With the Olympic break comes a time for a fantasy hockey owner to sit back and enjoy some hockey without worrying about plus minus, PIM, or how many power play minutes my players is receiving.
However, with this break comes a chance to look ahead at the stretch drive for the playoffs and the much-discussed trade deadline that will affect many fantasy teams.
During the Olympic break we will give three names at each position that should be on your radar to either acquire at the trade deadline or pick up off the waiver wire.
First, we will examine the most important position, the goalie, and their defenders, while next week we will look at the centers and wingers.
Steve Mason, Blue Jackets
Last year’s Calder Trophy winner has been a huge disappointment to many fantasy owners who selected the 21-year-old in the first couple of rounds. Mason struggled out of the gate—even spent some extended time on the bench—and was near the bottom of the league in GAA and save percentage, causing fantasy owners to pull out their hair.
That has all changed as Mason has been on fire lately.
When a team fires a coach, usually that causes a spark and it did for Columbus, which relieved Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 3 and replaced him with assistant coach Claude Noel. In the four starts since the change, Mason is 3-1 with a 1.26 GAA, 0.960 save percentage, and TWO shutouts.
Even before the change, in his last nine starts Mason is 5-4 with a 2.52 GAA and .916 save percentage. It looks like the sophomore slump is starting to subside for the 6'4'' goalie. The Blue Jackets only play on back-to-back nights once in the month of March, and seven of the 14 games are against teams currently not in the playoffs.
So, after the break, look for Mason to be between the pipes for the duration.
Marty Turco, Stars
The most talked-about pending UFA on the trade market has to be on this list. Rumorville went haywire the day the Dallas Stars acquired Kari Lehtonen (more on him later), as teams lined up to see what it will cost to acquire a veteran goalie for the stretch run. All Turco has done is feed more fire to the rumors by playing spectacularly.
In his last eight starts, the 34-year-old has five wins, a minuscule 1.74 GAA, an amazing .952 save percentage, and two shutouts.
Now I am not a rumor website, but my hockey knowledge would say that there are a couple of teams right now playing with unproven No. 1 goalies that could take a chance on the pending UFA. The one snag is his contract, for some of those teams are right up against the salary cap.
This situation will be important to many fantasy teams as it won’t just affect owners of Turco, but owners of goalies of whichever team he gets traded to.
Kari Lehtonen, Stars
Kari Lehtonen was the second overall pick of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, had a breakout year in the AHL during the NHL lockout, and in 2006-07 led the Thrashers to their only playoff berth in franchise history. That year, the Finnish goaltender played in a career-high 68 games, but missed some time at the end of the season and playoffs due to an ankle injury.
Then came the groin injuries that sidelined him for all but 48 games in 2007-08. Then came the back injuries that sidelined him for all but 46 games in 2008-09 and the entire first half of this season.
Injury-prone is a good way to describe this talented net-minder, who now gets a fresh start with a new organization. The 26-year-old is a restricted free agent this offseason and made $3 million this year to not play for the Thrashers. With both goalies becoming UFAs at season's end, and no heir apparent knocking on the door, it seems that the Stars will roll the dice with this former first-round pick.
With the impending trade of Turco, as discussed above, and the Stars playing 16 games in the 31-day month of March, one would speculate that Lehtonen will see his first NHL action since April sometime this month to allow the Stars to gauge what they acquired.
Cam Barker, Wild
We all knew something had to give with the Blackhawks defense corp and the team being so up against the cap, owing some big contracts to players next season. The thread was a little unraveled when Cam Barker was traded to the Minnesota Wild for pending UFA Kim Johnsson and prospect Nick Leddy.
This will be a breath of fresh air for the former third overall pick of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, for he was dropped heavily in the depth chart for the Blackhawks. Now the 23-year-old ascends to the top of the Wild depth chart, seen already in his season-high 19:38 played in his first game with the Wild.
The 6'3'' Barker was coming off a career-year last season that saw him compile 40 points in just 68 games played, but was passed by the likes of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook along his development and missed some games due to injury.
Having already signed a new contract that kicks in a hefty raise next season, the Blackhawks needed to trade the asset, and he has found a perfect home in Minnesota where he will be seeing top power play time and extended minutes.
Joe Corvo, Hurricanes
I always stress here on Fantasy Focus that you can’t forget the teams out of the playoff race, for they usually have some fantasy gems that can be the difference in a championship team and a good team. One example is Joe Corvo, a forgotten man who missed most of the season due to a horrific injury to his leg but is back in the lineup and ready to contribute.
Though he's been sluggish so far since missing 28 games due to the leg injury, the Olympic break will help this offensive defenseman to gain back his strength and his place as a premier scoring defenseman in this league.
We cannot forget that last season he tied a career-high with 14 goals, including eight on the power play and six game-winners. A pending UFA, his name could be on the trade market, which would also help his fantasy value. But he is also important to the Hurricanes as he is averaging almost 23 minutes per game since returning from injury.
Andrei Markov, Canadiens
The All-Star defenseman for the Canadiens has not been able to stay healthy for the first half of the season, missing 35 games due to left ankle surgery. Although he missed the last two games before the break, he has proclaimed he is healthy enough to play for the loaded Russian Olympic team.
This is good news for Markov owners. Once the Olympic break ends, the 31-year-old defenseman will be key in the Canadiens run to the playoffs.
Markov is a perfect buy-low candidate as you try to look for a trade to upgrade your defense. All the slick skating defenseman has done is average 11 goals and 60 points his last three seasons. Although he has missed most of the season, he still leads the Canadiens defensemen in power play time per game and has 11 power play points in his 26 games played.
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