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Monday, October 27, 2008
Open Ice: Finding productive penalty minutes

By Sean Allen
Special to ESPN.com

Every year enforcers and scrappers get treated a little bit differently in the NHL. A coaching or personnel change can mean a player has a different set of objectives handed to him.

Sean Avery is a great example: Except for one wild night against Nashville in the second game of the season, Avery has just four minor penalties this year. If the Stars need the gloves dropped this season, they turn to B.J. Crombeen (three fights). If the Stars need someone to pester the other team, it's captain Brenden Morrow who gets in the trenches (10 minor penalties leads league). So you see Avery is going to be hard-pressed to get enough penalty minutes to truly make him a valuable fantasy asset. I might shop him around based on his history of being a 200 PIM guy, and see if someone bites.

But where would you get penalty minutes? Glad you asked.

ESPN standard leagues decided to make life miserable for those who seek penalty minutes by including average ice time as a stat as well. That means guys like Riley Cote and Derek Dorsett aren't as attractive, as they will severely harm your average ice time by playing fewer than five minutes a night. If you are in a custom league and don't use average ice time, Cote, Dorsett and others are the kind of player you want. Cote already has six fighting majors this season in just eight games. Dorsett has three fights, seven minor penalties and a misconduct. Look at sample size, too. Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond has three fights in three games (as I assume he gets defensive when people mock his name). Eric Godard has six minor penalties and four fights, and the Penguins are playing him a little over five minutes a contest.

But, again, these players are not the solution in ESPN standard leagues. It's just not worth your average ice time to chase these enforcers. Instead, players who average decent amounts of ice time or have some offensive upside are the ones you need if you're looking to rack up penalty minutes. Have a look at some of these available names who lead the league in minor penalties this season:

David Backes, RW, Blues: Backes is second to Brenden Morrow for the league lead with nine minor penalties and is playing more than 16 minutes per night.

Paul Ranger, D, Lightning: He has played in only four games, but has eight minor penalties and is averaging more than 25 minutes per contest. Ranger also has some upside if the Lightning power play ever gets going.

Keith Ballard
Keith Ballard, left, can tangle it up with the best of them, but he's also useful for scoring and ice time.
Keith Ballard, D, Panthers: Still available in 80 percent of ESPN leagues, Ballard looks like he'll steal some of Bryan McCabe's value in Florida this season. Ballard has eight points and eight minor penalties (plus a misconduct) in more than 25 minutes of ice time per game.

Ryan Malone, LW, Lightning: The offense that the Lightning paid so much money for hasn't shown up yet, but the grit has. Malone has seven minor penalties and two fights so far.

Luca Sbisa, D, Flyers: Still catching on as an 18-year-old rookie, Sbisa has managed to chalk up six minor penalties in eight games, while averaging a surprising 18 minutes of ice time.

Dominic Moore, C, Maple Leafs: While getting a decent 15 minutes of ice time for Ron Wilson's Maple Leafs, Moore has managed six minor penalties to go with his two goals and one assist.

Steve Montador, D, Ducks: Certainly available in every ESPN league, Montador plays more than 16 minutes of ice time per game and has logged eight minor penalties and one fight.

Rene Bourque, LW, Flames: While spending some time in the Flames' top six, Bourque has managed six minor penalties, a fight and a misconduct. He also averages more than 15 minutes of ice time per game and has a goal and three assists this season.

So, if you find yourself down in PIMs this season, those are some names to look at. Remember, if your league doesn't use average ice time, the solution is much easier; just plug in a goon every now and then. But in ESPN standard leagues, you have to watch the ice time hit that an enforcer would give you. Unless you can guarantee the penalty minutes on a certain night, it's probably not worth it.

Let's get to our ups and downs for the week.

Sunny Days Ahead

Scott Hartnell, LW, and Joffrey Lupul, RW, Flyers: Since a line shake-up in Philly landed Hartnell and Lupul on Mike Richards' line, both players have managed to score all their points this season in just three contests. Hartnell has three goals and three assists in three games, while Lupul has a more modest three goals and one assist. Look for the trio to stick together and rack up the fantasy goodness.

Loui Eriksson, LW, Stars: The new lines in Dallas were meant to spread out defensive responsibilities rather than generate more offense, but Eriksson certainly benefited in the offensive zone. Eriksson landed on the wing alongside Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow, and has two points in each of the two games he has played with them. He's not a bad pickup for those that like to ride hot streaks.

