Thursday fantasy

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

Fantasy hockey trades are the worst, but target these guys if you must

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When it comes to fantasy hockey (and fantasy sports in general), there are plenty of reasons to open your browser and grumble about your team. The following is an abridged list for such grumble-fuel:

  • Your top pick is out week-to-week with a freak injury.
  • The other team started two goalies and got two shutouts.
  • You sat a guy who generated a hat trick after a five-game goalless slump.

Allow me to point out something that almost always leaves me muttering in a more existential way: just about every trade in fantasy sports.

One can divide fantasy trades in a bunch of irritating categories.

If you’re in a league with friends, colleagues, and co-workers, there’s the dubious, late-season “favor trade.” A bad team mysteriously sends a lopsidedly friendly gift to boost your top rival, possibly in part because you made fun of their fedora at last year’s draft party.

Last week’s column: How hard do you really want to work in fantasy?

There are other groan-worthy swaps. When two romantic partners are involved, it heightens the “favor trade” into something even worse.

There are plenty of other ways you can describe trades, including garden-variety ones where the strong pick on the weak. Such cases are simple enough: there isn’t collusion there, merely one person leveraging their superior hockey knowledge upon a neophyte.

Those trades are annoying because they betray the “spirit of the game,” yet in a lot of cases, it’s annoying because someone else beat you to it.

MORE: Thursday Daily Dose at Rotoworld – Steen is a Mean Machine

Honestly, fantasy hockey trades can be fair, but my personal preference is to never see that “veto trade” button come up. Still, the option is there, and this post is designed to help you identify a few slumping players to target in trades.

Consider this a companion piece to Joey Alfieri’s weekly Add/Drop columns, as most – if not all – of these slumping players won’t be available on your waiver wire. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but consider this something of a blueprint of players to look for; applying this logic later this season is just fine, too.

That said, newbies tend to get closer to panic mode earlier in the season, so it might be wisest to strike while the desperation is hot. Let’s consider a few worthwhile trade targets, shall we?

Max Pacioretty

Oh, Patches.

It seems like there are two patterns forming with Pacioretty: goal slumps and freaky fast recoveries from injuries. There’s at least one time where those two matters converged, as Pacioretty barely scored for a month last season and then we realized he was dealing with a fractured foot.

(You may say that he’s dealing with a fractured franchise right now.)

Pacioretty scored a goal in his first game of the season and his most recent one. In between, there were seven games with zero goals and zero assists. This is a puck luck thing, as it is with many Habs: his 35 shots on goal ties him for the 11th-most in the NHL.

John Carlson

The Capitals defenseman has almost as many SOG as Patches (34 in nine games) despite being, you know, a blueliner. With a 5.4 percent career shooting percentage, Carlson’s climb probably won’t be as dramatically beneficial as Pacioretty’s likely will be, but you’d think that Carlson would be easier to pry away.

Washington needs his offense (to be fair, he does have a respectable five assists), and Carlson needs a strong season. The 27-year-old is in a pivotal contract year, and greed can be very good for fantasy.

Brent Burns

Facing similar shooting struggles to Carlson. No one’s crazy enough to trade the crazy-bearded defenseman, though, right?

Well, he’s at least worth mentioning, especially if you think a first-timer might have an itchy trade finger.

Justin Faulk is going through the same basic issues, and the Hurricanes haven’t played a ton of games, so he might be a better bet than Burns. You can, in fact, be too brazen with an offer.

(There are times when I’ve closed a browser/laptop in disgust at  THE AUDACITY of certain offers. There’s a fine line to walk here, gang.)

Check out the Rotoworld Hockey Podcast here.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Five points in nine games is fine for a defenseman who likely goes reasonably high in most drafts, but not quite in those “premium” spots that really sting. Still, after “only” scoring 12 goals in 2016-17 following two 20+ goal seasons, “OEL” is stuck at one goal, but that’s not the category that might cause some anxiety.

With a -10 rating, OEL has the second-worst mark, only below Mats Zuccarello. That’s rough, but the beauty of trading is that you haven’t absorbed any of that player’s bad moments.

Honestly, you might want to wait about a month on this one though. Read this post to see why the Coyotes are in for a few rugged weeks.

Henrik Lundqvist, Carey Price, Devan Dubnyk, etc.

This column is going a little long (don’t get this guy started on how annoying fantasy trades can be, folks), so allow me to lump in disproportionately struggling goalies to a single spot.

It’s true that each guy has his own caveat (Lundqvist’s age is a concern, Price will cost a higher price, and so on), the general rule is that they’re bound to rebound. If you can get them at a discount, go for it.

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The short version of this is to check extremes.

If someone’s shooting at an extremely high percentage compared to career numbers, sell high by trading them. This list is well-stocked with players who are suffering awful puck luck, and all should turn around. You can use similar logic to identify potential adds on the waivers, too (Rick Nash owners have had it).

Of course, you could also do the right thing and not annoy me by making any trades at all. There’s also that.

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.

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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