Open Ice: Shoring up leaky defense
A major issue for many fantasy hockey teams is the non-performing defenseman. It's so easy to overlook and so difficult to do anything about it, so most owners are content to just watch Roman Hamrlik, Marc Staal or Kim Johnsson do just enough not to damage your fantasy team but at the same time not make any significant contribution.
The NPD will sometimes even go unnoticed thanks to strength in some categories, but is weighed down by his overall performance. Carlo Colaiacovo may continue to put up some points, but with no penalty minutes, shots on goal or ice time to speak of, he is doing more harm than good.
While NPDs in disguise are part of the problem, owner complacency is just as dangerous. A cursory glance at the waiver wire will never show a better option for an Anton Stralman owner because that's the kind of picture NPDs try to paint. "See, no one has been better over the full season," the NPD would say, conveniently leaving out the fact that there are plenty of more usable options when you break things down to a shorter time frame.
While you may look at your team now and see Dan Hamhuis or Alex Goligoski in your fourth defenseman spot and realize you have been a victim this season, know that it is not too late. Breaking the cycle of NPDs now could help you carry over the positive changes to next season. So ditch Francois Beauchemin and Fedor Tyutin now and commit to a new regimen for next season in which you will put in the work to make sure you never suffer from NPD again.
I've included some prescription options below to help you deal with the withdrawal that can be associated with NPD.
Jamie McBain, D, Carolina Hurricanes (available in 90 percent of ESPN leagues): An offensive defenseman by trade, McBain has also honed his positioning game to the point where he has all the tools to be a star fantasy defenseman in the NHL. His late-season debut with the Hurricanes will just wind up being a taste of what is to come, but if you need help on the blue line, don't hesitate to use him. A former Hobey Baker Award finalist at Wisconsin, McBain tallied 40 points in 68 games with the AHL's Albany River Rats before being called up to the NHL two weeks ago. McBain has six points in seven NHL games, making it hard to picture any fantasy roster that couldn't use his production. He is already playing 25 minutes a night for the Canes and is on the point for the first power-play unit with Joni Pitkanen as a partner. Essentially, McBain stepped right into Joe Corvo's shoes and has had no problem filling them.
Dennis Seidenberg, D, Boston Bruins (available in 83 percent): Don't ask me how or why, but since heading to the Bruins at the trade deadline, Seidenberg has been treated like royalty. It's not a huge stretch to understand why coach Claude Julien paired him up with Zdeno Chara; Seidenberg is a left-handed shot and Chara's previous partner, Derek Morris, just left town via trade. But Seidenberg is also playing a ton of power-play minutes now with Dennis Wideman as a partner. Never someone you wanted to write home about from a fantasy perspective, Seidenberg has already set a career high for points this season. Strictly as a Bruin, he has eight points and a plus-9 in 13 games.
Erik Karlsson, D, Ottawa Senators (available in 99 percent): When Filip Kuba is out of the Senators' lineup, Karlsson turns into a different player. Victoria Matiash pointed out the possible replacement value of Karlsson last week, but the case has become stronger since then. In four games since it was announced Kuba would be out, Karlsson has seven points. He is also a plus-3 in those four games compared to being a minus-9 in the previous five games.
Jussi Jokinen, LW, Carolina Hurricanes (owned in 50 percent of ESPN leagues): There were plenty of reasons to own Jokinen before the Hurricanes dropped out of playoff contention. Since the Canes' fate was for all intents and purposes sealed earlier this month, they have been trying out some younger players for the future. Brandon Sutter has seen extended ice time, and Drayson Bowman and Zach Boychuk have both been handed a stick. That has meant a reduced role for Jokinen to the point where he is almost irrelevant to fantasy owners. I stress almost, because any fantasy owner desperate for power-play points should keep him around, as his role on the man advantage has not changed. If you are not using him for his power-play points, though, feel free to part ways.
Cristobal Huet, G, Chicago Blackhawks (owned in 93 percent): I know, you've come a long way together, but it's time to let go. Antti Niemi has forced the Blackhawks to roll with him for the remainder of the season and Huet can be let go by any fantasy owner needing a roster spot. In his only game action over the past two weeks, Huet allowed seven goals on 27 shots.
Jakub Voracek is available in 25 percent of ESPN leagues and is coming on very strong as the season winds down. On a line with fellow developing young star Derick Brassard, Voracek has seven points in his past four games, nine in his past seven and 15 in his past 13. This streak has been ongoing for some time now. While he hasn't taken the step forward many were expecting this season, this late-season push could go a long way to helping us forget his slow start. Kari Lehtonen is still starting the majority of games for the Dallas Stars and looking good in the process. The added advantage with Lehtonen is that thanks to the Stars' wonky defense, he faces a ton of shots for a stronger save percentage. Rob Blake and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are happy to see each other again. Blake has six points since Vlasic returned to his side on the ice a week ago. Vlasic has just one point, but a plus-6 since returning from injury to help the San Jose Sharks end a losing streak. Blake is owned in most leagues, but Vlasic is not. Those owners looking to close out with some penalty minutes can look to defenseman Dean Arsene. The Edmonton Oilers are short on blueliners and Arsene has 26 PIMs in three games.
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.