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The most important question to ask yourself in any fantasy hockey league

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In many cases, the most pressing questions you’ll ask yourself as a young fantasy hockey manager – when you have all that glorious time – is “How do I finally win this league?”

(Sometimes, you’ll be more specific, asking “How do I beat my best friend/colleague/frenemy/potential romantic partner/all of the above?”)

Time can change a lot of things, and sometimes life foists different priorities upon your mind. You might find yourself more interested in less glorious things like taking care of debts or aiming for promotions. This pivots, then, to what I believe is the most important question a potential fantasy GM must ask: “How much work do I really want to do in this league?”

Every week, PHT plans on running at least two fantasy-focused columns, and the beauty of these is that they can appeal to fantasy owners of all types. Joey Alfieri’s add/drops can be helpful to those who crunch spreadsheets like potato chips, but it can also be a one-stop guide for those who don’t have time to go deep on every Rotoworld column.

Speaking of Rotoworld, it’s a fantastic resource for fantasy hockey and other sports. Check out Gus Katsaros’ bit on struggling forwards such as Joe Thornton as just one great example.

This Thursday space is going to serve as an open-ended discussion of fantasy hockey: the narrow triumphs, crushing and seemingly arbitrary defeats, and tactics that may lie a little outside of the box.

In this specific case, here are a few suggestions if you possess the rare (but valuable) self-awareness to realize that you might not always be able to give your team(s) your maximum attention.

Lean on workhorse goalies

In many cases, it’s wise to fight the urge to take big name goalies in fantasy. Instead, you are often better off loading up on true difference-makers, whether they be the true high-scoring defensemen like Brent Burns or game-breaking forwards who still might be around in, say, rounds 3-5.

It’s a little different if you know you’re not going to monitor every goalie battle, or merely want to keep things simple.

A workhorse such as Braden Holtby shoots up your rankings in this case. On the other hand, someone facing a backup threat (say Steve Mason vs. Connor Hellebuyck) might not be worth the hassle.

Old over new

It’s exciting to identify the next breakthrough stars. Young players can be exciting because they have the chance to make those quantum leaps. The lockout that knocked out the 2004-05 season was memorable in that way:

Eric Staal in 2003-04: 31 points in 81 games

Eric Staal in 2005-06: 100 points in 81 games

Being able to forecast those leaps provides one of the most precious sensations in fantasy: feeling smart.

On the other hand, that takes its fair share of research, aside from instances where you’ve specifically keyed on prospects that interest you. Rookies can be big risks in fantasy drafts because of the threat of them only getting a “nine-game audition” before their teams avoid burning years off entry-level deals.

(Note: this might not apply to the Edmonton Oilers.)

If you know you don’t have time to make contingency plans and/or don’t want to study points per minute to try to find the next Viktor Arvidsson, you might just want to stick with more stable, established veterans.

Rotoworld Podcast: Can’t Stop Kucherov

Avoid the Gaboriks

Injuries can be random in sports, hockey included. Just ask Steven Stamkos, whose poor luck seems borderline freakish. Hockey history is dotted with painful “What if?” questions about icons like Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux down to nice scorers such as Ales Hemsky and Marian Gaborik.

(Sami Salo, meanwhile, likely often asked “Why me?”)

Injuries can be especially deflating for less-hands-on types, so maybe shy away from, say, Kris Letang.

Find some quick references

Following PHT is a good start to stay abreast of some of the largest developments in the NHL.

If you’re trying to make quick decisions, Rotoworld’s injury page can provide a quick reference so you know if someone might come back soon versus a case that might be murkier.

There’s a solid chance of a future column discussing some resources that might help those in a bind in drafts or even setting lineups. Stay tuned.

***

It’s possible to win your league even if you’re not making weekly tweaks like some of your more obsessive competitors.

The key is to be practical … and lucky. Yeah, luck is a pretty nice thing to have in fantasy, and life. Here’s to a fun 2017-18 from a fantasy perspective, regardless of your level of commitment.

