Open Ice: A couple of Coyotes worth picking up
There's nothing like a good, old-fashioned vote of confidence. Like having Maple Leafs President Richard Peddie say to The Toronto Sun that hiring John Ferguson Jr. as general manager was "to be honest a mistake on my part " That must give Fergie Jr. a real warm, fuzzy feeling inside. This may be the beginning of a change in Toronto, following reports that coach Paul Maurice is also on the hot seat. Bryan McCabe, Tomas Kaberle, Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake are all players who could swing a turnaround to their disappointing fantasy seasons if any changes take place. Just something to consider if you are near the bottom of your standings and looking for someone to gamble on that has significant upside.
Here's who has my eye this week.
Radim Vrbata, RW, Coyotes: As of Wednesday night, Vrbata is riding a three-game point streak with six points. Part of that can be attributed to the strong forechecking abilities of linemate Martin Hanzal. Vrbata and Hanzal have been relatively inseparable of late, with the third member of their unit being the upstart Daniel Winnik or -- when the game is close -- Shane Doan. Vrbata is one of a limited number of Coyotes who have both NHL experience and raw talent. Coach Wayne Gretzky is likely helping Vrbata get over his shoot-first, pass-second attitude. He'll be good in streaks, but I think he can finish the year as a medium-depth league No. 3 right winger.
R.J. Umberger, C, Flyers: As Simon Gagne's concussion issues have proven to be more serious than first thought, Umberger has been seizing every opportunity to put in time amongst the Flyers' top six. He has been burying points all season, but has been hard to justify picking up with the merry-go-round lines used by coach John Stevens. With Gagne now on the Injured Reserve, it certainly appears that Umberger has solidified his role. A standout on the U.S. national team and at Ohio University, Umberger has the skills to develop into a fantasy contributor. Playing with Mike Knuble, Daniel Briere or Mike Richards should help that along. If you are still hanging onto Tim Connolly wondering where his goals are, consider Umberger as a replacement.
Aaron Voros, LW, Wild: Scoring 30 points and contributing nearly 200 penalty minutes in his most recent full AHL seasons, Voros has the ability to be a four-category fantasy player. His hustle, and the fact that the Wild are deep on offense, means he'll get his points. The fact that the Wild are also defensively sound means he'll be solid in the plus/minus category. His history of dropping the gloves and being a pest, means he'll get his PIMs. He's my kind of deep-league No. 3 left winger.
Keith Ballard, D, Coyotes: I have no complaints about some of the talent at the back end in Phoenix, but Ed Jovanovski, Ballard, Derek Morris and Nick Boynton couldn't be fantasy contributors while the team's collective plus/minus was plummeting. With a rock like Ilya Bryzgalov now between the pipes, things are looking up for this defensive core. Ballard has the best combination of grit and offensive acumen to be the one fantasy owners should go after. He should be available in all but deep leagues.
Viktor Kozlov, C, Capitals: You would expect to see Kozlov on my "drop" list after my prediction that he would be shuffled out of the spot next to Alexander Ovechkin when coach Glen Hanlon was fired. Well, a few injuries later, and I think Kozlov can retain some decent value. I am very wary of Alexander Semin's ankle injury, and exactly where it is taking him. He re-aggravated it on Wednesday, and I'm just waiting to hear the word surgery in relation to it. Chris Clark was also banged up on Wednesday, leaving the Capitals with few precious forwards should Clark's injury turn out to be serious. Kozlov would, by default, inherit a spot at least on the top power-play unit. Even with only Semin out, Kozlov likely fits into the power play and could be in for an uptick in offense. Deeper-league owners, take note.
Mike Mottau, D, Devils: After winning the Hobey Baker award as the top U.S. collegiate player in 2000, Mottau sort of fell off the map. His offensive abilities have still shone through at the AHL level, but never in the NHL. Coach Brent Sutter used Mottau as his No. 1 power-play defenseman Wednesday night, which could be an indication that Sutter has found a reclamation project. With Paul Martin and Karel Rachunek's average performances and Andy Greene not stepping up, Mottau has the chance if he can seize this opportunity. He is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Alexander Edler, D, Canucks: I pegged Edler as the rookie with the most upside for Vancouver's blue line before the season, and he has finally started paying out. Luc Bourdon has been clearly overwhelmed at times, but Edler has finally settled in. Sami Salo's recent return to the lineup is the only real threat to Edler, as Lukas Krajicek has yet to step up this season. If nothing else, Edler's defensive abilities will keep his plus/minus soaring above even, but he has potential on a very good Canucks power play as well.
Fredrik Norrena, G, Blue Jackets: With most goaltenders, a report that he'll miss only one game with a pulled hamstring is not that concerning. With Pascal Leclaire, it is worthy of some mild panicking. To say Leclaire has been injury-prone in his young career is to put it mildly. Norrena is a must-add for any league thanks to this season's improved Columbus squad.
Tomas Popperle & Adam Munro, G, Blue Jackets: I'll even go one further with Leclaire's injury for the ultra-deep leagues out there. With a history like Leclaire's, we don't know if this hamstring will snowball from day-to-day into an IR trip. Popperle got the call, but his numbers aren't as good for the AHL's Syracuse Crunch as Munro's are. Munro -- my schoolyard chum (literally) -- is a former OHL league leader for netminding stats and has maintained a sub-3.00 goals against average and better than-.900 save percentage through his entire tenure in the AHL. This one is for deep leagues, or an opportunity for me to name-drop. Take your pick.
Jonas Hiller, G, Ducks: Hiller, though not a childhood friend of mine, is definitely someone to add in deep leagues. Jean-Sebastien Giguere doesn't have the best track-record for injury either, and Hiller has proven himself more than capable of backstopping an NHL game. He was sort of lost in the Bryzgalov shuffle, but is a must-add insurance policy for Giggy owners and a good gamble for deep leagues.
Tyler Kennedy, C, Penguins: Diminutive, but chippy, Kennedy has been in and out of the Penguins lineup for the last several weeks. When he is not a healthy scratch, he is digging in the corners and logging ice time with some of the best young talent in the game. He improved every year through his OHL career and put in a near point-per-game season in the AHL last year. When the Ryan Malone-with-Sidney Crosby experiment goes sour again, Kennedy may get a chance.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can Email him here.
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