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Fantasy Five: Trust 'em or dump em?

by Matt Cubeta
We're approaching that dangerous 10-game point in the NHL season, which means we're also approaching the point where we start to give up on slumping players in fantasy hockey. While the Blackhawks are the lone to team to have played 10 games this year, most teams should reach that point by week's end.

As stated earlier, 10-15 games are usually a comfortable gauge on how a player is doing this season. If a guy goes pointless for three or four games, it's considered a slump. However, if a player goes 10-15 games and has less than a handful of points, it's more than just a slump -- it could be a sign of a poor season ahead.

1. With that, let's start our Fantasy Five by looking at a handful of players that are approaching that worrisome extended slump, and whether you should ditch them or show some patience with them:

Duncan Keith, D, CHI (owned in 100 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) - With no goals and just 3 assists in 10 contests, Keith has his owners in an early season panic. Obviously, Keith is someone you have to show patience with, and it's safe to assume he will be just fine.

Rick Nash, LW, RW, CBJ (owned in 99 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) -
Nash has 3 goals and no helpers in seven games this season for the Jackets. Last year he had 4 goals and 7 assists in his first seven games, so clearly Nash is off to a much slower start. Don't worry though; the 26-year-old forward will eventually get going.

Simon Gagne, LW, TBL (owned in 83 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) - Gagne hasn't appeared in Tampa Bay's last two games as he's nursing a neck injury, but with no points in six games prior to that, Gagne is clearly off to a slow start with his new club. Not only has Gagne not put up a point, but he's also a minus-8 despite the Bolts' solid 5-2-1 record so far. If you own Gagne, you have a tough decision to make. Do you show patience with him, maybe try to trade him, or drop him? If you're looking to deal the slumping veteran, it won't be easy with such awful numbers, so really, you have just the two options. You might want to wait for him to return from his injury to see if a spark ignites, but if I had him on my squad, I'd ditch him now -- this has the makings of Alex Tanguay all over again.

Kimmo Timonen, D, PHI (owned in 73 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) - The veteran defenseman has yet to find his name on the scoresheet through seven games this year. Timonen's point total has declined in four consecutive years, with a fifth looming this season. Drop the Philly blueliner now and go with someone younger who possesses more upside, Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle -- a solid buy-low target that's owned in 74 percent of Yahoo! Leagues and also off to a slow start -- has just two assists in six games.

Olli Jokinen, C, CGY (owned in 49 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) -
A lot of people have clearly given up on Jokinen based on his ownership in Yahoo! Leagues, but he's a guy you might want to show just a little bit more patience with. While his stat line (no goals, 3 assists, a plus-1 rating and no power play points in eight games with the Flames this season) doesn't look good at all, Jokinen is still seeing nearly four minutes of power play ice time per game, and he's averaging over 18 minutes of total ice time. One thing that does hurt Jokinen's value is that he is no longer on Calgary's top line with Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay. I'd give him another seven games and if he still shows no signs of life, let him go.

2. Any idea who's tied for the League lead in assists with Canucks center Henrik Sedin? Nope, it's not Sidney Crosby. It's Colorado Avalanche defenseman John-Michael Liles, as the 29-year-old blueliner is playing with a new attitude this season and it's definitely showing. Liles has posted 10 assists (no goals), 4 PP points, a plus-5 rating, 14 shots on goal, and he even recorded 5 PIMs when he scrapped with Kings forward Justin Williams on Saturday night. Liles is averaging over 22:31 of total ice time, with 3:39 per game on the power play. Let's also not forget that Liles scored 14 goals in back-to-back seasons from 2005-2007, so some goal-scoring could be coming in the near future. With forwards like Paul Stastny, Chris Stewart, Matt Duchene and Milan Hejduk up front, Liles should continue to produce a healthy number of helpers and have the potential to break his career-high of 49 points back in 2005-06. He's owned in 80 percent of Yahoo! Leagues -- go grab him if he's out there!

3. Let's talk injuries, or more specifically, one injury: Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty. It was announced today that Doughty would be placed on injured reserve, retroactive to last Thursday. Last year's Norris Trophy nominee suffered a concussion last Wednesday in a collision with Carolina forward Erik Cole, and it's uncertain when Doughty will be able to return to the ice. With just one assist in five contests early on in 2010-11, Doughty was off to a slow start, but regardless, this is a brutal blow to any Doughty owner -- he was selected at an average draft position of 18.1 in Yahoo! Leagues. If you have him, stash him on your IR and hope he returns sooner than Jason Pominville -- who is currently still out with a concussion injury.

4. Last Tuesday, we looked at the accuracy of's top 50 overall rankings. Well, today we're going to provide a full re-ranking of the top 25 players at the center position. Remember, it hasn't even been three weeks, so you still need to give your guys time. These re-rankings are based on expectations of the season going forward (including injuries) -- positions predicated on's preseason rankings.

Eric Staal (same)
Joe Thornton (same)
Jason Spezza (same)
Derek Roy (+5)
TJ Oshie (N/A)

5. Line changes are always important when looking at a player's fantasy value. Fantasy rosters are usually made up of guys that play as either a top-six forward on their NHL team or as a top-four defenseman. There are obviously exceptions, but this is usually the norm. Here are three players that have benefited from playing alongside at least one superstar:

Mark Letestu, C, PIT (owned in 25 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) -
The 25-year-old center broke into training camp as a long shot to even crack Pittsburgh's fourth line, but we're now nine games into the season and Letestu has 4 goals and 3 assists, to go along with a solid plus-4 rating, 2 PIMs, 2 PP points and 25 shots on goal. A big reason for posting such productive numbers is that Letestu has been playing on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Mike Comrie. The Alberta-native is currently receiving 15:21 of ice time, which isn't too encouraging, but his 2:21 on the power play definitely helps. However, one thing hindering Letestu's future is the eventual return of Jordan Staal. It has been rumored that once Staal returns to the lineup, Letestu will be dropped to the third line. If that's the case, you might want to try and deal Letestu before it's too late.

Tomas Kopecky, LW, RW, CHI (owned in 63 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) -
Kopecky has been the talk of the town in the fantasy world early on in 2010-11. With 1 goal and 7 assists through Chicago's first nine games, Kopecky is certainly worth owning while playing on a line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Kopecky has never played more than 10:25 of ice time per game in any season, but on the Hawks' top line, he's seeing 18:19 per game, with 3:12 of that coming on the power play. Sure, Kopecky is currently sidelined with a short-term upper body injury, but jump on the Slovakia-native if he's still available.

Dustin Byfuglien, RW, D, ATL (owned in 71 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) - With the injury to Atlanta youngster Zach Bogosian, "Big Buff" has stepped in nicely on Atlanta's top power play unit alongside Tobias Enstrom on the blue line. Byfuglien has 2 goals, 4 assists, 5 PP points, 21 PIMs and 24 shots on goal in the early goings of this season. The former Blackhawk is averaging over 20 minutes of ice time per game, with a whopping 3:45 per game on the power play. That power play ice time might come down a bit when Bogosian returns to the ice, but it's safe to assume Atlanta will make sure he still gets his share of time at the point with his big bomb of a slap shot. His minus-5 rating might not do you any good while playing on a below-average Thrashers' squad, but Byfuglien will definitely help your fantasy team in the long run (for those of you in a league that counts hits, Buff loves to throw the body -- he has 20 hits so far).

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