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.
At this point in the season the waiver wire has been picked clean like the bones of so many thanksgiving turkeys and the lack of depth couldn’t come at a worse time. It’s the time of the year when the injuries begin to mount and the trades start coming and with the shake ups they create come new opportunities for fantasy managers to seize upon. The difference between winning and losing at this stage of the game is a matter of minutes; did you pick up the hot hand that will get you into the playoffs, or the next round, or did some other jerkbag beat you to it? Don’t be the guy who loses out, be the jerkbag and consider picking up Kevin Klein or Michael Del Zotto before someone else does.
With three weeks left until the NHL trade deadline the Toronto Maple Leafs started selling off some assets sending Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to the Preds for Olli Jokinen, prospect Brendan Leipsica, a 2015 first round pick and a bag of pucks. Typically a move out of the fantasy value black hole that is the Maple Leafs would be a boon to most players but unfortunately for Franson owners the move out of the barren wasteland of Toronto to the fertile fields of Nashville does little to boost his value. In fact, the move probably hurts more than it helps.
The New York Rangers have one of the most potent offenses in the NHL this season. Lead by NHL goals leader and all around beast Rick Nash, LW (1 G, 1 A, 5 SOG, +3) they’re fourth in the league potting three goals per game and lately they’re finding offense from all corners of their top nine. The latest Broadway Blue to find his stride is the hulking Kevin Hayes, RW (1 G, 2 A, 3 SOG) who extended his point streak to four games with a huge three-point performance last night against the Avs. The goal he scored was an end-to-end beauty just minutes after a nifty little pass that allowed Dan Boyle, D (1 G, 1 SOG, +4) to roll in all alone on Semyon Varlamov, G (L, 25 SV, 5 GA, .833%) who was deked out of his pads for the first goal of the game. This isn’t the first time Hayes has impressed over the last month or so and he’s starting to show fantasy owners why he was such a coveted commodity coming out college a few years ago, and why he should be on your short keeper list this season.
Just days after news came down that Evander Kane was going to miss the rest of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres in a blockbuster deal last night that saw seven players change teams. Zach Bogosian and college netminder Jason Kasdorf get banished to the Sabres with Kane while Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, and Joel Armia are headed to Winnipeg with the rights to 2014 second-round pick Brendan Lemieux and Buffalo's first-round pick in 2015. Kane is the centerpiece of the deal despite being lost for the season, but in the immediate future the truly tantalizing piece of this deal comes in the form of the 6 foot 8 inch Tyler Myers, D (1 G, 4 SOG) who after putting up two stellar seasons to start his career has become a bit of an enigma with three injury shortened, mediocre campaigns on one of the league’s worst teams.
Normally when Alex Ovechkin is involved in a play and another player gets hurt, it’s because Ovie hurt him but this time Ovie wasn’t at fault when Kevin Shattenkirk tried to put hit on Ovie, failed, and crumpled to the ice unable to get up under his own power. It was a fluke, a freaky accident that has apparently ended the regular season for the Norris Trophy candidate and he’ll miss around six-to-eight weeks after undergoing abdominal surgery in Philadelphia last week. The Blues peg him as week-to-week but Mark Letestu and Brandon Dubinsky have both undergone the same procedure for the same problem, with the same physician, this season, and the took the full two months for either skater to return to action. Given that the final day of the regular season is April 11th, just two months from tomorrow, it’s safe to assume that Shattenkirk could be back in the playoffs for the Blues, but fantasy owners won’t be as lucky. So what do you do with a guy like Shats when the Blues list him as week-to-week and the doctors say two months? Honestly, I’d listen to history and the doctors. Unless Shats is super human, and despite his play this season, he isn’t, there’s no way he gets back in anything less than six weeks. After that, he’ll have to knock off some rust for a few games, so that takes another week. That means he could be back to form by the final week of the regular season. That’s the most optimistic scenario for Shats, and the Blues have no reason to push him back into action if it means he could reinjure himself and miss the playoffs, too. The Blues don’t care about your fantasy team, though they definitely should. At any rate, stash him if you have an open IR slot but if you get log jammed at IR because you have one of the sixty guys that suffered injuries over the last few weeks, it’s probably safe to jettison Shats to the wire to make room. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey recently:
At just 18-years-old Aleksander Barkov, C (1 A, 4 SOG) was the selected second overall in the 2013 draft by the Florida Panthers with high expectations. The hulking play making pivot out of Tampere, Finland did not disappoint in his first season on big ice putting up a line of 8/16/24/+10 in 54 games. That might not sound great but given the team he played for you could probably adjust those numbers up to something in the ballpark of 12/25/37/+15 in 54 games on a decent team. Fast forward to this season and he opened up with lots of injuries and garbage play posting just six points (2 G, 4 A) over the first three months of the season. Don’t let that deter you from adding him for scoring help down the stretch, though; he’s white hot lately and only getting better with each passing game.
If you are among the many owners who benched Semyon Varlamov, G (W, 54 SV, 0 GA, 1.000%, SHO) and David Backes, C (4 G, 6 SOG, +2) take some solace in the fact that it was the right call. It might sting, but don’t second-guess yourself here. Before either guy found some semblance of their 2014 selves on Wednesday night they were hot garbage with a side of crusty old gym socks so there was no reason to put either of them in your lineups. Generally the rule of thumb is to always, always start your big names. You drafted them, you can’t trade them and if there’s nothing better on the wire, you just slot them in and live or die with your decisions. But both Varly and Backes have been so bad this year that you almost had no choice but to bench them. With performances this good it begs the question whether or not either of them has found their stride for a big second half, but I’m sorry to say that neither is poised for a big run and neither of them has earned the right to be regularly inserted into your lineups moving forward, either.
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: 
Since Corey Crawford went down with his latest injury the Blackhawks have had six games and Scott Darling, G (L, 38 SV, 3 GA, .927%) has started four of them until Antti Raanta, G (W, 23 SV, 1 GA, .960%) won last night in the second game of a back-to-back. In fact, Raanta has only played in six games so far this season to Darling’s seven so it begs the question, has Darling usurped Raanta as Crawdad backup? It sure seems that way. It’s clear that Raanta isn’t a guy you can count on for long streaks of solid play. He’s fine in spot starts and sheltered minutes, but some time in the AHL wouldn’t hurt him at all, and so far it seems that the 6’ 6” Darling has caught the attention of Blackhawk’s Head Coach Joel Quenneville. When asked about the situation Quenneville didn’t offer much insight, but does he ever? He did have this to offer on Darling though "He's played well, every time he's been in the net he's been consistent, looks big (and) handles the puck well. Keep him going." That bodes well for Darling sticking around, but either way it doesn’t seem like we’ll have to wait very long to find out how this situation is going to shake out because Crawdad was a surprise participant in the morning skate for the Hawks this past weekend. He didn’t speculate on when he’ll return to the lineup but the fact that his foot is well enough for him to skate on is a good sign that he’ll be back in the next few weeks at most. If I had to put money down I’d say Darling has earned the backup job and it’s Raanta who will head down to the AHL when he returns. In the meantime, both should be owned in deep leagues. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey this weekend: