This past offseason there was plenty of intrigue and surprises to go around for everyone; however, the biggest fantasy news and most intriguing of all surprises was Phil Kessel getting traded to Pittsburgh. The rich got richer, and the immediate benefactor of Toronto ridding itself of its "problem children" is the Penguins' power play unit. It was only 8th in the NHL last season with a 19.3% conversion rate, but that was a down year in the Steel City after finishing in the top position the previous year. This could be a flashback from the 2000-01 Penguins team, which had five of the top 29 league scorers with Mario Lemieux at #29 tallying (76) points and (16) power play goals in 43 games. Go ahead and get 76 points in today's game and you'll get $8 million per season for your troubles. That first power play unit consisted of Mario, Jagr, Kovalev, Martin Straka and Robert Lang. While the thought of this year's version has me at half mast already, the proof will be in the pudding or net. With all the options available to head coach Mike Johnston, he has to be tent pitching as well, while opposing coaches are having nightmares on trying to figure out how to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Chris Kunitz and a healthy Kris Letang as a possible power play unit one, if they stay healthy for once. That was the Penguins' Achilles Heal last year, man games lost, but a return of Pascal Dupris from blood clots, a healthy Patric Hornqvist and steady David Perron makes this one very skilled and very scary team. Anyway let's get to the business of my 2015-16 Fantasy Hockey Top 12.
The Blues have cooled off a bit since their hot start, but that doesn't mean that all of their players have. Pavel Buchnevich tore it up over the weekend, scoring a goal and an assist with three shots and two PIM on Friday before coming back with two goals and an assist with five shots on Saturday. Buch is crushing it across the board on the seasons now with 8+8, 18 PIM and 58 shots in 19 games. Add in a +8 rating and he's a top 20 forward at the moment. Do I expect that to last? No, but his fit in St. Louis couldn't be better and now he's getting plenty of minutes, especially with David Perron out of the lineup. Somehow, he's still available in over 20% of leagues which is blasphemous. He has a real chance at being a top 50 player this year. Let's take a look at what else happened over the weekend:
The Maple Leafs went into the season wanting to limit the workload of their goaltending duo, but things have gone off the rails in the first month. The good news is that if you own Jack Campbell in fantasy, you're reaping all of the benefits. Campbell had a shutout against Nashville on Wednesday, saving 24 shots. Is a 1.68/.943 good? I had Campbell ranked as a top 10 goalie going into the season, but now, he's looking like a top 5 guy. Let's take a look at what else happened over the last two nights:
I certainly won't be doing any victory laps after the first weekend, but Sam Bennett made me look good on Saturday, scoring a hat trick on six shots in the 5-1 win over the Islanders. Bennett finds himself in the same role as last season when he blew up after the trade deadline. Remarkably, he's still available in 40% of leagues on ESPN. I assume nobody that reads my posts would be in a league where Bennett is on the waiver wire, but if he is, grab him right now. Let's take a look at what else happened over the weekend:
Sure, it's on the basis of playing two more games than Washington, but the Islanders in first place in late March is a truly remarkable feat. Yes, they did make the Conference Finals last season, but in this division, they were not expected to contend for first place. Goaltending is going a long way for their success, and their future is starting to become more of the present. Ilya Sorokin saved 36 of 37 shots in the 2-1 OT win over the Flyers on Monday night. That brings Sorokin to 8 wins in 11 games with a 1.97/.922 stat line. That's elite right off the bat for the rookie which has led Sorokin to starting four games over the past two weeks. Semyon Varlamov's numbers and Sorokin's are nearly identical and for now, Trotz seems content to split between the two of them. Long term, Sorokin is one of the best goalies for fantasy hockey, granted he's a 25 year old rookie. That said, he's playing enough right now that I would own Sorokin in all formats. Let's take a look at what else happened over the last two nights:
I talked about Leo Komarov at length in two places yesterday here. In the stream section of my article, I said the following: "He’s much more highly owned than my normal stream calls but I don’t understand why he’s available in over 60% of leagues. The Leafs should control the game against the Avs (everyone does against the Avs) so Uncle Leo should get some chances." Then he went out and had his best game of the season, scoring two goals on five shots while adding an assist and two PIM. I love it when I'm right! If you didn't do so, grab Komarov immediately because he has another prime matchup tonight against the Coyotes. Here's what else I saw on a busy Monday night:
It can be hard to pivot away from the strategy that helped carry you this far and into the playoffs, but often you have no choice but to leave behind the ways that got you this far and adopt a more drastic approach in the playoffs. When your season starts you must be patient. Have patience with the elite veteran you know will get up to speed to actually get up to speed and start producing. Have patience with for the budding superstar you know will produce, he just needs time to adjust to the North American style. That works if you have the discipline, but now it’s do or die and the moves you make are as critical to your success as the moves you don't make. Now you need to act and learning to know when it's time to cut bait on a guy you really, really don’t want to. It gets a bit hairy in keeper leagues when you have to decide between now and next year, but in redraft leagues it gets pretty simple, pretty quickly; as the clock ticks down on your first round matchup you may have to bite the bullet and ditch your idle big guns for long shot streamers, and that’s okay so long as you make the right moves.
