The bland yet benign 2012 NHL All-Star Game is out of the way now, which means that we can focus on the second “half” of the 2011-12 season. (I put half in quotation marks because, technically speaking, NHL teams have played more than 50 percent of their games already. Still, it’s halfway done in spirit.)
With that in mind, here’s an interesting player to watch per team; I’ll try to stay away from too many obvious choices, although they'll be a few here and there.
Anaheim: It's likely that you know about the Ducks’ big guns, so let’s skip past them (although Jonas Hiller ranks as one of the biggest wild cards in the NHL). Instead, Lubomir Visnovsky is interesting to watch, especially with his play picking up lately. He has one goal and four assists in his last five games, so it might be a good time to attempt a trade.
Boston: Tuukka Rask’s situation is interesting to watch. He’s in the last year of his current contract while Tim Thomas’ deal runs through 2012-13. Will that force the Bruins to make a trade or will they end up with the priciest goalie duo in the NHL next year?
Buffalo: Can the whole team be under the microscope? This might be the best time ever to try to get Ryan Miller for a low-ball deal; perhaps the All-Star break did him some good.
Calgary: Jarome Iginla is beyond obvious, but what about Olli Jokinen, who’s in a contract year? Will the Flames decide to deal him while his value is as high as it’ll get (which I’d wager peaks at “medium”)?
Carolina: Eric Staal and Cam Ward have been faring better lately, so certainly get on that, but Tuomo Ruutu possibly getting dealt to Chicago or Ottawa – two teams with hot offenses – could make him an interesting depth forward. Ruutu should bring decent PIMs and is especially relevant in hits leagues.
Chicago: Brendan Morrison was traded to the Blackhawks this weekend. He’s not a sexy choice, but fell in the 50-point range on hot offenses like Washington’s. Keep an eye on him.
Colorado: Paul Stastny seems bound for a better second half merely because his first half was so bad. Naturally, Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s goalie battle is something to watch, too.
Columbus: Rick Nash has pulled ahead a bit, but can Vinny Prospal really stay a stride or two behind the much-higher-paid Blue Jackets’ captain points-wise?
Dallas: If Brenden Morrow really is being shopped around, then things aren’t going too well for the Stars. Then again, much of that team’s collective fantasy value probably exceeded expectations already (at least pace-wise), so maybe beggars cannot be choosers.
Detroit: Could Jimmy Howard break the single-season wins record? His owners are delighted that it’s a decent possibility.
Edmonton: What was more shocking: that Jordan Eberle made the All-Star team or that he probably deserved the recognition? Pretty awesome to see him progress to this level from his great WJC work.
Florida: Tomas Fleischmann just ended a lengthy scoring slump before the break, so can he get back on track? He has 16 goals and 35 points in 48 games played, which still ranks as better than most expected, but re-gaining his late-2011 form would certainly be nice.
Los Angeles: Drew Doughty is developing a reputation as a slow-starter, which is another way of saying that he’s stronger in the second half of campaigns. He might be another interesting buy-low candidate, although anyone who’s been this patient with him might not be willing to part ways at this point.
Minnesota: Cal Clutterbuck looks primed to challenge his career-high of 19 goals from last season with 12 in 45 games so far. The amusing last-named winger brings an interesting mix of tallies, shots on goal, PIM and hits to the table while bring little-to-nothing in other categories such as assists.
Montreal: After a slow beginning, Erik Cole is leading the Canadiens in points (39) and goals (19) in his first season with the Habs. His seven power-play goals don’t hurt, either.
Nashville: Ryan Suter is banged up at the moment but it would be surprising if his return isn’t around the corner. He already has 28 points this season, but it’s his special teams numbers that are the most impressive; 16 of his points come on the PP and he also has a shorthanded goal and a shorthanded assist.
New Jersey: Only 8.9 percent of Zach Parise’s shots on goal resulted in tallies so far this season. I’d have to think he’ll generate a more efficient set of results to end his contract year …
Islanders: Evgeni Nabokov faces a grand opportunity to take the Isles’ top goalie job (and make himself some money in the process).
Rangers: This hasn’t been a fantastic year for Brandon Dubinsky, although his 68 PIM are a saving grace for fantasy owners. He should have better luck toward the end of 2011-12 as he’s only scored on six percent of his SOG’s.
Ottawa: Sergei Gonchar is quietly having a redemptive season with 26 points, 11 PPP and a decent 30 PIM.
Philadelphia: James van Riemsdyk’s tough 2011-12 is at its lowest point with concussion issues. In a high-powered offense like the Flyers’, you’d expect JVR to figure things out – if he can come back healthy this season.
Phoenix: Ray Whitney is a slightly younger, more assist-happy and far less hyped answer to Teemu Selanne in the desert. “The Wizard” leads the Coyotes in points with 42 in 50 games.
Pittsburgh: Kris Letang has almost a point (23) per game (26) this season. Is it outrageous to expect him to finish with at least 45 with 32 contests remaining?
San Jose: Brent Burns is an example of the Kevin Kolb corollary; it’s an extreme risk to give a player a contract extension immediately after trading for him.
St. Louis: This might be your last chance to sell high on Brian Elliott and/or buy low on Jaroslav Halak because all signs are pointing to the top job transitioning from the surprise All-Star to the should-be franchise guy.
Tampa Bay: Vincent Lecavalier might be the Brian Campbell of forwards. His contract is out of whack but he’s producing nice numbers this season, with 19 goals and 40 points and a solid 44 PIM.
Toronto: Joffrey Lupul might be more valuable than Phil Kessel – and not just because he cost far less for fantasy owners to acquire. He doesn’t fire as many shots on goal but Lupul has an extra point and 40 PIM to Kessel’s 12. He also has 15 PPP’s to Kessel’s 12. (Bonus Bud: this might be a good time to buy low on James Reimer, particularly if he’s a free agent.)
Vancouver: David Booth is an under-the-radar depth forward worthy of note; he now has 16 points in an injury-ravaged 23 games.
Washington: Dennis Wideman’s All-Star season comes in a contract year, so don’t be shocked if the fun carries on – especially if a re-energized Alex Ovechkin gives him some layup assist opportunities.
Winnipeg: Dustin Byfuglien’s been banged up, but fantasy-wise, I wouldn’t say he’s been disappointing unless you expected a replica of last season. Big Buff has 24 points, 46 PIM and 123 shots in 35 games. I’d say that’s about what you’d like to see from the unique blueliner.
Hope you enjoyed that scattered look at the second half of the 2011-12 season. Click here for the injury list, including the latest oddness related to Sidney Crosby.