MONTREAL, CANADA – DECEMBER 01: Dustin Penner #27 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates with team mates after scoring the game winning goal during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on December 1, 2010 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Oilers defeated the Canadiens 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
At one point during this season, it looked like the St. Louis Blues might run away with the Central Division. Failing that, it seemed like they would at least silence doubts about injuries submarining their campaign.
Then Jaden Schwartz got hurt.
OK, that’s a mild exaggeration. The accumulation of injuries was about more than Schwartz, and to some extent, the Blues’ stumbles come down to depth issues and Jake Allen‘s struggles.
To the credit of Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko, they’ve both been quite productive even with Schwartz out since Dec. 9. Either way, St. Louis has been losing ground, and you get the impression that attrition is at least part of the problem.
Monday brings some fantastic news, then, even if the gratification is delayed: Schwartz has been medically cleared to return. Early indications are that Schwartz will come back on Thursday instead of Tuesday, according to The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford and others, but either way that’s great news for a Blues team that could use a boost.
It will be intriguing to see how Mike Yeo handles the infusion of high-end talent.
On one hand, he may be tempted to put Schwartz right back with Schenn and Tarasenko to reunite one of the deadliest lines of 2017-18. On the other, the Blues have been quite top-heavy at times lately. Yeo’s actually already been experimenting with Schenn and Tarasenko on different lines (see this Left Wing Lock study of their last 10 games), so it’s a puzzle he’s already trying to solve.
Getting Schwartz back means players who were maybe straining while being “promoted to a level of incompetence” could then go back to more appropriate spots. Ivan Barbashev and Kyle Brodziak are two players more suited for depth roles, as just two examples.
Not a moment too soon
As of this writing, the Blues are ranked third in the Central Division, but their standing (59 points) is inflated by the number of games they’ve played (49 games). Consider some of the most pressing threats to the Blues, and you’ll realize that a playoff spot is by no means guaranteed.
First, consider how close their Central Division rivals are to pushing the Blues into the wild card fray:
Blues: 28-18-3, 59 points, 49 games played
Stars: 27-17-4, 58 points, 48 GP
Avalanche: 26-16-3, 55 points, 45 GP
Wild: 25-17-5, 55 points, 47 GP
Blackhawks: 22-18-6, 50 points, 46 GP
Chicago doesn’t pose the largest threat, yet the Blackhawks could make things a lot more interesting if they win those three games in hand. And that’s the team that’s probably the least of the Blues worries, Central-wise.
You’d think that the Central Division has a strong chance to land five of the eight West playoff spots, but St. Louis can’t disregard some Pacific hopefuls.
Blues: 28-18-3, 59 points, 49 games played
Kings: 25-17-5, 55 points in 47 GP
Ducks: 22-17-9, 53 points in 48 GP
As you can see, Los Angeles could tie the Blues in points by winning those two games in hand. St. Louis would still have more wins in that scenario (28 to 27, Kings currently at 25), but the point is that the temperature could rise quickly.
The Blues began a four-game homestand on Saturday, and they play five of their next seven in St. Louis. While there’s a tough stretch here and there (late February to early March stands out), nothing on the schedule screams “meltdown.”
We may look back at this week as a turning point for the Blues, as Schwartz’s important return spotlights a larger trend of improved health.
They must hope that rust isn’t too much of a factor, as their margin of error is a lot slimmer than it was when the underrated winger got injured.
This weekly column will aim to help fantasy hockey general managers navigate through the rough waters of their league’s waiver wire. We’ll recommend players for you to pick up that are owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo Leagues and we’ll also suggest players for you to drop, too.
Here we go:
• Colin Miller– D- Vegas Golden Knights (36 percent)
Miller has been one of the more pleasant surprises on the Golden Knights roster. He went eight games without getting on the scoresheet, but he managed to collect three points against the Hurricanes last night. Miller has six goals and 24 points in 46 games this season.
• Bo Horvat– C- Vancouver Canucks (33 percent)
Horvat made his return to the Canucks lineup on Sunday after he missed 18 games with an ankle injury. Prior to getting hurt, he picked up four points in his six games. It might take him time to get back into the flow of things, but he could be an intriguing option between now and the end of the season.
• Nick Schmaltz– C/LW- Chicago Blackhawks (33 percent)
The ‘Hawks are struggling, but Schmaltz hasn’t had any issues producing offensively of late. He’s racked up 13 points in his last 11 games. Schmaltz has played at least 17 minutes in his last 14 games. The fact that he can play multiple positions in Yahoo Leagues make him a solid addition in standard fantasy leagues.
