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The Real Spiel: Implications of Crosby's return

by Sergei J. Feldman
Given the complex, never-steady landscape of fantasy hockey, each week, Fantasy Insider Sergei Feldman will give you The Real Spiel on some of the quirks and trends that permeated your week of fantasy hockey by way of in-depth analysis.

CROS-BY ALL YOU CAN BE: The Real Spiel on Sidney Crosby

Sidney Crosby
Center - PIT
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 10 | PTS: 12
SOG: 31 | +/-: 7
When the Pittsburgh Penguins revealed that Sidney Crosby was cleared for contact, speculation of his return grew rampant. It was thought that he might return when the Penguins hosted the Boston Bruins Sunday afternoon, but the team captain ruled himself out and said he wanted to take advantage of more physical practice sessions between games. While no official return date is set, Thursday night at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers remains a possibility. Either way, one of the League's most dominant players could be back soon enough to alter the fantasy hockey landscape as the playoffs near.

In his first return from concussion symptoms earlier this season, Crosby collected four points in his first game and added four more in five games that followed before suffering from more symptoms. He looked his old self, creating chances and being an across-the-board asset that filled the fantasy stat sheet. With the Penguins rolling and looking to catch the Rangers for the Atlantic Division title, it's safe to believe Crosby would perform at a similar level this go-around. Still, his potential return could have adverse impact on some other key fantasy contributors, such as Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz. Malkin is in the midst of an MVP season and his wingers, Neal and Kunitz, have been the beneficiaries. Typically, Crosby has played alongside Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis.

The question remains: Will coach Dan Bylsma break up Malkin's line and join Kunitz with Crosby? If so, fantasy owners should wonder about the production of the aforementioned players. It's possible that the 1-2 punch down the middle will make the Penguins more potent and, as a result, all will benefit. On the other hand, however, breaking up a line that’s been dominant for months could be costly.

ROO-KEYS TO SUCCESS: The Real Spiel on the NHL Rookie Race

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Center - EDM
GOALS: 15 | ASST: 26 | PTS: 41
SOG: 97 | +/-: -6
With the season winding down, many eyes are on the NHL's race for the Calder Trophy, awarded to the League's top rookie. The three leading candidates are Adam Henrique of the New Jersey Devils, Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers. All three have had years to remember and have been assets in one way or another for fantasy hockey owners. As the season winds down, the three youngsters have much to offer, albeit in different ways. Henrique will benefit from playing on a strong Devils squad that promises to be a playoff participant. Meanwhile, Landeskog will be relied upon night in, night out, especially with the absence of forward Matt Duchene, as the Avalanche hope to stay in the thick of things in the Western Conference. Lastly, Nugent-Hopkins is poised to finish his rookie season strong on a team not bound for the playoffs. The recent first-overall selection of the NHL Draft was a frontrunner in the earlier part of the season before an injury got in the way. As you juggle your rosters for the playoff push, be mindful of the rookies, as they could mean the difference between advancing and having your seasons end. 

KARLSSON ROLLING: The Real Spiel on Erik Karlsson

Erik Karlsson
Defense - OTT
GOALS: 18 | ASST: 51 | PTS: 69
SOG: 224 | +/-: 15
If the Ottawa Senators want to maintain their position among the Top 8 clubs come playoff time, they will have to rely on, among other things, the offensive production of emerging superstar blueliner Erik Karlsson. The 21-year-old, in his third NHL season, leads all defenseman in goals (18), assists (51) and points (69). His season is so impressive that he currently ranks 7th in the NHL in points. Yes, that includes all forwards. In some respects, his production should not be surprising. After all, he has improved in goals, assists, points and shots each season. But the extent to which he's improved is quite impressive. With the fantasy playoffs in sight, production from defenseman could be the "x-factor" that gets you over the hump. Karlsson's output in most every category is certainly something to pay attention to.

Author: Sergei J. Feldman | Staff Writer

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