With many Fantasy Football leagues set to finish soon, owners who have split their time and resources between two sports are now set to return their undivided attention to their hockey teams. Sure, we all have jobs, families and outside interests, but for many of us who enjoy playing in Fantasy Hockey leagues during the long and cold winter months, undivided attention basically applies. What this means for diligent owners that have been on top of their roster management since draft day, is that the window of opportunity for feasting on waiver wire bargains while your league mates are distracted by football is coming to a close. Now is the time to pounce on any positional upgrades available to give you a leg up heading into the final two-thirds of the season.
While it is unlikely that you will find any game changing players among your league’s free agents at this stage of the season, don’t downplay or dismiss the potential contributions that can be acquired. League titles aren’t won by star players, as for the most part every team will have elite talent that posts comparable results. It is a prevalence of effective depth players located throughout one’s roster that separates a successful owner from one who will fail to qualify for the playoffs. Below I have outlined one goaltender, one defenseman, and four forwards that are all owned in less than 50 percent of standard Yahoo! leagues and will improve the overall depth and consistency of your team.
Karri Ramo G, Calgary Flames (Ownership – 42 percent): As the NHL season progresses, the likelihood of the surprising Flames making the playoffs continues to improve. Calgary’s emergence as a legitimate contender coupled with Karri Ramo’s strong play in net give Fantasy Hockey owners in need of goaltending depth perhaps this season’s last opportunity to acquire a starter on a playoff team via the waiver wire. Although Jonas Hiller is still penciled in at number one on the Flames depth chart, he has lost three straight starts, whereas Ramo has won six of his last seven. These wins include two huge road shutouts against divisional rivals Arizona and San Jose to close out the month of November. Ramo’s steady play is beginning to win over head coach Bob Hartley, as he was awarded five straight starts between November 26 and December 6, giving up only eight goals over that span. Even if you are not in immediate need of a goalie, Ramo should still be acquired, as he can be used as a valuable trading chip in a deal with Hiller’s current owner.
Nick Leddy D, New York Islanders (Ownership – 35 percent): Back in October, I wrote about Nick Leddy as a potential pre-season sleeper in Fantasy Hockey leagues. With productive totals including five goals, nine assists, and a team leading plus-eight rating, Leddy has gotten off to a tremendous start in his tenure with the Islanders, yet is still readily available in many leagues. The former Blackhawk now finds himself in position for an immediate increase in production, as two of the Islanders top-four defensemen are currently on injured reserve. With Johnny Boychuk, and Travis Hamonic out of the lineup, head coach Jack Capuano will have to lean heavily on the smooth skating Leddy. With a short term boost in even strength and power-play ice time, as well as the long term benefit of added experience and confidence, Nick Leddy’s stock is sure to soar in the coming months.
Nick Bjugstad C, Florida Panthers (Ownership – 27 percent): In only his second NHL season, Bjugstad is rapidly making a name for himself as a Fantasy star in the making by scoring eight goals in his last 10 games. Don’t be ashamed if you haven’t heard of him, as not even Panthers fans seem to care about their team as presently constructed, evidenced by their franchise low attendance of 7,311 back on October 13. Despite a lack of fanfare and elite talent to play with, Bjugstad is contributing to the Fantasy Hockey score sheet in a variety of ways. He has posted a team leading 12 goals, 71 shots on goal, and four power-play points as well as using his 6’ 6” frame to tally 52 hits, which are good for third on the club. Along with the first pick in last year’s NHL entry draft, D Aaron Ekblad, Bjugstad is part of a young core in Florida that will help their ownership sell tickets in the coming seasons, and can help Fantasy owners win their league this season.
Jakob Silfverberg LW/RW, Anaheim Ducks (Ownership – 16 percent): With points in four consecutive games, the talented Swedish prospect Anaheim acquired for Bobby Ryan back in 2013 appears on the cusp of a breakout. Although he only has three goals on the season, his 75 shots on goal rank in the Top-50 league wide, and trail only Ryan Kesler on the Ducks. With that volume of shots, if Silfverberg can raise his four percent shooting percentage closer to his 8.4 percent total from last season, the goals will come in bunches during the remainder of the season. The Ducks’ favorable schedule, as well as Silfverberg’s versatility makes him an ideal component of a successful Fantasy team. With dual wing eligibility and the Ducks tendency to play the majority of their games on sparsely scheduled nights, Silfverberg will give your team additional starts on a weekly basis, which is an invaluable benefit.
Stephen Weiss C, Detroit Red Wings (Ownership – 14 percent): After a long stretch of productive seasons for the Florida Panthers, injuries have made Stephen Weiss irrelevant in even the deepest of Fantasy leagues during the last two seasons. After missing 18 of the first 19 games this year, it appeared that this season would be another lost cause for Weiss and his hopes for an on ice resurgence in Detroit. However, to the surprise of many, Weiss has opened his season with a remarkable 10 points in nine games of play along with a plus-four rating. In a span of two weeks, Weiss has gone from an NHL afterthought to a leading candidate for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is the league’s version of comeback player of the year. Although this could just be an oasis in the desert of Weiss’ recent decline, his pedigree as a former Top-5 draft pick makes him an interesting gamble at this stage of the season.
Mika Zibanejad C/RW, Ottawa Senators (Ownership – 7 percent): Centering a newly formed and highly productive second line in Ottawa along with wings Bobby Ryan and Mike Hoffman, Zibanejad has emerged over the last two weeks as a valuable Fantasy performer. The sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft has the skills to make a difference on the ice, and has been doing just that by scoring at a point per game pace over the last 10 games. Although the firing of head coach Paul MacLean has the potential to stir up the line arrangements that have been so beneficial to Zibanejad’s statistics, the promotion of assistant Dave Cameron to the position should neutralize that possibility. An interim coach looking to solidify long term employment is unlikely to tinker with what has been the team’s most productive unit, as well as take ice time away from one of the organization’s most valued prospects.