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The poolies dilemma - finding top-line talent sure to stay there

Those four little words will tease and torment hockey poolies all year long. Four little words that, with luck, can make a tweak in the lineup pay off royally in the standings. Or will amount to a false promise and a wasted waiver pick.

We're talking here about the undrafted player who finds himself on the top scoring line on an NHL team. It's a player like Ray Whitney of the Carolina Hurricanes, now skating alongside Erik Cole and Eric Staal, and is destined for 60 to 70 points this season.

If he stays there.

Whitney should, at least until December when Cory Stillman has recovered from off-season shoulder surgery. Poolies would be wise to grab him while the getting's good.

Here are some other places where prospecting poolies might pan a gold nugget or two:

Chris Kuntiz is on the first line in Anaheim with Teemu Selanne and Andy McDonald.

Jussi Jokinen looks great skating with Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen on the top unit in Dallas.

Michal Handzus is centring Chicago's top line and has marvellous Martin Havlat on his left side.

Calgary centre Daymond Langkow should pile up the points with Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla on his wings.

And Kyle Wellwood looks like a lock to stay with Mats Sundin on Toronto's first unit and the power play.

Also, Washington Capitals captain Chris Clark has great value if your pool rewards penalty minutes. The talented, tough guy is now a wingman with Alexander Ovechkin and Dainius Zubrus.

You can expect Sidney Crosby's influence to have a positive production impact on his Pittsburgh linemates. Right now it's Colby Armstrong and Nils Ekman, making both wingers worth owning.

The same theory applies in San Jose, where Patrick Marleau centres Milan Michalek and Steve Bernier on what might be the best second line in hockey.

On the Sharks first line, Mark Bell has played well with Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo. But Bell hurt his groin on the weekend and poolies will want to monitor this situation closely.

Even the slightest of injuries can derail these line combinations. Poor performance and the dreaded 'coach's whim' can also short-circuit your hopes of parlaying a sleeper into a premium producer.

Take Patrick Eaves of Ottawa as an example. He was playing with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley throughout training camp and registered a goal and an assist in the first game of the season. Looked good.

But as a team the Senators have been awful and in their third game the inevitable shakeup was underway. Up rose Daniel Alfredsson to play on the top line and down dropped Eaves and his pool value. Is it for now or is it for good? You just don't know.

That's the tricky thing about snapping up these diamonds in the rough. They could be here today and on the third line tomorrow.

There's no denying, though, that a well-timed pickup can have significant pay-off. Of course, how quickly you move might depend on your pool rules on waiver picks.

Atlanta is auditioning several players to replace Marc Savard as the centre between Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa. If Steve Rucchin or Bobby Holik or whoever sticks on that line, it's ka-boom - a point-per-game explosion.

There is also a revolving door in Minnesota for prime positioning with Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra, and in Tampa Bay with Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis.

One good game for one fortunate free agent might be all you need to pull the trigger. Maybe, it'll work out wonderfully.

If he stays there.


Some players who are now lighting it up or under-performing in fantasy hockey:

Who's Hot

1. C Steve Reinprecht, Coyotes. Opened the season with a five-point game.

2. RW Kyle Wellwood, Leafs. Five assists in first three games on Sundin's line.

3. D Brian Pothier, Capitals. Power-play quarterback has four assists in two games.

4. G Kari Lehtonen, Thrashers. Begins breakthrough year with 1.00 GAA in two games.

5. C Anze Kopitar, Kings. Rookie impresses early with two goals and three assists.

Who's Not

1. G Tomas Vokoun, Predators. Two losses, 6.67 GAA and .803 save percentage. Yikes.

2. D Andrej Meszaros, Senators. Last year's plus/minus leader starts minus-3 with zero points.

3. G Cam Ward, Hurricanes. Stanley Cup hero winless in first three games.

4. G Rick DiPietro, Islanders. Begins 15-year contract with two losses and eight goals against.

5. LW Richard Zednik, Capitals. Demoted from top line after zero points, minus-4 rating in two games.


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