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The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Latest in a weekly series on NHL pools

The Canadian Press
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With NHL teams driving past the midway mark of the season, a look in the rear-view mirror now at the players who have blossomed or bombed in fantasy hockey leagues.

Here are the winners and losers of the season's first half: the Studs and Duds Awards.

Best in Show: Any of the top 10 or 15 players in scoring will be serving their poolies well right now, but wearing the crown as the prince of pools is Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames. His 32 goals and 60 points are impressive enough, but poolies will also love Iginla's plus-17 rating and 38 penalty minutes.

The runner-up is Dany Heatley of the Senators with 56 points and an incredible plus-31 rating. Understandably, his pool owners aren't in a celebratory mood now since Heatley separated his shoulder Saturday and is out at least six weeks. Ouch.

Fantasy Flop: Ask which player is the biggest disappointment and there will be hands up everywhere, particularly from poolies languishing in the standings. There's Bryan McCabe of the Toronto Maple Leafs, grossly under-performing even before he got hurt.

Maxim Afinogenov of the Buffalo Sabres and Andy McDonald, now with the St. Louis Blues, are both looking to rebound in the second half. Who knows what's been eating Senators goalie Ray Emery, but clearly a wicked sophomore slump has swallowed Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The raspberry here must go to Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks. After averaging 82 points his past two seasons, Marleau, a high draft pick in every pool, will be lucky to get half that this year. An unfathomable descent into pool mediocrity.

Rookie Sensation: With Jonathan Toews cut down by a knee injury, the award falls deservedly into the lap of Chicago Blackhawks teammate Patrick Kane. He has an impressive 39 points after Sunday's play and is tied for 14th in the league with 31 assists.

However, a gut feeling here is that he won't keep up the pace. In fact, he's now gone five games without a point. Owners should consider trading him while his value is still high. At season's end don't be surprised to see Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals take home the Calder Trophy. Sixteen of his 30 points have come since December as he continues to improve every day by lining up with Alex Ovechkin.

Breakout Bonanza: Pool gold in fantasy hockey is having one or more players having breakout seasons and greatly exceeding expectations and previous high points totals. Two good examples are Mike Ribeiro of the Dallas Stars, who should top the 80-point mark this season, and Alexander Radulov of the Nashville Predators who should double the 37 points he registered in his rookie year.

Taking this award running away, however, is Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers. With 47 points, he is already well over his totals in each of the past two years and is on pace now for an excellent 90 points or more.

Nowhere Man: Oh, how poolies revel in the unsung or undrafted players who rise from the ruins to lead them to fantasy glory. It makes them feel smart that they took a chance on these players. Surely, luck had nothing to do with it, right?

There's no denying the positive impact that comeback players like Joffrey Lupul of the Flyers, Alexei Kovalev of the Montreal Canadiens and Shawn Horcoff of the Edmonton Oilers have had on pools in the first half. Defencemen Michal Rozsival of the New York Rangers and Mike Green of the Capitals also prove that it pays to watch the wires sharply.

The best of the bunch is Ty Conklin, Pittsburgh's third-string goaltender and surprise winner of nine straight games after Marc-Andre Fleury was hurt in early December. Conklin lost his 10th start in a shootout Saturday but still has a sensational 1.79 goals-against average and save percentage of .945. His pool owners everywhere must still be pinching themselves.

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Greg Dennis can be reached at theCanadianpress.pool(at)hotmail.com.

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