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Preparing for the stretch run in fantasy hockey

by Bill Dean
The NHL trade deadline has passed and teams have made the necessary moves they feel can lead them into the playoffs -- or, if they're on the other end of the totem pole, can help them build for the future. Fantasy owners should be doing the exact same thing as they head down the home stretch. Most trade deadlines for fantasy hockey leagues are around March 10th and the playoffs should start in the next 4-6 weeks. Waiver wire transactions are crucial as you are either fighting for a playoff spot, a first-round bye or just looking to solidify your roster.

Now is the time to be searching the wire for the players that can do the little things that lead you to a league championship. Most of the significant scorers in the league worth owning should be long gone, so now is the time to shore up team needs such as penalty minutes, plus/minus and other stats that will win you some games here and there. Some leagues count hits, faceoffs and shorthanded points, so you should know what your settings are.

The plus/minus leaders that could be available (and worth adding) in your league are short, but can do more for you then you think. There are some good defensemen to look at that can help you in multiple categories. Adam McQuaid of the Bruins and Steve Montador of the Sabres provide you with a very healthy plus/minus and an equally nice amount of penalty minutes, while providing limited offense. Matt Carle and Anton Babchuk also play plus hockey and provide some offense if you're in need. At forward, you can go after Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi of Boston or James van Riemsdyk of Philadelphia. The trio plays for very good defensive clubs that can also put the puck in the net.

Penalty minutes aren't tough to find but most of these players are one-dimensional such as Islanders tough guy Zenon Konopka. He ices plenty of minutes which only helps him to get more time in the box (he is far-and-away the PIMs leader). Other forwards are Sean Avery and Brandon Prust of the Rangers and Steve Ott of the Stars. All three will also provide you with some offense and special-teams points, whether it be shorthanded or on the man advantage. On defense, once again you can go with McQuaid or Montador and benefit in two categories.

Basically, while you won't be able to find the elite player unless it's in a trade, you can find the supporting cast that can get you into and through the playoffs via the waiver wire. Go find that grinder that can help you put your team over the edge.

Top pick-ups (owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo! Leagues)

1. Jarret Stoll, C, Kings (33 percent): Stoll has had a very good year for a young Kings team. As the No. 2 center, he has put up 37 points, 34 penalty minutes, 10 points on the power play and 156 shots. He is a plus player on a team that has had very little continuity on the wings. With the addition of Dustin Penner to flank All-Star center Anze Kopitar, Stoll should see a combination of very good wings on his second line. He has 3 points in his last four games playing with Ryan Smyth and Dustin Brown.

2. Sean Avery, LW, Rangers (33 percent): Coach John Tortorella loves Avery's play. He is a spark plug for a hard-working Rangers team. He scored a goal in Thursday's game against the Wild and while he hasn't found a steady line to play with, he has found a way to get playing time as he has 23 points and 127 shots. His biggest asset is the time he spends in the sin bin. With 158 penalty minutes, he can lead your fantasy team down the stretch and add some other stats that might help you win your league.

3. Brad Boyes, RW, Sabres (28 percent): The Sabres acquired Boyes on Monday to help them boost their power-play numbers, and the right wing can do just that with 10 points on the man advantage. In his first game with the team, he netted a power-play goal and skated on a line with Tim Connolly and Tyler Ennis. In a loss to the Canes, he also had a goal and was a plus player. He has 14 goals, 29 assists, is a plus-12, has 30 penalty minutes and 137 shots on goal on the season, and should see steady numbers down the stretch.

4. Anton Babchuk, D, Flames (35 percent): Babchuk was acquired in November along with Tom Kostopoulos from Carolina, and has helped solidify the Flames defense. He is a plus-14 since the acquisition and has 23 points, 10 on the power play. He has 107 shots from the point and 9 points in his last 11 games. Add the blueliner for the playoff run.

5. Ben Bishop, G, Blues (6 percent): With starter Jaroslav Halak out with a cracked bone in his hand and backup Ty Conklin's mediocre play, expect the big goalie to get a shot to start some more games. With a 2-3-0 record, a .913 save percentage, and a 2.60 goals-against average, Bishop has been a good fill-in. Despite 2 losses where he allowed 10 goals on 47 shots, he has shown the ability to shut down an offense, as he did to the Oilers in a 5-0 shutout. Add him if you are in need of some netminding.

Offensive Schedule Strength
RANK TEAM 3/7 3/8 3/9 3/10 3/11 3/12 3/13
1 Off vs. EDM Off @TOR Off vs. ATL Off
2 Off Off vs. LAK Off vs. EDM @STL Off
3 vs. WAS Off vs. CHI Off vs. OTT @FLA Off
4 Off @PHX Off @SJS Off @CGY Off
5 @TBL Off vs. EDM Off vs. CAR Off vs. CHI
6 Off vs. BOS Off @STL Off @PIT Off
7 Off @SJS Off vs. MIN Off vs. COL Off
8 Off @MTL Off vs. BUF @NYI Off Off
9 Off @FLA @TBL Off Off Off @WAS
10 @LAK Off vs. CGY Off vs. MIN Off vs. LAK
11 vs. DAL Off @DET Off @CBJ Off @DAL
12 Off vs. BUF Off Off Off vs. MTL vs. EDM
13 Off Off @ANA Off Off @SJS Off
14 Off Off vs. NYR Off @COL Off vs. PHX
15 Off @PIT Off @BOS Off @TOR vs. OTT
16 Off vs. NSH Off vs. VAN Off vs. NYR Off
17 Off Off vs. ATL Off @WAS vs. CBJ Off
18 Off vs. OTT Off Off @ATL vs. NYI Off
19 Off @MIN Off Off vs. ANA @NSH Off
20 Off Off @CAR Off vs. NJD @PHI Off
21 Off vs. COL Off @NSH @DAL Off Off
22 Off vs. VAN Off vs. CGY Off Off @ANA
23 @STL Off vs. STL Off vs. LAK @CAR Off
24 vs. CBJ Off @CBJ vs. MTL Off vs. DET Off
25 Off vs. TOR Off Off vs. BOS @NJD Off
26 Off Off @DAL @PHX Off vs. VAN Off
27 Off @NYI Off vs. PHI Off vs. BUF Off
28 Off vs. CHI Off vs. OTT Off vs. TBL Off
29 Off @PHI @WAS Off @DET Off @PIT
30 Off @NJD Off @FLA @TBL Off @BUF

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