With the NHL schedule released and the more prominent UFA’s locked to new deals, I take a look at the major implications for your fantasy hockey team heading into the new season
Buy-High on Taylor Hall
The knee surgery will scare off a lot of people in the first round of your fantasy draft, but you shouldn’t be one of them. Taylor Hall is in his prime, coming in to his “pay-me” season. He’ll turn 28 in November and had picked up right where he left off last year before the knee injury appeared. With added powerplay weapons such as PK Subban, Wayne Simmonds and Jack Hughes, he now has even more ammo to rack up points.
I am a big proponent of the incentive of the contract year in fantasy sports, and I fully expect a huge year from the LW. Injuries can happen at any time – don’t let that scare you. Buy big on Hall if you’re drafting out of the top-5 in your league.
For similar reasons, I will be aiming at Tyson Barrie in my drafts this fall. He will be 28 by the end of this month, and is also entering his “pay-me” season. He is a big-time offensive contributor from the blue line. He’s only failed to top 40 points once in the last 5 seasons, and that year his PDO fell quite short of his career average. His shooting percentage that season was also almost half of his usual average, suggesting a year filled with bad puck-luck.
For those who were unfamiliar with the juggernaut that was forming in Colorado last year, he showed he can keep up with the high-flying superstars, finishing 7th in scoring from the blueline. His defense may leave something to be desired, but that’s not a fantasy owner’s concern. What will be of your concern is how Babcock decides to deploy him – but lucky for you, it shouldn’t matter. Throughout his career so far, he’s put up over 50 points whether he’s receiving 50 oZS% or well over 60. With the likes of Rielly, Tavares, Nylander, Muzzin and Marner as potential running mates on a TML powerplay, Barrie should be top-of-mind when you’re ready to start plucking up offensive blueliners and could have his best offensive season to-date. He shouldn’t be far behind the Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and John Carlson selections.
In head-to-head matchup leagues, mind the schedule
If you play season points leagues, you can skip this section. But for fantasy owners who enter in to the head-to-head leagues, pay closer attention to which weeks your league begins the playoffs.
For most, that will be sometime around week 18 – Feb 10th-Feb 16th (if you’re condensing week 1/2 and the All-Star week as Yahoo! usually does).
While the NHL has made a point of consistent schedule making, there are some teams that do play more often from the 10th of February through the final day of the year. Once your league’s playoffs roll around, it’s all about tipping the balance and odds any way you can. The easiest way to do that is increasing your man-games.
While having a couple more man-games for the playoffs should be irrelevant when you have a chance to take a superstar in your draft, it could mean everything once the secondary players begin coming off the board. Montreal and Detroit play the least amount of games throughout the final 8 weeks of the season (24). Carolina, Minnesota, Nashville, New Jersey, and the New York Rangers all play 27 within the same time period without falling below 3 games in any of the weeks during the playoff window frame. Favor those franchises’ players in a toss up.
The teams with the most man-games in the final 8 weeks include the New York Islanders (29), Pittsburgh (29), San Jose (28), Colorado (29), and Washington (28). Florida also has 28 games but only plays 2 in the 22nd week (Mar 2 – Mar 8). This makes players like Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson indisputably valuable for the playoff stretch in your fantasy leagues – but pay special mind to their more secondary scorers: Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Niklas Backstrom, Gabriel Landeskog, Tomas Hertl, etc. If you fail to draft these guys, consider making a deal for them for players of equal-or-lesser value that play less man-games during the playoff period.
Mika Zibanejad has arrived
One of the most under-the-radar players from last year was New York’s Mika Zibanejad. Last season for the Rangers, he topped 30 goals and 70 points for the first time. He looks more and more like a 200-foot-player that the Senators gave up on too early, and the numbers indicate to me that this was in fact a breakout season – not just an apparition.
The Rangers utilized Zibanejad in his most defensive role yet – finishing the year with an oZS% below 50 for the first time in his career. Even still, he kept his s% and PDO around his career average while racking up career totals in points. This year, he has a big opportunity to line up with Artemi Panarin or Kaapo Kakko, given that Kevin Hayes is gone and Z is far and away the Rangers best centre. It’s not inconceivable for him to break the 80-point threshold this year.
As mentioned above, focus your drafting in head-to-head leagues on teams with more man-games in the final weeks. This means you should be drafting Mika Zibanejad ahead of players like Dylan Larkin or Max Domi.
