You've been patient to this point. Like a good soldier, you've stuck by your team -- maybe making a few adds or drops, but nothing serious -- in hopes of beginning a rise up your league standings. Trouble is, you seem to be stalled out near the bottom of the standings thanks to some underperforming players and a lack of categorical balance. The free agents I can offer you here every week will do only so much. It's time to start exploring the most effective yet hardest-to-execute avenue for turning around your fantasy hockey fortunes: trading.
It's never an easy task to pry away a player whom someone else in your league likes enough to have drafted, and everyone has a tendency to view his players though rose-colored glasses. There is a specific owner or player to target at this point who will yield the best results. You want to try to trade for the underperforming players on the winning teams in your league. That's right. Look at the rosters of the top three to five teams in your fantasy league, and look for the players those teams drafted in the first five or six rounds who have not contributed to the owner's good fortunes in the standings. The idea here is that if you point out to the owner that he's doing just fine without said player while offering a player of lesser but decent quality, he may take the chance and pull the parachute on his underperforming investment.
But the other variable for this equation to work is that we have to pick an underperforming player who will turn around his season sooner rather than later. Here are a few suggestions.
Eric Staal, C, Hurricanes: When you talk about a slow start, Staal may be the first name to come to mind. Things are about to turn around, though, and it will soon be time to try to acquire the Carolina Hurricanes' leader. He left Sunday's game with an injury but barring something serious should be back and scoring soon.
The key here is that Erik Cole has returned from a broken leg he suffered in the second game of the season. Staal was only an average fantasy player last season until a midseason trade reunited him with Cole. After Cole's arrival at last season's trade deadline, Staal finished with 25 points in 17 games. As long as the news about his injury isn't too serious, go after him hard in trade talks. Heck, use the injury as leverage to get him even cheaper.
Jarome Iginla, RW, Flames: How can the best player on one of the league's best-scoring teams be disappointing us? It's not as if nine points in 12 games is anything to sneeze at, but it certainly is not Iginla-esque. But the problem does seem to be solved, as Iginla has five of those points in his past four games.
So what was the issue, and why should you feel safe in acquiring Iggy as if he were a second-round draft pick? Well, unfortunately, sometimes two people just aren't meant to be together. Try as they might to find some connection, some spark between them, they just don't get along. I'm talking about Iginla and Olli Jokinen. On paper, it's two perennial All-Stars who can only make each other better. In reality, it's two players with take-charge attitudes who cannot coexist on the same line. Iginla has done most of his damage since Flames coach Brent Sutter finally acquiesced and split them up. Now with familiar linemate Craig Conroy and newcomer Curtis Glencross, feel confident in making a bid for Iginla.
Pekka Rinne, G, Predators: There was a reason we had him ranked in the top five goalies, and those who have showed patience are starting to be rewarded. Rinne has sealed the starter's job and rolled off four straight wins, including a shutout and a 37-minute shutout relief performance. The Nashville Predators won't score a lot of goals, and we knew that when we ranked him high, but the Preds have an exceptional defense. Rinne will be among the leaders for both goals-against average and save percentage by the season's end. His overall stats from the season still look a bit ugly, which is why there is an opportunity to buy low.
Ryan Getzlaf, C, Ducks: It may be too late, as the Ducks' offense is turning a corner. Getzlaf has eight points in five games but is still at less than a point per game for the season. This may be your last chance to scoop up a top-five center man on the cheap. See if Dustin Penner or Vaclav Prospal interests Getzlaf's owner.
Nicklas Lidstrom, D, Red Wings: Through 12 games this season, Lidstrom has three points and a plus-7. Through 12 games last season, Lidstrom had nine points and a plus-3. With his ability to put up multipoint games, Lidstrom is only one good week away from getting back on last season's pace. Although he did start slowly last season as well, he finished yet again as one of the top defensemen in fantasy. You know he'll come around. Try offering up a package that includes a hot starter such as Kyle Quincey.
