Okay, halfway point coming up. Which means it’s time to give some serious thought toward certain players who had either a terrible or amazing first half, and ask yourself whether or not the cold player will improve, the hot player will decline, or if they will simply keep up the same pace. I’ll be focusing on the forward lines this week, with goalies and defenseman articles coming up as we near the All-Star break.

I don’t have to tell you that the name of the game is “buy low/sell high”. But here’s the thing about the whole buy low, sell high thing. Yeah, you heard me: The thing about the thing. Call me Captain Obvious but this is so often overlooked that it’s become a real pet peeve of mine. Someone writes a buy/sell column, and they mention a player that is in a slump or having a down year, and then call them a buy low candidate without regard to their perceived worth to owners. A poor start or extended slump does not necessarily make them a buy low target, for two big reasons. One, the player has to actually have played poorly enough for someone to give up on them – which is relative to how much we trust the player’s track record and the given circumstances of the present. A mediocre season from a superstar is still worth something, no matter how disappointing it may be for the player’s owner. Second, we are talking about market value here, and that’s the real point. The raw numbers contribute to a players market value, but they don’t set the price. And unless your trading partner is one of the hillbillies from Deliverance, you are not getting a Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid for pennies on the dollar right now, because, Newsflash: EVERYONE thinks Crosby will rebound. The real surprise will be if he doesn’t get it together. So is Crosby, who has 29 points in 37 games, going to improve in the second half? Probably. Is he a buy low ‘candidate’? I would say no, because you would still have to give up something pretty special to get him. Should you ‘buy low’ on Crosby? Well, sure, go ahead and try. But be realistic. Lowballing someone for a player of that stature is just going to lose you the respect of his owner and waste your own valuable time, when you could be improving your team in other (sneakier) ways.

Let’s be clear. I’m talking about taking advantage by making a contrarian play, and that takes some chutzpah to pull off. A contrarian play, by definition, relies on your opinion differing from the masses. You are betting against conventional wisdom with the hope that you are right and everyone else is wrong. In this example, dealing Crosby away would be the contrarian play and the only true way to profit is if you were to sell him for someone unproven and an underachiever that you believe will both pay dividends  (say, a Leon Draisatl and an T.J. Oshie) and then Crosby continues to tank for the rest of the season. Now that would be a gutsy move.

The fun thing about the Crosby example is that he appears to have turned a corner recently, so there will be a lot of potential buyers out there. What we are looking for is not necessarily a player that has turned the corner already, because your opponents will notice that too. We’re looking for indicators that they have or are improving even though it hasn’t shown up on the scoresheet. Think Nazem Kadri of mid-november. He was shooting at everything in sight, but was more likely to hit the organ player than the back of the net. But if you read between the lines, you knew he was a great buy low candidate – high number of shots, consistent ice time and power play time, and not insignificantly, the blessing of his coach. Mike Babcock was saying great things about him, which tells you that he would continue to get scoring opportunities. Since November 20th, Kadri has scored 6 of his 7 goals, and in the past 11 games, is scoring a point per game.

But… slumping for the first quarter is not the same as slumping for the whole first half. It’s much harder to convince yourself that the good times are coming when a player has been down so long. So let’s examine the market, shall we, and see if we can’t profit a bit with a few under the radar moves to bolster our second half chances. I’ll look at some of the brand names out there, of course, but mainly the ones I think you can pry away in a trade. You’ll notice one of the main themes here is, find a team that is doing poorly offensively and pluck their good players before, or as they, come out of their slumber.

Getzlaf will have the last laf

The poster boy for underachieving superstars this year may be Sidney Crosby, but I’ve got my eye on Ryan Getzlaf, who can be gotten for much cheaper. His team is playing poorly, and Getzlaf himself has had a lot of trouble scoring in the first half. Getzlaf, if you recall, was recovering from a hernia to begin the season. A “sports hernia” for the uninitiated, is a groin injury, which in hockey is a big red flag. Players often take a while to rebound from groin injuries. Then, he had an emergency appendectomy, and returned after missing only 4 games. He’s got 20 assists over 34 games, but his big problem has been scoring goals. Over his past five games, however, he’s got two. Is that enough to say he’s turned the corner? Probably not. But is it enough to take a risk and buy low before his owner realizes it? Hell, yes. If you wait for a couple more, you can be sure his price will only rise.  Are you taking on risk? Yes. And that’s the name of the game. Sorry, there are no free lunches here. That risk is mitigated of course, by the fact that Getzlaf has scored nearly a point per game over his career.

Crosby and The Triangles. I mean, Penguins. My four year old calls them that and it’s kind of stuck.

We’ve mentioned Crosby, but what about the rest of the Pens? Seems like they’ve been in a team wide slump. Here’s how I’d look at it. Crosby is on his way back and Evgeni Malkin is scoring a point per game, so don’t bother targeting them. In fact, I wouldn’t even target their linemates – not specifically, anyway. What I would target is the three that play with them on the first team power play, which has been on fire lately. Kris Letang is likely not coming cheap, but you could still get in on the Patric Hornqvist and Phil Kessel sweepstakes if you’re very lucky. If their owner is willing to consider, each of those guys is a potential difference maker for your team down the stretch.

