It's been said here many times that injuries are a fact of life in fantasy hockey leagues, that poolies have to be prepared for the inevitable and ready to make adjustments.
That may be a reality, but we can't imagine any year worse than this one.
The list of names on extended leave reads like an all-star lineup: Crosby, Sakic, Gagne, Nylander, Horcoff, Smyth, Frolov, Stastny, McCabe, Boyle, Zubov and Fleury.
And in only the past week, another slew of stars has gone down, no doubt delivering crippling blows to those poolies fighting for a share of the fantasy purse.
After missing a month with a neck injury, Joffrey Lupul of the Flyers is back on the disabled list and this time indefinitely with high ankle sprain. Fantasy owners who were rewarded for taking a chance on him after his struggles in Edmonton have seen their good luck turn to bad and now awful.
The only silver lining here is for poolies who own Daniel Briere, who has been moved up to the top line in Philadelphia.
Good fortune certainly didn't follow Sheldon Souray from Montreal to the Oilers. The scoring defenceman has been a bust this season and what's left of it is now officially kaput. Souray underwent arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder late last week and poolies in non-keeper leagues can finally drop him.
Tom Gilbert will carry a bigger load on the Oilers' blue line, but a former teammate might be the better selection off waivers. In four games since Dick Tarnstrom was traded to the Blue Jackets, he has a goal and three assists while getting plenty of time on the power play.
Rod Brind'Amour's season is also over. Thursday night he tore the ACL in his left knee, putting a painful close to a productive 59-game season with 19 goals and 32 assists. That production will be difficult to replace, but his poolies might get Ladd instead of getting mad.
Yes, Andrew Ladd, moved up to the second line after Cory Stillman was traded to Ottawa, has responded with seven points in a five-game streak. He is highly recommended right now.
This week will be the calm before the storm that is the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 26. Rumours abound about deals for fantasy studs like Marian Hossa, Mats Sundin, Brian Cambell, Olli Jokinen, Alex Tanguay and Sergei Fedorov. Some will be shipped and most will see values stay put or increase slightly.
The key for poolies will be to see what free agents might line up with the incoming stars or who replaces them on their vacated top lines. We've already seen this addition by subtraction work in Ladd's favour after the Stillman trade.
Going the other way in that deal was defenceman Joe Corvo, expected to get prime time on the power play but otherwise not gaining much in pool value. Patrick Eaves also went to the Hurricanes but is injured and pretty well worthless in fantasy hockey.
Patrick Marleau's name is another that crops up in trade rumours. The slumping Shark hasn't done his team or pool owners any favours this year with an abysmal 28-point production. Topping that off, he is now hobbled with a groin injury and is currently listed as day-to-day.
Brian Rafalski of the Red Wings is also nursing one of those accursed groin injuries. He's missed three games and will likely sit out a couple more while recovering. This 'extended rest' is an annual source of poolie frustrations as playoff-bound teams take a little more time getting their players back on ice.
The Blackhawks may not be thinking playoffs, but they won't be in a hurry to get Nikolai Khabibulin (sprained knee) back in action. Why would they?
Even when healthy Khabibulin was erratic and streaky. And Patrick Lalime has been terrific in his absence. Switch them up on your team, if you can.
Some players to watch or watch out for in your hockey pool this week:
1. C Sam Gagner, Oilers. The rookie playmaker sets up seven goals while on a six-game point streak.
2. W Milan Michalek, Sharks. Showing signs of life in this disappointing season with five points in three games.
3. D James Wisniewski, Blackhawks. Unheralded rearguard makes a noise with four points in four games.
4. W Ruslan Fedotenko, Islanders. The Tank rolls out five goals and a helper over a 10-day stretch.
5. G Manny Legace, Blues. Allowed only six goals while picking up two wins and two OT losses.
1. W Tomas Holmstrom, Wings. He's still on the top line so no excuse for six games without a single point.
2. C Craig Conroy, Flames. Seven straight without a point confirms that this is a pool player in serious decline.
3. D Patrice Brisebois, Canadiens. Eight times he has registered over 30 points, but not this year and not ever again.
4. C Stu Barnes, Stars. Ten-game pointless streak leaves him 0-for-February and absolutely undesirable.
5. G Chris Osgood, Wings. Hasek is out and Osgood is awful. Four straight losses get Jimmy Howard a start.
Greg Dennis can be reached at theCanadianpress.pool(at)hotmail.com.