As I was busy mentioning games remaining for NHL teams last week, I failed to mention the relevant fantasy statistic of game limits in the discussion. If you've been keeping a close eye on your game limits all season, good for you. But you are probably in the minority. "Limits" is the last tab on your team page and it shows you how many games you have remaining for each position as dictated by your league setup.
The standard rule set allows for 82 games played per position and I almost guarantee that due to injuries, roster subs and free-agent moves, you are trending to finish below that number in at least a couple of positions. The good news is that, provided you aren't violating any movement limits that your league enforces, you can work in a few extra games during the final push.
An ethical note here, as I strongly believe that there is a big difference between attacking your game limits in the final weeks and the big fantasy no-no of streaming. With streaming, you would have been doing this from day one and would actually probably have pushed over your game limits already. By sizing up your game limits with a few weeks to go and rotating a couple of roster spots, I believe you are simply being prudent with what the rule set has provided you. If the league allows 82 games per roster slot, you might as well try and use them.
The key here is definitely not to go hog wild, as it is not worth dropping a valuable fantasy asset just to work in a few extra games from waiver wire stragglers. The best practice would be to find a couple of borderline guys you can drop to create just two or three roster spots into which you can rotate a daily waiver wire pickup. You also don't want to make a move for the sake of making a move; if there isn't someone on the waiver wire who is actually somewhat appealing to begin with, you don't want to plug in a dud and end up with a row of goose eggs and a minus-3 for your efforts.
So have a look at your game limits and see where you sit, as no NHL team has double-digit games remaining. Be competitive and make some moves but, more importantly, be calculated about it. There's nothing worse than having to sit your best players on the last weekend of the season and watching them light the lamp with abandon.
As promised I am providing a quick reference to the games remaining on the schedule here in the Forecaster, just in case your free-agent pickups need to last you the rest of the season. The Phoenix Coyotes and Calgary Flames remain at the bottom of this list with only six games remaining as of Friday morning. Next with seven games to play as of Friday are the New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks.
The gap has narrowed between the rich and the poor this week as the most games remaining for any team is nine. It includes a group of 10 teams: the Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Atlanta Thrashers, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars.
If you are reading this Saturday morning, you can strike the Sabres, Lightning, Hurricanes, Devils and Thrashers from the list of teams with nine games and you can downgrade the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks from the group of teams with eight games down to the group with seven contests left.
At a cursory look, I would suggest that Jamie Benn, Tyler Ennis, Tim Connolly and Jacob Josefson (Devils third line has perked up lately) are probably the best (possibly available) pickups right now if you need them to last through the end of the season.
"O" (offense) and "D" (defense) matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup), and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's year-to-date and past 21 days' statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents' numbers in those categories. The Games T / H column lists the team's total number of games played as well as home games (T / H), and lists the cumulative rating from 1-10 of that week's matchups.
Thrashers all offense: It may not be a pretty sight defensively, but the Atlanta Thrashers' Forecaster week shows three games against the Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins with an eight on offense and a one on defense. Blake Wheeler, who still remains available for inexplicable reasons, has been a revelation since joining Andrew Ladd on the Thrashers' top line. While his plus/minus is occasionally tough to swallow (and the Forecaster suggests it might be next week, too), Wheeler has been very consistent for shots on goal and points as a Thrasher. He has 11 points in 14 games since joining the club via trade and is available in about 50 percent of leagues. My colleague Victoria Matiash mentioned Ron Hainsey in the Thin Blue Line this week and I'd like to second the recommendation. Hainsey has been taking about half of the shifts with Dustin Byfuglien lately, and that is a situation that will breed offense.
Wings have strong sked, but few bodies: While the Detroit Red Wings deal with the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi being hobbled by injury, it is Daniel Cleary who has once again risen to the top on offense. Shifted onto the wing with Henrik Zetterberg, Cleary has four points and 14 shots on goal in the three games Datsyuk has missed in the past week. When Cleary gets hot, he is as hot as anyone in the league. He is available in 50 percent of leagues and the Wings have a favorable Forecast ahead.
Ducks with big week: With contests against the Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames, San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars, the Ducks nail down a solid nine on the Forecaster for offense next week. As Corey Perry continues his push for MVP consideration, it's the second line where fantasy owners might find some useful pieces from the waiver wire. Saku Koivu, available in more than 60 percent of ESPN leagues, has been clipping along at a fine pace since returning from injury. He has six points in eight games and is more than usable on the second line with Teemu Selanne. Ray Emery is also still worth keeping around as Jonas Hiller returned from vertigo only to be yanked after allowing three goals on six shots. Emery could easily find himself back in the mix after posting stellar stats over the course of four games.
• The San Jose Sharks have ramped up their offense ahead of the start of the playoffs and there is fantasy gold to be found up and down the offensive depth chart. The most shocking of the bunch has been Joe Pavelski's torrid pace during the past six games. His 14 points during the half-dozen contests have caused even his usually offensively quiet linemate Torrey Mitchell to light up. Mitchell is feeding entirely off of Pavelski, but his eight points in eight games makes him worth looking at.
• Martin Erat has had a revival since the All-Star break and it has continued through several depth chart changes. The most recent one found him playing with David Legwand and providing value for the oft-overlooked second-overall pick from 1998. Thanks to Erat's continued outburst, Legwand has 15 points in his past 13 games. A rare pace for him, but sustaining it for a month means he deserves some more credit than ownership in just 20 percent of leagues.
• While the Buffalo Sabres have taken off since adding Brad Boyes to the top six at the trade deadline, it's actually the third line that has been making fantasy waves of late. Mark Mancari, Nathan Gerbe and Paul Gaustad have been consistently lighting the lamp as a trio. Gerbe is the one with the most pure talent and that skill has been able to show since the diminutive forward was paired with a couple of big bodies that can create room for him. Mancari is 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, Gaustad is 6-5 and 212 pounds, while Gerbe is 5-5 and 178 pounds. That's a full foot shorter than Gaustad. With his "big buddies" creating space on the ice, Gerbe has managed seven points in seven games.
• It was inevitable that the Colorado Avalanche would eventually find a way to create some offense again, despite all the tough hits their top six has taken this season. Matt Duchene has shrugged off a slump that dogged him for several weeks and found his touch again. Drafting off Duchene's resurgence has been linemate Daniel Winnik. Winnik has five points in six games and should be a consideration for deep leagues given the Avalanche's strong schedule to finish the season.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.