Eight players who are thought to be busts...but really aren't
One of the biggest traps that Fantasy Hockey GMs can fall into is overvaluing players, either by paying too high a price to draft or trade for them, or by holding onto them even after it becomes clear they’re not worthy of still being owned. But it’s arguably just as bad to mislabel a player as a bust when he could still turn things around, or to ignore a player whose performance seems to have fallen off but who still could help your team despite maybe having lost a step.
This week’s Holding Court column focuses on eight players you might be tempted to write off for one reason or another, but who you should at least consider acquiring (by draft or trade) for the upcoming season because things are not as bad as they might seem. For the “Final Verdict”, I’ll cover how to best go about obtaining these types of players in the draft or via trade.
Cole followed up two great seasons (52 points and then 61 points) with a lackluster 2012-13 campaign, finishing with a pitiful13 points in 47 games with Montreal and then Dallas. But here’s the key – Dallas purged nearly half of its top nine forwards at the trade deadline, and those four departed players (Jaromir Jagr, Michael Ryder, Derek Roy, Brenden Morrow) together averaged about 17 minutes of ice time per game and combined for roughly ten minutes of PP time. What I’m trying to say is even if Dallas adds forwards in the offseason you’ll still see Cole get plenty of PP time and quality minutes. Plus, the last time Cole had a poor year (2009-10, when he scored 16 points in 40 games), he came back with 52 points in the next season. And even if he doesn’t rebound in 2013-14 to produce 50+ points (and I actually think he’s got a good shot at hitting that mark), you can still count on him for roughly three combined Hits and Blocked Shots per game, which is very good for a forward.
Fowler followed his eye-opening 40 points in 76 games during his rookie season of 2010-11 with 40 more points………in the 119 games he’s played since then. And his plus/minus has been a sore spot, especially in 2011-12 when his minus rating was almost equal to his point total (29 points, -28). But here’s the key – Anaheim clearly has not given up on Fowler. Yes, his power play time and overall TOI went down quite a bit, but they still were solid. Plus, the only two defensemen who received more minutes for the team last season were Francois Beauchemin (age 32) and Sheldon Souray (age 36), both of whom are candidates to see their stats (and even their ice time) fall back at least somewhat this season, with Fowler as the main beneficiary. Anaheim seems content to let Fowler try to play his way out of his struggles for now, so don’t be afraid to take a chance by grabbing him in hopes that he rights his ship soon.
The diminutive Gerbe suffered through only 10 points in 42 games last season, somehow seeing his power play time more than double (albeit to just under a minute per game) but his overall ice time fall by nearly two minutes per contest. By now, many people seem have given up on Gerbe, figuring his window for making an impact in Buffalo may have passed. But the reality is that Gerbe’s fate is largely tied to that of Thomas Vanek, Buffalo’s top left winger and subject of trade whispers. If the team decides to deal Vanek, then Gerbe’s path to more minutes suddenly becomes a lot clearer. But even if Vanek somehow doesn’t get moved, Gerbe’s stock has fallen enough that you should be able to get him at a low enough price to justify holding onto him until his talent finds a way to come to the surface.
While Heatley is nowhere near the superstar who twice broke the 100 point barrier and has scored 763 points in 787 career games, he’s the perfect example of a guy who is not as bad as he might seem at this stage in his career. What it boils down to is Heatley has done so poorly in recent seasons, he might actually be underrated now in that people have been so burned by drafting him too early or trading too much value to get him in the past few seasons that they just don’t want to own him no matter what. As a result, he’s likely to slide in drafts or be easier to grab in a trade. Just make sure you don’t expect miracles, as at age 32 and now three seasons removed from his 82 point 2009-10 campaign he’s not likely to give you more than 70 points as an absolute best case scenario.
It’s hard to believe that Malone has been with the Lightning since 2008-09, and part of the reason for that is because he’s missed an average of 18 games in those five seasons. But in the three seasons with the Lightning that saw him play in more than 65 games, the results have been decent and remarkably consistent (45 points in 70 games; 47 points in 69 games; 48 points in 68 games). Plus, even last season, which saw him miss half of his team’s 48 games, he still managed 2:35 of PP time per game (only 30 seconds less than Vincent Lecavalier) and 15:44 of overall TOI (only one minute less than Teddy Purcell). What this shows is Tampa Bay would be very happy to continue to give Malone a solid role in the top six if he stays healthy, and at this point I think he can be obtained for a price that more than justifies taking a chance on him.
