If you’re a fan of the Los Angeles Kings, Detroit Red Wings, or civil correspondence, you probably think that Calgary Flames ragamuffin-forward Matthew Tkachuk is just the worst.
With that in mind, you’re probably not going to enjoy today’s advice: it’s fun and often productive to draft your most hated players in fantasy hockey.
Think of it this way. If Tkachuk helps you win your league next season, you can imagine yourself as some evil fantasy hockey baron, emitting a villainous cackle, possibly with a cigar jutting from your mouth. If Tkachuk stinks, then you can continue to despise him, and even blame your larger fantasy failings on that snotty-nosed kid who just won’t stop poking his mouthpiece out, someone stop him.
(Now, some of you will respond: “But what if winning with villains on your team ends up souring the sweet taste of victory?” Allow me this response: [Points in other direction, runs away])
My personal villain of choice was once Todd Bertuzzi. Do note that this was vintage, All-Star Todd Bertuzzi, and not sad, sort-of-broken-down Detroit Red Wings Todd Bertuzzi.
The strange wrinkle is that a younger version of myself often picked him as a villain even before that ugly Steve Moore incident. As of today, I can’t recall what precisely rankled me about Bertuzzi before that scene; perhaps it was stubble envy?
It’s important to note that Team Villain (not to be confused with Team Putin?) works much better in leagues with PIMs, aka penalty minutes. Now, that’s not to say that every conniving-type will be sitting in the box all the time, it’s just that the Tkachuks of the world bring extra value because they can score and they can infuriate.
So far this season, Tkachuk has 13 points and 29 PIM in 19 games. Last year, he combined 105 PIM with 48 points, and the young forward happens to be part of a Flames line that dominates puck possession. (That latter point doesn’t always translate to fantasy gold … although it could if their continued strong play earns them more opportunities as time goes along.)
When you ponder the PIM-getters, it’s clear that Tkachuk is fairly rare.
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On one hand, you have guys who can really pile up PIM and can at least secure a roster spot, but their offense isn’t always dependable. Tom Wilson is a prime example; he now has a whopping 674 PIM in 329 regular-season games, yet only 75 points. Wilson is an interesting example of how opportunities can fluctuate for pests who can play, though, as he has six points so far this season. If he can flirt with a point every game or two, then Wilson suddenly rises up the list of ruffians in fantasy.
Antoine Roussel, meanwhile, might be sliding. The Stars antagonist has generated just under 15 goals and 30 points in recent seasons, which is quite lovely when you consider his robust penalties (711 PIM in 359 games). There’s always the worry about a reduced role, and that – or bad luck – is happening in Dallas; so far he only has three points in 2017-18.
There are also stars who sneakily add mid-level PIMs. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both lose their temper often enough to rub fans and opponents the wrong way, and that seems to translate to respectable PIMs.
Still, there are only a few who score while regularly generating 100+ PIM.
Tkachuk isn’t the only “polarizing” player who’s made recent news and also possibly deserves a spot on your fantasy team.
Radko Gudas has been a buried treasure in fantasy leagues with deeper stats for some time now. Oh, and he’s also regularly making waves with … well, his worst-ness.
It makes sense that Gudas is something of an under-the-radar fancy stats darling, as he tends to fill up peripheral categories, even if his point totals are often modest. So far this season, Gudas has 57 PIM in 17 games versus just two assists, yet he fires the puck pretty frequently. With 33 SOG in 17 games, he’s close to two per night. That can help if Gudas is, say, your fourth or fifth defenseman.
[The Rotoworld Hockey Podcast ponders Carey Price’s problems]
As the stats go deeper, Gudas becomes a guy who can help you steal certain categories. He’s delivered 1,097 hits and blocked 533 shots in 286 games, via Yahoo’s handy stats. Via NHL.com’s real-time stats, since 2012-13, Gudas ranked eighth among skaters in hits, and that’s among players who often played about 100 additional games. He comes in 57th in blocked shots, and that’s again while noting that he’s missed some time.
And that’s the thing; with guys like Tkachuk and Gudas, you sort of have to pencil in some lost games. Whether it’s sitting in timeout for a bonehead suspension or getting injured because of their rugged styles, don’t draft or add/drop these guys expecting them to suit up every night.
If the last year or so drives any point home, it’s that sometimes the bad guys win.
On the bright side, that can come in handy. When it comes to prestige television and fantasy hockey, rooting for the antihero can sometimes be quite enjoyable.
Though, honestly, cable dramas probably should have curbed that trend after Walter White hung up his undies.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.