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What fantasy hockey players should be grateful for

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Ah, Thanksgiving. A time when families come together to overeat, try to ignore the more problematic elements of the holiday’s roots, watch lopsided football games, and get into arguments.

Not great, honestly, but kudos to my family specifically for at least adding pierogies to the mix.

With the American version of the holiday upon us (it’s in October in Canada … weird!), it seems wise to share gratitude for the players who are powering our fantasy hockey teams to greatness, or at least to help us avoid total mockery at the water cooler.*

Going for seconds, thirds

So far, 2017-18 has been The Year of The Top Lines. It can be seen mostly blatantly in noting that Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are battling for the top scoring spot in the NHL, while Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Jaden Schwartz are also in the top 10.

Much like the satisfaction of eating homemade sides instead of canned vegetables, the real winners have been the less-obvious members of lines who have been incredible values, and some of whom might deliver for a full season.

Schenn is an obvious example, with his 30 points in 22 games (not to mention 20 PIM and +19 rating) making him a blistering steal. His Yahoo pre-season ranking was 85th, and he likely went lower depending upon your given draft.

Sean Couturier might be the most delirious example so far, though. His yahoo ranking was 262, yet he’s ranked 18th by the same standards, as it’s clear that he’s taken the bull by the horns when it comes to getting an increased offensive role with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek on his wings. Vladislav Namestnikov has been glorious, and it sure seems likely that’ll he remain with Stamkos and Kucherov as long as he’s healthy.

Micheal Ferland might spell his name in a funny way, but you’ll make fun of him less often if he’s on your team and manages to stay with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan over the long haul.

On that note, there are still some things to sort out. Will Kyle Connor be the guy that gets to play with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele more often than not? Can the Stars get a consistent third player (aside: we need a third [blank] to go with “second banana”) to dunk in opportunities from Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, at least with Alex Radulov seemingly not being the right fit?

[Rotoworld: Breaking down the first quarter]

Really, the questions about duos makes you appreciate stable trios that much more, especially if you have one or both of them on your teams. You don’t see reasonable answers to the glorious combo of the Dany Heatley – Jason Spezza – Daniel Alfredsson very often in the salary cap era, after all.

Hopefully most of those top lines can at least maintain some of this ridiculous energy, as the dog days of the season will probably cause at least some regression. Sorry, didn’t mean to ruin the holiday spirit.

Trading goods

I can’t really go too long without thanking GM David Poile and others for spicing up the season with some trades. Don’t scoff at this being mentioned in fantasy, as trades can make the process more exciting *and* create new gems.

[The Rotoworld Hockey Podcast]

In six games with the Nashville Predators, Kyle Turris has five points, but I’m most thankful – and intrigued – to see gains from Kevin Fiala (six points in his past five games) and Craig Smith (six in his past six). Fiala and Smith will probably be more worthy of adds in deeper leagues, but it’s a situation to watch, preferably with popcorn.

Turris could also boost guys like P.K. Subban and Roman Josi in a delightful domino effect, so again, a nod of gratitude to Poile.

Big saves

Quite a few goalies are saving their teams’ bacon (or honey-baked ham, to fit the theme?), with Corey Crawford, John Gibson, and Mike Smith coming to mind, in particular. Imagine where the Anaheim Ducks would be without Gibson?

Also: thanks to Braden Holtby, who’s navigating the Capitals’ struggles to remain the new Henrik Lundqvist as far as reliable fantasy hockey star goalies go.

Avoiding turkeys

Finally, all but one owner in each league can be happy to avoid Brent Burns, an awesome, caveman-looking scoring sensation who’s been on a puzzling scoring slump. Sometimes you have to be lucky to be good, even beyond getting a piece of those red-hot lines.

(And hey, maybe you’ll be thankful when you trade for Burns at a discount rate, only to see him bounce back?)

* – For those who grumble about this being a lame gimmick for a fantasy hockey column, allow me to respond with this hex: I hope your Crazy Uncle shares extra ridiculous, patently offensive theories this time around.

And, if *you* are in the crazy uncle role, I hope that a know-it-all nephew totally schools you, to the point that even like-minded family members are giggling at your stammering responses.

Yeah, that’s right. I went there. Maybe all the gravy is making me edgy.

Enjoy the holiday, hockey fans.

—

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.

Fantasy Adds and Drops: A Zucker for goals

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Every week, PHT will look to help its readers by providing them with some fantasy advice. This column will focus on players that should be added and dropped in fantasy leagues. Every name in the “add” section will be owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues, while each player in the “drop” section will be owned in less than half of leagues.

So, here we go!