One of the most important variables to consider when making moves during the fantasy hockey playoffs is games remaining. How many games are your guys playing this week? You might be feeling confident with Vladimir Tarasenko slotted in on your right side, but he only plays two games this week and one of them is already done and gone so unless Vladdy blows up against the Jackets on Saturday he isn’t going to do much for you this week. Ah, head-to-head, she’s a fickle beast. Does that mean you should you drop the Tarasenko Express? Absolutely not, especially if you’re in a keeper league, but it does illustrate a point cannot be ignored at this point in the season; you absolutely must pay attention to games to be played on a weekly basis and how many games are left to be played in the second half of the week. When you can’t beat them with quality, beat them with quantity. To aid you in this effort I’ve compiled a list of the games remaining for each team this week (including today): THREE GAMES LEFT – Anaheim, Boston, Carolina, Detroit, Florida, Nashville, New Jersey, New York Isles, New York Rangers, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, San Jose, Washington. TWO GAMES LEFT – Arizona, Calgary, Chicago, Colorado, Columbus, Dallas, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Montreal, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg. ONE GAME LEFT – Edmonton, Philadelphia, St. Louis. Clearly you want to avoid guys that skate for the Oil, Flyers and Blues for the rest of the week. That’s a bummer considering how beastly the Oil’s top line has been playing, but it is what it is. Manage your guys well and make sure you get more games in than the other guy and you should be okay. Next week I’ll post a more comprehensive list like this at the beginning of the week and update again mid-week with remaining games to keep y’all on track. Don’t fall apart now; the championship is within your grasp! Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey recently:
For most of the season the New York Islanders rotated what seemed like every one of their young forwards through the open slot on their top line alongside Kyle Okposo and NHL scoring leader John Tavares, C (1 G, 1 A, 3 SOG), but no one stuck. Then out of nowhere Okie’s eyeball broke off and he needed emergency surgery to fix the problem because, hey, everyone needs working eyes and if they didn’t put him under the knife then there was no chance he’d return this season. Well, the news out of Long Island today is good! Okie is traveling to Florida to skate with the team tomorrow morning ahead of their Saturday tilt with the Cats and that means he’s very close to returning to game action. That’s great news for Okie and JT owners, but in Okie’s absence Anders Lee, C (1 G, 3 SOG, +1) and Josh Bailey, RW (1 A, 2 SOG, +2) have played well, but one of them is going to get demoted when Okie returns and I highly doubt it will be Lee.
At this point in the season the waiver wire has been picked clean like the bones of so many thanksgiving turkeys and the lack of depth couldn’t come at a worse time. It’s the time of the year when the injuries begin to mount and the trades start coming and with the shake ups they create come new opportunities for fantasy managers to seize upon. The difference between winning and losing at this stage of the game is a matter of minutes; did you pick up the hot hand that will get you into the playoffs, or the next round, or did some other jerkbag beat you to it? Don’t be the guy who loses out, be the jerkbag and consider picking up Kevin Klein or Michael Del Zotto before someone else does.