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Monday, December 15, 2008
Open Ice: The value of injured players

By Sean Allen
Special to ESPN.com

Is there any doubt that Martin Brodeur will have much value in March and April, even if he suits up for only 15 games or so? Not among ESPN.com fantasy hockey players, who are retaining Brodeur in 85 percent of leagues. But just what is that value? Can you afford the roster spot if you are wallowing in eighth place? What about fifth? Might someone in your league give you a player you can use now in exchange for Brodeur later? Just how much value do injured star players have in your current situation?

Marian Gaborik, RW, Wild: It's debatable whether Gaborik or Brodeur has been the most damaging draft pick in fantasy hockey leagues this season. Brodeur was a higher pick, but you at least had the chance to use him for a month. Gaborik, on the other hand, has delivered one goal in only two games this season thanks to his lower body injury. On a positive note, Gaborik practiced with the team Friday, but coach Jacques Lemaire quickly doused any excitement by calling it "nothing." It's time to buy him or sell him. The only fantasy owners who should be buying Gaborik are those who are competing but need an extra push to be one of the top teams. As a Gabby owner, believe me when I say it wouldn't take a huge offer to catch my eye. Look at your team and find a guy who has been performing over his head, to the tune of almost a point per game, and offer him to Gaborik's owner. If you can pry him away from his owner for the price of a Nikolai Zherdev or a J.P. Dumont, it's a calculated risk that you can afford to roll snake eyes on. Just make sure you don't overpay for a chronically injured player such as Gaborik, especially one who's in contract turmoil. The better scenario is for Gaborik owners, who should be shopping him hard with the news of his imminent return. There are injury and contract concerns, and Gaborik could play only a reduced role on this Wild team. The safe thing to do is to try to strike while the iron is hot and unload him.

Martin Brodeur
Martin Brodeur owners have been without their No. 1 goalie since a Nov. 1 injury knocked the netminder out of the game.

Martin Brodeur, G, Devils: He shouldn't be hitting any waiver wires, but whether you hold on to Brodeur is certainly a question of circumstance. With news this week that Brodeur is out of his arm brace -- a step closer to practicing -- it's time for his disgruntled owners to take stock of their teams. If you are comfortably getting decent output from whichever goaltenders you managed to plug the hole with, sit pretty. If you've made it this far, you should be able to manage until his return. Just keep making smart moves. You could use him as a trade chip to another team that is above-average in the goaltending department to try to upgrade your offense, but you might get less than you hope that way. Holding him is the best scenario in this case. That doesn't hold true, however, for teams that haven't been able to recover from the loss of Brodeur. You need to act now and find an appropriate trading partner to fix your troubles in net. Doing so will cost you an offensive player as well as the services of Brodeur later in the season. Simply pair Brodeur with a top-notch weapon up front and target a slightly discounted No. 1 goalie. Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Marc-Andre Fleury come to mind as targets. Simply put: If you're floundering, that roster spot you are affording Brodeur costs you too much.

Daniel Briere, C, Flyers: Briere may have scored nine points in nine games, but he should be on your "sell" list. Briere strained his groin Dec. 2 and is expected to miss time into January. Before that, he was out 14 of 16 games recovering from abdominal surgery. To replace him, the Flyers have a wealth of centers thanks to the breakout play of Jeff Carter. Mike Richards already exploded onto the scene at the beginning of last season, and although he hasn't missed a beat, Carter has caught up with him in terms of pure domination on the ice. Carter's 21 goals trail only Thomas Vanek, and there is little doubt he and Richards will continue to see the bulk of ice time at center regardless of when Briere returns. Briere still has a ton of name value, and it would be easy to talk a potential trade partner into the idea that he'll be a point-per-game player once he recovers. Trouble is, he probably won't be. (Don't mention that part in trade talks.)

Sergei Gonchar, D, Penguins: As mentioned last week, Gonchar is owned in only 50 percent of ESPN.com leagues, yet his best-case recovery time has him on the ice in a little more than a month. The Penguins' power play is still missing his touch on the blue line, and he no doubt will resume his role as the first-unit point man when he returns. Get him now before he is snatched up closer to his return date. He is definitely worth a roster spot. What about trading for him? Well, that really depends on your position in the standings and how your defensemen are doing. He still represents some risk, as the worst-case recovery time from his surgery has him back closer to the end of March. Trade for him only if you think you can get him for pennies on the dollar and don't have to give up a playable asset.

Ryan Whitney, D, Penguins: Whitney's return is much closer than Gonchar's; he could be back with the Pens before the week is out. Not quite the power-play contributor that Gonchar is, Whitney has shown flashes of offensive acumen from the point and certainly would thrive there while Gonchar is still out. Alex Goligoski has six points on the power play, Kris Letang has three and Brooks Orpik has one; that is it for power-play points from Pittsburgh defensemen this season. Whitney surely can do better than that and should be a no-brainer pickup in the 40 percent of ESPN.com leagues where he is available.

