By CHRIS NICHOLS -- SLAM! Sports
With each passing week, your opportunity to gain on the leader or hold your lead in your fantasy league dwindles.
Hopefully by now you've got a good group of players you're happy with, together with a few guys that are fringe players. One way to increase your chances of winning your league is by subbing in free agents for your fringe players at the opportune time and dropping them immediately afterward.
While this strategy might sound difficult, it's not really that bad. I should caution you though: this strategy contains some risk and it doesn't always pay off. Sometimes you're in a situation where you have to take those risks though, so let's look at some specific examples.
Last week I recommended grabbing Cristobal Huet for a spot start against Columbus for Saturday night since Roman Cechmanek was down with an injury. L.A. had a 4-1 lead in the third period and should have walked away with an easy win, but you-know-who (Rick Nash) scored two late goals to make it interesting. Huet still came away with your two points though.
Reed Low was a PIM grab I suggested you keep in mind for last night, given his previous game against Colorado (32 PIM's). End result last night? Nadda. There were several fights in the game and even the announcers were wondering when Low would drop the gloves, but his fight didn't materialize. Oh well. You win some, you lose some.
These moves don't always work out, but if you take high percentage gambles, they can end up being the little things that help you eke out a championship. Here are a few more high percentage gambles for this coming week.
NUGGETS OF WISDOM?
Chicago is at home against Columbus tonight. Craig Andersson beat the Blue Jackets 7-0 at home in January, while splitting games in Columbus with 4 and 3 goals against respectively. The Hawks have gotten rid of several stars, but they're a hard working team and might be worth the risk here if you have to get two points. If you need to take an offensive chance, Tuomo Ruutu could be a nice add for this same game. He just had a three-point game against the Jackets Wednesday and he also has seven points in his last six games.
The New Jersey Devils have been an offensive juggernaut lately and Brian Gionta (Nine points in his last seven games) and Scott Gomez (16 points in his last seven games) could be excellent grabs in your league for the Atlanta game in New Jersey tonight. They've been helping Patrik Elias excel recently and he has 12 points in his last four games. The way this trio has been playing lately, you should just leave them active beyond tonight.
Everybody loves to play Pittsburgh lately, so grab some San Jose players for tonight's tilt at the Shark Tank. Jonathan Cheechoo (Eight points in his last five games) has been hot lately and is likely available. Marco Sturm (Nine points in his last six games) and Nils Ekman (See last week's column, but he now has 11 points in his last ten games) could also still be free in your league and would make great additions for the Pens match.
You'd be surprised how many of these types of situations are available on a weekly basis. Look for the obvious choices: Hot scorers playing the Pens are automatic. Average goaltenders playing the bad defensive teams are often easy picks. Do your homework and you'll start to see what I mean. This isn't rocket science here: it's simply applying the law of averages to fantasy hockey. You'll get burned once in a while, but that's the price of playing with fire, right?
One thing I strongly caution you to consider before grabbing goalies: if you're in a tight race for goalie points, but also are close in GAA and SA% -- you may be better off not going for the win. If that goalie gets lit up that night, you're going to cost yourself in GAA and SA% points way more than you could have gained with that one win.
Roberto Luongo has been crazy-hot lately and has three shutouts in his last four contests with only ten goals allowed in his last night games... Vinnie Lecavalier continues to sizzle and has five multiple point games in his last nine efforts... Martin St. Louis has a ten-game streak going with 6G and 13A in that stretch and Tampa forwards in general are just incredibly hot right now. St. Louis continues to make a strong bid for the Hart.
Martin Havlat has found the back of the net nine times in his last eleven games... Including his four-goal effort Tuesday, Daniel Sedin has ten goals in his past eleven games.
Robert Lang's name continues to surface in trade rumors, but he just keeps on piling up the points. He's currently riding a 13-game point streak and has points in 20 of his past 21 games...
FREE AGENT HELP
Simon Gagne has eight goals in his past eleven games... Pierre Turgeon could be a boost in power play points and Dallas has home games against MIN, EDM, CBJ, CAL and SAN...Kenny Jonsson only has one point in his last four games after a hot streak, but with two games against the Pens coming up -- he should be in your lineup... Pittsburgh defenseman Richard Jackman has six points in seven games... Cristobal Huet has a favorable schedule coming up and as long as Roman Cechmanek isn't playing, Huet may be of some use to you.
Atlanta's Shawn McEachern (Nine points in eleven games) is on a hot streak and the Thrashers have games against the Rangers (Twice) and Carolina... Teammate Randy Robitaille has six points in five games (Four PPP) and is getting quality power play time with the big boys... Joe Nieuwendyk has five points in seven games since returning from injury and Toronto has a big home stretch coming up.
Teppo Numminen has been downright useless as a fantasy player this season, but we know he can score and he has points in four straight games... Ruslan Fedotenko had four more points last week... Justin Williams has two points in three games since returning to the Carolina lineup... Ian Laperriere had a pair of two-goal games last week, but it's tough to recommend him... Maxim Afinogenov had three more points last week and now has seven points in his last seven games. The Sabres play Ottawa twice and then STL though, so beware.
Ed Belfour should be ready for Saturday's game against New Jersey, but he'll likely generally be day-to-day even after he returns... Mike Modano will be a game-time decision for tonight's match against Minnesota... Eric Lindros has been given the green light to start his rehab, but nobody can say for sure if he'll actually return to playing anytime soon - if at all.
Mike Peca is day-to-day with a lower leg laceration suffered Thursday night... Lubomir Visnovsky won't return until mid-March at the earliest... Martin Straka could be in the Los Angeles lineup by next Thursday... Peter Forsberg is still day-to-day with his groin injury... Gary Roberts should be back next week... Sergei Samsonov could be out another two weeks... Markus Naslund made his way back to the Vancouver lineup Thursday night... Rob Blake is back from his hairline fracture, but hasn't registered a point in two games so far.
Chris writes a weekly fantasy hockey column every Friday for SLAM! Sports. You can also find his Hard Hits piece every Tuesday on the FHL site for ESPN, while his NHL News & Notes section is featured seven days a week throughout the hockey season on the subscription-based mckeenshockey.com