Open Ice: Thanks for nothing
Everyone has a list of things to be thankful for this time of year, but it just seems logically counterproductive for a fantasy hockey column, doesn't it? Sure, I could make a list of sentences that look something like this: "Good for you for having Alex Ovechkin. Keep winning and be awesome." "Way to have Anze Kopitar on your team. Thumbs up to that awesomeness, and be thankful for his scoring."
Seems to me that wouldn't do very many people much good. So I thought, let's focus on the bums instead. Let's have a look at this season's fantasy players not to be thankful for. These guys haven't done much for you this fantasy season, yet for some reason they are still locked on your roster. Many of them will remain that way just because you hope they'll turn things around, but how many of those will continue to languish away their seasons?
If you don't own one these guys, do us a favor and crack a wishbone while thinking of them.
Dennis Wideman, D, Bruins: The theory I'm applying here also goes for Scott Niedermayer, but Wideman gets to headline because his numbers are much worse. Defensemen often fall into what's known as a partner trap, and sometimes it's difficult to determine just when they've slipped into it. With Wideman, we all should have realized and not invested so much in him, but with Niedermayer it was a slow, subtle slide, and no one is to blame.
The partner trap happens when a defenseman's elite fantasy value is tied almost exclusively to his defensive partner, often causing doe-eyed fantasy players to overlook that partner's impact. Wideman is a classic case, as he received almost all his fantasy value from Zdeno Chara last season. It's clear this season that Derek Morris is the beneficiary of Chara's presence. With Niedermayer, it was much more difficult to see coming because he was the value-giver just a few short years ago, but without Chris Pronger this season, Niedermayer is far from elite.
There isn't much you can do with Wideman or Niedermayer at this point unless you can sell someone on the idea that they're just starting slowly. You can't just get rid of either player, as Niedermayer still has some value and Wideman has the potential to be a top defenseman if Bruins coach Claude Julien adjusts his lineup slightly.
Scott Gomez, C, Canadiens: If you bring in a whole list of new players, you are bound to be left with some chemistry problems. Although Gomez seems to have reconnected just fine with former linemate Brian Gionta, his on-the-ice relationship with Mike Cammalleri has been left wanting.
It's actually a very dysfunctional trio when you look at the numbers. Gomez and Gionta have scored a point on the same goal seven times this season. Cammalleri and Gionta have done so six times. But Gomez and Cammalleri have combined only twice. Strange for a line that has been the team's No. 1 unit in every situation virtually all season long.
Unfortunately for Gomez, it's Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec who have emerged as the Montreal Canadiens' go-to guys and leading scorers. Gomez's power-play time has been limited to mop-up duty because of the Plekanec-Cammalleri connection. Is there anything you can do with Gomez at this point? Not really. If you can trade him for any semblance of a 65-point player, make the deal. But that might be a bit hopeful.
Alexei Kovalev, RW, Senators: We all knew the risks with Kovalev when he was drafted in your league. The owner knew he could be taking anything from an 80-point star winger to a 60-point lackadaisical dud. However, even Kovalev is setting a new standard for his low. With a points-per-game pace that would be his career low for a whole season, Kovalev has just 10 points in 19 games since joining the Ottawa Senators. He just doesn't appear to be a good fit with established No. 1 center Jason Spezza.
Although Kovalev has showed some signs of life while skating with Mike Fisher, it would take an injury to Spezza to give Fisher the kind of permanent top-line assignment to make the duo fantasy-relevant. Can you drop Kovalev? Of all the players I'm pointing out as unworthy of thanks, Kovalev is the closest to being droppable. Still, I would hesitate to do so unless in a very shallow 10-team league.
Michael Ryder, RW, Bruins: It wasn't long ago when Ryder had just six points in 18 games. Although his current nine points in 22 is far from impressive, it makes us a bit optimistic. Ryder was a victim of the sputter-start along with the Boston Bruins' entire offense, which has been unable to get going at the prolific pace it managed last season.
What certainly didn't help things was losing last season's entire first line after just seven games (Phil Kessel went to Toronto in an offseason trade, while Marc Savard and Milan Lucic were both injured.) Add in the fact that second-line center David Krejci missed all of training camp and the preseason recovering from surgery, and you can see why the Bruins' offense may not have fared so well.
But things are in motion to turn this team around and turn them around fast. Already, Krejci, Ryder and Blake Wheeler have reformed their line from last season that was so successful, and looking at Ryder's three goals in four games is certainly encouraging. Furthermore, as of Monday night, both Savard and Lucic are expected to be back in the lineup together. So although you may have nothing to be thankful for as a Bruins owner at the moment, that tune could change quickly in the next month.
Brian Elliott, G, Senators (owned in 9.7 percent of ESPN.com leagues): It's not supposed to be too serious an injury for Sens goalie Pascal Leclaire, but this is Leclaire we're talking about. The notoriously injury-prone goaltender has a perfectly adequate backup ready to steal all his value should Leclaire miss any more than one or two games. Picking up Elliott is simply a prudent, precautionary move.
Anton Stralman, D, Blue Jackets (1.5): Someone had to step in and be the puck mover for the Jackets' defense, and with Kris Russell still not taking advantage of his shot, Stralman has settled in. With nine points in his past nine games and nine of his 13 points on the power play, Stralman is not just on a hot streak. He can be counted on for No. 2-defenseman production all season now that the Blue Jackets have their power-play quarterback. This is why I've liked Russell so much. It's an elite job if the right candidate gets the position. Stralman is even helping Fedor Tyutin be productive on the point with him.
Claude Giroux, RW, Flyers (81.8): About 20 percent of owners jumped ship after Giroux still had only three points through his first nine games. Well, after he's scored 12 points in the next 11 games, it's time to check whether he was jettisoned in your league. With both Giroux and James vanRiemsdyk now contributing, Simon Gagne will have a fight on his hands if he gets healthy.
Mattias Ohlund, D, Lightning (81.2): We threw the towel in on Victor Hedman's uselessness a couple of weeks ago, so let's send Ohlund packing with him. Despite tons of time on the power play when he is healthy and a productive unit in front of him, Ohlund has been almost as bad as Hedman when it comes to offensive production. Kurtis Foster has more power-play points in two games as the quarterback than Ohlund, Hedman or even Andrej Meszaros have all season.
Don't get all excited about Alexander Frolov's opportunity alongside Anze Kopitar. Remember that Kopitar's brilliant season is a symptom of Ryan Smyth's play on the top line, and Kopitar has been very ordinary whenever Frolov is his linemate. Downgrade your expectations of Kopitar until Smyth returns, and whatever you do, do not drop Smyth. Nicklas Backstrom's production has dovetailed a bit, but don't get too worried. Remember that playmakers must pass to someone to accumulate points. With Alex Ovechkin, Mike Knuble and Alexander Semin missing time lately, Backstrom's numbers have slipped. Ovechkin is already back, so expect a bit of a turnaround soon, while Semin and Knuble are both likely to return within two weeks. A lack of any other healthy bodies has the Pittsburgh Penguins using Martin Skoula on the power play. He has three goals in three games.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com and the 2008 Fantasy Sports Writers Association's Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.