James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Drop Daniel and Duncan

Monday, March 26, 2012

For the most part, hockey fans often believe that players get off lightly in regard to higher-profile suspensions. That’s probably the sentiment in many circles – particularly ones hovering around the Vancouver area - when it comes to the case of Duncan Keith receiving a five-game suspension for his egregious elbow on Daniel Sedin (who remains out indefinitely with what has been more or less confirmed as a concussion).


There's one area where a five-game suspension hits like an atom bomb, though: fantasy hockey. While real-life teams and scrape and scrap, fantasy owners must stem the tide with replacements on the waiver wire during a time when there aren't many buried treasures left. The bright side of the suspension is that there was a big gap between the night that the Keith incident happened and the Chicago Blackhawks’ next contest. That took place on Sunday, with the Nashville Predators absolutely obliterating the Blackhawks 6-1.


The other bright side is that while Keith and Sedin are on their way out, others are coming back who can at least ease the pain of those losses. That brings us to the Keith conundrum, though.



So with four games remaining on Keith’s suspension and just six games left on the Blackhawks’ schedule, the question is: do you drop Duncan Keith?


If I were you, I’d have a lot of trouble justifying holding an empty roster spot until April 5 just for two games for Keith – whose timing might be a touch off when he comes back, anyway. (Of course, he could come roaring back in the last two contests, which could very well turn into a nightmare scenario if your opponent ends up with Keith once the suspension is over.)


Even with that disturbing situation in mind, it’s not like Keith will be on the injured reserve. All signs point to parting ways with him, as hard as that might be - especially for Keith owners who also happen to be Blackhawks fans.



Breaking it down to week-to-week terms, people who keep Keith won't have him for this week and wouldn't be able to take advantage of his services until Thursday, April 5. It's honestly hard for me to imagine it being worth it - you're better off taking your chances by jumping on Keith on Tuesday or Wednesday, especially if he's no longer considered on waivers.


It’s far from a straightforward case, so if you decide to stick with Keith, feel free to drop me a line and let me know how it works out for you. Naturally, the situation is very different in head-to-head leagues vs. rotisserie setups; in the latter case, Keith’s suspension might actually making life easier if you’re splitting hairs about maximum games played or what not.


(As far as keeper leagues are concerned, you’d be wise to keep him around unless he was a toss-up to stay on your roster in the first place and you’re in the running for this season’s championship.)



I know I focused more on Keith because he’s sidelined due to a suspension rather than an injury. To be honest, dropping Daniel Sedin might be even more of a no-brainer unless he’s been swiftly placed on the IR and you have the room. He’s obviously the kind of player who could score crucial points even if it’s just the last game of the season – and the Vancouer Canucks would probably want to get him back up to speed if they have that “luxury” in early April. It’s anyone’s guess if he’ll even be ready by the time the real life playoffs begin, let alone when the fantasy playoffs are about to end.


While it’s been confirmed that Keith and Sedin are more or less gone for more or less the rest of the season, there were some positive comebacks and continuations of comebacks this weekend.



Let’s start with the comeback that could very well swing a league or two if matchups are especially close: Nicklas Lidstrom made his way back into the Detroit Red Wings lineup after missing about a month (which is like a decade in Lidstrom injury time) with a badly bruised ankle. The still-elite fantasy blueliner logged more than 20 minutes of ice time in his first game back, collecting an assist along the way. Obviously you should keep an eye on him for setbacks – Detroit would be crazy to push Lidstrom with little chance at winning their division and the playoffs just a couple weeks away – but overall this could be a huge break for those who were lucky enough to keep him on the injured reserve through this ordeal. (Assuming your league was friendly enough to put him on the IR.)



Now, Travis Zajac isn’t in the same zip code as Lidstrom as far as his overall impact is concerned, but aside from giving sleepy Lidstrom owners a wake-up call that he’s back in action, focusing on Zajac might be more of a tide-turner for the simple fact that he could very well be available on the waiver wire.


