Commentary

The Vicky Files: Search for sleeper defensemen

Updated: January 5, 2008, 6:51 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

I'm suffering from a fairly meaty head cold.

Not ailing in the "want-to-die" fashion, just "lying-down-is-better-than-standing-up" sick. The simplest of tasks requires more effort than usual, and my face is full of unpleasant gooey matter fighting for escape. But don't worry, I'll live.

One truism about having an illness is, unless you're at death's door, nobody really cares much. Sure, your co-workers and friends will cluck sympathetically, but it's not as though it'll affect them. Your parents might be genuinely concerned, perhaps your spouse (to a point), but that's about it. If anything, others are secretly, selfishly relieved they're not in the same boat. When it comes to colds, forget about enjoying the pity; the only solution is to ride it out with a minimum amount of whining because no one else wants to hear about it.

The same rule applies to having talented players who are listed as day-to-day because of an injury -- even if you have several of them at the same time. No one in your league is going to sympathize with you. In fact, they'll relish and take advantage of your short-term agony. If a player has excelled fantasywise thus far, and he's not seriously hurt, all you can do is wait it out, no matter how miserable it is in the meantime. Remember, there's still tons of hockey left.

Someone just offered me Vesa Toskala for Kari Lehtonen? I know it's an upgrade, but Toskala is hurt. Do I still go for it?
Rob from Kitchener, Ontario

Absolutely. Toskala likely will miss this weekend's games, but he should be back by the end of the week. The Leafs are just being extra cautious with their No. 1 guy, and for good reason. Groin injuries, however minor, are a particularly sensitive issue for netminders. The team wants to be positive he's ready to return without aggravating it. As for Toskala himself, he feels good in practice and can't wait to get back at it. His numbers -- 13-11-4 record, .909 save percentage and 2.62 goals-against average -- are exceptional this season, considering Toronto's substandard showing. Toskala even has a couple of shutouts. And there's no reason to believe he won't perform well once he returns.

Meanwhile, Lehtonen is having a somewhat bleak season. With more losses than wins, and a 3.16 goals-against average, he has been a frustrating disappointment. If you can sacrifice one week of goalie stats (yes, you can), this deal would be a big improvement for you between the pipes.

A couple of questions: First, Michael Ryder or Jonathan Cheechoo? Can either of these guys turn it around? And if so, which one should I be grabbing off waivers? Second, Lubomir Visnovsky and Mike Modano's plus/minus (or just minus) is killing me. It seems like every time the other team scores, these guys are on the ice. Should I hold on to them, trade them or drop them for someone with a better plus/minus? I'm in second place in a 16-team Roto league, and plus/minus is the only thing I'm dead last in.
Johnny from Buffalo, N.Y.

In a larger league such as yours, I definitely endorse the acquisition of Cheechoo off waivers. Sure, his output of five goals and six assists to this stage in the season is shockingly awful, but it's difficult to believe that a player who scored 37 goals last season and 56 the season before could fall so far without some redemption on the horizon. One might say it's not completely out of the question that a turnaround could take place. In fact, it actually might be under way already. After being out for seven games because of a groin injury, Cheechoo responded with four shots in about 15 minutes of ice time on Dec. 26. That's a show of determination, at least. And he does have two points in his past two games. If anything, it's a start.

Also, keep in mind that Cheechoo warmed up substantially in the second half of last season. After only 24 points in his first 34 games, he tallied 45 points in his last 42 games. Besides, his plus/minus rating (plus-2) isn't harmful. Picking up the winger without giving up anything is a gamble worth taking. The payoff could be substantial.

As for your second dilemma, if plus/minus is a concern, feel free to dump Modano. You could try trading him, but don't expect to pick up much in return. Mediocre centers are fairly commonplace. But it's an entirely different story when it comes to defensemen with 24 points (including 16 on the power play). Visnovsky's plus/minus is abhorrent indeed, but it has been a bit better of late. He's carrying a somewhat respectable minus-1 rating over the past two weeks. And it's hard to argue with his production as he ranks seventh in power-play points among blueliners and sits tied for 15th overall. I would hang on to Lubomir.

I'm in a 14-team, head-to-head league, and I am having problems with my defense. Most of my players aren't doing well. The idea of trading for a good defenseman is not possible since no one in my league will accept anything reasonable in return. Are there any defensemen who might be available in free agency that could help me out? I'm desperate.
Marek from Boston

Dark-horse defenders, huh? OK, have a look at likely available Tom Preissing. He has nine points in his past 15 games with L.A., including six on the power play. He's particularly smokin' at the moment, with four points in his past three matches. Preissing's plus/minus will hurt you a bit (he does play for the Kings), but that's about it.

Dallas' Matt Niskanen is also worthy of consideration. Even with eight points in his past 14 games, Niskanen's most impressive stat remains his plus/minus rating of plus-13 for the season. There's a reasonable chance he's still flying below the radar in your league.

And finally, as mentioned in Sean Allen's Open Ice this week, Mike Commodore could be a helpful pickup. Since returning from injury Dec. 20, Commodore has four points in seven games. Throw in his 18 penalty minutes over the same period, and we're talking value. After a slow start to the season, the Hurricanes defender seems back to his old feisty ways.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can send her e-mail for potential use in "The Vicky Files" by clicking here.

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