In a season full of woe and dammit, Nathan MacKinnon, C (3 G, 3 SOG) decided to get his shiz together finally and put up his best game of the season posting the first hat trick of his young career in a 5-2 win last night. That’s a good sign from a guy who exploded on the scene for 24 goals and 63 points as a rookie last season and won’t come close to touching those totals this season. Does that mean the kid is a bust? Hardly! At just 19-years-old the sky remains the limit for MacKinnon and the reasons behind his sophomore slump are not only easily fixable, the healing has already begun, making him a target ripe for the plucking at the trade deadline. It might not seem like it now, but if you do find a way to bring him on as a keeper, you'll thank me next season.
The Tampa Bay Lightning were in search of a steady hand to back up their new star netminder Ben Bishop and when they signed Evgeni Nabokov to handle the duties it seemed like a good call at a bargain basement price. Really, what could go wrong? Nabby could go wrong and man alive did he go wrong. In 11 games and nine starts this season he posted a record of 3-6-2 to go with a 3.14 goals-against average and an .882 save percentage. Ugh, gross. I think I should shower now. Anyway, in a move that was only surprising because it took so long, the Bolts sent Nabby packing and recalled stud prospect Andrei Vasilevskiy from the Syracuse Crunch. Despite the promotion Big Ben retains full control of the Tampa crease moving forward, but he has been shaky at times this season and could definitely benefit from some rest moving forward. Enter Vas, who now becomes one of the more valuable backups in fantasy hockey for the remainder of the season.
In seven seasons since the Flames took Mikael Backlund 24th overall he has failed to live up his draft position or the hype that followed. Not once has he topped 40 points or 20 goals, so it might seem odd to peg him as a second half sleeper now, but after he returned from an abdominal injury recently he’s been on fire. Since January 7th he’s put up three goals, two assists, a game winning goal, a shorthanded goal, 11 faceoff wins, three hits, a plus-3 rating and a block in three games. That pushes his season line to 4/5/9/+3 in just 14 games and it looks like he might finally be ready to live up to the high expectations heaped upon him nearly a decade ago.
Kris Versteeg did his best impression of Dan Boyle the other night and blocked an Eric Fehr shot with his hand. It didn’t work and predictably his hand is broken. Hawks Head Coach Joel Quenneville said it’s doubtful that the injury will require surgery, so that’s good, but Steeg is down for a month or so. That’s bad. Despite the recent slow down in production, Steeg hits the IR third in points for the Hawks with 27 in 34 games played. He was on pace for 65 points, 20 goals and a plus-32 and considering his 10.8% shooting percentage is right in line with his career average of 11.5%, it’s a safe bet that he’d have hit all those marks. All this from a guy you likely picked up for nothing. Sadface. There’s a silver lining in this dark cloud, though, and his name is Teuvo Teräväinen.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are getting beat up by injury, disease and all sorts of nonsense this season and their luck didn’t improve with the news that Patric Hornqvist will miss at least a few weeks with a lower-body injury as he hit the IR for the first time this season a few days ago. Horny isn’t the only Pen down for a few weeks either, Blake Comeau suffered an upper-body injury a few days before Christmas and will be out until mid-January as well. The fun doesn’t stop there, either! Steve Downie joined the mumps brigade not too long ago, and though he’s returning this week and bringing his NHL leading 135 PIM with him, the Pens needed to shore up their top six in a bad way so they saved David Perron from the Oilers and banished Rob Klinkhammer and whoever the poor bastard that ends up being their number one pick in 2015 to the Great White North. While this does little to help Klink’s already minimal value, Perron gets a huge boost, but expectations should be tempered.
Draft day is one of the most important moments in any fantasy season. It can make or break your chances and though a bad draft isn’t a death sentence for your season, it definitely puts it on death row early on. One of the big mistakes I see a lot of owners make is taking goalies too early, especially in the first round. Henrik Lundqvist and Tuukka Rask were the usual suspects this season and neither has or will live up to their ADP this year and it’s likely that if you drafted either your team is hurting because of it, but goalies aren’t the only position to be wary of taking too early. Defensemen are a bigger gamble early on than people give them credit for and so far Erik Karlsson, D (1 A, 2 SOG) is doing his damnedest to make that point clear as day to all. 