Nearing the end of drafts, fantasy owners generally begin throwing darts. Potential under-the-radar breakout players are always available in the final rounds, and it pays to do your homework on these guys who can make or break your season.
Once described by Jarmo Kekäläinen as an untouchable prospect, the Blue Jackets’ former second round pick made his presence known in a big way last year after making the jump to North America. He racked up 7 points in his first 7 AHL games (including 5 goals), notched his first NHL goal in 2 games with the Jackets, and also chipped in with 3 points in 8 playoff games during Columbus’ improbable sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning. As a natural center, Matt Duchene’s departure opens up a big hole in CBJ’s top-6, and he’s a likely candidate to fill that void.
“You can see his intelligence of the game…He’s physical when he needs to be. He’s engaged on pucks. He’s impressive, and he’ll play.” – Tortorella on Texier ahead of Game 1 of the playoffs
Texier impressed the coaching staff in Columbus enough to earn a lineup spot ahead of Alex Wennberg before the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He should be top-of-mind in the later rounds of your draft and has Calder potential written all over him.
Despite finishing the year with 13 points in the final 7 games and forming a top-line with Larkin and Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi was owned in just 10% of Yahoo! leagues when the season ended.
Bertuzzi makes a great buy-low candidate because of his potential to put up points on the top line in Detroit, but also because of his ability to impact secondary statistics. He finished the year averaging more than a hit per game and his +/- finished well above even despite playing for one of the Eastern Conference’s weaker teams.
Being named IIHF Defenseman of the Tournament at the World Championships this year won’t help Hronek fly under the radar, but he will still most likely be overlooked in plenty of drafts this fall.
Hronek had zero issue acclimating to the North American game when he came over to the OHL in 2016 and finished above a point-per-game in his first season. He made quick work of the AHL and immediately jumped to the NHL this year, playing at a 41-point pace. Seriously impressive. He could see big powerplay minutes next year on a thin Detroit squad, and could be had for a low draft pick this fall.
“Load management” is the hottest term in the sports world right now – whether it’s being used facetiously or not. I’m quite confident that next year we’ll see the term applied to Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators.
Thanks to Jaroslav Halak’s wizardry in Boston’s crease this year, Tuukka Rask got to sit on the back burner for large portions of the regular season – whether due to injuries or personal matters. He hasn’t started that few games since 2012.
Once the postseason rolled around, Rask looked energized, refreshed and focused – playing to the tune of a ridiculous .934 SV% over 24 playoff games. Numbers not seen since his godly run in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Pekka Rinne will turn 37 before Christmas this year – old by NHL goaltending standards. He has been one of the most consistent back stoppers in the last decade, but hasn’t been able to translate that dominance to the post season very often. His last two playoff years consisted of GAA’s hovering above 3 and SV%’s nearing .900 – not good enough for hockey’s second season.
With Juuse Saros ready and waiting to take the reigns on Nashville’s bench, a tandem-like goaltending situation should appear in Nashville this season. I would be shocked if Rinne got the crease in much more than 50 games in 2019-2020 – he should be well rested for a playoff run. Of note, Nashville plays 4 back-to-back games in March (prime fantasy playoff season). Count on Saros receiving either end of those dates so close to the end of the year.
If your roster can spare it, nabbing Nashville’s “back up” goalie with a late pick could prove very beneficial throughout the year.
Forget about Robin Lehner
Robin Lehner signed a 1-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks shortly after the free agent window opened on July 1st. The consensus comeback player of the year, Robin Lehner finished as a Vezina finalist and was a revelation on Long Island.
Don’t buy in to the hype on your pool’s draft day. Robin Lehner is my top pick to suffer a massive regression this year.
Even if the Blackhawks decide to play Lehner in a #1 role (giving him 60+ starts) and keep Crawford glued to the bench, the numbers won’t be anywhere close to last year’s. Chicago was far and away one of the NHL’s worst defensive teams last year.
— Luke Armstrong (@armstrongthings) July 10, 2019
Lehner was the beneficiary of a very tight defensive system instituted by Trotz on Long Island. He will see a massive increase in high-danger scoring chances against him this year. Chicago may have added de Haan and Maatta, but with the recent loss of Jokiharju, their defensive structure hasn’t been dramatically improved.
Don’t draft Lehner as the Vezina finalist he was last year – he’s simply in a worse situation.
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