Adds:

Jason Zucker-LW/RW-Minnesota Wild (owned in 49 percent of Yahoo leagues)

Zucker has been a popular add over the last week. It’s hard to argue with those who scooped him up on waivers, as he’s found the back of the net six times in his last three games. Obviously, he won’t have able to keep up that pace, but he seems to have found some chemistry with Eric Staal and Nino Niederreiter.

David Perron-LW/RW-Vegas Golden Knights (30 percent)

Perron comes into the week having recorded at least one point in four consecutive games. He leads the team with 14 points in 16 games. He should continue to get plenty of opportunities to produce offense. Like Zucker, Perron is eligible to play both wing positions, which makes him a little more valuable.

Josh Anderson-RW-Columbus Blue Jackets (12 percent) 

Since ending his holdout earlier this season, Anderson has been a valuable piece for the Blue Jackets. He hasn’t picked up a point in three straight games, but he’s still on pace to score 30 times in 2017-18. Anderson should be added in deeper fantasy leagues.

[More Fantasy: Check out RotoWorld’s In the Crease article]

Alex Kerfoot-C/RW-Colorado Avalanche (14 percent)

The Avalanche are a rebuilding team that has been willing to give youngsters a chance to play. Kerfoot was a college free agent signing that has paid immediate dividends for the them in 2017-18. He comes into this week with three straight multi-point efforts and he 13 points in 16 contests.

Yanni Gourde-C/RW-Tampa Bay Lightning (24 percent)

The focus in Tampa has been on Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov (for good reason), but Gourde has been relatively productive too. Even though he saw his five-game point streak come to an end on Sunday, he’s still on pace to score close to 20 goals and over 50 points.

[Fantasy Podcast: RotoWorld analyzes the Matt Duchene trade]

Drops:

Sebastian Aho-LW/RW-Carolina Hurricanes (56 percent)

Aho had a terrific rookie season that saw him score 24 goals and 49 points in 82 games with the ‘Canes last season. This year, things haven’t been as smooth. He still hasn’t scored a goal in 15 games and he’s managed just eight assists during that span. Feel free to hold onto him in dynasty leagues, but he can be cut in most re-draft leagues.

Patrick Maroon-LW-Edmonton Oilers (57 percent)

Maroon had a solid season playing next to Connor McDavid last year, but his numbers have dropped off over the last little while. The Oilers forward has no points in his last five games and no goals in his last seven contests. He’s been firing more pucks on net lately, but you can find more productive players on the waiver wire.

Semyon Varlamov-G-Colorado Avalanche (54 percent)

Yes, I fully realize that Varlamov is 2-0-1 in his last three games, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that he’s allowed three goals or more in six straight games. Of course, that isn’t all his fault. It’s still tough ignore those numbers. A short-term add of Montreal’s Charlie Lindgren could help teams that need to pile up goalie wins.

Duchene owners win biggest in Turris trade, fantasy-wise

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Let’s all take a moment to toast Nashville Predators GM David Poile.

When it comes to league-changing trades, Poile is on top of the NHL, and no one is even all that close. OK, Peter Chiarelli and Marc Bergevin are up there, but while Poile wears a college graduate’s hat, those two sometimes don dunce caps.

Poile doesn’t just make trades, he generates headlines and injects some much-needed buzz into a league that lacks the movement of the NBA, where seismic shifts happen often enough to spoil hoops fans. Shea Weber for P.K. Subban. Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen. Some dented cans of vegetables for Filip Forsberg. And now this move, which nets the Predators Kyle Turris and delivers Matt Duchene from misery in Colorado to (insert question marks and happy faces) in Ottawa.

This post takes an early look at the fantasy dominoes that may fall/have fallen from this trade, but giving Poile a digital pat on the back was only the right thing to do first. Thanks Dave!

[Rotoworld on Clayton Keller’s Calder push]

Need for speed

Duchene ranked as one of my favorite sleepers coming into 2017-18 for three reasons: 1) his numbers, in my opinion, were bound to rebound after an unusually repugnant season, 2) he’s dual eligible, something that always gains my approval, and 3) it was reasonable to assume that he’d head for greener pastures.

In the case of playing with Senators speed demon Erik Karlsson, green means go for Duchene.

Imagine this scenario, something that will keep defensive-minded coaches up at night: Karlsson zips down the ice, getting the opposition off balance, and then sends a perfect set-up to Duchene, who can keep up. Then a lot of bad things happen to the other team, especially the opposing goalie.

Considering how hard the Senators went after Duchene, I’d wager he’ll inherit a lot of the big minutes and opportunities Turris received. Via Left Wing Lock, it looks like Duchene’s early linemates will be Zack Smith and, most enticingly, sniper Mike Hoffman.

