Through nine seasons with the Buffalo Sabres Drew Stafford has mostly been a yawnstipating, forgettable skater that shows intermittent flashes of solid play but quickly regresses to his usual bleh. He did have a couple 20-goal seasons and even a 30-goal year back in 2010 when he potted 31 goals in just 62 games and it seemed like he might be poised to take a step to the next level. Alas, he never did and the Sabres didn’t help much by getting worse and worse until they hit rock bottom in 2014. Luckily for Staff he was traded to the Winnipeg Jets in the Great Tank for McDavid campaign and with 12 points (6 G, 6 A) in his last 11 games he’s playing at a level that he may never have achieved before on big ice.
In the 18 games Stafford has spent in a Jets uniform he’s been on fire with seven goals and eight assists, good for 15 points since the trade. Nearly a point-per-game pace, you say? You better bet your sweet ass I say. While it’s easy enough to pass over Stafford on the wire time and time again due simply to the classical conditioning we’ve all been subject to over the course of Staff’s career, he shouldn’t be overlooked now. Skating in the Jets’ top line with Mark Scheifele, C (5 SOG) and Blake Wheeler, RW (1 G, 3 SOG) he’s come alive and shows no signs of slowing down as the Jets fight for the final playoff spot in the west. Not only that, that trio makes up the heart of their top power play unit and Staff has taken full advantage of that putting up three power play points (2 G, 1 A) since joining the team. That’s all pretty baller but I know what you’re thinking; Stafford? Really? Really.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise at this point that I’m about to tell you to pick him up. Why? What why? Didn’t you just read why? Dude is on fire and you know who wins tips the scales in your favor and helps you win your league? That guy you picked up who never does much but lately he’s scoring in bunches, that’s who and right now Stafford is most definitely one of those guys. Yes, it could be argued that Staff was playing a bit over his head in years past that he saw goal scoring success and it can be argued he’s playing way over his head now, but that shouldn’t stop you from picking him up. Coincidentally other owners aren’t much of a barrier to that move either as he’s owned in just 15% of Yahoo! Leagues, 32% of CBS leagues and 18.5% of ESPN leagues. So why haven’t you picked him up yet? Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey recently:
Pavel Datsyuk is close to returning and could suit up for the Wings in their battle on Thursday, but who the hell knows. You’re killing me, Pavel.
Niklas Kronwall suffered an undisclosed injury in last night’s pathetic loss to the Coyotes and is now doubtful for Thursday. Good timing!
Erik Cole also hurt himself last night because hey, he wasn’t going to be left behind! He’s out for three games. Brilliant.
Dougie Hamilton is out indefinitely with an undisclosed injury and will be re-evaluated in the next few days. That sounds bad and if you’re a Hammy owner, this is going to hurt. Expect to be without him for at least the next few days to a week or more.
Kevin Shattenkirk is apparently “pretty close” to returning so if you’ve held on to him this long you might get a game or two out of him before it’s all said and done. There’s no timetable, but he’s skating. Temper your expectations here, he’s been out for months due to abdominal surgery, that takes a while to fully recover from and he may not be right until next season.
Erik Johnson did not travel with the team for their current road trip and it doesn’t sound like he’s close to returning.
David Krejci was on the top power play unit in practice the other day and it sounds like he’s very, very close to returning. Be ready to get him back into your lineups the moment he’s active, the Bruins are fighting for their playoff lives and Krejci is a key cog to the success or failure of that effort.
Patric Hornqvist could play this weekend but he’s very doubtful for Thursday. The game goes for Evgeni Malkin.
Christian Ehrhoff went into the boards awkwardly after a hit and appeared to suffer a head injury. He’s out and who knows for how long, but really he wasn’t very valuable to begin with.
Valeri Nichushkin is in the AHL now for a three game conditioning stint and will likely rejoin the Stars on big ice for a few games before the fat lady sings. He won’t provide much value after being out for so long and dealing with major surgery on his hip, so don’t bother blowing a claim on him and look forward to a healthy and productive 2015 campaign from the young Russian.
Jamie Benn took a skate to the crotch last night and he, of course, doubtful for tonight’s game. Hey, you would be too.
Cam Fowler was a healthy scratch in the Ducks’ last tilt in favor of Simon Depres and that might happen again. Fowler had a lot of promise coming into this season but yet again he has failed to live up to expectations and when that happens, you get scratched. C’est la vie!
