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Tuesday, January 27, 2004
Updated: February 3, 10:52 AM ET
Hard Hits: Defending Injuries

By Chris Nichols

There is almost nothing worse in fantasy sports than seeing one of your star players go down with an injury, let alone having two guys get hurt in the same weekend.

Some fantasy owners faced that reality Monday morning, as stud defensemen Sergei Gonchar (49 games: five goals, 38 assists, -22 rating and 103 SOG) and Ed Jovanovski (49 games: seven goals, 14 assists, 62 PIMs and 129 SOG) went down with shoulder injuries within days of each other.

Sergei Gonchar
Washington Capitals

Instead of dreaming about a trade out of Washington that would inevitably improve his horrible plus-minus rating, owners were left scrambling to find a replacement when a separated shoulder took him out for what looks to be two-to-four weeks. While Gonchar could still be traded as the Caps look to unload more salary, Gonchar and Jovo owners are left to find short-term replacements. There are obviously no studs available via free agency, but there could still be some guys left to help plug a hole in your sinking blueline.

One of the more intriguing defensemen available is young Czech Lukas Krajicek in Florida. A first-round pick in 2001, Krajicek is a great skater who has some nice offensive upside. He's contributed four power-play points in his past four games and could be worth a look. Injuries to Jay Bouwmeester and Mike Van Ryn have given Krajicek a great opportunity, and he is making the most of it so far.

  • Judging by the sudden and rapid jump in ownership, fantasy owners are apparently mistaking Jiri Slegr for Bobby Orr. But Slegr's start with the Bruins (two goals, two assists, plus-three in his last four games) makes him worthy of at least a short-term grab.

  • Anaheim's Niclas Havelid (six assists in his past two games, with five coming on the PP) is finally starting to produce the points we thought he would when Sandis Ozolinsh went down with an injury before Christmas.

    Others: Minnesota's Flip Kuba has been fairly good in recent weeks (11 games: two goals, five assists, three power-play points) and got an All Star berth despite a minus-13 rating. ... Atlanta's Daniel Tjarnqvist (nine games: one goal, six assists) has been on the score-sheet in Atlanta. ... Carolina's Sean Hill goes through stretches of fantasy usefulness. With seven points and 16 penalty minutes in his last eight games, this is one of those times. ...Toronto's Tomas Kaberle is fully recovered from a shoulder sprain and has five points and a plus-seven rating in six games. ... Buffalo's Alexei Zhitnik has done well in January -- two goals, four assists, 14 PIMs -- but is the definition of a streaky player.

    Some of you are in the unenviable position of being last in your league's plus-minus category. If you're already in a hole you can't possibly crawl out of, try some of these guys on your blueline: Nashville's Drake Berehowsky is -12 on the season but has two goals and four assists in the last six games. ... Columbus' Jaroslav Spacek is healthy and has two assists in the last three games. Keep in mind his plus-minus tends to be significantly better at home than on the road. ... Nathan Dempsey is shooting the puck a fair bit in Chicago and has rocketed up the ownership charts over the past few weeks -- five points and 19 shots on goal in seven games. He also had a strong November, giving fantasy owners hope for a prolonged streak.

    After an amazing 53 points last season, Dan Boyle slumped badly in the opening months of this season. But he has been strong in January -- seven points in 13 games -- and fantasy owners are hoping for a resurgence. ... Colorado's John-Michael Liles was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award in 2003 and he's been managing to contribute points lately -- five points in his past eight games -- despite having Rob Blake and Derek Morris ahead of him on the depth chart. ... San Jose's great play has made Mike Rathje a solid plus-minus contributor of late -- including a plus-12 rating in his last 11 games.

    There have been exceptions in recent years, but the Calder Trophy winner generally goes on to become a fairly big name in hockey circles. Here's a quick look at some of guys making a splash in their first season.

  • Michael Ryder has been phenomenal in Montreal this month, with 15 points in 11 January games. Overall, he has 36 points in 49 games and has taken a slight lead over Trent Hunter (32 points in 44 games) in the race for the rookie scoring honors. Both Hunter and Ryder will be among the great youngsters showcased in the YoungStars Game during All-Star Weekend.

    Others: Patrice Bergeron has been a big surprise to many in Boston, but that doesn't diminish the 29 points he's accumulated in 50 games. ... Jason King's eight November goals had many people talking about a Calder, but he fell on hard times and just had a brief trip to the minors. King hasn't scored since November 25th. ... Ryan Malone (23 points in 50 games) is one of the bright lights in Pittsburgh and his occasional streaks have caught the attention of fantasy owners. ... Carolina's Eric Staal (23 points in 50 games) has had his ups and downs as a rookie, but he is certain to become a guy who can pot at least 70 points a season.

    Donald Audette has four points in six games since signing with Florida. ... Don't forget about Steve Thomas in Detroit, who is healthy and has seven goals and six assists in 14 games this year. ... With wins in each of his past four starts and only six total goals-against in that stretch, Rick DiPietro has been playing well on the Island and has taken back the starting job from Garth Snow for now. ... Calgary's Craig Conroy has scored six points in his past five games, although four of them came in one game. ... Alexander Frolov -- four goals, two assists in his past six games -- has been picking up the slack in Los Angeles, with seemingly every other forward going down with an injury. ... John Grahame has once again caught the attention of the Tampa coaching staff with six wins in seven starts and only ten goals-against in that stretch. ... Jocelyn Thibault -- 2.29 GAA and .933 save percentage -- is still available in around one-third of leagues, and he's due back from injury around the All-Star break. ... Robert Esche has done well for the Flyers lately -- five wins in his last six games with only five goals allowed in the wins -- but trade rumors continue to swirl.

    Oh ... and some guy named Jagr and the handsome total of $20 million were transferred to the Rangers over the weekend for the much-traveled Anson Carter. Carter's value goes up because frankly, there are no floors below the basement. Carter skated some shifts with Robert Lang in his Caps debut, which can only help Carter's fantasy cause. At least, that is, until Robert Lang gets sold to the highest bidder as the Capitals auction off their stars on eBay.

    Many fantasy studs have gone in the tank in the Big Apple.

    Many fans and pundits have likened adding Jagr to the Rangers to the captain of the Titanic ordering more deck chairs when he could have used a better pair of glass to see the upcoming iceberg. And the Rangers could use goaltending and more grit and less flash.

    However, I think Jagr has a decent chance to succeed. Will he get them to the playoffs? Who knows, these are the Rangers we're talking about. Still, he'll have plenty of talent to work with on the power play and the chances will be there to at least maintain his point pace. Also keep in mind that Jagr's arrival should boost the fantasy value of Brian Leetch and Alexei Kovalev, specifically their power-play points. But again, these are the Rangers we're talking about. Fantasy logic does not apply to this team. For those interested in sucking the life force from their rosters, Jagr played with Petr Nedved and Jan Hlavac in his debut debacle against Ottawa on Saturday. His linemates switched to Eric Lindros and Martin Rucinsky for Monday's game against Florida. The Rangers got blasted by Ottawa in his debut on the road, but Jagr had a three-point game at MSG Monday night. Hop on the NYR roller coaster.

    In addition to writing a column for us each week, Chris also pens a fantasy piece for Slam! Hockey every Friday and a daily advice column that runs during the week. His other job is with, where he writes the daily NHL News & Notes section for the subscription-based service.