Actually, scratch that; the most enticing element is still Duchene and Karlsson sharing the same ice.

One other thing to realize is that Duchene hasn’t been getting the best opportunities in Colorado for a while now. That was especially clear in 2017-18, as he ranked sixth among Avs forwards in power-play ice time, on average.

A mild loss for Turris, but a boost for Nashville

Early on, Turris’ linemates look quite intriguing with the Predators:

Still, Turris was logging 19:41 minutes per night with Ottawa, second only to all-around dynamo Mark Stone. With Ryan Johansen carrying that big contract and chemistry with Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, Turris slides into a(n appropriate) role as a second-line center. There might be some losses, although the upside is that he might face lesser competition.

[The Rotoworld NHL podcast]

Craig Smith and Kevin Fiala are both intriguing, as Turris could open opportunities for Smith (a solid sniper who could use a boost) and Fiala (an intriguing young player who showed signs of a breakthrough before suffering a grisly leg injury in the playoffs).

Nashville’s talented defensemen P.K. Subban and Roman Josi could enjoy a subtle bump, while the Preds might be able to give more goal support to goalies such as Pekka Rinne.

Avalanche questions

We’ll have to see if Samuel Girard figures into much of anything for the Avalanche, at least early on. Over the long-term, he’s quite interesting. (That said, Left Wing Lock lists him on a top pairing with Erik Johnson, so you never know; maybe the kid will continue his strong work from early looks with the Preds right away.)

Other Colorado players face interesting challenges and opportunities. Duchene’s presence was a boon for Nail Yakupov, so can the struggling former top pick maintain that resurgence without him?

Keep an eye on the likes of Sven Andrighetto, as even with Duchene’s influence being a little muted, someone will be asked to step into a heightened role. It’s plausible that they’ll replace Duchene by committee.

***

Trades like these really spice things up, both in fantasy and reality.

Let’s hope that there will be other moves to break down as this season goes along, especially as we start to approach the “dog days.” Other NHL GMs, feel free to pitch in a bit. As impressive as Poile’s run has been, he doesn’t have to be the only person on the dance floor.

Now picture Poile dancing.

—

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.

Fantasy Adds and Drops: Simply the Boeser

Every week, PHT will provide its readers with some fantasy hockey advice. This column will continue to look at the top players available on the waiver wire (players owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues) and ones that are owned in 50 more than 50 percent of leagues that can be cut.

Adds:

Brock Boeser-RW-Vancouver Canucks (41 percent)

If you could add just one player this week, it should be Boeser. The Canucks winger has been lights out, as he has five goals and 13 points in just 10 games. Over the weekend, Boeser put up a hat trick and an assist in a win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Mathew Barzal-C-New York Islanders (owned in 17 percent of leagues)

Barzal is coming off a five-assist game against the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday. The 20-year-old has now collected at least one point in each of his last five contests. He’s up to 13 points in 14 games this season.

Bo Horvat-C-Vancouver Canucks (34 percent)

Horvat and Boeser have a couple of things in common. First, they both play for the Canucks, and second, they both had four-point performances against the Penguins on Saturday night (Horvat had a goal and three assists). Horvat scored 20 goals and 52 points for Vancouver last season, so don’t be surprised if he betters those numbers this year. He has 11 points in 13 contests this season.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-C-Edmonton Oilers (24 percent)

The Oilers have been desperate for secondary scoring this season, and finally, Nugent-Hopkins has provided them with some. He saw his four-game point streak come to an end on Sunday, but he’s still managed to collect six points in his last five contests.

Hampus Lindholm-D-Anaheim Ducks (23 percent)

Lindholm missed the start of the year because of offseason shoulder surgery, but he’s back and playing pretty well. He’s accumulated two goals (one on the power play) and two assists in seven games. He’s also averaging almost 23 minutes per game, which means he’ll continue to see plenty of ice time.

Tim Heed-D-San Jose Sharks (11 percent)

The Swedish defenseman is only in his second year in North America, but he’s always been regarded as an offensive blue liner. Heed had 14 goals and 56 points in 55 AHL games last season and he’s continued to produce in his first full NHL season. In San Jose, he’s up to two goals and five assists in 11 contests. That’s some very interesting production from a defender.

Joel Edmundson-D-St. Louis Blues (16 percent)

The Blues have gotten a good amount of offensive production from their blue liners this season. Edmundson, who’s in his third season, had three goals in 69 games last year. This season, he’s already up to four goals in 15 contests. Edmundson is on pace to 22 times in 2017-18, but there’s an excellent chance that he won’t come close to that. Still, he could be worth an add in leagues that award more points for goals.

