Are You For Real?: Brind'Amour, Richards, Hejduk

According to the Random House unabridged dictionary, the definition of "doldrums" is "a state of inactivity … a period of stagnation or slump." Well into January, many of us, stuck in our deflated beanbag chairs with a bag of stale Cheez-Its, are feeling the winter doldrums with full force. And we're not alone. A few talented NHLers have caught a case of the midseason blues as well.

Rod Brind'Amour, C, Hurricanes

Oh Rod, how far ye have fallen. After posting an incredible 18 points in October and maintaining a point-per-game pace in November, your fortunes have turned. December and the first half of January were not kind; you have a measly eight points in your last 21 games. We expected a cooldown, but nothing quite so extreme. Is this the real Rod Brind'Amour, or will we witness another scoring surge before the season is out?

John: Was the Brind'Amour we saw early this season for real? No, of course not; a 120-point pace from a 38-year-old is absurd. But he is better than this. The real Brind'Amour falls somewhere between this horrid output and the earlier insane one. Be advised that injuries surely are playing a part in this situation. Justin Williams -- hurt. Scott Walker -- hurt. Matt Cullen -- also hurt. When the Hurricanes get healthy again, things will get better. Just hold tight. Besides, as an owner of Brind'Amour, you likely won't be able to trade him now. His value is just too low.

Victoria: I agree with your opinion overall, but for a different reason. I'm honestly curious to see what'll happen following the acquisition of Sergei Samsonov. It's difficult to judge after one game, but Brind'Amour and Erik Cole appear revitalized with Samsonov on the wing. They combined for a whopping seven points against the Maple Leafs in their first action as a unit. Now, there's no way Samsonov is the magical answer to Carolina's scoring woes, but before morphing into a team-jumping head case, he was a fairly talented skater and puck handler (remember the Boston years?). Perhaps Carolina finally will provide a comfortable atmosphere for him to excel in once again. If so, Brind'Amour, as a linemate, will benefit. And besides, you're right Johnny; he's not worth putting on the trading block at the present time anyway.

Brad Richards, C, Lightning

Richard's production has waned somewhat of late, but that's not the most pressing concern. His plus/minus rating sticks out on the Lightning's roster like a pus-filled, infected thumb. While the majority of Tampa Bay's top forwards are in the black, Richards owns a desultory, team-worst minus-25. Honestly, it seems as if this guy is on the ice every time the opposition scores. Is this rating simply due to bad luck? And if so, what's the chance Richards can level it out to become a desired fantasy option once again?

John: I think we have to separate the issues. First, the point scoring, or lack thereof. Richards has 13 points since Dec. 1, which over 20 games isn't bad. But it's not what we would expect from a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner. The point-scoring aspect will improve because the Lightning are so bad, coach John Tortorella will continue to lean heavily on his best players.

Victoria: You know what's funny? When I type in "Tortorella," my computer's spell-checker automatically offers up "Portobello" as the correct option. Therefore, according to Microsoft Word, Tampa's head coach is a variety of fungus. Anyway, on to the issue at hand. I don't think Richards' offensive numbers will improve at all. The Lightning have only four forwards who produce regularly. Three of them, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Vaclav Prospal, usually play together on the top line. The fourth, Richards, is left to flounder with the leftovers. Who's going to help him dent the score sheet? Jan Hlavac? Jason Ward? Not likely. There's a reason 21 of Richards' 38 points have come on the power play. It's his only opportunity to skate with Lecavalier & Co.

John: OK, so we disagree there, but what's with the terrible plus/minus rating? If you do the math, Richards has been on the ice for more opposing goals than any other player in the NHL. The Lightning have an overall plus/minus rating of minus-116, so Richards is not alone. On any other team, his rating would be better, but unfortunately a trade isn't likely. You can swallow this burden in head-to-head leagues, but Roto-wise, pawn him off, if possible.

Victoria: Absolutely. Not only are the Lightning last in the league in goals allowed, but Richards is also stuck playing on the penalty-killing unit because he's so adept at winning faceoffs. This situation detracts from his scoring opportunities at even strength (the guy can do only so much). In terms of plus/minus, that's all the arithmetic you need.

Milan Hejduk, RW, Avalanche

One of the streakiest chaps in the NHL has hit another scoring slump. Following a nice little gush in late November/early December, Hejduk's numbers have almost dried up completely. Three points in 11 games is simply unacceptable for a mainstay on the top line and power play. With Joe Sakic and Ryan Smyth out, someone must step up for the Avalanche. Latest slide aside, could Hejduk be that guy?

Victoria: Sure, why not? With Sakic and Smyth out, scoring responsibilities belong to Hejduk, Paul Stastny and Andrew Brunette almost exclusively. And they look good together. Playing on this newly amalgamated line, Hejduk has three points in his past three games. This could be the start of his annual "kick it into another gear" second-half session. Here's the ritual: Once fantasy players get frustrated and cut him loose, Hejduk goes on an inspired tear. After a mediocre start last season, he lit it up in February, March and April with 39 points in 32 games. I think he does it just to screw with us. If you own Hejduk, now's the time to keep him close.

John: Well Vicky, he won't be that guy, though. Stastny will be. But yes, Hejduk will contribute. He has been a fantastic player in this league, but as you said, he's wildly inconsistent. In 2002-03, he nearly hit the 100-point plateau; in other seasons, he has topped out at 58 points. That inconsistency is in full effect this season as well. He has picked up 20 of his 33 points in just six games and the other 13 points over 35 games. Sure, he'll net 60-80 points in any given season, but you'll have to wade through some aggravatingly tough times.

Victoria Matiash and John Pereira are fantasy hockey analysts for ESPN.com.