Steve Sullivan, RW, Predators: Sullivan hasn't seen NHL ice since the 2006-07 season, but he should be at least filed away in the back of fantasy owners' minds. Saturday was the first time he participated in team drills since hurting his back in February 2007. There is still no timetable for his return, and he didn't sound very optimistic when quoted in The Tennessean, but it is definitely a positive sign for a player who has averaged more than a point per game during his three seasons in Nashville. He represents a much-needed boost for the Predators on the first line in the absence of Alexander Radulov this season. If things break right for Sullivan (not literally, of course) he could be back in the league at any point in time. It's just a matter of the pain management, something Sullivan has said he is making progress on every day. He is owned in less than than 1 percent of ESPN.com leagues, and you can afford to leave him on the waiver wire until he returns to the ice.

Before we hit the fantasy stock market, a couple of quick notes: Ditch Sean Avery already. He won't be resurfacing in the NHL anytime soon. … Mats Sundin is supposed to pick his team Monday. Pick him up now. You can check the Nov. 17 edition of Open Ice for what to do with him once he's on your roster.

Sunny days ahead

Michael Ryder, RW, Bruins: This space should be reserved for a Bruin each week. Ryder has scored in four of his past five games and has seven goals in his past eight contests. As predicted in the preseason, he should have no trouble scoring 30 goals and should be yet another universally owned Bruin.

 Ed Jovanovski
Ed Jovanovski has five power-play assists in his past eight games.

Ed Jovanovski, D, Coyotes: A dreadfully slow start to the season had Jovo Cop in many a fantasy owner's doghouse. But if you haven't noticed, Jovanovski has 11 points in his past 10 games and is producing with the Coyotes' power play. His minus-12 appears unpalatable, but he is only minus-1 in those 10 games. Look for him to start acting like a No. 2 defenseman from here on out.

Scott Hartnell, LW, Flyers: Hartnell is owned in 93 percent of ESPN.com leagues, but if you are looking to catch a ride on one heck of a hot streak, act now. Hartnell's January production last season exemplifies just how good he can be when he gets going. He started 2008 with 17 points, two hat tricks, 30 penalty minutes and five game-winning goals in 13 games. He has four goals (including a hat trick) in his past two games. You can sell him again in a month or two, but acquiring him now isn't a bad idea at all.

B.J. Crombeen, RW, Blues: This bubble is bound to burst sooner than later, but it's hard to argue with six goals in five games. Crombeen will return to his grinder role at some point, but use him while he's hot. Despite his new status as a finisher, Crombeen is still proficient with the fists and has two fighting majors during his goal streak (eight on the season), so he'll still contribute while you wait for him to cool.

Andrew Ladd, LW, Blackhawks: Playing with a mix of linemates depending on the situation, Ladd is taking to the ice with Martin Havlat, Troy Brouwer and/or Dave Bolland. Regardless of the combination, Ladd is making good on his size and skills in front of the net. He has started December with nine points in six games and has potential to hit 60 points in a breakout season. He'll have to keep playing 15 minutes a game to approach that mark, but coach Joel Quenneville has put more faith in his third line lately. Keep an eye on his minutes and linemates.

Storms A-Brewin'

Brian Rolston, LW, Devils: Welcome to the checking line, Mr. Rolston. John Madden and Jay Pandolfo do honorable work for the Devils, but you don't want your winger hanging around with those guys for offensive purposes. Rolston has yet to manage a point in his five games since returning a high ankle sprain, and not being in coach Brent Sutter's top six definitely has something to do with it. Rolston needs a teammate to be injured so he can edge his way back to pair with significant linemates, and that is a factor well beyond his control. Trade him if you can in deeper leagues, and it's OK to drop him in shallow ones.

Joe Corvo, D, Hurricanes: How in the world is this guy still owned in more than 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues? Last season's point-per-game finish after being traded to the Canes was circumstantial luck and will never repeat. Joni Pitkanen is the better puck-moving defenseman on the point, and Corvo's 10 points on the season have him well outside the top 60 defensemen in the league. If you can't find a defenseman on the wire who has more points than he does, replace him with a plus/minus or penalty-minutes specialist.

Chris Drury, C, Rangers: Name value counts for a lot in fantasy ownership, as Drury is rostered in 95 percent of ESPN.com leagues. The Rangers simply do not go two lines deep in decent offensive players, so Drury is suffering. Even the least optimistic outlook for him (which might have been mine) still expected better than 17 points through 33 games. That's not to mention the minus-8, which won't improve when you consider that Drury matches up against tough opponents and the Rangers' lineup as a whole is minus-88. He's downright droppable if you can find a more intriguing option.

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