Drops:

Jason Spezza-C/RW-Dallas Stars (53 percent)

Spezza has been a productive NHLer, but it’s time for his fantasy owners to cut ties with him at this point. He’s put up just five assists in 14 games and his ice time is also taking a pounding (he’s averaging under 13 minutes per game). There are too many solid options on most waiver wires to hang on to Spezza.

Milan Lucic-LW-Edmonton Oilers (63 percent)

It’s surprising to see that Lucic is still owned in this many leagues. The Oilers forward has just two goals and four assists in 13 games. He will only provide steady value in leagues that award points for penalty minutes (he’s racked up 14 PIM in 2017-18).

Conor Sheary-LW/RW-Pittsburgh Penguins (69 percent)

On the surface, Sheary’s six goals in 16 games are an impressive amount. But there are a few things to keep in mind. First, three of those goals came in the first five games of the season. Also, he’s found the back of the net just once in his last five contests. Sheary also carries a minus-9 rating, so if you’re playing that category, he’s been hurting you. There are better options on the waiver wire.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

An ode to Burns, Byfuglien, dual positions (Fantasy Thursday)

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The year 2016 was, by most measures, pretty kind to Brent Burns and Dustin Byfuglien.

Most obviously, both high-scoring, oddball defensemen inked contracts that provide them with long-term security. In February 2016, Byfuglien killed trade rumors with a five-year, $38 million extension. Burns went even bigger in November of that same year, landing an eight-year, $64M pact.

Instead, 2016 was a sad moment in a far more esoteric way with Burns and Byfuglien: fantasy hockey leagues no longer gave them the bizarre, not-particularly-functional, but totally awesome dual position designation of D/RW.

Yes, in case you forgot or didn’t pay attention to fantasy then, Byfuglien and Burns could slot in as right-wingers and defensemen not that long ago.

Rotoworld goes deep on Brent Burns’ scoring struggles

Now, this designation wasn’t that useful, at least beyond Byfuglien and Burns being stat-category-stuffing monsters. Generally speaking, you probably won’t run into many fantasy situations where you have more defensemen than “D” spots to fill, while not having the same problem at RW.

Granted, it’s plausible, just not a consistent concern.

More than anything else, it was just fun that the two All-Stars could be used in such ways. It’s also a reminder that the two aren’t that far removed from debates about how they should be deployed. Think about this: Brent Burns, eventual Norris Trophy-winner, was quite reasonably depicted as a guy who might have been better suited as a forward.

To an extent, these two might feel like they stepped out of time machines from the future. Hockey is a flowing game where forwards can act as defensemen and vice versa; it’s easy to picture mad science where positions become irrelevant in favor of five skaters with increasingly similar job descriptions.

(OK, maybe that future isn’t too near, but who knows?)

It’s possible that the Jets are concerned about Byfuglien considering his size and style; just recently Tyler Dellow brought up tough questions about Buffy’s defensive work for The Athletic (subscription required). At 32, Burns’ contract could become a hairy problem if the Sharks start to hit the wall with an aging core.

Fantasy owners might argue that both defensemen deserve every penny, even if it’s for past work. Part of that is because they’re both so good and so unusual. Part of that is because some of us frequently smile at the thought of those weird D/RW days.

Speaking of dual positions …

With this being a weekly column, certain bits of advice will evolve over time, while others might be a little more reliable. (The debut column is likely to remain static, as you should always be honest with yourself about how much effort you’re expecting to put into a given league).

The Rotoworld Hockey Podcast

One evolving question: how much of a difference does it make to have a roster heavy on dual position options?

Many of us go into drafts assuming that we’ll load up on LW/RW guys, only to stray in the heat of the moment, when the few difference-making goalies keep drying up (or other concerns). It’s also conceivable that you can trick yourself into taking the wrong guy while being enticed by the siren call of those multiple positions.

Ideally, there are an array of strategies that open up with a well-tuned gameplan.

Maybe you can justify taking goalies earlier – but getting one of the handful of more reliable netminders – because of such moves? Perhaps you can grab that Erik Karlsson or, yes, Burns because of your situation? At minimum, the glut of centers might turn into an advantage if you can grab undervalued ones later in drafts instead of scrambling to cover tougher-to-settle wing spots.

Full disclosure: I’m not certain how much of a difference this makes, but I’ve always been curious. With that in mind, share your own tales, whether you prefer Twitter, email or the comments.

You never know, we might just win some fantasy duels together with the right dual-position players.

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.