As musically articulated by Peaches & Herb in 1979, it's a fine feeling to be reunited with whom you belong. Just ask Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis. After a six-season pause, ended by Wednesday's pre-deadline trade involving Ryan Callahan, the two former members of the Tampa Bay Lightning renewed playing acquaintances with little evident rust. It's no wonder St. Louis was okay with leaving Steven Stamkos behind for a trade to the New York Rangers.
Even without registering a point in the 3-2 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, St. Louis and Richards appeared dynamic and dangerous together. Unfortunately, and obviously, both are universally owned in ESPN.com leagues. Unless a ultra-rich offer is made in exchange, their respective fantasy owners aren't likely willing to forge a deal. There seems to be little point in even discussing the situation.
Which brings us to Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello. Owned in only four percent of ESPN.com leagues, Hagelin served as third musketeer to Brad and Marty against the Maple Leafs on Wednesday. But while Hagelin took a "maintenance" day off, Zuccarello -- recently recovered from a hand injury -- practiced alongside the two veterans on Thursday. Hagelin or Zuccarello (owned in 40 percent of ESPN.com leagues) should end up owning that role full-time, and you want that guy on your own roster. Keep a close eye on who coach Alain Vigneault favors in coming days.
Turning our attention to Tampa, the fantasy sentiment following Wednesday's captain-for-captain exchange feels generally mixed. While Stamkos is pegged to make his much anticipated comeback after missing four months with a broken tibia, it won't be alongside St. Louis, former linemate and partner in the crime of scoring lots and lots of goals. But while some suggest Stamkos is the biggest fantasy "loser" following the St. Louis-Callahan exchange, we feel he'll manage well enough (see: 409 points in 390 career regular-season games and one Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy). Besides, what's your alternative, trade him? Only do so if the return is outstanding. More likely, you'll wait it out and hope another Lightning winger can fill the (admittedly large) void.
About that, then. In coach Jon Cooper's first post-deadline practice, Stamkos centered Teddy Purcell and Alex Killorn, while Callahan skated with Valtteri Filppula and Nikita Kucherov. That resulted in a third forward unit of Ryan Malone-Tyler Johnson-Ondrej Palat. These combinations don't bode well for owners who have enjoyed what rookies Palat and Johnson -- both owned in 94 percent of ESPN.com leagues -- have brought to the fantasy table this season.
However, Cooper is, by no means, married to this formula. Keep watch of the next few Lightning games, and adjust accordingly. Between Stamkos' return, St. Louis' exodus and Callahan's migration, there are still too many variables in play. If you want an edge, monitoring Thursday's tilt between Tampa Bay and Buffalo Sabres would be a good place to start. Moreover, if you're thinking of adding Purcell (owned in 64 percent of ESPN.com leagues) in the meantime, go for it.
Ales Hemsky, RW, Ottawa Senators (owned in two percent of ESPN.com leagues): No NHLer needed a change of scenery more than the 30-year-old winger. A rumored trade asset with the Edmonton Oilers for what felt like forever, Hemsky sported the look of a player who had all zest for competition beaten right out of him. This fresh start is most welcome, and skating on a forward line with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek adds extra shine to the move. With Hemsky, the scoring talent is there; now that he's in a healthier place, improved numbers should follow.
Marian Gaborik, RW, Los Angeles Kings (owned in 98 percent of ESPN.com leagues): He's healthy, he's hungry, and now, following his trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets, he's a member of legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Playing on an even-strength line with Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, Gaborik is also expected to see a hefty chunk of ice time with the man advantage. The modestly scoring Kings (2.32 goals per game) snagged Gaborik for the sole purpose of seeing him put the puck in the back of the net. We expect a strong finish to the season from the speedy sniper. If you're looking to shake up your own roster, Gaborik might well be worth targeting in a potential trade.
David Legwand, C, Detroit Red Wings (owned in 50 percent of ESPN.com leagues): With Pavel Datsyuk (knee) ruled out for the next three weeks, minimum, the newly acquired center is pegged to play on the Red Wings' top line with Johan Franzen and Gustav Nyquist. Plus, Darren Helm (concussion symptoms) and Stephen Weiss could also be out a while yet. Drafted by the Nashville Predators in 1998, Legwand has quietly collected nearly 600 points in just over 1000 games. He's an underrated asset, in real life and fantasy play.
Matt Moulson, LW, Minnesota Wild (owned in 100 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Would you rather your goal-scoring fantasy asset skate with Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis in Buffalo or, replacing Dany Heatley, with Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle in Minnesota? No offense to Stafford and Ennis, but we're all for the Koivu-centered option. Particularly when competing on the power play with Zach Parise is also in the cards. In his new digs, Moulson might be worth pursuing in a trade if you have other excess assets to relinquish. And, as an aside, now would be the appropriate occasion to let go of Heatley (owned in five percent of ESPN.com leagues), once and for all.
