Fringe players, not veteran rent-a-players, are what poolies really want

Big names, yes, but from a fantasy hockey perspective, no big deal. The reason? For one, all are surely owned in most every hockey pool going. It’s also hard to imagine they’ll improve that much on their already productive seasons.

What poolies really want are the free agents or fringe players who will suddenly explode in a new role on a new team.

The best of that bunch is Gary Roberts.

Scoreless in his first two games with the Penguins, Roberts broke out Sunday with a goal and assists on two goals by rookie Erik Christensen.

Whether he’s on the power play with Sidney Crosby or boosting the play of his younger teammates, Roberts is now a must-own in all fantasy leagues, especially in those that reward penalty minutes.

Also look on the waiver wire for Bryan Smolinski, now with the Canucks, who should pick up extra points on the top line with Markus Naslund. And defenceman Brent Sopel, also traded to Vancouver, will score quality time on the power play and greatly improve his plus-minus rating.

Poolies should take caution in jumping all over veterans simply because they went to better teams. Players like Oleg Saprykin, Dainius Zubrus, Richard Zednick and Anson Cater will lend depth to their new NHL squads, but they’ll basically do squat for your fantasy team.

And what about Todd Bertuzzi? Forget about him, at least for now. He might not play for the Red Wings until the end of March and will be a question mark even then..

Waiver Watch

Interestingly, it’s two struggling young players looking to turn things around in new surroundings who might drive the biggest spike in fantasy values.

Kyle Calder went to Detroit and Jason Williams to Chicago in a three-team trade at the deadline. After breakout campaigns last year, both young wingers were surprisingly inept this season and justifiably jettisoned from most pool teams.

But, glory be, they appear to be re-born.

Playing on Detroit’s second line with Robert Lang and Johan Franzen, Calder has a goal and three assists in his first three games with the Red Wings. And Williams has two goals and an assist in two games with the Blackhawks.

The scary potential there is if the talented Williams gets playing time alongside Martin Havlat.

Hard to say if a trade to the Blues will resurrect Brad Boyes from the depths of a hellish sophomore slump. He did score a goal Sunday but needs to show much more before he can be recommended.

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Goaltender Martin Biron benefits from leaving his backup role in Buffalo to the starting job in Philadelphia. He’ll get poolies a few more wins but his GAA will take a beating. Flyers goalies Antero Niittymaki and Robert Esche are now useless in all pool formats.

Injury Update

Another week, another goon attack, and another quality pool player on injured reserve.

Tomas Kaberle of the Leafs suffered a concussion Friday after a blatant late hit by the Devils’ Cam Janssen.

Janssen was suspended, unlike Chris Neil of the Senators who got away with a borderline hit two weeks ago that left the Sabres’ Chris Drury with a concussion.

Poolies will welcome Drury and his 33 goals back this week, but Kablerle’s production will be missed indefinitely. Look for Ian White to fill in on the power play for the Leafs.

Henrik Zetterberg’s remarkable turnaround in recent weeks has come to a screeching halt. The Red Wings’ star is gone two or three weeks with a herniated disc.

Poolies might also want to keep Ray Whitney of the Hurricanes on reserve until his sprained ankle heals. And the same for Kings rookie sensation Anze Kopitar, out at least another week with a strained upper-body muscle.

Greg Dennis can be reached at cp.pool(at)

Some suggestions on players to watch or watch out for in your hockey pool this week:

Who’s Hot

1. RW Drew Stafford, Sabres. Injury stand-in has three goals, eight points, in a five-game streak.

2. G Curtis Sanford, Blues. Legace’s replacement goes 2-0-1 with 1.67 GAA and 9.43 save percentage.

3. C Mike Richards, Flyers. Eight points in six games is more than a third of his season total.

4. C Stephen Weiss, Panthers. Four-game tear on top line nets Torontonian four goals and seven points.

5. C Phil Kessel, Bruins. Keeper pick getting a chance to contribute now with resurgent Bruins.

Who’s Not

1. LW Jan Bulis, Canucks. Think again if you thought playing with Naslund would wake him up.

2. RW Mark Recchi, Penguins. Hasn’t done a thing since five-point outburst six games ago.

3. C Mike Comrie, Senators. No points in seven games does little to shore up Senators’ scoring.

4. RW Anson Carter, Hurricanes. New acquisition has nary a point in five games since trade.

5. Petr Sykora, Oilers. Team’s goal-scoring leader with Smyth gone has fired blanks in five games.