In a professional sports league with a remarkable diversity of languages, it is somewhat surprising to see so few Spanish-speaking players in the NHL.
There are 44 million Hispanics in the United States alone, yet you can count the number wearing big-league hockey jerseys on one hand. Scott Gomez was the first.
Born in Alaska to a Mexican father and Columbian mother, Gomez made history when he signed with the Devils in 1999.
After seven good years in Jersey, the free-agent conquistador crossed the Hudson River to play in the Big Apple.
Gomez was a bust in October, registering only three points in his first 11 games, but has since rewarded his patient poolies with better than a point-per-game clip.
His status as one of the top players in fantasy hockey is all the more impressive considering the anemic performances from most every other Rangers player.
Poolies haven’t had the same luck with Manny Fernandez of the Bruins and Raffi Torres of the Oilers, two Hispanic hockey players who followed Gomez into the NHL.
Injuries have wiped out most of their seasons.
Speaking of Spanish, there’s a nifty idiom in that language applied on people who share the same name. The word is tocaya. And in the NHL, the tocaya tag is perfect for Nicklas Backstrom of the Capitals and Niklas Backstrom of the Wild.
More than what’s in a name, the Backstroms also share distinction as two of the biggest young stars in the NHL today. The Capital’s Backstrom is a top candidate for the Calder Trophy while the Wild’s Backstrom has followed a surprising rookie campaign with a sensational sophomore season.
As every fantasy hockey season comes to a close, certain players will emerge as must-haves in a keeper league. Consider Nicklas Backstrom – and his tocaya – at the head of this class.
It remains to be seen what opportunities will arise in the wake of the trade deadline Tuesday, but poolies are advised to have both eyes on the target and one finger on the trigger.
Free agent values will rise quickly in the wake of a flurry of deals. Some will be those players traded to better teams and others will improve with a new linemate. Free agents will also emerge from the depths to replace their departed teammates.
In the meantime, poolies needing points might check the waiver wire for Patrick O’Sullivan and Brandon Dubinsky.
O’Sullivan is with the Kings, playing on a smoking hot line with Alexander Frolov and centre Mike Cammalleri, who has fully recovered from a rib injury that cost his poolies 17 games of service.
In case you missed it, the kid had a five-point performance last Thursday. With 10 points in seven games, O’Sullivan is worth grabbing in most pools.
Dubinsky of the Rangers is another rookie making a sudden impact. Getting some quality top-line billing on Broadway, Dubinsky has responded with three goals and seven points in four games. That’s earned him a serious look in fantasy land.
The comeback seasons of the Flyers and leading scorer Mike Richards have both gone off the rails. A 10-game winless streak is jeopardizing the team’s playoff hopes, and it won’t help matters with Richards out at least three weeks with a torn hamstring.
Richards has been one of fantasy hockey’s best stories this season, especially after he was ignored in most drafts. Too bad it won’t have a happier ending.
Brent Sopel’s broken wrist writes off what was already a dismal season. Signed to boost the Blackhawks power play, the defenceman missed seven earlier games with injury and even when healthy could only manage 18 points.
Meanwhile, the Panthers have added Stephen Weiss (broken finger) to a growing injury list that already includes Richard Zednik and Radek Dvorak. Rising above the wreckage is Panthers winger Kamil Kreps, a rookie with six points in as many games.
A look at some NHL players who are hot and others who are not
Some players to watch or watch out for in your hockey pool this week:
1. W Thomas Vanek, Sabres. Needed 53 games to get first 15 goals and just nine games in February to score 11 more.
2. C Mike Cammalleri, Kings. Back-to-back games with three points show he’s healthy and taking charge again.
3. D Michal Rozsival, Rangers. Emerges as elite defenceman with four assists last week and 34 points on the season.
4. W Ryan Malone, Penguins. Three goals and seven points in an impressive four-game streak alongside Malkin.
5. W Brenden Morrow, Stars. Six points on the weekend build towards a career year in goals and points.
1. C Mike Fisher, Senators. Just one assist in February as Stillman’s arrival completely shuts down his offence.
2. W Taylor Pyatt, Canucks. Maybe it’s the cold Canadian winter air – he also has but one point this month.
3. W Milan Hejduk, Avalanche. Leaned on for points in injury-depleted lineup but blanked in 11 of his last 12 games.
4. D Joni Pitkanen, Oilers. No points and minus-4 in five games as disappointing season sputters along.
5. W Todd Bertuzzi, Ducks. Red hot in January but stone cold with a seven-game point drought this month.
Greg Dennis can be reached at theCanadianpress.pool(at)hotmail.com.