Dainius Zubrus, C, Devils: With Jamie Langenbrunner out of action with a lower-body injury, Zubrus wound up on the first power-play unit. Spending most of the night on the unit with Patrik Elias, Zach Parise, Paul Martin and Travis Zajac, Zubrus did briefly slip down to the second unit, on which he assisted on a Brian Gionta goal. This is more of a reminder for deep leagues: If used properly by the Devils, Zubrus still has some offensive upside.

Milan Lucic
Milan Lucic had his first career hat trick over the weekend and is a player on the rise.
Milan Lucic, LW, Bruins: He should be owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues. That means 85 percent of you have a move to go make.

Matt Stajan, C, Maple Leafs: This is definitely for those in deep leagues, but Stajan has earned a spot on the top line with Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky. He has two assists in two games playing with that unit. Under-the-radar production like that should continue so long as he keeps working hard enough to impress Ron Wilson.

Brian Elliot, G, Senators: Elliot is with the team to back up Alex Auld while Martin Gerber deals with a pulled leg muscle. His 3-1-1 record with a 2.10 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in the AHL meant he was going to get a look in Ottawa this season, but we didn't expect it to be so soon. Elliot may be sent back down to Binghamton before he gets a real chance, but the Ottawa brass might want to see what he can do before returning him to the minors. A good performance may mean he comes back soon.

Owen Nolan, RW, Wild: Returning from a three-game absence due to a lower-leg injury, Nolan logged almost 20 minutes of ice time Saturday, scoring a goal and an assist. Lining up with Eric Belanger and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Nolan allows the Wild to have some good lines while Marian Gaborik is out. Consider him a definite fantasy asset for now, with Gaborik officially on the IR.

Jarret Stoll, C, Kings: Stoll is getting every opportunity to ply his old trade from his days as an Oiler: blasting point shots on the power play. Part of the Kings' first unit with Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Patrick O'Sullivan, Stoll has two power-play goals and four overall this season. Also known for being defensively responsible, Stoll is a plus-6 already this season.

Peter Budaj, G, Avalanche: After allowing just one goal in each of his past two games, Budaj is back in the driver's seat for the No. 1 job in Colorado. He's also riding a personal three-game win streak, so don't hesitate to get him back into your lineup versus Calgary, Columbus and San Jose this week.

Storm's A Brewin'

Simon Gagne, LW, and Mike Knuble, RW, Flyers: With Daniel Briere out three to four weeks, Glen Metropolit will line up between Gagne and Knuble. It's a smart move for the Flyers as their other two lines have been looking good lately, but this definitely hurts Gagne and Knuble for the next couple weeks. You can maybe drop Knuble in shallower leagues, but keep Gagne rostered.

Brendan Morrison
Brendan Morrison has just one point and a minus-3 rating through nine games.
Brendan Morrison, C, Ducks: The Ducks had a six-goal outburst Saturday, but Morrison didn't find his name in the box score. It's time to pull the plug on the idea of Morrison's finding some chemistry with Teemu Selanne and becoming relevant.

Kyle Okposo, RW, Islanders: I am including Okposo here for a second week in a row to point out the fact that the Islanders fired 60 shots at Cam Ward on Saturday, but Okposo, Mike Comrie and Richard Park had just one each.

Sergei Samsonov, LW, Hurricanes: After seven games of nothing from Samsonov, you may be getting tired of the idea that he has sleeper value. But he continues to play with Rod Brind'Amour and Matt Cullen on the team's second line and is bound to start finding twine. Send out a real lowball offer in deep leagues to see if his owner has had enough. You may have to exude more patience after you get him, but try to remember his 32 points in 38 games with the Hurricanes last season.

Steve Bernier, RW, Canucks: Bernier is off the Sedins' line when it comes to the power play. The man advantage is where the twins do some of their best work, so this has to be a hit to Bernier's value. Bernier has a minus-2 rating in each of his past two contests. Working with Kyle Wellwood and Ryan Kesler on the team's second power-play unit isn't exactly inspiring, either. As a Bernier owner, I'd consider waiting for a brief hot streak and then selling. Taking him off the power play with Henrik and Daniel could be the first step toward his leaving their line completely.

Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.