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Saturday, January 17, 2009
Cooke-ing up fantasy value

Some sports headlines simply write themselves. For instance, it's easy to imagine the phrases topping the pages in Pittsburgh following Friday night's victory over Anaheim: "Cooke helps serve up roast Duck" … "Ducks 'cooked' 3-1 without Crosby" … "Penguins enjoy home cookin'." The cheesy possibilities are seemingly infinite. Regardless, Matt Cooke deserves a mound of credit for taking full advantage of the rich opportunity to skate on the top line in Sidney Crosby's absence. Cooke scored twice, including his first game-winning goal of the season, and that's nothing to sneeze at. Whether he has any real fantasy value might be another story.

There's plenty of reasons you wouldn't be interested in a guy like Cooke. He's your typical third-line agitator: doesn't shoot a lot, doesn't get a ton of ice-time, is more of a role player. His usual fantasy value lies in hits and penalty minutes, and not much else. It's no accident that Cooke is owned in less than three percent of ESPN leagues.

But with all the injuries in Pittsburgh, Cooke's role is changing. We're not just talking about Crosby either; at last count, nine regulars were missing from the Pens' lineup. Even though Cooke played on the top line with Evgeni Malkin and Petr Sykora while Sid sat out with a sore knee on Friday, remember that he also skated with Crosby and Malkin during Tuesday's 4-2 win over Philadelphia. He took advantage of that chance by scoring a goal and registering three shots in more than 15 minutes of ice time. He even got a little bit of time on the power play. Not bad for a third-line character player.

So even when Crosby returns, which could be soon, there's a decent possibility Cooke will continue to have the good fortune of skating on the top line and with the man-advantage. If he perseveres in showing the energy and enthusiasm from Friday night, you can bank on it. There are just too many other players hurt. For a Crosby owner, he's certainly worth picking up, but even others might want to take a gamble, at least in the short term. At worst, you can still pick up a few hits and penalty minutes.

Ice chips

Jason Williams' first appearance in Columbus admittedly lacked some fizzle but didn't fall completely flat either. Registering three shots in 17 minutes of ice time, Williams looked confident and quick; at least when an opposing New Jersey Devil wasn't hanging all over him. The Blue Jackets had only three power plays in the 2-1 loss, so it will be interesting to see how effective Williams will be once he gets more chances to play the quarterback position and once Rick Nash returns from injury (maybe Sunday). At the very least, Williams' fantasy prospects are promising. … Contrary to some reports, Brendan Shanahan did not make his season debut with the Devils on Friday, although he did travel with the team and skated in practice. Don't expect to see him in action on Saturday night in Long Island either. Although the possibility hasn't been completely ruled out, Monday's game in Nashville is the likeliest stage for the on-ice inauguration. … Congratulations to Jeff Carter for scoring his 30th goal of the season in Philadelphia's 3-2 shootout win over Florida. No one else in the NHL has reached that mark yet, although Antero Niittymaki did a solid job in place of Philly regular Martin Biron, stopping 32 of 34 shots for the win. … Ilya Kovalchuk put in a spectacular performance during Atlanta's 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Maple Leafs. Never mind the two goals and assist, his eight shots and plus-3 rating were both personal season-high marks in their respective categories. … Although Chicago lost a tough one to the Rangers 3-2, Brent Seabrook played well and scored on the power play for only the second time this season. Expect more from Seabrook, and fellow blue-liner Cam Barker, as long as Duncan Keith remains out of the lineup, which could be a while. Keith is listed as day-to-day, and if head injury is even slightly serious, he won't be rushed back.