Brodeur, Ward on the rise
Veteran netminders making their late-season push; time to buy in fantasy?
Like your mother always told you, never, ever write off a four-time Vezina Trophy winner and three-time Stanley Cup champion as a washed-up fantasy goaltender just because he's a bit grey around the sideburns. Riding a personal four-game win-streak, and victorious in two consecutive starts for the New Jersey Devils, veteran Martin Brodeur is once again proving he's capable of getting the job done when it counts. And another former Stanley Cup champ (and Conn Smythe Trophy winner), Cam Ward, is making a similar charge with the Carolina Hurricanes.
After 21 seasons in the NHL, Brodeur isn't quietly handing over the goaltending reins to the Devils' current No. 1 without some fuss. After Cory Schneider fell flat in allowing seven goals to the Detroit Red Wings this past week, the 41-year-old swooped in and registered two much-needed wins in consecutive starts. Now the two netminders are pegged to split appearances in back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday. Schneider draws the Florida Panthers, while Brodeur gets the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Make no mistake, while the Devils are scrapping for a playoff spot, coach Peter DeBoer will ride whoever holds the hotter hand. Since the Olympic break, that has been Brodeur. Even if Schneider performs well enough against the Panthers, and beyond, Brodeur could see his fair share of playing time down the stretch. Available in nearly half of ESPN.com fantasy leagues, the future Hall of Famer might serve as a nice addition to your own goaltending corps.
Then there's Ward. Justifiably owned in only 29 percent of ESPN.com leagues, he's had a lousy time of it, dealing with a nagging groin injury essentially since October, but things are finally looking up for the 30-year-old. Subbing in for a floundering Anton Khudobin on Saturday, Ward held his own against the Devils, and was subsequently awarded the start against the New York Rangers on Monday. He was better than solid, allowing just the one goal on 25 shots for the win. Now, he's in line to start against the Buffalo Sabres Thursday; another solid outing would nudge Khudobin further towards the bench.
Of course we're dealing with a ridiculously small sample of one well-played game of late, and the Hurricanes aren't exactly thought of as an NHL powerhouse, but this is Cam Ward we're talking about. The guy who, before this season, averaged a career goals-against average of under 2.70 and save percentage of .913 (including playoffs) for a Carolina club that wasn't always formidable. The guy that carried the Canes on his shoulders to their one and only Cup victory in 2006. A guy that has seemingly always been a part of the fantasy conversation as a No. 1 or 2 netminder. If you're desperate for goaltending help, Ward is well worth the risk.
Tuomo Ruutu, LW/C, New Jersey Devils (owned in less than one percent of ESPN.com leagues): The 31-year-old winger doesn't seem to be missing Carolina much. Playing on the Devils' top line with Jaromir Jagr and Travis Zajac, Ruutu has a goal and three assists in his past two games. The 10-season veteran could be a real fantasy steal down the stretch.
Jordan Staal, C, Carolina Hurricanes (owned in 38 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Once thrown together with wingers Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty after the Olympic break, on-ice life became a lot rosier for the third-eldest Staal brother. With 13 points total in their past four games, the trio is emerging as the Hurricanes' go-to top forward line. The stage might be set for a robust finish to what has been an erratic season for Jordan.
Lee Stempniak, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins (owned in 33 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Featured in last week's "Short-term substitutes" section, Stempniak has, as speculated, nailed down a spot on the Penguins' top line with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. With three assists, seven shots, five hits and five blocked shots in four games, the former Flame is comporting himself rather well in the role. The best may be yet to come, chemistry-wise, as far as the league's top centerman is concerned:
"We're all getting used to each other," Crosby said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We're all trying to be strong on the puck and use our speed. (Stempniak is) making a lot happen."
Curtis Glencross, LW, Calgary Flames (less than one percent of ESPN.com leagues): On the injured shelf for the majority of the season, Glencross would like nothing more than to finish 2013-14 on a positive note. Pegged to fill a top-six role for the Flames once he's back in the swing of things, the winger should also see significant time with the man advantage. As mentioned in Wednesday's Grapevine, Glencross has averaged nearly 0.6 points per game with the Flames since 2011-12.