James vanRiemsdyk, LW, Flyers (owned in 62.2 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Thanks to Simon Gagne's injury, vanRiemsdyk has had the opportunity to display his talents on one of the Philadelphia Flyers' top lines alongside Danny Briere (who is day-to-day right now) and Jeff Carter. He has seven points in his past six games and 16 shots in his past four contests. It looks as if Gagne's return would push even Claude Giroux out of the top six before vanRiemsdyk.
Tomas Kaberle, D, Maple Leafs (51.4): If Kaberle is available, don't fool yourself into thinking you just stumbled into a No. 1 defenseman on the waiver wire. His five-game streak with 13 points is certainly impressive but is not indicative of what kind of production Kaberle can dish out the rest of the season. The Toronto Maple Leafs have had some particularly good matchups of late when it comes to the opponents' penalty kill, and Kaberle has taken advantage. Still, scoop him up if he is available. He has the ability to be a No. 3 defenseman throughout the season and act as a No. 2 in stretches.
R.J. Umberger, C, Blue Jackets (7.4): Yeah, I know I suggested ditching him earlier this season, but the Columbus Blue Jackets are a team on which you need to ride the linemates' wave to find production. At the start of the season, Umberger was outside the top six and off the power play. Now, he is skating on an energetic line with Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek while pairing with Kristian Huselius and Rick Nash on the first power-play unit. Get back on board for now.
Phil Kessel, RW, Maple Leafs (83.2): Kessel is ready to play his first game of the season on Tuesday in his return from offseason shoulder surgery. There aren't many leagues where Kessel is just sitting around waiting to be picked up, but there are a few. Go check yours, as even though the Leafs don't have much complementary talent for him to work with, Kessel is a scoring machine on his own. Given the team's success on the power play (the 28 percent conversion rate is best in the NHL), Kessel certainly will find some value with the Leafs.
Brad Boyes, RW, Blues (95.2): There is nothing wrong with trying to absorb the terrible plus/minus of a player like Boyes when he is on pace for 40 goals. There is, however, a problem with trying to absorb the defensive misgivings when he is on pace for 14 goals. Actually, considering one of his two goals in 12 games this season was an empty-netter, he technically is on pace for only seven. With the offense not there, it's time to jump ship and look for help elsewhere. The terrible plus/minus should help keep him on the waiver wire until the St. Louis Blues start scoring again.
Brian Rolston, LW, Devils (91.3): I'm right there with the owners in more than 90 percent of fantasy leagues who saw a reunion between Rolston and coach Jacques Lemaire for the New Jersey Devils as an opportunity for a bounce-back season. Not going to happen, though. Rolston has four points in 12 games with a minus-3. He's barely sniffing the power play and playing on a checking line with Rob Niedermayer.
Jeff Tambellini won an assignment on the New York Islanders' second line with Doug Weight and sophomore Josh Bailey. He responded with a hat trick against the Buffalo Sabres and earned some power-play minutes with Kyle Okposo and John Tavares. Solve for X: Fifty saves plus a 4-3-1 record equals X. The answer, of course, is Ondrej Pavelec securing the No. 1 job for the Atlanta Thrashers regardless of Kari Lehtonen's presence. Zdeno Chara may not have a goal through 13 games, but remember that he didn't have a goal through 12 last season and still finished with 19. Relax. I strongly believe that the Buffalo Sabres' second line of Clarke MacArthur, Jason Pominville and Tim Connolly may have more fantasy value than the first line of Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy and Drew Stafford. Cory Murphy is getting another chance at running the New Jersey Devils' power play while Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya are on the shelf. Monitor him for any production. If you have been looking for an excuse to try out Mike Fisher, use Jason Spezza's injury as an opportunity. Fisher is up between Daniel Alfredsson and Alexei Kovalev for now. Yes, Alex Ovechkin is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, but it's not considered very serious. No worries yet.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com and the 2008 Fantasy Sports Writers Association's Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here