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Saturday, January 10, 2009
Stamkos not ready for prime time

Hear that? That's the faint sound of a disgusted former head coach sputtering "told you so" with full justification. After being shown the door as Tampa Bay's bench boss earlier this season, Barry Melrose insisted Steven Stamkos was not ready for the NHL. He said the rookie wasn't strong enough yet. Most in the hockey world pooh-poohed this sentiment, countering that the first overall draft pick of 2008 was indeed ready and rarin' to go immediately. Yeah, well, maybe not.

Young Steven was a healthy scratch, for the first time this season, during the Lightning's 4-3 victory over Anaheim on Friday night. And to inflate Melrose's vindication, he was put on a conditioning program to strengthen up. In all honesty, the move was long overdue. Stamkos hasn't contributed much of anything in terms of scoring all year, 14 points altogether. It's not that he hasn't been given ample opportunity. Replacement coach Rick Tocchet has provided Stamkos with chances on the power play and on Tampa's top line. He simply hasn't delivered. And if you're a fantasy owner, it's time to let go.

In terms of value among rookies, other, juicier, assets are available. In contrast to Stamkos' 55 percent ownership in ESPN leagues, Anaheim's Bobby Ryan is owned in only 59 percent, despite scoring 25 points in 25 games. The slim gap in ownership is even more ludicrous considering Ryan has 15 points (including a hat trick) in his past 11 games, exceeding expectations in teammate Teemu Selanne's absence. There's no discussion to be had here; Ryan should be owned in every fantasy league across the board.

If Ryan isn't available, have a look at a couple of young members of the Blues. Despite a recent three-game slump, Patrik Berglund has played extremely well this year, notching 13 goals and 14 assists, including one of each against Vancouver on Friday. The 20-year-old has made his mark with a couple of top forwards hurt in St. Louis (Andy McDonald and Paul Kariya) and he's available in more than 78 percent of ESPN leagues. If Berglund is already spoken for, there's a good chance fellow rookie T.J. Oshie is not. Fully recovered from an ankle injury, Oshie has four points in his past four games -- the same as Stamkos since Nov. 29.

So if you want a young, exciting player on your fantasy roster, there are options out there. Stamkos just isn't a viable one, not this season anyway. And Melrose deserves due credit on that call.

Ice chips

Steve Mason's fairy-tale season continues. The 20-year-old netminder stopped 45 shots -- 12 from Alex Ovechkin alone -- to help Columbus shut out Washington 3-0. With a .939 save percentage, 1.74 goals-against average and six shutouts in 24 games, can you believe this kid didn't make the All-Star game? It's almost criminal. … However, Mason is the only member of the Blue Jackets you want to activate these days. With eight regulars out of the lineup, including top scorers Rick Nash and Kristian Huselius, goals are coming from all over Columbus' roster. Although an effective, collective effort is a hockey coach's dream, such a balanced offense is, conversely, a fantasy player's nightmare. … Sergei Fedorov returned to the Capitals' lineup after missing nearly a month with a nagging ankle injury. The 39-year old registered four shots while playing nearly 16 minutes on the second line. He had ample opportunities on the second power-play unit as well. If you've had him on your roster all this time, you may as well see what he can accomplish in the next month or so. … "Stupendous" is how Buffalo's broadcasting team described Ryan Miller's performance against the Rangers, and they were bang-on. Miller essentially beat New York all by his lonesome by stopping 43 of 44 shots in the Sabres' 2-1 shootout victory. … Finally healthy (fingers crossed) Tim Connolly played his first game since mid-November for the Sabres, taking the wing alongside Daniel Paille and Clarke MacArthur. Don't let that unsavory offensive position dissuade you from using him, though. Connolly will be in action, regularly, on the Sabres' power play; the Rangers simply didn't take a penalty Friday night. … Good news for fans of Edmonton's so-called "Kid Line": Andrew Cogliano, Robert Nilsson and Sam Gagner were reunited, at even strength and on the second power-play unit, in the team's 4-1 loss to San Jose. Despite the score, they played well and contributed to the lone goal for the Oilers. In Ales Hemsky's continued absence, Erik Cole was thrown onto the top line with Dustin Penner and Shawn Horcoff. There's no indication of when the concussed Hemsky will return, since he was placed on the team's IR this week. More frighteningly for Edmonton, and his fantasy owners, Sheldon Souray left the game in the second period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. The defenseman leads his team in scoring and ranks fifth among all blueliners. Stay tuned for the severity of that ailment. … Penguin Ruslan Fedotenko suffered a broken hand in last Tuesday's game against the Thrashers. He'll miss the next four to six weeks. … The Maple Leafs will be without Mikhail Grabovski for three games, starting with Saturday's contest against Philadelphia. Grabovski was handed an automatic suspension after making contact with a referee during Toronto's scrappy 6-2 loss to Montreal on Thursday.