Milan Michalek, LW, Ottawa Senators (owned in 29 percent of ESPN.com leagues): As anticipated, Ales Hemsky has fit in nicely on a Senators forward line with Jason Spezza. Depending on the size of your league, the former Oilers' winger is likely worth grabbing, if available. If not, give Michalek a gander. As linemate to Spezza and Hemsky, the 31-year-old forward is also benefiting from this new assembly. The trio has a combined 15 points in three games together.
Ryan Strome, C, New York Islanders (owned in one percent of ESPN.com leagues): A kindly reminder that Strome is back in the NHL and likely to stick around as a rebuilding Islanders squad looks to the future. Seeing minutes with either the first or second power-play unit, the 20-year-old has five points in his past seven contests. Those in dynasty leagues may want to invest in Strome before he blossoms into an obvious long-term commodity in 2014-15.
Teddy Purcell, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning (owned in 70 percent of ESPN.com leagues): If coach Jon Cooper sticks with his latest on-ice blueprint, Steven Stamkos will be shifted to right wing on a line with centerman Tyler Johnson and left wing Alex Killorn. This plan -- assuming the Ondrej Palat-Valtteri Filppula-Ryan Callahan trio remains intact -- leaves Stamkos' former linemate, Purcell, out in the cold. Or, specifically, relegated to a bottom-six unit centered by Tom Pyatt. Same thing.
Dennis Wideman, D, Calgary Flames (owned in 32 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Word out of Calgary hints that Wideman could be out "long-term" with his present-day upper-body injury. That's enough to scare us away from the blue-line sniper for the remainder of the campaign. Aside from the Flames' top defensive fantasy asset Mark Giordano, the moderately useful, if less popular, T.J. Brodie is widely available in ESPN.com leagues, as is top power-play presence Kris Russell.
Brandon Saad, LW, Chicago Blackhawks (owned in 100 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Make no mistake, Saad has competed wonderfully on a line with Jonathan Toews while Marian Hossa recuperates from an upper-body injury, but Hossa is due back soon. This will likely put an end to this temporary arrangement. Consider Saad a sell-high candidate before he falls out of the top six.
Dougie Hamilton, D, Boston Bruins (owned in 20 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Opting to play newcomer Andrej Meszaros instead, the Bruins recently banished Hamilton to the press box for two straight games. While this arrangement hardly feels permanent, it fogs up Hamilton's role as a blue-line regular through the final few weeks. It's also worth noting that Meszaros has enjoyed opportunities with the Bruins' second power-play assembly, while Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug continued to anchor the top unit.
Alex Stalock, G, San Jose Sharks, (owned in 15 percent of ESPN.com leagues): The Sharks have games on back-to-back nights this week -- Thursday and Friday -- and another four contests in seven days starting Sunday. Coach Todd McLellan wants to keep No. 1 Antti Niemi as fresh as possible, so look for Stalock to start Thursday against the Columbus Blue Jackets and at least once next week. No great sacrifice; the Sharks' backup has been exceptionally good in relief this season (1.85 goals-against average, .932 save percentage).
Jamie McGinn, LW, Colorado Avalanche (owned in three percent of ESPN.com leagues): Injuries to P.A. Parenteau and Paul Stastny solidify McGinn's spot amongst the Avalanche's top six. Even once Stastny returns from a nagging back issue -- perhaps this Friday -- McGinn should stick around a forward line with Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene, while John Mitchell drops back down to the bottom six.
Nick Bjugstad, C, Florida Panthers (owned in two percent of ESPN.com leagues): Altogether, the former first-round draft selection (2010) is having a pretty good rookie season. And post-Olympics, Bjugstad has six points in seven contests, averaging nearly 20 minutes per game on a line with Sean Bergenheim and Brad Boyes. The 21-year-old could serve as a nice fantasy plug in the foreseeable future, and down the road. (Note: Scottie Upshall is pegged to temporarily replace Bergenheim, who's out with a minor ailment.)
Injury and other notes
More bad news for the Vancouver Canucks: Ryan Kesler is expected to be out a while after sustaining a knee injury against the Winnipeg Jets Wednesday ... Michael Grabner of the New York Islanders is out indefinitely with a concussion ... The Red Wings will be without Tomas Jurco (rib injury) for up to a couple of weeks ... Suffering through an ankle injury, Chris Stewart will miss most -- if not all -- of the rest of the regular season for the Buffalo Sabres ... Phoenix Coyotes forward Martin Erat (undisclosed injury) is ruled out for about a week.
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