The trade winds start picking up this time of year, blowing stronger in the NHL where the trade deadline is but three weeks away and in fantasy hockey leagues where the gap widens from top to bottom.
In keeper and rotisserie leagues, the better teams look to pick the bones of those hapless bottom feeders while teams down in the standings cast eyes upward for help in rebuilding for next season.
The approach to pulling off a good trade depends on whether you're a buyer or seller. Ideally, a transaction will help both.
For the seller: Don't jump at first offers. Take your time and look through the rosters of all top teams. Find one that needs to improve in certain categories - in goaltender wins or assists, for example - and make their weakness your strength.
Target the players that you really want next year and go after them. For the sake of pool integrity do not lazily unload all your high-priced stars for a couple average resignables. Grudges last a long time in fantasy hockey and that won't give your team any short-term or long-term advantage.
For the buyer: He who hesitates is lost. While you are humming and hawing about trading, your opponents will grab all the goodies and pass you in the standings. Determine your needs and where you have surplus strengths. Trade a stud goaltender if it means picking up a needed star forward of two. Be aggressive but be fair. Doing better in the pool doesn't mean you're dealing with a sap.
Don't offer one dinky dude for a raft of stars. The seller will move to more fertile trading grounds in a hurry.
The fickle finger of fate likes poking poolies in the eye just as they are riding high on an unsung player. Goaltender Jose Theodore earned himself top billing in Colorado but is now resting in the mountains with back spasms while his team goes on the road this week. Peter Budaj takes over for the time being.
Oilers defenceman Sheldon Souray has been a free-agent bust this season, spending as much time on the IR as on the ice, and only registering 10 points when healthy. His wonky shoulder has forced him out again, and it could be for an extended stretch.
Rob Blake's season has also gone from bad to worse. The Kings defenceman broke an ankle bone and will be out at least two weeks. With only one point in his last six games and a minus-13 on the season, Blake's best years are obviously way behind him. Now's the time to find a more capable replacement down the stretch.
Poolies can also give up on Sami Salo, another huge disappointment on the blue-line. The oft-injured Canuck is out again with a groin injury.
Ryan Malone of the Penguins has made good on predictions his pool value would rise with Sidney Crosby hurt. Now poolies might want to target teammate Petr Sykora.
He's playing on the top line with Malone and Evgeni Malkin, and has picked up at least one point in eight of his last 11 games.
Poolies might also keep an eye on Scott Nichol in Nashville. The seven-year pro has never topped 18 points in a season but is now lining up with the red-hot J.P. Dumont and Jason Arnott.
Don't grab him just yet, but with five points in six games he should be on the fantasy radar.
Greg Dennis can be reached at theCanadianpress.pool(at)hotmail.com.
Fantasy Watch - who's hot and who's not around the NHL
Some players to watch or watch out for in your hockey pool this week:
1. RW Radim Vrbata, Coyotes. Four goals and seven points since returning from a groin injury last week.
2. C Viktor Kozlov, Capitals. Takes the reins with Nylander out and responds with six goals in six games.
3. D Bryan Berard, Islanders. Four points last week almost double the oft-injured defenceman's season total.
4. C Derek Roy, Sabres. Pads his stats with a ferocious rip of six goals and six assists over seven games.
5. G Dominik Hasek, Red Wings. Chris Osgood was the all-star but the Dominator, 3-0 last week, is still No. 1.
1. RW David Vyborny, Blue Jackets. A goal Saturday was his second since Dec. 27 and first point in seven games.
2. RW Fernando Pisani, Oilers. Not exactly a top draft pick, but what's the deal with only one point in January?
3. D Chris Pronger, Ducks. Pronger's eight-game skid: two goals, no assists and minus-9.
4. RW Bill Guerin, Islanders. Six games without a point won't help him match last year's 55-point total.
5. G Martin Brodeur, Devils. Three straight losses prove that even the best can stink up the joint occasionally.