Devan Dubnyk, G (W, 37 SV, 1 GA, .974%) – Starting in his 32nd straight game Doobie stands tall yet again shrugging off 37 of 38 shots through OT to help down the Isles 2-1. Yes, you read that right, he’s started 32 straight games and I’m willing to bet he’ll start every single game for the Wild for the rest of the season, too. Yeah, that’s only like 10 more games, but still, dude will basically have started for 2/3rds of a season since getting dealt to Minnesota. The years long goalie controversy for the Wild is over.
Jaroslav Halak, G (L, 31 SV, 1 GA, .969%) – The Halakness Monster continues his strong play as of late but it wasn’t enough to fend off the red hot Wild. Expect him back between the pipes for the Isles’ next tilt, but the moment they lock up their playoff spot you can expect to see a few Michal Neuvirth starts mixed in. It might only be one or two, but he’s worth streaming when he’s in there.
John Tavares, C (1 G, 8 SOG, +1) – I somehow managed to own JT in two keeper leagues and he’s eligible to be one of my keepers in both. I’m giddy as a schoolgirl!
Jon Quick, G (W, 34 SV, 2 GA, .944%) – Quick wasn’t tested much in this one as the Rangers couldn’t build on their 7-2 spanking of the Ducks on Sunday. Quick has been stellar for some time now after a rough start to the season, but that was team wide. He still won’t come close to justifying his ADP, like every goalie taken in the first two rounds this season, but he can carry you to a title as the Kings fight for their playoff lives. That sweet, sweet desperation tends to make for some fantastic stretches of play.
Cam Talbot, G (L, 31 SV, 4 GA, .886%) – Could this be the end of the line for the Goalbuster as starter for the Rangers? It sure sounds like it as news came down late last night that Henrik Lundqvist is going to dress for Thursday’s game against the Sens. There’s no word on whether he’ll start, so Talbot may get one more in the books before Hank reassumes his throne. At that point you can expect the Rangers to give Hank the lion’s share of the remaining starts to get him back into game shape for the playoffs.
Marian Gaborik, RW (1 G, 3 SOG, +1) – Gabby potted a goal in this one giving him four points (2 G, 2 A) over his last three games. That effort pushes his season line to a paltry 23/19/42/+6 in just 60 games this season. I doubt we’ll ever see Gabby pot 40 goals again and that was the only reason to risk drafting him and dealing with his unreal injury problems. At any rate, he’s worth streaming while the Kings try to claw their way back into the playoff picture if someone in your league dropped him.
Kevin Hayes, RW (1 G, 3 SOG) – Hayes extended his point streak to three games with a goal last night. He has four points (1 G, 3 A) during the mini-streak and continues to tantalize fantasy owners with what could be in the next few years. Honestly, I expect him to reach the 20-goal, 55-point marks as early as next season.
Jake Allen, G (W, 24 SV, 2 GA, .923%) – It appears the Blues are as concerned about fatigue issues with Brian Elliott as I am and Allen started the third game for the Blues in their last four. He did well, too, steering aside 24 of 26 shots for a 3-2 OT win over the injury depleted Pens. Allen was always a necessary handcuff to Elliott but if you’re rocking one or the other you’ll just have to hope your guy gets the start. I would imagine Elliott is due to be back between the pipes for the Blues’ next tilt.
Steve Downie, RW (1 G, 2 SOG, -1) – There was a time that Downie would give you around 50 points to go with his robust penalty minute numbers, but that time is passed. Still, he scored his 13th goal of the season last night and pairs his 27 points with a league leading 223 penalty minutes so far this season. That alone makes him worth owning in most formats. If you need a PIM boost and Downie in on the wire, grab him, he can give you 15 on any given night.
Alexander Steen, C (1 G, 5 SOG, +1) – I bet against Steen this season and I’ve paid for it. I didn’t think he would top last season’s 62 points but with a goal last night he matched that total and will, of course, beat it for a new career high. He won’t come close to matching his 33 goals from last year, but he’s set a new career high in power play points (24), shots on goal (219) and blocks (32). That’s some sexy multi-category production right there. I shant sleep on you again, Steener.
Sergei Bobrovsky, G (W, 37 SV, 3 GA, .925%) – For the third straight game Bob faced 40 shots and that’s not good. He’s good enough to be able to stand tall and push most of them aside like he has been, but there’s going to be a game coming where he faces 45 shots and he lets in five of them. That’s going to blow up your ratios and now is not the time to suffer such games. Start him with caution if you can.
John Gibson, G (L, 22 SV, 4 GA, .846%) – So, Gibsy gets the start after the Rangers chased Frederik Andersen early in the 7-2 loss on Sunday and he coughs up four goals on just 26 shots for the loss. Just when you think one of these guys is going to take the reigns and run with the starting job he falls apart in two straight games. Expect to see Freddy get the next start and lets hope he does well and can string together a few more before the end of the season.
