Open Ice: Top waiver-wire options
Jokinen, Latendresse, Pouliot, Simmonds all worth picking up
This won't be your average All-Star break when the NHL goes on a two-week hiatus starting Sunday, with many of its players heading to Vancouver to participate in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. There will be some fantastic hockey to watch -- not the least of which will include some blasts from the past like Ziggy Palffy, Jaromir Jagr and Peter Forsberg -- but it does mean two weeks during which you don't have to concentrate on your daily fantasy hockey chores.
However, such a long break from daily lineup decisions will allow extra time for both you and your opponents to reflect on your teams and assess your needs down the stretch. That means that starting next Monday, your opponents might become more aware of and active toward some of the emerging fantasy stars who are still on the waiver wire.
In the interest of keeping you one step ahead of the competition, I encourage you to sit down this week and take stock of your fantasy team. Then head to the waiver wire and see who is available to help you. The free-agent pickings might get slim as early as next week, so get them now while the getting is good.
In an attempt to make your job a little easier, I am recapping some of my favorite recommendations from the past couple of months who are still widely available in ESPN leagues but might not be for long:
Jussi Jokinen, LW, Carolina Hurricanes (owned in 35 percent of ESPN leagues): Jokinen is an easy add for any fantasy owner who needs goals and a mix of overall offensive production. Previously known only for his shootout heroics, Jokinen emerged as one of the few bright spots for the Hurricanes during the first months of the season. Since the Canes picked up the pace, Jokinen has landed on the top line with Ray Whitney and Eric Staal, and continues to produce.
Steve Downie, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning (25.5 percent): For leagues that use penalty minutes, Downie has been arguably a top-50 overall skater this season. He brings to the table the perfect mix of points and PIMs that makes fantasy owners drool. Of all the players who seem to have a shot at breaking 200 PIMs this season, Downie is the only one with more than 15 points. In fact, he has doubled that production with 30 points this season. Although not a regular among the top six, he does spend enough time on a line with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis to help pad his stats.
Tomas Fleischmann, C/RW, Washington Capitals (30.7 percent): While the Capitals have managed to find a balance for their top three lines, there still is some drop-off as you go down the list. Fleischmann managed to earn a permanent spot on the second unit with star winger Alexander Semin and the underrated Brooks Laich. He has 41 points in 48 games and is somehow being overlooked in most leagues.
Guillaume Latendresse, RW, Minnesota Wild (8.2 percent): After the trade of fizzling prospects between the Wild and Montreal Canadiens, Latendresse quickly settled in on a line with Martin Havlat and Kyle Brodziak, and started putting up points. In fact, 16 of his 18 goals this season have come since becoming a member of the Wild. That means he is scoring one goal for every two games he plays (16 goals in 33 games), and that kind of value should not just be sitting on most waiver wires.
Benoit Pouliot, LW, Montreal Canadiens (11.7 percent): The other half of the Latendresse trade, Pouliot started performing equally well for the Habs. He has 11 goals in 20 games with the Canadiens, playing on a line with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta as well as logging plenty of time on the power play. He has been placed on the IR with an undisclosed injury, but the Olympic break should be enough time for him to heal. He's the pickup for any fantasy owner who desperately needs some power-play goals.
Kurtis Foster, D, Tampa Bay Lightning (5.8 percent): Since December, Foster has asserted himself as the puck mover on the Lightning blue line, a role that seemed to be vacant during the first two months of the season. Since Dec. 15, Foster has 20 points in 24 games. Although the plus/minus rating for Foster can be volatile from game to game, he still is playing at even for the season.
Wayne Simmonds, RW, Los Angeles Kings (12.4 percent): Call him the tortoise, as Simmonds' slow and steady production ultimately will get him attention from fantasy owners. He isn't overwhelming anybody with his scoring, but his 35 points do represent quality production. However, when you notice that Simmonds has 85 penalty minutes and a plus-19 rating, you start to realize what he can offer. On the top line for the Kings with Anze Kopitar and Brad Richardson, Simmonds offers any fantasy owner across-the-board value.
Mason Raymond, LW, Vancouver Canucks (56.0 percent): I realize he is owned in more than 50 percent of ESPN leagues, but Raymond really should be owned in all of them. He offers a great balance for scoring, as evidenced by his 21 goals and 21 assists. The power-play points are also up there, as he has 18 of them this season. With the opposing teams forced to focus on the Sedin twins, Raymond, Ryan Kesler and Mikael Samuelsson continue to sneak by as a solid, productive second line.
Tyler Bozak, C, Toronto Maple Leafs (0.5 percent): The Maple Leafs dealt off a number of players to acquire Dion Phaneuf and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, thus leaving a few holes to fill. Bozak has taken on the first-line center role but actually was on the radar before because of his chemistry with Phil Kessel. Now Bozak and Kessel are playing with Alexei Ponikarovsky and making a go of it as a decent top line. In the three games since the big trades, Bozak has four points. In his 14-game NHL career, he has 10 points. Definitely worth a look.
Keith Yandle, D, Phoenix Coyotes (33.9 percent): Let's start with the somewhat impressive stuff: Yandle has 30 points this season and 17 points in his past 26 games since picking up the pace a bit in December. That's good and probably good enough for most fantasy teams, but maybe not enough to get you noticed. Now for the really impressive bit (and remember, he is a member of the Coyotes): Yandle is a plus-10 over his past 11 games. That should be enough to get him noticed.
Ian White, D, Calgary Flames (47.5): White has no value with the Flames. First off, his minutes immediately dropped by five per game. When you are talking about 25 minutes to begin with, five is a significant drop. Secondly, the Flames also acquired power-play specialist Ales Kotalik and have been using him as Jay Bouwmeester's defense partner on the man advantage. White secured a lot of his value with the Maple Leafs thanks to the power play, and he won't get very much time there with the Flames.
Ilya Kovalchuk played his first game with the New Jersey Devils on a line with Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus. Not a combination I saw coming, but there you have it. Obviously, Zubrus would gain some value here, and he has played with left-wing Russian snipers in the past (Alexander Ovechkin) and performed acceptably. I doubt it keeps up, but the Los Angeles Kings' Michal Handzus (eight points in five games) and Alex Frolov (four points in past two) are worth using while they're hot. Pavol Demitra scored his first goal of the season Saturday and has points in three straight. It's not a huge deal, but it's always worth mentioning when you are talking about a player who even last season was scoring better than 0.75 points per game.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.