't mean we can't capitalize on their enthusiasm. Bell has become a power-play staple in recent games and has a total of six points in four games, with half of them coming on the man advantage. His defense partner, Chris Campoli, has been mentioned before as a talented puck mover, and that influence is surely being felt by Bell in his own efforts. Either player makes a decent deep-league addition.

Ryan Callahan, RW, Rangers: I won't attempt to create any justification for how Callahan has managed a six-game point streak (with eight points) as a third-liner for the Blueshirts, but I ask you to join me in simply accepting it. He doesn't get power-play time, and his linemates are Brandon Dubinsky and Fredrik Sjostrom, yet Callahan has managed to be fantasy-worthy of late. Try not to think about it and just ride the wave.

Sean Avery, LW, Rangers: Avery, on the other hand, is getting plenty of quality ice time with the Rangers' first line and on the power play. He has been quite a catalyst for coach John Tortorella lately, with seven points in eight games. Avery's not producing the penalty minutes that we have come to expect, but if you need scoring, he's worth a look.

Steven Stamkos, C, Lightning: Intent on finishing his rookie season looking more like the No. 1 pick he is, Stamkos has racked up 14 points in his past 12 games and is currently riding a five-game streak. Thanks mostly to ice time with some talented linemates -- Martin St. Louis and Ryan Malone -- Stamkos may end getting a few votes for rookie of the year after all. In the meantime, jump on the bandwagon; lots of room has been made on board after Stamkos finished November with three goals and a minus-10 rating.

Storms' A-Brewin'

Ty Conklin, G, Red Wings: Chris Osgood has won four straight and is easily playing his best hockey of the season. With 10 games left and only two back-to-back contests, expect Conklin to start two games (no more than three) from here on out. Do you want to bother keeping him for those contests? Find someone who can help you more down this final stretch.

Jason Arnott, C, Predators: If he comes back he is certainly worth owning and starting in fantasy leagues, but there are serious concerns about just what type of "upper-body injury" Arnott has. The Tennessean speculates that it's a concussion, which in fantasy hockey circles would be terrible news. Arnott remains questionable since March 10 and is unlikely to suit up for the Preds' next contest Tuesday. Concussions are fickle, and if you are in a close fight in your league, you can't afford to wait for Arnott.

Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.