It seems that injuries often dominate the headlines for fantasy hockey owners, which comes with a negative connotation most of the time, as fantasy teams are losing assets. This week, however, a return to health seems to be the recurring theme in NHL news.
A top fantasy centerman, top winger, top goaltender and top defenseman are all back to business for their respective teams. Which represents more than just a little value displacement.
Logan Couture, C, San Jose Sharks: It was just Couture's sixth game of the season on Wednesday in his return from a thigh injury, which followed a broken leg. But it looks like he has the strength back in his limbs after skating more than 15 minutes and posting two assists on the power play. He reprised his role on the "second" line with Patrick Marleau and Joel Ward. We quote the "second" because it's arguably as strong as the first unit anchored by Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton. Having Couture back makes a huge difference for the entire Sharks attack, as opponents now have to respect two strong scoring lines instead of concentrating on one. Expect Couture's return to lift all boats for fantasy value, with the exception of Brent Burns.
Burns' pace this season for offense has been torrential, and Couture's absence has been prolonged. We aren't so sure the two factors are mutually exclusive. That is to say, perhaps Burns' ridiculous offensive pace has been partly due to making up for the lack of a strong second scoring line for the Sharks. After all, his current pace has Burns finishing with 362 shots on goal, which is downright Ray Bourque-esque and not something we see from defensemen in the NHL. Don't be surprised if Burns eases off the gas pedal a little as an overall part of team strategy.
Brendan Gallagher, W, Montreal Canadiens: Just in time for the Winter Classic on Friday, Gallagher has been cleared for a return to action. Expect to see him outdoors in Foxborough playing with Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty. This is a massive boon not only to Gallagher owners but Pacioretty and Plekanec owners as well. We'll remind you one more time of just how much of an impact Gallagher's presence seems to have on the top line: With Gallagher in the lineup, Plekanec and Pacioretty have combined for 40 points in 44 games. Without him, they have 17 points in 34 games played.
Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Columbus Blue Jackets: While Bobrovsky won't solve everything going on with the Blue Jackets' offense, his return makes it less important to do so. Even with his lost time to injury, Bobrovsky is second among NHL goaltenders who have played at least 20 games in save percentage since John Tortorella took over as coach on Oct. 22. That's right. Since Torts stepped behind the bench, Bobrovsky has a .936 save percentage and 11 wins in 20 starts before getting hurt in early December. Only Braden Holtby edges him out with a .938 save percentage among 20-start goalies in that same span. This is all to say that Bobrovsky was not just hitting his stride or turning the corner before the injury -- those are massive understatements. Bobrovsky was among the league's best netminders when he went down and may be undervalued by his current owner.
Kris Letang, D, Pittsburgh Penguins: If only Letang could stay healthy. He is still on pace for 50 points this season despite already missing nine games. Back from a series of mysterious ailments, which may or may not have been concussions, Letang had two goals and an assist on Thursday. The Penguins' offense, Sidney Crosby included, seems to be rounding into form with the new year, and Letang is getting healthy just in time to be a part of it. Fantasy owners looking for that risk-reward, boom-bust investment to turn around an ailing team will want to inquire about acquiring Letang's services. His owner could be into taking a stable but less valuable return in a trade, and if Letang stays healthy, he has top-five-defenseman potential.
A similar busy week to last week, there are eight teams with a four-game week and four teams with a two-game week. Everyone else plays three times. Be especially cognizant of the New York Islanders' and New York Rangers' short, two-game week, as each team has a date with Braden Holtby and the Washington Capitals among their limited contests.
Looking for skaters
Minnesota Wild: We are repeating the call to add Charlie Coyle as a short-term (for now) offensive investment for your team. Shooting more and scoring more lately, Coyle is even getting a short tryout as a winger while Zach Parise is ailing. Coyle has six points in the past seven games, which includes playing time down on the third line, so if Parise's injury is extended at all, Coyle has big upside skating with Mikko Koivu.
Carolina Hurricanes: A great schedule for the week includes four games for the Hurricanes and matches against the Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and a back-to-back set with the Blue Jackets -- meaning they likely only get Bobrovsky once. Kris Versteeg has a very quiet 22 points this season and is skating on the top line with Eric Staal and Elias Lindholm coming into this week. He's not a bad back-end roster filler given the situation.
Looking for goaltenders
Eddie Lack, G, Carolina Hurricanes: While Cam Ward has been impressive enough in his own right lately, Lack went into Chicago and beat the Blackhawks by stopping 35 of 36 shots and then topped the Capitals on Thursday to give him two significant victories in five days. Given the caliber of his opponents, we expect Lack to get some extra looks next week, during what we've already described above as a soft schedule.
Jonathan Bernier, G, Toronto Maple Leafs: Obviously he isn't completely over all his issues -- look no further than Tuesday's six-goal debacle against the Isles -- but Bernier is at least in the conversation for fantasy use in the right matchup now. The wins have come fast and furious, with all four of his victories this season coming in the past two weeks. Wednesday's shootout win against the Pens' surging offense was particularly impressive. Meanwhile, James Reimer was scratched from that start on Wednesday due to tightness and continues to remain on the sideline. He'll get his fair share of starts when he's healthy, which could be this weekend, but Bernier is squarely in the mix now. Next week features a West Coast road trip, which is Bernier's old stomping ground, and he already has a shutout win against his former team (Los Angeles Kings) this season.
Things could change again, but with the Boston Bruins short both David Krejci (injured) and Brad Marchand (suspended), Seth Griffith is getting a shot on the top line with Patrice Bergeron. Monitor the result Friday and you may want to use Griffith for a couple of games next week.
John Carlson has missed three games and Matt Niskanen has two assists in his past three games. That's in no way a coincidence. Carlson is eyeing Tuesday for a return, but if anything changes, you'll want Niskanen in your lineup. Keep this knowledge handy if anything happens to Carlson in the future, too.
Leagues with deep benches or teams with room to stash someone can look at Nick Bjugstad, Jaden Schwartz, Martin Hanzal and Nail Yakupov. If things go well for these players, they could be in the fantasy discussion in as little as a week (Bjugstad) and as late as a month (Yakupov when Connor McDavid returns).