I’m not a fan of shootouts. I think they belong in the All Star Skills competition, not playing a critical role in determining who goes home with two points and who goes home with regrets. In a sport where individual achievement is only possible through teamwork we’ve boiled down deciding games to a one-on-one competition that’s antithetical to the very nature of the game. A game where who you play with and the chemistry you have with those players has as much impact on your chances for success as your individual skill does. Why does it have to be this way? Do the fans really prefer shorter games this much? How often do teams really go into double OT anyway? Bah. If thats the worry, lets adopt the AHL's new three-on-three OT rules and watch the fun! Of course this rant is brought on by the longest shoot out in the history of the universe last night between the Cat and Caps. Twenty rounds this circus went. Roberto Luongo, G (W, 23 SV, 1 GA, .958%) stood tall and man was I too harsh on Lu in the preseason; he’s been fantastic all year. He must really love living in Florida. I digress, on the other side of this madness was Braden Holtby, G (L, 28 SV, 1 GA, .966%) who took the loss but not because he played poorly. He held his ground for 19 rounds until he finally cracked and gave one up to Nick Bjugstad (1 SOG) in what was Jugs’ second attempt of the night. Why second attempt? Because the Cats ran out of people to take the bloody shots so they had to give him another go. Ugh. This proves who the better team was last night how, exactly? And of course this wasn’t the only shootout of the night, the Wings and Jackets needed one to decide their game too. Shootouts are so bunk, man. They're about as useful as FoxTrax. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey yesterday: 
Last night the unthinkable happened, Ben Bishop (5 SV, 1 GA, .800%) left the game late in the first period with what the Bolts say is a lower body injury. They call it an LBI, I call it a heart attack because that’s what I’m having watching Big Ben topple towards a possible stint on the injured list. Word has it he has to be re-evaluated before they can give a timetable for his return so they’ve called up their top prospect Andrei Vasilevskiy to help tend net with the woeful Evgeni Nabokov G (L, 18 SV, 3 GA, .857%) in the meantime. Proving he isn't the guy to carry the load in Bishop's absense, Nabby came in to replace Bishop and promptly gave up three goals on just 21 shots over two periods last night, gross. He has been awful in limited minutes this season and I sincerely doubt that he’ll do much better getting rolled out there as the starter in Bishop’s potential absence, so that makes Vasilevskiy an intriguing option if Bishop is out for an extended period of time.
Before the season started I cautioned against drafting Semyon Varlamov expecting a repeat of last season and sure enough he sucked up the joint hard to start the year then hit IR with a bum groin. He came back, sucked it up so more and then exited once more with the same injury. Again he returned and again he sucked and yet again he re-injured the same groin and is now down for “a couple weeks.” Yeah, right. Listen, a goalie with a groin injury is a red flag. A goalie that hurts the same groin three times in less than a half a season is more than a red flag, it’s a signal to run for the hills and not look back. For now you stash him on IR, but don’t expect much from him moving forward. In the meantime rookie Calvin Pickard, G (W, 30 SV, 3 GA, .909%) has taken control of the Colorado crease and doesn’t appear to be ready to relinquish command of it anytime soon. With expensive backup Reto Berra struggling Captain Pickard seems to be the go-to guy for Patrick Roy right now. In a recent interview Roy said of Pickard "He deserves to play, he gives us a chance to win every night. We cannot ask for more from him." And how could you? Why would you? The kid has been stellar in the handful of starts he’s been given, win or loss, and seems to be getting stronger as he gets more time. There’s no reason for Pickard to be available in any leagues right now, deep or shallow, so if he’s available in your league add him yesterday. If you do, don’t drop another starter to do it. Remember that while he might out play Berra like whoa until Varly gets back, as soon as he does Pickard is headed back to the AHL unless the Avs cut or trade Berra, who has a one-way deal and cannot be sent to the minors. Regardless, in the meantime if you're thinking of adding Captain Pickard, make it so. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey last night:
Yesterday I brought big Anthony Mantha to your attention and said you should keep an eye on him as he’s on the rise. Well, there’s another kid you should get to know that’s already on big ice and lately his star is rising fast. Nick Bjugstad, C (2 G, 5 SOG, +1) is on a roll with seven points in his last three games including multiple two goal games giving him six goals in his last seven games. In fact, he has nine points in his last eight games and these totals aren’t unexpected. He started the season slowly, but at just 22 years of age and one full season under his belt that’s not surprising. It was only a matter of time before he started producing, and here it is. Can he keep it up? Absolutely. Just like Mantha he’s a big boy at 6’5”, 215lbs and he knows how to use his big frame to create space and opportunities for himself. Clearly he knows how to cash in on those opportunities as well bringing a heavy, accurate shot to the table in his big bag o’ tricks. He’s not just big; he’s strong too often winning battles along the boards. With exceptional on-ice awareness and vision he rarely finds himself out of position. Lately he’s playing with fellow prospect Jonathan Huberdeau (2 A, 4 SOG, +1) and veteran Brad Boyes (+1) so it’s a solid line for him to grow on. I don’t expect more than 50 points from Jugs, but he could beat that mark if he and Huber gel like the Cats hope they will. In any case, he should be added in all keeper leagues if he was on the wire and in deep re-drafts as well. It may not be long before he’s relevant in all leagues, so like I always say, get it while the gettins’ good, y’all! Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey last night: