- Sean Allen
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As NHL coaches continue to sort out line assignments, special teams and strategies, the picture is starting to become a little clearer across most teams. Of course, just as we are starting to get settled with the hierarchy of most depth charts, injuries creep up. We had a couple of big ones during the past week, Johan Franzen and Daniel Sedin. Standard ESPN.com leagues and many custom fantasy hockey leagues don't use the injured reserve slot that allows you to store an injured player and open a space on your active roster. However, if you do have an IR slot, obviously that is where you put your banged-up player. If you don't use the IR, you have to make an important decision, and any delay in that decision affects your team.
"Do I or don't I drop injured Player X?"
The answer, my friend, depends on a lot of things.
First off, if you are in a head-to-head league and the injury will keep the player out for more than a few months, the answer most often is to drop the player immediately. You need to win now, more than you do later. Sure, it would be nice to have Franzen for your head-to-head playoffs in March, but if you don't replace his production now, you won't make it to said playoffs. The other no-brainer is any shorter-term injury to one of your star players. For instance, no one should consider dropping Sedin.
But there is a gray area we need to assess. For example, is Franzen really droppable in rotisserie leagues right now? The next question to ask yourself is how often your bench players get to contribute. If you set your lineup and leave it alone, you can afford to keep Franzen until he is back because you aren't maximizing your bench roster for its production. Whatever the reason you leave your bench alone (weekly transaction league, games-played limits, no time for daily changes), those owners with players who sit inactive for long stretches can afford to carry an injured player. Whether they win their leagues with that strategy is a whole different matter.
The real trouble comes for those owners in very active, daily transaction leagues that maximize bench players. You know who you are, because you have to change your roster every day. Franzen will be a dead spot to these owners until March. So how do you know whether to drop him? It comes down to his value over the replacement player, which is quite easy to determine. Franzen is predicted to miss as many as 55 games with his torn ACL, returning for the final 20 or so contests of the season. Franzen is about a 60-point player, which accounts for a 0.73 points-per-game pace. Now, let's be generous and say the best player available on the waiver wire is a 45-point guy, which is a 0.55 points-per-game pace. So, if Franzen returns as scheduled, he'll score you about 15 points (0.73 ppg multiplied by 20 games) down the stretch, but in the meantime, you could be netting about 41 points (0.55 ppg by 75 games) from your waiver-wire acquisition. You need to let Franzen go for sure.
As another quick example, we'll use Sedin, a point-per-game player projected to miss as many as 20 games. But he will return in time to give you at least 55 games. So again, if the best waiver-wire acquisition is a 45-point player who can offer you another 41 points over the rest of the season, you are better off sticking with Sedin, who can net you 55 points (1.0 ppg by 55 games) upon his return.
Steve Bernier, RW, Vancouver Canucks (owned in 0.6 percent of ESPN leagues): Henrik Sedin certainly doesn't appear to be suffering any separation syndrome now that twin brother Daniel is out for four to six weeks with a broken foot. Henrik managed two assists in the Canucks' 4-3 victory Sunday playing with his new linemates, Alexandre Burrows and Bernier. Now, Bernier was a flop last season as the so-called "Third Twin" in Vancouver and was quickly demoted to third-line duties, but he gets another chance. He didn't look too out of place and was a member of the first power-play unit as well.
Antero Niittymaki, G, Tampa Bay Lightning (27 percent): This recommendation is less a product of Niittymaki's one start so far this season and more a product of the inevitable breakdown of Mike Smith as a No. 1 goaltender. After suffering a concussion last season that kept him out for the final months, Smith already has back soreness that will allow Niittymaki to make at least two starts in goal. That is to say nothing of the soft goals Smith allows that kept his win percentage at a paltry 0.341 last season. If Niittymaki can continue winning games for the Lightning, coach Rick Tocchet won't have a choice but to go back to him. Of course, what the Bolts will do when Niittymaki's hips decide to give out is another question all together.
Todd Bertuzzi, LW, Detroit Red Wings (10.1 percent): After Franzen's injury, Bertuzzi landed on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg for Saturday's victory over the Washington Capitals. It doesn't get any better than that, folks. If Big Bert is going to have a renaissance season, it begins now. He is not playing the power play with Datsyuk and Zetterberg, but they can manage more than enough damage at even strength. Grab Bertuzzi and grab him now.
Johan Franzen, C/RW, Detroit Red Wings (87.6): As I already have discussed at length, Franzen is out for a long enough period of time that active fantasy owners can't afford to use the roster space for him. Move on and hope you can pounce on him again later.
Daymond Langkow, C, Calgary Flames (71.6): Even with new coach Brent Sutter behind the bench, the Flames still look lost defensively and still are winning games by outgunning their opponents. Not only is this a drag on Miikka Kiprusoff, but any Flame with marginal value can quickly become useless because of plus/minus. Langkow is the one player I am picking on because he is owned in the most leagues, but Nigel Dawes and Robyn Regehr also are droppable until the Flames improve their defensive efforts. Even Rene Bourque, with his seven points, is a minus-4 and could quickly become a liability.
If you aren't all over him already, I'll point out that Matt Carle has been surgically attached to Chris Pronger's hip both on and off the Philadelphia Flyers' power play. Playing consistently with one of the league's most stalwart defenders has its benefits, as he has eight points in five games. Radim Vrbata has managed a hot start in his return to the desert. With three goals in the Phoenix Coyotes' first four games, fantasy owners are quickly forgetting about his foray into Tampa Bay last season and instead are conjuring up images of his 27-goal 2007-08. Vaclav Prospal is still available in 79 percent of leagues and, quite frankly, shouldn't be. He is skating almost every minute of ice time that Marian Gaborik is and has four points through four games to show for it. Eric Nystrom is the latest winner of the Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla sweepstakes, joining their line, but until the two superstars start finding the net, the contest is becoming less important. One look at Anze Kopitar's or Ryan Smyth's numbers will tell you the Los Angeles Kings' power play is on fire. Lost in the mix might be sophomore Drew Doughty, who is the quarterback for the first unit. Doughty also is a workhorse, and his ice time is an asset in ESPN standard leagues.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com and the 2008 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.
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