(Although, don’t be that person who totally abandons a team, leaving a bunch of players with season-ending injuries in your starting lineup. That’s bad form.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Coyle, Niederreiter headline a disastrous Wild injury report

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Last night, Bruce Boudreau raved about how the Minnesota Wild beat the Chicago Blackhawks despite dealing with serious injuries.

They might need to get used to that feeling.

The Wild shared an utterly disastrous injury report on Friday.

(Brace yourself, Wild fans.)

Good grief, that list is just … wow.

The Wild estimate that Nino Niederreiter will miss a minimum of three weeks. Charlie Coyle already underwent surgery, and Minnesota expects his window of recovery to be six-to-eight weeks. Marcus Foligno is ruled out for at least one week with a facial fracture.

Honestly, those Niederreiter and Foligno issues could be worse than those minimums make them seem, too.

This team is already dealing with Mikael Granlund‘s issues (probably a groin injury) and Zach Parise (he insists it’s not a back issue), which might sideline them for a while considering the murky nature of day-to-day updates.

At 1-1-1, the Wild are three games into a road-heavy start (three of five away from home), and then they’ll begin a six-game homestand on Oct. 24. The team already expects to be shorthanded on Saturday, their home-opener.

“What a great challenge,” Boudreau said on Thursday. “If we can come away from this in a good frame, that’s great. You have to accept challenges, and this is a real big challenge early on in the year.”

That Boudreau comment came yesterday; one can almost picture a profanity-laced, HBO 24/7-esque rant about this today, though.

Foligno and Coyle were two-thirds of a top line with Eric Staal, while Niederreiter joined Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker to form a nice second trio. The Wild are likely going to lean more on those guys, not to mention Joel Eriksson Ek, Tyler Ennis, and maybe even Matt Cullen.

If nothing else, Boudreau is the sort of coach who might be able to rally Minny through this challenging stretch. The Wild can also look to their Central Division rivals, the St. Louis Blues, for an example of a team fighting through a tough start.

But yeah, this is brutal stuff.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Report: Skinner among leading candidates for Hurricanes captaincy

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The Carolina Hurricanes went last season without a captain. That will change once training camp is over, and, according to a recent report, Jeff Skinner is one of the prime candidates to possibly wear the ‘C’ for this season.

The Hurricanes selected Skinner seventh overall in 2010. He made an instant impact on the NHL club, scoring 31 goals and 63 points in his rookie season as a teenager. He’s been a valuable offensive weapon for Carolina ever since.

This past season, he scored 37 goals — a career best. Although the consideration to potentially make him the next captain goes beyond his skills around the opposing net.

From NHL.com:

“He’s a passionate guy and he’s a passionate player,” Peters said. “He’s a real good pro in the fact that he looks after himself, he trains properly and the guys have unreal respect for the way he looks after his body. The maturity shows. I know guys bring it up quite a bit.”

To that end, Peters said he was at a staff golf outing prior to the start of training camp with about 16 people, including members of the Hurricanes’ medical and strength training staffs, and he polled as many people about the captaincy candidates as he could.

“[Skinner’s] name came up in the conversation quite a bit, and they bring up that type of stuff, the way he looks after himself and the way he prepares,” Peters said. “He’s passionate about it and he’s hungry to win.”

The Hurricanes have, over the past few years, done a nice job of building a talented young roster that has shown signs of being able to compete in the Eastern Conference. They do, however, play in a difficult Metropolitan Division, which features the Blue Jackets, Penguins, Capitals and Rangers.

The biggest change in Carolina this offseason was in net, with the addition of Scott Darling, who was the capable back-up in Chicago but is now taking over the No. 1 role with the Hurricanes.

Another change is still upcoming. Eric Staal was the captain in Carolina for six years, but the team is expected to soon name a replacement. There are other candidates for the Hurricanes captaincy, as well, like Justin Faulk and Jordan Staal.

