Fantasy fix: Replacing injured stars
Normally, we are just coming out of the all-star break, a precious few days off NHL players desperately need to recoup and heal up any small injuries that have plagued them the last few months. This year, however, is a Winter Olympic year, where most of the NHL players are on a two-week vacation, resting up for the second half of the season and for that mentally and physically challenging grind to make the playoffs.
Players usually do not get injured during All-Star weekend, but the Men’s Hockey Tournament in the Sochi Winter Olympics is a beast all it’s own, a showcase of the world’s (and the NHL’s) best players, laying it all on the line for their respective countries to bring home a medal. Unfortunately, this year’s tournament was especially brutal on its’ players and several NHL stars have gone down with injury. Add that to the injuries and illnesses suffered during the NHL season and this stretch run to the playoffs in fantasy hockey will have your team looking like a shell of its’ former self.
Injuries (with status and 2013-2014 stats), *: league leading
-Henrik Zetterberg, LW, DET: (Back)- injured back during Sweden’s game vs Czech Republic, underwent surgery to remove part of a disc. STATUS: IR-out for rest of season. (G16-A32-P48, PPP 17)
-Alex Galchenyuk, C, MON: (Broken Hand)- has been out 6 weeks so far, but has attended practice recently. STATUS: IR- will be back before end of season, but will not be rushed back. (G10-A13-P23, PPP 7)
-John Tavares, C, NYI: (Torn Left MCL, Torn Left Meniscus)- was hit extremely hard into the boards during the 2nd period of Canada’s game vs. Latvia in the Olympics. STATUS: IR- out for the rest of the season. Should be ready for training camp next September. (G24-A42-P66, PPP 25)
-Mats Zuccarello, RW, NYR: (Broken Hand)- there was uncertainty of when the injury occurred, but happened at some point before Norway’s defeat to Russia, as he missed that game. STATUS: Out- 3-4 weeks is expected to be missed for Zuccarello. (G15-A28-P43, PPP 15)
-Paul Martin, D, PIT: (Hand)- injury was suffered during Team USA’s win over the Czech Republic. STATUS: Out- 4 weeks. (G2-A10-P12, PPP 6)
-Kris Letang, D, PIT: (Stroke)- is currently on a 6 week blood thinning course. No timeframe of return is set until Letang is finished with this treatment. It is not looking good for a return this season. STATUS: Out Indefinitely. (G10-A8-P18, PPP 11)
-Josh Harding, G, MIN: (Multiple Sclerosis)- still dealing with symptoms related to his M.S. STATUS: IR- return to play this season unknown at this point. (18-7-3, GAA: 1.66*, SV%: 933, SO: 3)
-Pekka Rinne, G, NSH: (Hip Infection)- has missed most of the season due to a bacterial infection in his left hip, the same hip that he had surgery on at the end of the prior season. STATUS: IR- there is no time-table at this point for his return this season, but is doing light work in practice as of late. (4-4-1, GAA: 2.31, SV%: .917, SO:0)
-Tomas Vokoun, G, PIT: (Blood Clot in Pelvis)- has missed 4 months due to a blood clot and has finally been cleared to play again. He will need extensive conditioning work and most likely some time in the AHL to get back into game shape. STATUS: Day-To-Day- expected to return by the end of the season, he is medically cleared to play. (Has not played this season)
Waiver Wire Replacements
-Nikita Kucherov, RW, TB: Kucherov tore it up in the QMJHL last year with 63 points in 33 games. He was at one point the second leading scorer in the AHL this season for the Syracuse Crunch with 24 points in 17 games before Tampa Bay called him up to the NHL where he scored his first NHL goal, on his first shot on his first shift against Henrik Lundqvist. If he is still on your waiver wire, pick this guy up. He has G8-A6-P14 and PPP 3 in 35 games. He has great talent around him and will only get better.
