Finishing in the season near the top of your league can be gratifying, but if you're reading this, you're probably in it to win. And in order to win, you sometimes have to roll the dice on a gamble or two and hope you cash in. You certainly don't want to load up too much on these guys, as the chances of them all panning out is small. Here are a handful of guys that could either make or break your season, depending on which way the coin lands.
Tim Connolly BUF
Once again, Connolly was limited in play due to injury. It wasn't as bad this time around, as he "only" missed 9 games with a foot injury. He managed to put up 65 points in 73 games, both career highs. No one denies his talent, but you can't ignore the history here. Worth a late round look.
Simon Gagne TAM
With Gagne, the hope never dies that you'll land one of the top goal scorers in the game late in the draft. Injuries seem to follow this guy at every turn. Hopefully he can escape those monsters with his move to Tampa. With either Lecavalier or Stamkos dishing him the puck, he'll score at his customary rate (which is quite often). The question, as always, is durability. Worth the risk as your 5th or 6th forward option.
Marian Hossa CHI
After peaking at 100 points a few years back, Hossa has been regularly ranked near the top of fantasy forwards; however, a couple of injury shortened seasons with unexciting totals, his value has gone down a notch. While he contributes a lot to the Hawks with his defensive game, the offensive side has been steadily sliding, as witnessed in his dismal playoff numbers last spring. The potential is still there for getting back to the 80 point territory, but drafting Hossa too early is a risky move these days.
Ilya Kovalchuk NJD
Until he gets under contract, consider him a gamble. There's always a chance he'll play in the KHL, and you don't want to waste your first or second pick on a non-player.
Rick Nash COB
To this point, Nash has been a one man show in Columbus. He's never had a top notch center to dish him the puck. Some of the young forwards are starting to emerge, so help may be on the way; however, in 2010, he'll be pulling the load once more. While he has the talent to score 40 goals a season, he has yet to play a full 82-game slate in his 7-year career. He missed 6 games last season, and is a bit injury prone. If all the stars line up, he may yet be a 50 goal scorer some day. The safe bet says he hits 35 this year.
Marc Savard BOS
It's probably best to write off last season when evaluating Savard's draft value. He was plagued by various injuries and was healthy for very few of the 41 games he did play. Looking back, he has been an assist glutton for half a decade and should return to that role next season. On the other hand, concussions don't just go away, so there's a chance his games played won't climb into the 70's. Potential for a big time steal, or disappointing bust.
Alexander Semin WAS
In terms of pure talent, there are few players in the world on the same level as Semin. The problem is the extras. Between injuries, off-ice decisions, and occasional spells where he can't hit the net for games on end, he can be a risky pick, particularly in the first or second round. Then again, when he's on, he's worth the pain. They may not be able to keep him in D.C. forever with the other salaries on the books, so enjoy the production while it lasts.
Lee Stempniak PHO
If anyone out there has this guy figured out, please let me know. For now, I'm placing him in gamble category, only because we don't have a "complete mystery" category yet. After four seasons of complete mediocrity, he was dealt to the Coyotes last spring. Out of nowhere, he emerged as the hottest player in the league down the stretch. Seems impossible that he can pick up where he left off in terms of pace, but you can't ignore what he accomplished in the last 2 months of the season. Add to the story that he's still unsigned. No advice on this one from me. You're on your own.
Kevin Bieksa VAN
Bieksa has twice topped the 10 goal mark in his time with Vancouver. He has a booming shot, but can be inconsistent. He's also injury prone, which makes him a risky pick. On the other hand, he could easily be a 50 point player if he stays healthy.
Brian Campbell CHI
Campbell has become the forgotten man playing in Chicago behind the likes of Keith and Seabrook. He finished the season on the IR with broken collarbone, but returned in the playoffs to post some unimpressive numbers. Don't let all that bad news turn you sour on Campbell's future. He's still a dynamic puck mover and the Hawks will fill the nets again in 2010-11. Provided he's healthy, there is a good chance he could return to the 50+ point range this season. Or he might go down as one of the most overpaid players of all time.
Joe Corvo CAR
Corvo can be a goal-scoring machine at times, but he has a history of being inconsistent. After coming to Washington last spring, his production dried up completely, getting just 8 points in 27 games. With that experiment deemed a failure, he will return to Carolina, where he'll be the undisputed powerplay QB. Tough to project where he'll be, but 10 goals and 35 points seems realistic.
Ryan Whitney EDM
Roll the dice and pray for the best with Ryan Whitney. For years the Penguins waited for his emergence that came in 2006 with a huge 59 point season; however, things went south after that, and he's bounced to Anaheim and now Edmonton. He rebounded up to 39 points last season after a dismal 23 point performance the year before. Edmonton won't be leading the league in scoring this season, so he won't benefit from any free assists along the way, but the potential will always be there for a big fantasy season.
James Wisniewski NYI
Wisniewski has shown flashes of great potential, but has yet to become much of a fantasy factor. He bounced from Chicago to Anaheim and now to New York, where he'll have ample opportunity this season to establish himself as an offensive presence. He has a tendency to go on hot and cold streaks and was suspended twice last season, so take your chances. As a late round gamble, it's worth the pick.
Jay Bouwmeester CGY
Bouwmeester's stock took a huge dive last season. The move from Florida to Calgary was expected to help his stats, but his goal total tanked from 15 down to 3. Where will he go from here? The Flames are still scrambling to find an identity and don't have the firepower to score much, so don't count on total resurgence. However, his numbers have to improve on last year's disaster, so look for him as a potential sleeper. 10 goals and 40 points is a realistic target this season.
Craig Anderson COL
Half way through last season, Anderson was the story. He led the shocking Avalanche to an incredible start. While he didn't completely collapse, the team, and his stats, came down to earth in the 2nd half. Because of his high fantasy point totals last season, GMs may overinflate his value. Despite the early success last season, Colorado is still a young, growing team. It wouldn't be surprising to see them miss the playoffs next year. Look to Anderson as a decent #2 option in 2010, no more.
Cristobal Huet CHI
While the prevailing wisdom states that he'll be taking his big contract to the AHL or Europe to relieve some cap space, the bottom line at this point is that he's still on the Hawks roster, and objectively speaking, he's a good goalie. Teams could do a lot worse than his 2.5 GAA and 26-14 record from last season. If another contender with cap space gets desperate enough, Huet may just be a fantasy hockey factor once again before the season is out. At this point, however, he's a big time gamble to say the least.
Michael Leighton PHI
Drafting a Flyers goalie can always be considered a gamble. Leighton filled in admirably as the flavor of the month last spring after being cast off by the Canes. He looks to be the best option in Philly at this point, which gives him value out of the box. Keep an eye on the situation up to draft day. If another goalie comes to town, you can slide him off your list; otherwise, pencil him in for a late round gamble.
Antti Niemi (UFA)
It's wait and see at this point for Niemi until he signs a deal...
Carey Price MON
Price has only been in the league a couple of years, and already you could write a book on the ride he's been on. The latest chapter saw him lose his job to Halak last spring, only to see Halak shipped off for next to nothing. While this defaults him back into the starting role, it adds even more pressure to the man, particularly if fans have to watch Halak succeed in St. Louis. And more pressure is not what a 23 year old goalie needs in Montreal. The upside is that he's a young, skilled goalie on a borderline playoff team. The Canadiens don't feature a particularly strong defensive team in front of him, so he'll probably see plenty of shots in 2010, if he lasts. No matter how you slice it, drafting Price is a serious gamble.