“Someone is going to wear one, for sure,” said Peters earlier this month, per TSN. “Our leadership group is fine and we’ve got real good candidates. They’ll all provide leadership whether they wear a letter or not.”

Parros to crack down on slashing, will seek supplemental discipline for certain incidents

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman vowed this summer that the league would crack down on slashes this upcoming season after a rash of incidents occurred in 2016-17.

On Thursday, George Parros, the newly appointed senior vice-president of the Department of Player Safety, echoed support for that initiative, while stating he wants longer suspensions for players that commit non-hockey infractions, according to a report from NHL.com.

From NHL.com:

“I’ve always thought that they could have been a bit harsher on certain plays that I felt where clearly someone intended to do something that was away from the play, had nothing to do with the game and no benefit other than to disable or hurt a person,” Parros said. “Just trying to go a little bit harder on those, because I felt it’s been soft in some instances.”

Slashing will be a point of emphasis for the referees this season. It is common, and not every slash will result in supplemental discipline. But Player Safety will address serious incidents and look for patterns with individual players and within the League.

“If they seem to be intentful or directed at the fingers and hands with greater force, we’re going to be looking to do something — fines, suspensions, whatever it might be,” Parros said. “We’re going to try to change player behavior.”

As the report pointed out, slashing is a common occurrence throughout the course of the game and it would be difficult — if not impossible — to find a player that has never delivered a whack to the back of the legs or to the hands and fingers of an opponent.

But there were a number of incidents last season that put the act of slashing under intensified public scrutiny. Sidney Crosby shattered the finger of Marc Methot with a slash to the hand and didn’t receive any supplemental discipline, much to the frustration of the Ottawa Senators. Methot was forced to miss the remainder of the regular season due to the gruesome injury suffered from the incident, but he did return for the first round against the Boston Bruins.

Calgary’s star scorer Johnny Gaudreau missed time earlier in the season due to a finger injury, which, the Flames allege, occurred on a slash from Eric Staal.

“It’s an unfortunate circumstance,” said Flames forward Troy Brouwer at the time. “I know in my game I give a lot of top players good whacks and stuff. You obviously don’t want to let it be happening to your team, but star players are going to be keyed on.

“It’s no different than what we do (to the opposition).”

Cullen explains why he chose Wild over Penguins

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If you check out a bio on Matt Cullen, you’ll notice that he’s from Minnesota. It doesn’t take a leak, then, to explain why Cullen signed a one-year deal with the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday.

As Cullen explained to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “this is a family decision.” As he goes deeper into his logic, even especially sore Pittsburgh Penguins fans should probably understand Cullen’s perspective.

“Minnesota is home and it’s a special place for me,” Cullen said. “It’s not easy to say goodbye and it’s not easy to walk away [from Pittsburgh]. I’m confident in the decision we’re making and it’s the right thing for our family. But at the same time, it’s not an easy one.

Now, to be fair, Cullen also told Russo that he believes the Wild are a “hungry” team that might have been the West’s best in 2016-17. It’s not like he’s roughing it, and surely the $1 million (and $700K in performance bonuses that Wild GM Chuck Fletcher hopes Cullen collects) didn’t hurt, either.

Still, such a decision makes extra sense for a 40-year-old who’s played for eight different NHL teams during his impressive career. Russo’s story about Cullen attending his kids games and seeing his brothers is worth a read just for those warm and fuzzy feelings we often forget about in crunching the numbers and pondering which teams might be big-time contenders in 2017-18.

This isn’t to say that getting a fourth Stanley Cup ring wouldn’t be appealing to Cullen, but perhaps he’ll get his family time and win big, too?

There’s also the familiarity that comes with playing three fairly recent seasons with the Wild, so Cullen’s choice seems like it checks a lot of the boxes.

In other positive Wild news, Russo reports that Eric Staal is feeling 100 percent after suffering a concussion during the playoffs.

Tuesday was Wild day at PHT, but perhaps this feels more like Wild week?