-Zemgus Girgensons, C/LW, BUF: Girgensons has G5-A12-P17 in 56 games this year with Buffalo and is the only rookie to stay up with the Sabres after the regime change sent the rest down to develop in the minors and juniors. He is a gritty, hard-working center, the kind that Head Coach Ted Nolan loves and coaches him with Team Latvia in the Olympics. He is a Michael Peca type player, who was Nolan’s captain during his first stint with the Sabres. Girgensons has earned his ice time and Nolan is trusting him in special situations, especially getting time on the penalty kill. He will give you those often forgot about defensive stats that can win you those less flashy categories as he has 127 hits and 32 blocked shots. After getting an assist in the Olympics, his confidence will be sky high on his return to Buffalo. Grab him while you can.
-Dwight King, C/LW, LA: King is another hard-nosed player with more of a scoring touch than Girgensons at this point as he has played 4 seasons in the NHL already. This season is by far his best, putting up G11-A12-P23 in 59 games for the Kings. In addition, he has 2 short-handed goals, 1 power-play assist, 16 PIM, 95 hits and 14 blocked shots. His stats have increased each year he has played. King was on a bit of a scoring drought before the Olympics, hopefully the layoff re-energizes him for the playoff push coming up.
-Zack Smith, C, OTT: Smith can also help you pick up wins in the defensive categories as well as the offensive ones. Smith has G10-A6-P16 in 59 games for the Sens and centers the third line. He has 77 PIM, 117 SOG, 1 power-play assist, 1 short-handed goal, 140 hits, and 17 blocked shots. There is a ton of talent both young and old on this Ottawa club and he is learning from the best in Jason Spezza. The Senators will be in the playoff hunt and Smith will have a big role coming up with his ever-so important two-way style of play.
-Jason Demers, D, SJ: Demers is a 5th year veteran and may still be on the waiver wire as he is not really a household name. He quietly puts up impressive assist numbers when he has played on a full time basis. This year he is on pace for a career year as he has G3-A22-P25 in 53 games this season. He also adds a plus-6 rating, 9 power-play points, 40 hits and 76 blocked shots. If he is still available, pick this guy up, especially if you have Kris Letang stuck on IR.
-Eric Gelinas, D, NJ: Gelinas is a rookie this year and has put up solid numbers for the Devils. He has G6-A16-P22 in 44 games played. What really stands out however, is his power-play stats. As a rookie he has 13 power-play points this season, 4 of them being goals. This means he is trusted in important situations already in his young career and he will get plenty more of them and can really replace any injuries you have on defense to star players without losing much production. Gelinas has 14 PIM, 92 SOG, 80 hits and 17 blocked shots to add to his impressive rookie season. He could quarterback this Devils power-play for years to come.
-Frederik Andersen, G, ANA: after the injuries in goal this year for the Ducks, Andersen came out of nowhere and kept the Ducks season alive by winning 14 of his 18 games played with a 2.06 GAA, .928 SV% but zero shutouts. The youngster from Denmark has a promising career ahead of him. If he is available, grab him now, especially if you are in a keeper or dynasty league. Also watch for another young Anaheim goaltender-John Gibson-in the years to come.
-Cam Talbot, G, NYR: this rookie backup to superstar Henrik Lundqvist has gone 10-5 in 17 games played this season with 2 shutouts, .935 SV% and a 1.79 GAA. After Lundqvist has played extra games by playing in the Olympics, the Rangers may decide to sit him at times to rest him for the playoffs so Talbot will see playing time in the second half of the NHL season so pick him up and play the matchups, watching for when Lundqvist sits, and play Talbot with confidence.
-Jeff Zatkoff, G, PIT: As Tomas Vokoun went down with a blood clot problem right from the season get-go, Zatkoff, also a rookie, has played admirably when called upon this season to back up Marc-Andre Fleury and the powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins. Zatkoff has gone 9-2-0-1 in 12 games played this season with 1 shutout, a .909 SV% and a 2.64 GAA. If you need a goaltender, pick him up now and get whatever stats he will put up because there are rumors Tomas Vokoun may come back by the end of the season after he gets medical clearance to play and goes through a rehab stint in the minors.
Michael Nowak was born and raised in Buffalo, NY and is a suffering Sabres and Bills follower. He contributes fantasy football articles to dobberfootball.com follow him on Twitter @NowakHockey