Open Ice: Return of the King
Life without Ryan Smyth has reminded us what kind of fantasy player Anze Kopitar was before this season. Smyth's absence has actually provided a good reality check for anyone who had delusions of grandeur for this very talented but not quite elite forward.
There is no mincing these numbers: With Smyth, Kopitar is scary good; without him, his power is drained. In 22 games this season with Smyth on his wing, Kopitar has 32 points. In the 12 games since Smyth got hurt, Kopitar has five points. That's a drop from 1.45 points per game to 0.42. Without Smyth fighting for the puck, playing in the corner and working in front of the net, Kopitar is subpar.
The good news is that Kopitar's life is expected to improve greatly next week. Smyth is getting an extended rest by skipping a western Canadian road swing through Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary, but he's expected to play on Dec. 26 in Phoenix. The extra rest should help Smyth return to form as soon as he is back on the ice and get these Kings scoring again.
A few things can happen for you fantasywise: You may be in one of the 13.1 percent of ESPN.com leagues in which someone dropped Smyth when he was hurt. Pick him up. Meanwhile, Justin Williams' ownership numbers have slipped to just 18.9 percent. He was a fine complement for the Kopitar-Smyth combination, and although it may be more difficult to recall because Williams was hurt just before Smyth, he does have 15 points in 17 games with both linemates healthy.
And, of course, you'll be able to be a lot more comfortable with putting Kopitar in your lineup every night.
Now, the Kings have managed just fine without Smyth feeding Kopitar, as players such as Jarret Stoll and Wayne Simmonds (who is also injured) have been filling the gap and keeping them afloat in the standings (not just afloat, but tied for first place in the Pacific Division and the Western Conference). But the other part of this equation is looking at the rest of the team to get better along with the first line: Dustin Brown was a better player when he had less responsibility at the start of the season, and Drew Doughty had more points with Smyth in the lineup as well.
Even though the Kings have been good with Smyth out, they will be even better when he is back in.
Grab 'emScott Cunningham/NHLI /Getty ImagesAndrei Kostitsyn has four goals and two assists in his past five games with a plus-2.
Andrei Kostitsyn, LW, Canadiens (owned in 67.4 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Scott Gomez is lucky that the Montreal Canadiens only demoted him to the third line with the way he has been playing all season, but it's about time they made a move. Although Gomez drops down the depth chart, the elder Kostitsyn assumes the top-line role between Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri. Lo and behold, Kostitsyn has six points in five games. We know he is a wizard with the puck when he wants to be, so there is hope for him with this promotion. Given how many times he has disappointed in the past, I wouldn't say go out and trade for him, but if you can get Kostitsyn for free, do it.
Martin Erat, RW, Predators (6.9): He'll always finish with between 50 and 60 points, and the bulk of them will come in concentrated bursts throughout the season. So when you see Erat with nine points in six games, you want to ride the hot streak to see how long it lasts. Thankfully, Erat is playing top-line minutes with Jason Arnott and Steve Sullivan while J.P. Dumont is in the doghouse. So this streak may sustain itself longer than some of his others.
Martin Havlat, RW, Wild (65.8): I know I have a problem when it comes to this guy, but on the slim chance that Havlat has finally recovered from what has ailed his Minnesota Wild career thus far, I have to mention it. Havlat has five points in his past two games and three multipoint games in his past five. On Nov. 17 I took a close look at Havlat and supposed he might not be fully recovered from his injury or perhaps needed stronger linemates. Well, a month is enough time to heal further, and Guillaume Latendresse and Kyle Brodziak are certainly tougher linemates and more physical in the corners. This is the time to get onboard with Havlat, so do what you can to acquire him.
Slumping Philadelphia Flyers: When this team isn't clicking, this team isn't clicking. Matt Carle has two points and a minus-7 rating in his past 11 games. James van Riemsdyk has one point in his past 11. Even Chris Pronger has just two points and a minus-5 in his past 11 games. The Flyers have won twice in their past 11 games after losing only six times in their previous 18. What happened 11 games ago? The Flyers lost all their swagger in a beatdown at the hands of the San Jose Sharks. Goaltender Ray Emery had felt "something pop" just four days earlier in a game against the Buffalo Sabres, and the big loss to the Sharks was just the first of many before Emery opted to go under the knife. So what do you do? Yeah, I think you can drop Carle or van Riemsdyk if you need to, but beware that all the Flyers need is a goaltender they have faith in, and they will be a dangerous team again. So if you drop Carle or van Riemsdyk, make sure you know where to find them again.
I don't think I can advocate for Niclas Bergfors any stronger than I already have, but by no means should a rookie with 11 goals and 11 assists be owned in only 6.2 percent of ESPN.com leagues. Playing with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac more often than not, this may only be scrapping the surface of what Bergfors can do. Only Marian Gaborik, Dany Heatley and John Tavares have more power-play goals than Bergfors' seven. Dan Sexton has taken over Teemu Selanne's top-six roster spot on the Ducks and is on a line with Saku Koivu and Bobby Ryan. That's not a bad situation for the undrafted rookie to fall into, so you can see how he managed five points in his first five games in the NHL. I wouldn't pay too much attention to the situation, as Sexton is benefiting from Ryan's playing well, and when it's obvious Ryan is sustaining his strong play, he'll be shifted back to the top line. But to answer your question, sure, if he is on the wire, pick him up and play him. He's plus-6 in his past three games! Can you afford the plus/minus hit for decent production from a defenseman? Joni Pitkanen has started to move the puck well for the Carolina Hurricanes with six points in six games. However, he is minus-5 for that span. Still, Pitkanen is always a huge boost in average ice time, too. Michael Frolik is taking shots like it's going out of style. He has 20 shots on goal in his past four games. Because he plays on a line with with Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss, this could lead to very good things as long as Steve Reinprecht doesn't keep knocking on the door for first-line ice time.
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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