Daniel Briere, RW/C, Montreal Canadiens (owned in nine percent of ESPN.com leagues): The details remain to be worked out, but there's an opening for the belle of the trade deadline ball, and newest Canadien, Thomas Vanek, to compete alongside his former linemate. The two forged excellent chemistry in their days with the Buffalo Sabres -- remember when Briere had 95 points in 2006-07? -- so the experiment is certainly worth exercising. Now that he's a member of a potentially playoff-bound club, Vanek should blossom and add generously to his season-to-date total of 53 points. Don't be too shocked if he tows Briere along for that ride.
Eddie Lack, G, Vancouver Canucks (owned in 69 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Unless Jacob Markstrom makes some unexpected charge, Lack is projected to hold the goaltending reins in Vancouver from here on out. On the upside, the towering Swede has performed well in his rookie season. On the downside, the Canucks don't score (much) these days. Still, the positive outweighs the negative in the realm of fantasy play.
Martin Erat, RW/LW, Phoenix Coyotes (owned in six percent of ESPN.com leagues): After a disastrous turn with the Washington Capitals, it's not like he could fall any further out of fan or fantasy favor. Along with Hemsky, Erat urgently needed a fresh start. A spot on the Coyotes' second scoring line with Radim Vrbata and Martin Hanzal (presently nursing a very minor injury) offers Erat the opportunity to make something of 2013-14. Vrbata and Hanzal have a combined 77 points in 115 games this campaign.
Roberto Luongo, G, Florida Panthers (owned in 100 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Tweeting palm tree emoticons and beaming like a fool in love, Luongo is clearly pleased as punch to be back to his old stomping grounds. But that doesn't mean the former Canuck will win a lot of games backstopping an exceptionally porous corps of Florida skaters, or that his goals-against average will remain in the 2.00-to-2.50 range. As an NHL goalie and stand-alone fantasy asset, we like Luongo a lot. But not with the Panthers, not this season.
Dustin Penner, LW, Washington Capitals (owned in 40 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Sorry, playing on a line with Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson is not equal to skating with Ducks forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. So Penner drops in our fantasy estimation. Get back to us if and when the big winger sees significant ice-time with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
Kari Lehtonen, G, Dallas Stars (owned in 100 percent of ESPN.com leagues): The newest member of the Stars' goaltending tandem, Tim Thomas, is expected to fight Lehtonen for the privilege of playing night in and night out. That prognostication, along with Lehtonen's proclivity for getting hurt more often than most, hints at a disappointing conclusion to the 2013-14 campaign for Dallas' current top banana. Note: Thomas is owned in only 41 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Braden Holtby, G, Washington Capitals (owned in 86 percent of ESPN.com leagues): The Capitals didn't bring in Jaroslav Halak just to warm the bench. The challenge posed by the former No. 1 with the St. Louis Blues (via transfer in Buffalo), plus his own squad's current habit of allowing too many shots on net, suggests Holtby could be in for a bumpy spring.
Cory Conacher, LW, Buffalo Sabres (owned in 11 percent of ESPN.com leagues): On waivers one day, fixed to fill a top-six role with the Sabres the next; it was an interesting 24-hour span for the 24-year-old sophomore. Aside from Luongo, no one was sporting a wider smile than Conacher on Wednesday afternoon. Before joining the Senators via trade, Conacher accumulated 24 points in 35 games in his rookie season with the Lightning. That was this past season. Let's see what he can make of a clean slate and looser expectations with a rebuilding Sabres club.
Lee Stempniak, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins (owned in 13 percent of ESPN.com leagues): If Stempniak can carve out a spot on the Penguins' top line with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, look out. And that combo is hardly out of the question; the Penguins have been working to find the right substitute for Pascal Dupuis (knee) since December. Stempniak averaged 0.68 points per game with the Flames last season, so just imagine what he might accomplish with Crosby and Kunitz. The veteran winger merits a second look in deeper leagues, at least.
Andrej Meszaros, D, Boston Bruins (owned in three percent of ESPN.com leagues): Fixed to (sort of) fill-in for an injured Dennis Seidenberg (knee), Meszaros will be asked to play a more prominent role with the Bruins than he had with the Flyers since before the lockout. As discussed in last week's Fantasy Grapevine, a spot on the secondary power-play might be had in Boston, if Meszaros is willing to fight for it. That being said, the 28-year-old is a shaky fantasy asset, at best, and should be exploited by only those most desperate.
Injury and other notes
Mark Scheifele is done for the year with an MCL injury. With Scheifele out, everyday winger Michael Frolik is being shifted from the Winnipeg Jets' top line to center a unit with Devin Setoguchi and Matt Halischuk ... Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk is expected to miss another handful of games with an enduring upper-body injury.