Not too many people were shocked that Garrison didn’t explode offensively after signing a huge (6 year nearly $28 million) deal this past summer. But his 16 points in 47 games (.34 points per game) was actually slightly above his previous career scoring average (59 points in 190 career NHL games - .31 points per game). And if you look beneath the surface, you’ll see that he ended the 2012-13 season with eight points in his last 11 regular season games. Plus, it’s likely that whoever owns Garrison in your league feels like he/she overpaid for him and might be frustrated and impatient enough to let him go for very little in return, or even to toss him in as part of a larger deal. Or if you want to draft Garrison, he probably could be had for far less than he cost last season. Either way, he seems like he could be a low risk high reward kind of player, particularly since he’s a goal-scoring defenseman (31 career goals out of 75 career points), which is rare and can benefit poolies in leagues that weigh goals heavily.
After Grabner failed to improve (or even keep pace) with his 34 goal, 52 point 2010-11 season, people seemed to be very quick to essentially give up on him. But last season saw him rebound to almost 0.5 points per game, despite nearly one minute less TOI than his dismal 2011-12 campaign. He also looked very solid in the playoffs, with four points in six games despite even less overall ice time (about 12 minutes per game). When most fantasy hockey GMs think of Grabner, they undoubtedly see a player who scored only two more goals in the past two seasons combined than he had in the 2010-11 season alone. As a result, at this stage I think Grabner is a great guy to target as a trade throw in or someone to watch closely as a waiver wire option early in during 2013-14.
It was another season of growing – and injury – pains for the now 22 year old Bogosian, salvaged only by scoring half of his 14 points in just his last four regular season games. Aside from his health issues (he’s missed more than 10 games in each of the past three seasons), Bogosian is stuck behind Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien on the depth chart, getting less than half as much power play time as either of them. But the Jets’ trust in Bogosian hasn’t wavered, as he actually had more overall ice time than Enstrom in 2012-13, and in fact finished 41st in the whole NHL with 23:07 per game. At this stage, Bogosian has very little downside, as he’ll likely be able to get 30+ points pretty easily, but the price to get him should be close to an all-time low, as his current owners are likely frustrated with his end of the year teases (he also finished with seven points in his last five games in the 2011-12 season) but overall lack of production, and as a result he’ll likely fall farther and farther down most everyone’s draft lists. Don’t be afraid to grab him as one of your last couple of defensemen, and hope he finds a way to stay healthy and produce consistently.
So how to do make sure you get one of these guys, for the right price? The most important thing to remember is not to overvalue them, since although you might agree with me that they aren’t as bad as they seem, you can’t lose sight of the fact that most everyone else will rate them lower than what you think they’re capable of. In the end, it’s all about exercising patience and restraint.
In a draft, you want to wait for these guys to slide as far down as they possibly can. Take Eric Cole for example – even though I think he’s a decent bet to return to 50 point form, you don’t want to draft him until after other 50 point players, for the simple fact that he should slide below those players due to the perception that he’s on a downward spiral. And for someone like Gerbe or Grabner, it might be that your league isn’t even deep enough to justify drafting them at all, so you need resist the urge to take one of them instead of a player who carries less risk. You can always grab them off the waiver wire early in the season to replace an injured or underperforming player.
When it comes to trading for one of these guys, you also have to walk a delicate line. If you reach out to a fellow GM and specifically ask for one of these guys, that could sound off alarm bells in the other GM’s head, which would lead to you having to pay a higher price than necessary. A better approach might be to start by asking the GM for a different player who you know the other GM won’t want to trade, so when the other GM says no you can whether any other players are available and have the GM run through his/her roster one by one. When the GM gets to whichever one of these eight guys is on his/her team, you take it from there. And if you play your cards right, you should be able to get one of these guys for far less than he’s worth, and then reap the dividends.
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