• Sami Vatanen– D- New Jersey Devils (27 percent)
Vatanen seems to be adjusting quite well to his new surroundings in New Jersey. The blue liner didn’t pick up a point in Saturday’s game against the Flyers, but he’s accumulated nine points in his last 10 games. He’s also played at least 20 minutes in all but one of his games since joining the Devils from Anaheim.
• David Krejci– C- Boston Bruins (26 percent)
Krejci’s had some injury trouble this season, but he and the Bruins have been rolling lately. The Bruins center is riding a five-game point streak. Since returning from an upper-body injury on Dec. 30, he’s racked up 10 points in nine contests. Krejci’s on pace to score 57 points in just 64 games this season. If he can stay off the injured list, he’ll be a solid addition to any fantasy lineup.
• Milan Lucic– LW- Edmonton Oilers (68 percent)
Lucic has now gone 11 games without finding the back of the net. He’s also registered just four assists during that stretch. The Oilers forward has also received under 16 minutes of ice time in each of his last six outings. It’s time for Lucic’s fantasy owners to cut bait with the veteran winger.
• Patrick Marleau– C/LW- Toronto Maple Leafs (57 percent)
Marleau has brought some strong veteran presence to the Leafs lineup, but he hasn’t been very productive of late. He’s now gone eight games without accumulating a point. Toronto’s offense will find it’s groove again at some point, but fantasy owners can’t sit and do nothing. Marleau is on pace to pick up 41 points, which doesn’t make him relevant in most standard fantasy leagues. He can be dropped immediately.
• Brendan Gallagher– RW- Montreal Canadiens (48 percent)
Gallagher is now owned in under 50 percent of leagues, but he could be dropped in even more leagues over the next few days. The winger has one goal in his last nine contests. Gallagher had a strong first half of the year, but he’s predictably come back down to earth.
NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues on Monday, as the Chicago Blackhawks will host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 8:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.
As of last night, the Tampa Bay Lightning were no longer in first place in the NHL. That honor now belongs to the Vegas Golden Knights. But the Bolts can jump back into first place with a win over the ‘Hawks tonight.
Things have been tough for the Lightning lately. They’ve been without top defenseman Victor Hedman, they’ve lost three games in a row and this is the second game of an eight-game road trip (thankfully for Tampa, the trip will be broken up by next weekend’s All-Star break).
“We’re out of sync,” head coach Jon Cooper said, per The Tampa Times. “The guys didn’t forget how to play hockey in the last week and a half.
“We didn’t get where we are today by fluke, but we’ve got better in us, we know that.”
The Blackhawks have been going through a similar difficult stretch of late. They’ve been without starting netminder Corey Crawford and it doesn’t sound like he’ll be back anytime soon. Chicago has dropped each of their last two games against the Red Wings (4-0) and Islanders (7-3).
“Time’s ticking,” said defenseman Duncan Keith, per The Chicago Tribune. “We know that the urgency has to be there. … We can talk all we want, but it’s got to come down to us doing it in the game. I’m responsible in that too.”
The alarming part for the Blackhawks, is that they’re falling out of the playoff picture in a hurry. They’re now five points out of the final Wild Card spot in the West and they’re nine points behind the St. Louis Blues for third spot in the Central Division.
The ‘Hawks will play their next two games at home before they play four straight games on the road in Detroit, Nashville, Vancouver and Calgary.
• Up top, check out the highlights from yesterday afternoon’s game between the Flyers and Capitals.
• Paul Coffey has joined the Edmonton Oilers organization as a skills coach. (Edmonton Journal)
• Should the Blues make a trade to bolster their roster or should they just stick with what they have? (St. Louis Game Time)
• Islanders prospect Josh Ho-Sang still has a lot to prove if he wants to become a regular in the NHL. (Newsday)
• Jim Benning’s contract expires after this season. If the Canucks decide not to bring him back, there are a number of quality candidates that could step in. (Daily Hive)
• Chris Chelios discusses his favorite Olympic moments, NHLers not going to the Olympics and much more in this Q&A with The Detroit Free Press.
• Short stints in the minors have helped young goalies stay sharp for their NHL teams this season. (NHL.com)
• The Rangers need Tony DeAngelo to develop into an impact player. (Blue Seat Blogs)
• South Koreans have no issue with North Korea being in the Olympics, but they aren’t thrilled about sharing a hockey team. (ABC News)
• John McCarthy isn’t a household name, but the minor-leaguer is going to be representing Team USA at the Winter Olympics. (Sporting News)
• Here’s a list of young players that could join the U.S. Women’s National Team in the near future. (The Ice Garden)
• Team Canada GM Sean Burke went to some strange places to find the right players for his squad. (Fan Rag Sports)
• Air Force had to postpone hockey games because of the government shutdown. (College Hockey News)
• College hockey players are now allowed to be represented by an agent, but there are some strict conditions. (USCHO.com)