Scott Hartnell, RW (3 G, 5 SOG, +1) – Harty with a Hatty! Injuries limited Hartnell early in the season but he’s healthy as an ox now and leading the way for the hapless Jackets. Over his last 12 games he’s put up 14 points (11 G, 3 A) scoring goals in bunches along the way. The trio o’ tallies pushes Hartnell’s season line to a very respectable 25/28/53/-4 in 68 games played. That’s not all, though, as he’s tossed in 96 penalty minutes, 153 hits, 38 blocks and 15 power play points for flavor. He might have missed time due to injury and play for a meh squad, but he’s coming through for his owners when it counts the most.
Mike Smith, G (W, 33 SV, 4 GA, .892%) – Wow, Smith and the Coytoes beat the Red Wings? I can feel the heat from Mike Babcock’s angry red face from here. Anyway, despite the 1-7-0 record Smith is actually playing some stellar hockey lately sporting a 2.13 goals-against average to go with a .941 save percentage this month. That doesn’t mean you should rush out to add him, but if you’re in a pinch and he’s the only starter available to stream, he might not kill you.
Jimmy Howard, G (L, 17 SV, 5 GA, .773%) – Howie gets lit by the woeful Coyotes and I wouldn’t be shocked to see Petr Mrazek get a start in their next game to give Howie some time to think about what he’s done. Bad Howie! Bad! No.
Justin Abdelkader, LW (1 G, 1 A, 4 SOG) – I said Abs could provide goals and he decided I was a liar and threw in helpers, too. Last night’s two point game came on the heels of a nearly identical effort the night before as he continues to build on his best overall season on big ice. He’s notched a power play point in each of the last two games and while he doesn’t put up points consistently, when he does they come in bunches so don’t miss out.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D (2 A, 4 SOG, +1) – Ugh, stop making it so hard to not draft you next season!
Andrei Vasilevskiy, G (W, 33 SV, 3 GA, .917%) –It wasn’t the prettiest win, but it wasn’t the ugliest win either and Vas pushed away 33 of 36 shots for a 4-3 victory over the Cats. He’s not going to see much more than a start per week, but true to their word, the Bolts are rolling him out there weekly to get some minutes. Expect Vas to be one of the more valuable backups in 2015, but Big Ben Bishop owns that crease for at least a few more seasons.
Brandon Pirri, C (1 G, 3 SOG) – Here’s Pirri with another goal, his seventh goal in his last 10 games. He has 18 goals on the season to pair with just two helpers, so he hasn’t had much value, but you can’t look away from all these goals lately. Look for him to have a more balanced, full season for the Cats in 2015 and is earning an early sleeper label with his late season play.
Jonathan Huberdeau, C (1 G, 8 SOG) – With a goal on eight shots last night Hoob continues to thrive on a line with Jaromir Jagr, RW (1 A, 4 SOG) and Aleksander Barkov, C (1 A, 4 SOG). I doubt they’ll break that trio up anytime soon and all three are worth owning and streaming as the Cats fight for their playoff lives. If there’s anything that motivates players it’s desperation to stay in the hunt and baby, the Cats are desperate.
Filip Forsberg, C (1 G, 2 SOG, +1) – We all knew Fil the Thrill would have to slow down eventually and he looked like he might buck that prediction with a 10 point month in February, but he’s followed that up with four points over his last 12 games this month and has fallen behind Johnny Gaudreau for the league lead in points among rookies. That does nothing to diminish an amazing rookie campaign that saw him put up over 20 goals and 50 points and he should remain at the top of your keeper lists for 2015 despite the late season slow down.
Michael Hutchinson, G (L, 25 SV, 3 GA, .893%) – Hutch gets his first start in five games for the Jets and he was standing tall through half the game before the Canucks potted three quick goals on him in the second half of the second period. He didn’t allow any in the third but the Canucks buried two in the empty net to seal the deal. Given how well Ondrej Pavelec has been playing lately you can expect to see Hutch riding the pine during the next tilt for the Jets. He’s a very risky start right now due to rookie fatigue, so tread very carefully.
Radim Vrbata, RW (2 G, 1 A, 7 SOG) – I wasn’t sure if Veebs would hit the 30-goal marker this year after his significant slow down in the second half, but with four goals in his last five games he now sits at 29 goals with 10 games left to play. It’s safe to say a 30-goal season will be in the books. He’s white hot at the best time with eight points (4 G, 4 A) over his last five games so make sure you keep him in your lineups.