Connor McDavid (yeah, right, eh?)

Pffft. Nope, you’re not getting him. His owners have sat his injured butt on their benches and are currently salivating at the prospects of his return. So how can that help you? Two words. Supporting cast. The Oilers second (and – gulp!) third lines are rife with talent. Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are known commodities, with decent but not head-turning numbers; while the Draisatl- Taylor Hall connection continues to click. On the periphery is Teddy Purcell and Benoit Pouliot, and of course the injured Nail Yakupov, who has just returned to the ice and has shown great chemistry with McDavid earlier in the season. So potentially, you have 3 dynamic duos upon his return. Hall and Draisatl will be overpriced. I would target Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle – you won’t actually be buying low, but I’d count on their numbers to improve – and try to get Yakupov cheap or free (check your free agent list!).

Steven Stamkos and the Lightning Bolts (again, blame the four year old – his name for them)

I’m actually just looking at this whole underachieving team, since the buy-low-on-Stamkos train has probably left the station already. This is another case where I’d be working hard to obtain anyone on the second line. The trio of Tyler JohnsonOndrej Palat-Nikita Kucherov is no secret, but now is likely the last time you’ll be able to get them at below market value. Palat and Johnson have just returned from injuries and the line is reunited. You won’t get Kucherov, who has been playing great in their absence; and Palat and Johnson will be hard to get, but here’s your one chance before they start scoring again.

Pick up the check on Voracek

Voracek is another star who hasn’t been able to score all season, but has still contributed with a high number of assists. Things just weren’t working out alongside his regular linemate, Claude Giroux (a buy low candidate himself all of a sudden), but recently Voracek started to produce on the second line, with Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds. He’s scored 9 points over the past 7 games, including 3 of his 4 goals on the season. In those 7 games, he’s got 26 shots on goal, compared with 11 in the previous 7. While you cannot count on the lines staying the same, you can count on him being a top 6 forward with a lot of PP time. And considering how poorly the Flyers have played overall, his plus/minus is surprisingly palatable.

Steal the Rhythm While You Can, Spoonman

Even before David Krejci got injured, Ryan Spooner was opening eyes as the third line center (with 2nd team PP time) for the Bruins. But now that he’s inherited the 2nd line centre job. Spooner appears to be the real deal and is a virtual lock to put up more points with the added minutes.

(Pretty much all of the) Coyotes

The rookie sparkle dust has worn off a bit, as Max Domi and Anthony Duclair have cooled considerably after a dazzling start. So who are we looking at here? People are starting to notice that Mikkel Boedker is no slouch (and if they haven’t, buy buy buy!). But the rest of this team gets very little respect. So little that I wouldn’t look to trade for anyone save Boedker, but I would think about snagging them off the waiver wire. First up is Boedker’s center, Antoine Vermette. He gets time on the power play, shoots a bit, and until the rookie class can find some consistency, the top playmaker on the team. Shane Doan has 7 goals in the last 3 games (yep, not a typo). That won’t last, but sure, he’s worth a speculative add while the going is good, but off the wire only please. I wouldn’t trade for him. And the other young’n worth checking out is Tobias Rieder. I’d be all over him and the rookies in keeper leagues.

Leafs are still spelled with an F.

The Maple Leafs have been an interesting bunch lately. The trio of Tyler BozakJames van RiemsdykP.A. Parenteau has been extremely effective, and has become the de facto number one line in Toronto. Also coming on strong is the duo of Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov (who also happens to be a hitting machine). And guess what? All except for van Riemsdyk are vastly under-owned. Go get ‘em. Your welcome.

It’s difficult to know when to stop with a list like this, but when you get to the Leafs, that’s usually a pretty good sign that you’re done for now. In conclusion, I’d like to say that of course there are more players you should be targeting, not just the ones I’ve mentioned. Look at a slumping player’s track record and current circumstance and ask yourself if you can see them succeeding going forward. Some will be a resounding no, but you might surprise yourself by noticing players like Ryan Spooner or say, Charlie Coyle, who are semi-productive on the third line and just an opportunity away from contributing to your fantasy squad.

Look for productive second liners playing behind slumping first lines. And third liners behind slumping second lines.

Look for players that will benefit from the return of another player

Look for slumping players that have been consistent over their careers (Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Shane Doan, Eric Staal, etc.).

And above all, don’t discount your own hunches, even if — or perhaps, especially if — they run contrary to popular opinion. If you’re reading this and other articles, then your ‘hunches’ are more in educated guess territory as you put all the differing information and opinions together. Go for it.

Thanks for reading – see you all next week!

  1. What's a Drexl? says:
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    vermette won’t hang long with useful lines with hanzal back, and if anybody doesn’t believe in his pts/game he’s easy trade target.

    • Matt

      Matt says:
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      @What’s a Drexl?: Good point about Hanzal coming back — he should be targeted ahead of Vermette for sure. But I don’t see his return impacting Vermette’s value much, if at all. They should both get top six minutes and PP time. The biggest factor will likely be who Vermette lines up with. As long as he’s playing with Boedker, you could do worse than a short term add to fill out your roster.

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