Now that the trade deadline has passed in most leagues, all rosters should more or less be finalized with the playoffs on the horizon. As is always the case, late season injuries to key performers are accumulating at a rapid rate and becoming thorns in the sides of many an owner. At this stage of the season, if a player is slated to miss two or three weeks of action, it is acceptable to cut bait and release him regardless of how valuable an asset he’s been. Holding on to a player in the hope that he heals quickly enough to help your team in the finals is poor strategy, as the empty roster spot will likely prevent your team from advancing that far. Luckily, there are players available at every position who are embracing late season performance and would be great additions to playoff bound teams. Below, I have highlighted five such players, all of whom are owned in less than 50 percent of standard Yahoo! Fantasy leagues.
Brendan Gallagher RW, Montreal Canadiens (Ownership – 47 percent): The Canadiens are tied for the best record in the NHL with 91 points, and a big reason for their success has been the play of a committee of multi-tool forwards, including third year pro Gallagher. With 40 points through 68 games of play, Gallagher is only one point shy of his previous career high, a total he is sure to shatter if he maintains his current pace. Thriving in a top line role with the leaders of the Atlantic Division, Gallagher has provided scoring punch to the tune of four goals and four assists in his last 10 games. The young forward is a well-rounded Fantasy contributor, with an elite plus-20 rating and an excellent 199 shots on goal. Gallagher’s ownership level is steadily rising, as more owners become aware of his steady production, but he is still available in over half of standard leagues.
Andrew Hammond G, Ottawa Senators (Ownership – 43 percent): The Senators’ rookie goaltender has been a revelation in net since being called up to the big club in February. The undrafted goalie from Bowling Green University has seemingly come out of nowhere, and his superb play has propelled the Senators back into the fringes of playoff contention. Forced into action with Ottawa’s top two goalies, Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner, both injured, Hammond has won eight of his nine starts while only allowing a miniscule 12 goals over that span. Anderson returned to action this week, but after allowing seven goals in two starts the window of opportunity has re-opened for Hammond to seize control of the net in Ottawa. Effective goalies are at a premium at this time of year, and one playing as well as Hammond has the potential to completely swing a playoff matchup. He is simply a must-add if available.
Kris Russell D, Calgary Flames (Ownership – 29 percent): Ever since the injury to All-Star defenseman Mark Giordano, Russell has emerged as the most productive blue-liner in Calgary. The veteran Canadian defenseman is absolutely on fire, recording eight points in his last four games, with a remarkable five of those tallies coming by way of the power play. The Flames find themselves in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race with 15 games to play, and they will rely heavily on the production of Russell, as Giordano is unlikely to return to action this season. In addition to Giordano, injuries to top tier defensemen such as Dustin Byfuglien and Kevin Shattenkirk have left a defensive void on many owner’s rosters. Kris Russell has the potential to ride out his hot streak throughout the Fantasy playoffs, and deliver comparable production to the multitude of defensemen closing out the season on injured reserve.
Marcus Johansson C/LW, Washington Capitals (Ownership – 17 percent): The Capitals’ former first round draft pick has major potential in the crucial final weeks of the season, as he has been promoted to the team’s top line alongside superstar forwards Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Both players find themselves on the cusp of winning the NHL scoring race, with their respective 70 and 69 point seasons trailing only Islanders’ C John Tavares. With such a high rate of production it is obviously a huge boost to Johansson’s Fantasy value to find himself skating alongside the dynamic duo, both at even strength and on the power play. Despite spending the majority of the season moving up and down the Capitals lineup without developing any significant line chemistry, the Swedish forward has still posted respectable numbers with 17 goals and 21 assists. Those numbers have the potential to increase dramatically down the stretch due to his new line assignment, making Johansson a great low-risk/high-reward pickup.
Brandon Pirri C, Florida Panthers (Ownership – three percent): Young Brandon Pirri has had one of the hottest sticks in the NHL lately, scoring six goals in his last 10 games. His place as the center on the Panthers’ top power-play unit has been a big factor in his success, as two of his recent goals have come during the man advantage. The Florida Panthers have been one of the most underrated teams in the NHL this season, and this lack of recognition has translated to Fantasy Hockey, where unheralded performers such as Pirri are still languishing on the waiver wire in the vast majority of leagues. In addition to his frequent appearances on the score sheet, Pirri also has the ability to help owners in need of shots on goal, as he is averaging 2.9 per game with the ability to occasionally break out, as evidenced by a nine shots on goal performance on February 28. The Panthers have a busy schedule with multiple four-game weeks upcoming, making Pirri a great addition both for quality and quantity.
With the possible exception of draft day, the playoffs are the most exciting time of any Fantasy Hockey season. That is of course, for those who have been diligent and/or lucky enough to qualify for their league’s postseason. An entire season’s research and effort boiling down to one or two head-to-head matchups may seem unfair, but is a perfect microcosm for the slings and arrows of Fantasy Hockey. Whether you have money on the line, are playing for bragging rights, or are simply trying to avoid being named your league’s sacko, I wish all of you the best of luck in the playoffs. Please e-mail me with your results at firstname.lastname@example.org, I would love to hear that some of my readers were able to win championships this season.