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Friday, November 28, 2008
Fantasy Hockey Black Friday deals

As we all know, the Friday following the American Thanksgiving is known as "Black Friday," the official start of the holiday shopping season. While millions of Americans line up at the crack of dawn only to have to fight through a crowd to find a deal at a "door crasher sale," I would much rather leisurely sit at my computer sipping a coffee and pick through my waiver wire to find that perfect steal of a deal. I bet many other fantasy addicts feel the same way. The following is a list of players who can be had for a great price (free) as they are available in most ESPN leagues. Let the shopping begin.

Milan Lucic, Boston Bruins (44.4 percent owned): We have been talking about Lucic for more than a month now at ESPN, and his ownership numbers have been steadily increasing, but the fact that he is still available in more than half of fantasy leagues is shocking. Lucic is quickly becoming a franchise player and is molding his game after another fan favorite in Boston, Cam Neely. In leagues that count hits, Lucic becomes even more valuable because of his rambunctious style of play. He showed that scoring touch in junior hockey, notching 30 goals in his final season in the Western Hockey League. All he has to do now is find that touch again on a regular basis in the NHL. The best part? Lucic is seeing steady time with the offensive powerhouse pair of Phil Kessel and Marc Savard.

Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks (38 percent): The former second overall pick is quickly gaining respect among the fantasy hockey crowd despite having played in only five games this season. He has proved to be an astute pickup already for those who were quick on the trigger. The native of New Jersey has four points since being called up and is a plus-5. My only cause for concern with Ryan is the Ducks' recent history of toggling him from their NHL roster to the minors in an effort to save some cap space between the odd game. The travel back and forth will become tiring at some point for the young man.

Martin Erat, Nashville Predators (35.9 percent): Make no bones about it: Erat is talented enough to be a point-per-game player. That alone should be enough to put his ownership numbers closer to 50 percent. He can be erratic at times, but he has 16 points in 18 games already this year. Best of all, he sees considerable time on the Predators' power play and finds the net on a regular basis with the man advantage. Seven of his points this season have come while the other team had a man in the penalty box. (Remember, every power-play point is counted twice in fantasy.)

Peter Budaj, Colorado Avalanche (31.3 percent): Raycroft who? At the beginning of the season some pundits would have had you believe that Peter Budaj didn't have what it took to be a starter in the NHL. They told you that failed Leafs backup Andrew Raycroft would eventually be the starter in the Mile High City. Well, 21 games into the Avalanche's schedule, Budaj has started 19 times to Raycroft's three. Not often can you simply head to your waiver wire and pick up a bona fide starter, but with Budaj, you can do just that. Sure, he has the odd bad game, but just as often, he can frustrate the opponent with his ability between the pipes. Just be prepared to absorb that occasional stomach-turning performance.

David Booth, Florida Panthers (28.0 percent): Really? An 11-goal scorer is available in more than 70 percent of ESPN leagues? Come on. Do you know what Vincent Lecavalier, Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, Rick Nash and Henrik Zetterberg all have in common? Each has fewer goals than Booth. Granted, he's not much of a playmaker, but someone could use 11 goals … right?

Doug Weight, New York Islanders (25.6 percent): Another surprise on this list. Weight has 22 points already and is on pace to finish the year with 82. That number would be his highest since he played his final season in Edmonton in 2000-01. We know the Islanders suck, but even the worst team has some fantasy value. Weight logs so much time on the power play that he's worth adding for that reason alone.

Jiri Hudler, Detroit Red Wings (24.2 percent): Are we beginning to sense a trend in the works? Hudler is another player who has proved to be dangerous with the man advantage but is not getting much love from the fantasy crowd. Hudler has 10 points on the power play with the dangerous Wings squad. A number of Wings players see more ice time per game than Hudler, but few capitalize on their chances as well as the young Czech. He has tremendous offensive instincts and would be a welcome addition to any fantasy league.

Cam Barker, Chicago Blackhawks (15.4 percent): The former third overall pick took some time to crack the Hawks' lineup earlier this season but has been on a roll ever since, with 10 points in 12 games. The hulking defenseman not only can punish the opposition with a thundering body check, but also can quarterback a mighty fine power play. Want evidence? Check out his stat line. Of his 10 points this season, seven have come with the man advantage. Chicago may have paid the big bucks to land Brian Campbell in the offseason, but Barker is the future star of this defensive corps.

Erik Ersberg, Los Angeles Kings (9.4 percent): The starting job in Los Angeles belongs to Ersberg until Jonathan Bernier gets called up to the big show. Aside from a couple of games this week, Ersberg has been the main man for the surprising Kings squad in November. His 2.32 goals-against average is better than the likes of highly touted netminders Carey Price, Ryan Miller and Evgeni Nabokov.

Loui Eriksson, Dallas Stars (8.5 percent): Eriksson has no doubt benefited from skating with elite playmakers Mike Ribeiro and Brad Richards this season. Someone has to play with the two hawk-eyed centers, and with the injury to Brenden Morrow, expect Eriksson to be on the finishing end of plenty more pretty passes this year. Given that he already has 17 points this season, it's not unrealistic to expect that the Swedish left winger will finish the year in the 60-70 range.

Ice chips

Alex Auld provided his fantasy owners with another impressive outing, allowing just one goal on 25 shots in a win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Auld continues to be a solid fantasy goalie while Martin Gerber spends more and more time sitting on the bench. … Senators forward Mike Fisher scored a goal in his first game after returning from injury. He missed more than a week with an injured knee but showed no ill effects. … Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala played in his 200th career game and found the consistency that has eluded him this season. He stopped 34 of the 35 shots the Senators threw in his direction and kept Toronto alive through overtime and into the shootout. Here's hoping that Toskala finds his form for those owners who banked a lot on him on draft day. … Michael Cammalleri recorded his first hat trick in a win over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night. The three-point outing brings him to 20 on the year, and at this point he could pass his career best of 80 points, set back in 2006-07. Being moved to the first line with Jarome Iginla certainly doesn't hurt. … Good news for Kevin Bieksa owners, the talented rear guard has returned to the Canucks lineup only two weeks removed from a broken foot. He'll be a solid option for points again moving forward. … You may want to use caution when inserting Canucks into your team's starting roster for the next two weeks. Vancouver is off on a grueling seven-game road trip and will play a couple of games against some pretty tough competition. They won't return home again until Dec. 14.