In fact, adding Zajac might dull some of the pain that would come with dropping Daniel Sedin. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a significant drop-off, but Sedin to Zajac isn’t anywhere near the fall you’d normally see in fantasy free agency this late in the game. Zajac actually got an assist in his game back despite a little less than 14 minutes of ice time, and adding him has the obvious draw of getting in on Ilya Kovalchuk’s table scraps. (He’s also fairly familiar with Zach Parise, so chances are, Zajac will have a talented linemate to pump his numbers up.)


Zajac had just 44 points last season, but let’s face it; just about every New Jersey player had a lousy time in 2010-11. Before that he had two consecutive 60+ point campaigns, so you could get a guy who’s fairly close to a point-per-game player with a +37 career rating.



The returns of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Radulov aren’t quite as new, but it’s heartening to see both continue to play well. Sid the Kid had a goal and an assist in his last game while Radulov is beefing up his resume for the possibility of a nice second contract in the NHL – if that whole ordeal gets straightened out. Radulov had an assist in each of the Predators’ two games this weekend, giving him three points in three games upon his return while his overall work and ice time is increasing.



It doesn’t really seem to make sense, but Brian Rolston is channeling his best (much younger) days with the Boston Bruins. After collecting just a single assist in his first nine games with the B’s, he’s absolutely defied logic and age. Rolston has three goals and eight assists in his last six games with an absurd +8 rating. Again, I honestly can't believe that the 39-year-old winger had this in him, but at this point, there's no sense arguing with his results. Go ahead and drop a fringe guy for him and see how long he can take this crazy streak.


As far as Rolston vs. Zajac - if it comes down to that - my gut says Zajac. Remember, Rolston's hot streak doesn't count, although he'll still be in that great situation. Either way, you could get a guy who could really help you out for the cost of a mere roster spot.


Seriously, though, I didn't think Rolston was capable of a run like this at this point in what seemed like (and might still be) the twilight of his career.



Want the most pointless (in reality) hot streak? Try Devan Dubnyk, who’s 4-0-1 in his last five games while the Edmonton Oilers are already mathematically eliminated from the postseason. I’m not sure I could recommend Dubnyk even with his streak going – unless you need to replace Steve Mason, who’s gone from being bad to being unreliable. Mason has exchanged one-goal wins and five-goal losses for the last four contests … While the prior two goalies are shaky, Braden Holtby is an intriguing short-term wild card. While Michal Neuvirth is struggling and Tomas Vokoun is fighting off a groin injury, Holtby is starting to look like the guy who played well in short bursts. That habit prompted Capitals fans to jump to conclusions about Semyon Varlamov being the team’s “third best goalie” last season, while stat nerds had small sample conniptions … Sad that you didn’t hop on the Radulov bandwagon? Patric Hornqvist is likely to put up similar numbers as his linemate and could very well be available … Keep an eye on unlikely Edmonton Oilers success Ryan Jones, who is taking advantage of lining up with the Oil’s best young forwards. Most recently, he scored three points. He seemed banged up on Sunday, though, so don’t jump to conclusions … Beat up on him all you’d like but Alex Ovechkin is playing like a star again. Maybe he won’t be the same guy who throws something like six shots on goal per game again, but it probably wasn’t realistic to expect that much for him long-term, anyway … Speaking of on fire, Tyler Ennis is absolutely worth adding if available. He’s a big part of the Buffalo Sabres turning things around.



Alexander Steen is back for the St. Louis Blues after struggling with a concussion … Jonathan Toews continues to skate, but honestly, he’s probably done for the season … Jimmy Howard appears to be a game or two away from returning. If he’s a free agent, keep an eye open for the right time to strike … Anton Volchenkov keeps getting banged up as a Devil; his current ailment is a lower-body injury … Mats Zuccarello is likely out for the season with a broken wrist … Craig Anderson owners can breathe easy. After a somewhat shaky return, Ben Bishop got banged up so he’ll probably “run unopposed” to end the season … Aaron Rome probably will be out the rest of the fantasy season. (Click here for the full injury list.)

James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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