It’s that time of year again. You’re in or you’re out. You’re contending in hockey or you’re mock drafting for baseball. You’re hunkered at the computer reading advanced stats or you’re naked and running crazily among the spring daffodils. Why are you naked? Who knows, it just seems to fit the picture. You’re either getting outta my car or into my dreams. Okay, this is now getting weird. Let’s get to the point.
With just one month left in the NHL regular season, you’re in one of two positions:
- You’re in contention and getting ready for your head-to-head league playoffs (You did it!) or figuring out what you need to do to maintain or take the lead in you points or roto league.
- You’re out of the picture and flailing, looking for solace wherever you can get it.
In the NHL playoffs, the players have their eye on the prize and step up their game considerably. So why shouldn’t you do the same in your fantasy playoffs? It’s simple really – up until now, you’ve been mainly playing the cards you’ve been dealt, even as the player’s fortunes undulate throughout the season. Now it’s time to squeeze the most out of them, take risks, perhaps even dropping some of the guys who have gotten you this far. And, importantly, it’s time to pay far more attention to your opponents than you’ve had to up to now.
As far as playoff strategy goes, I’ll be referring to head-to-head format from here on out, but if you happen to be in a points or roto league, the players I mention below can still help you.
Before checking out your opponent, let’s assess your own team. It all comes down to this. A winning streak. Win three in a row (assuming an 8-team playoff) and you’re the champ. Now repeat after me: Playing it safe will not win you the championship. No matter how dominant your team may seem to be, there are still some improvements that can be made, however small. I can just about guarantee that your opponent is working on their roster, looking for every edge, so now is not the time to get over-confident.
In my experience, there are two types of rosters that have a good chance at winning in the playoffs. The first is a team with at least one strategic pairing of linemates or forward-defencemen combos that see power play time together. It can be risky to commit to what could be all or nothing on any given week, but it’s a viable approach to the playoffs, when all or nothing is the name of the game. The other sort of roster is more balanced; you’ve gotten this far with consistent scoring and no one team or player on a cold streak will hurt you very much. My personal preference as the playoffs near is to look for opportunities for multiple pairings, going with the theory that if you can manage to put together more than one productive scoring combo, it will be unlikely that all of them ever go cold at the same time.
Who on your roster is hot/cold?
- Consider dropping anyone who is cold. Don’t do it just yet. But, consider.
- If you’ve got a really hot player, take a look to see if any of his linemates are free agents.
- Do any of your players have indeterminate day-to-day injuries? If their timeline to return is unclear, consider dropping them. The IR in the NHL is an inside joke. A player can be on IR and come back tomorrow, while a player who is not listed on it could be out for months. There’s really no way to know sometimes, until the player actually takes the ice. Ridiculous, right? I’ll save the rest of that rant for another time.
- How is your goaltending situation? At this time of year, many teams that are out of the rasce will take a longer look at their backups. Make sure that your starter isn’t a victim of one of these situations.
How do you match up with your opponent?
- Are there any categories that are out of reach for either of you?
- Which ones are close? Can you bolster any of your secondary stats without losing any scoring, to give yourself the edge in those ones?
- Look at the goalies separately, and compare not just the players, but instead their schedules for the upcoming matchup.
You should now be targeting replacements who are:
- Linemates of your hot players that might still be available. Yes, the so-called third wheels. You’ve got Max Pacioretty or Alex Galchenyuk? Add Sven Andrighetto, who skates with them and collects points by osmosis. Have Jordan Eberle or Connor McDavid on your roster? Think about adding Zack Kassian or Nail Yakupov.
- Steady producers. The guys you are looking for may not be flashy, but they are consistent. A goose egg from one or more players in a playoff week is how you lose championships.
- Far above average in any one category. If it’s a secondary one, like blocked shots or hits, you might be able to load up and take over a category (or come from behind, as the case may be) without much difficulty.
Here are some players that might still be available on your waiver wire. What they all have in common is that they can potentially help you NOW as you bolster your chances for a championship run. And their ownership percentage is low enough that you might still find most even in very deep leagues.
You’ve heard of the Hansons. Well, these are the Smiths. Strangely, the Hansons sing uplifting pop tunes off the ice, while bashing everything on skates when playing hockey. Meanwhile, the Smiths are tearing up the scoresheet lately, but tear up your heart with their depressing tunes off the ice.
Craig Smith – The Preds second line has been red hot lately. Chances are good that somebody has snagged Smith already, and if so, move on to his center, Mike Ribeiro.
Zack Smith – The peripheral stats were always there, but now he’s getting first line minutes and is on a six game point streak, with ten points in his last ten games. And unlike the above Smith, Zack is criminally underwoned.
Devante Smith-Pelly – New digs means new opportunities. The jury is still out, but he’s getting top line minutes and power play time for the Devils, so he’s worth a shot.
In deep leagues, these players are likely on someone’s roster, but in 12-teamers, there is a good chance you can still add them.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – He will reportedly return to action this week. But who he’ll play with and how productive he will be as he recovers from the injury, remains to be seen. I’d be cautious and wouldn’t drop anyone productive for him.
