Neutral Zone Wrap: The underachievers
Olympic break, Shmolympic break. There is no rest for the contending Fantasy player the next two weeks, especially when just over a quarter of the season remains.
If you are looking for bargains, then this is the time to strike. Most owners seem to stop caring about their teams only because the actual NHLers have temporarily closed up shop.
On the flip side, your squad may contain one or two with a fast-approaching "use by" date. Or there are available players with great stats whose history, reputation and/or current situation suggest a decline in production.
This week, let's look at the latter example. If you got 'em, then you can either choose to trade them, bench them or hope they continue to shine. But if a decline appears imminent, then what value could you draw out of depreciating commodities when better ones exist?
Get your garbage bags ready and don't forget to leave them on the curb early so others can begin fighting over the contents:
Olli Jokinen , F, Jets: Off to represent Finland for his third consecutive Olympics, most likely in a similar second or third-line role. And while the month of December proved to be fruitful for Jokinen (11 points in 14 games), the latest stretch (one in 11) has been frustrating. At 35, he may not be asked anymore to serve as the focal point of the attack. But his age and the wear and tear from participating/traveling to and from Sochi will end up taking their toll. Looking at his last two seasons, the latter portion of each could be best described as disappointing (seven in 23, followed by three in 13). Best to cut your losses with the Finn before they get out of hand.
Nazem Kadri , F, Maple Leafs: The Leafs' 24/7 media darling has endured his share of flak for both on and off-ice activities but there's no denying the kid's talent. Kadri leapt into the forefront with a solid 2012-13 (44 in 48, plus-15), but struggled in the final regular season contests (five in 12, minus-5). Many have praised his improvement this year by supplementing his scoring with a nice physical game (116 hits, 59 PIM) and the ability to annoy opponents. Whether or not Kadri can interact positively with head coach Randy Carlyle will determine his ice time. And if you believe what you see on TV, then there's a reasonable chance the feisty forward will lose opportunities to more consistent teammates.
Clarke MacArthur , F, Senators: Little was known about MacArthur before 2010 but that changed when Toronto signed him that summer and he paid immediate dividends (career-best 62 points). After two more decent campaigns, Ottawa snapped him up this past offseason. And wouldn't you know it but the ex-Thrasher has earned a prime role and is on pace to break his pro points record (42 in 58, including 12 on the top power-play). A recent mini-slump mixed in with a foot injury may slow down MacArthur but at least he'll have a couple weeks to rest. His continued success may involve whether or not the Sens can stay in the playoff hunt. If they fall too far back, then expect youngsters like Mika Zibanejad and Cory Conacher to take away minutes from the older crowd.
Kris Russell , D, Flames: For years after being taken in the third round (2005), Russell lived with the stigma of being a slightly-undersized blueliner with shaky defensive skills. It wasn't until his move to St. Louis where the former WJHC standout rounded his overall game and was therefore treated more like an equal to his potential linemates. The Red Deer native has performed so well in his return to his home province (20 in 44, which includes seven PPPs and an average of almost 23.5 minutes) that management offered him a two-year extension over the weekend. Competing for offense with three other above-average defenders ( Mark Giordano , Dennis Wideman , and T.J. Brodie ) and recent injuries will push Russell to the limit, a situation he has never faced in his pro career. Consequently, expect Russell's numbers to take a dip.
Ben Scrivens , G, Oilers: Like Russell, Scrivens grew up in Alberta and only recently came back to stake his claim. And boy, did he ever do this -- in his fourth appearance for Edmonton, no less -- when he set an NHL record by stopping 59 shots in shutting out the Sharks. Combine this effort with a sparkling stat line (combined 1.98 GAA, .937 SV%, and four shutouts in 25) and you have the makings of a promising career. For now, at least, the reality is he suits up for the dreadful Oilers and that hasn't worked out too well for any goalie since their Stanley Cup days. And even though Scrivens has excelled these last few months, getting traded twice since June may be a warning about his chances of becoming an everyday No. 1 keeper.
(Dis)Honorable mention: Brendan Gallagher , F, Canadiens; Anton Khudobin , G, Hurricanes; Andrew MacDonald , D, Islanders; Mike Ribeiro , F, Coyotes; Carl Soderberg , F, Bruins