Marian Hossa – Hossa is also returning this week, and lands back in a great situation, skating with Jonathan Toews and a rejuvenated Andrew Ladd.
These guys bring the added bonus of being worthy keepers as well. They are just coming into their own and you can bet they are going to give it their all over the last month, whether their team is in the hunt or not.
Matt Dumba – I try not to have repeats from week to week, but Dumba is worth mentioning because at this stage of the season it’s rare that you can find a goal scoring (10 on the season) PP d-man on the wire. His ownership is steadily climbing, but it’s worth checking to see if he’s still around.
Ben Hutton – The rookie’s plus-minus might hurt you, but he’s getting big power play minutes – and producing – on a Canucks team that is simply waiting for this season to end. He’s still flying under the radar, even in deep leagues, so if you’re thin on the blue line, he’s a great add.
Brett Ritchie – Ritchie is likely more interesting as a keeper right now, but his situation is worth keeping an eye on. Since getting a callup to the Stars, he’s skated with Benn and Seguin. It’s not likely to last, and power forwards like Ritchie tend to develop slowly anyway – BUT… if he does stick on that line for any length of time, you’ll want him on your team. The bonus is that he shoots the puck, hits a ton, and is getting looks on the PP.
DEAD CAN DANCE
We all think we know who these guys are. At least, we thought we did when we drafted them just a few rounds too soon.
But now, they’re all like, “I know that you know that you think that you know who I am, but you don’t know me!”
And you’re like, “But I thought you were a good player. That’s a compliment. Please don’t be mad.”
“But then you thought I wasn’t good.”
“Well, yeah, because you started to suck pretty hard out there. You didn’t meet my expectations is all.”
And then they’re all, “Well– screw you! What do you know? I bet you can’t even skate!”
And you’re all, “Dude. How are you even talking to me?”
And then you wake up. And you’re here, reading this post. But… are you really?
Alex Killorn – I don’t mean to sound like a genius or anything, but if I did a scientific experiment in which we took a player that was a proven scorer, albeit a versatile one, and stuck him on the checking line for most of the season. And then, near the end of the season, we put that same player on the top line, flanking Steven Stamkos, would you hypothesize that his points total would go up or down? Easiest skill testing question ever, right? The Lightning have been maddeningly inconsistent this year, so who knows if he keeps it up, but while he’s getting 4+ PP minutes in a game, he’s a definite add.
Jason Pominville – In your dream, you wake up beside Jason Pominville, who seemingly hasn’t scored since 1989. (And you silently thank your lucky stars for that!). But he’s back on track now, and is one of those rare birds that won’t give you a point every game; when he’s on his game, he tends to get you 2 or 3 at a time.
Carl Hagelin – In that same wake up scenario, Carl Hagelin is on the other side of you. Which puzzles you because you suddenly recall that he is now Evgeni Malkin’s wingman, not yours. Which is all you need to remind you to kick him out of your bed and onto your fantasy team.
Tanner Pearson – Last year: Scored a bunch. This year: Not so much. Lately? Picking up steam, better late than never.
Justin Schultz – I still don’t buy it. It’s been a long time since he’s been even remotely productive. BUT. He’s now getting power play time with the likes of Malkin and Sidney Crosby. I’d put my grandmother on my fantasy team is she was getting that kind of action.
Patrick Maroon – unlike Schultz, who is hoping that leaving the Oilers will let him have his career back, Maroon’s move to Edmonton might actually do just that for him. He’s becoming third wheel on the Leon Draisatl – Taylor Hall line, and looking like he belongs. He’ll get you hits as well.
THE BAD SEEDS
I covered Hits specialist in my previous post, so here are a couple to help you with blocked shots this time around.
If you missed out on Matt Niskanen then try Mike Weber – Weber is good for his blocked shots only, but nobody does it better. As long as Carlson is on the shelf, Weber will draw into the lineup, and can almost single-handedly give you that category.
Kris Russell – Russell in Dallas doesn’t stand to see the scoresheet any more than usual, but have you seen their goaltending? It’s atrocious! They’re going to need this shot blocking specialist to do double time to help keep the puck away from the goalies.
A word on streaming players in the playoffs. A little time researching your opponent goes a long way, especially when it comes to goalies. If it looks like it will be a tight goalie matchup, you’ll want to know how close you will be in games played, and plan accordingly so that you have the advantage – looking for back-to-back games in the schedule, and for potential backup goalies who will play later in the week — and scooping them up before someone else has the same idea. Another sure way to lose is to go crazy streaming players, all the while dropping valuable players that you won’t get back. That’s a good way to win round 1 — and only round 1.
Keep in mind, there is no cookie cutter approach to winning in the playoffs. So much will depend on the makeup of your team, and of the opponent you’ll be facing in each playoff week. Whichever way you decide to go with it, my best advice is to fully commit to your strategy. Keep it simple, and stick to it.
Good luck winning your league!